The New Year is right around the corner!
What should you be doing now to prepare?
Sure, the holidays are hectic but keeping your business running smoothly is important. When January 2016 hits you’ll feel overwhelmed if you haven’t taken some time to plan out your goals and objectives for the new business year.
Carving out just a small bit of time to do some planning for the upcoming year will allow you to feel confident instead of overwhelmed.
Doing a planning session in December means you get to hit the ground running as soon as the year starts. While everyone else is moaning about not having any plans in place, you’ll be working on yours!
It’s no secret that the most successful people are those that set goals and plan; why not join their ranks? The University of Sheffield survey showed that those owner-managers who had business plans were more growth oriented.
Let’s look at some things you can do to make the 2016 epic.
Make time to plan.
Obviously the first step is to make time. That means finding a spot in your schedule and blocking out the time. This is one appointment you don’t want to miss.
Successful business owner, Gary Keller, author of The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, on blocking out several hours to dedicate time to a task: “It may sound extreme, but it’s honestly one of the simplest and most effective tactics for anyone to live by.” Keller calls this technique “time blocking” and I found it to be an effective way to get important tasks done. (Entrepreneur.com)
You should plan on taking a few hours of uninterrupted, quiet, focused time to work on your plan. If you can do two solid hours of work on your plan, you’ll be headed for a great start.
I like to set aside a half day of focused time or even a full day and break it up. If I’m using the full-day method, I’ll get started on my planning session, work until I start to feel a little overwhelmed, stuck, or fatigued and then get up and move around. I make another cup of coffee, throw the ball for the dogs, take a short walk, or some other activity. I give the activity 15 to 30 minutes and then I get back to my planning session.
Moving around allows you to clear your mind and helps things stew a bit. Often when you come back to the work from a short break, you’ll have new ideas.
Whatever method you use, make sure you set a day and time in your calendar and commit to keeping the date.
Getting started on your New Year plan.
Now that you’ve carved out time to make epic plans, it’s time to start putting it down on paper. Yes, paper. Getting out of the digital realm and into the manual realm will likely allow you to get better results. Beyond the tacit part of using pen and paper, there are benefits to getting away from digital. Harvard Business Review’s recent article on using pen and paper outline the benefits of using a manual method.
You’ll need your favorite tools. Pick whatever works best for you. Oversized sketching tablet, yellow legal pad, or even a whiteboard. Grab post-it notes and pens in more than one color – it’s okay to get creative.
Planning should be fun so have whatever tools and resources on hand that will make the process enjoyable. Step out of the formal; this about you and your business goals, so relax.
My favorite tools include fine point Sharpie pens in various colors, thick sketch book paper, a ruler, music, and lots of coffee.
The beginnings of your planning session will be brainstorming ideas and goals so be super creative; don’t be afraid to put all your ideas out there.
Where to start.
If you aren’t sure how to get started… make a list. A list can be set up like a basic list or like a mind-map, whatever feels right for you. Again, get creative. The starting step is for getting any ideas and thoughts out, not everything you write down will stay. This part should be relaxing. You can dream as big as you want.
The first question to ask yourself is, “What do you want to achieve in the next year?”
Start writing out your goals, big ones and small ones. You want to get all of the items you’ve been stewing about out of your brain and onto paper. Give thought to specificity as you write down your goals.
A good goal is one that is specific enough to track. A goal that lacks specificity is too general to plan action around because you can’t create real target actions.
Developed in by George T. Doran, the SMART method for developing goals and objectives is a great framework for writing your goals. The method looks like this:
- Specific– target a specific area for improvement.
- Measurable– quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
- Attainable– assuring that an end can be achieved.
- Realistic– state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
- Time-related– specify when the result(s) can be achieved.
An example of a specific and clear goal might be “increasing sales by 5% for the year”. A less effective goal would be “make more money this year”. With a target of 5% we can calculate exactly what we need to do each month, week, or day to meet our objective. With the less specific goal, we have no way to calculate the “more money” objective or create actionable steps to achieve it.
Once you’ve sketched out all of your goals and you feel good about what you’ve got written down, it’s time to start prioritizing them.
Not every goal can be a top priority goal or you won’t achieve any of them. So, step 2 is all about organizing and prioritizing. At this point you might even take a goal and mark it as a 2-year or 3-year goal. Some of the goals might be things you want to focus on next year.
Don’t throw anything out! Everything you place at the bottom of your list as “low priority” can be the starting point for your planning session next year.
It might be that next year when you re-visit your notes you’ll find that some of the items have become more important, some of them even less important, and some of the items might even be irrelevant.
After you’ve taken the time to organize your goal list, it’s time to take the top priorities and make them your focus for the year. Choosing your goals for the year by pulling from the top of your priority list is step 3.
Depending upon the size and scope of your goals, you may only be able to work on two or three of the goals on your list. If the goals are smaller, then you might have five or six items to focus on. Everything else on the list becomes “low priority”. If you find time during the year for an additional project you’ll have a place to pull that project from, instead of scrambling to come up with something.
Step 4 is where we get into the real meat of your plan. Each goal that makes the cut for the year should be clearly defined and once you’ve really defined those goals, it’s time to start creating targets.
Goals –> Targets
Targets are essentially checkpoints. If we use the “increase sales by 5% for the year” goal, we can begin to create checkpoints by calculating out what 5% means. So let’s expand our example and say that our revenue for 2015 is $100,000 in sales. Our goal of 5% would be an increase of $5,000.
Let’s assume we sell one widget at $100 each. Our current sales number by widget is 1,000. To increase sales by 5% we need to sell an additional 50 widgets. Now we have a real target – sell 1050 widgets in 2016.
We can break that number down into a monthly sales goal or even a weekly goal. Let’s work with a weekly goal. We’ve got 52 weeks which means we need to sell 20 widgets every week to meet our goal. When we look at the numbers for the year, we can see that we sold an average of 19 widgets per week, which means we only need to sell 1 more widget each week. Not much to make our goal. (Note: I’ve rounded the numbers to make things easy.)
Taking the time to break things out really makes targets clear. It also helps us see what it will take to achieve our yearly goal. One extra widget every week isn’t a lot.
Goals –> Targets –> Action Steps
The final step in our process, step 5, is to set the action steps necessary to achieve our goal.
Our question should be: “What is it going to take to sell that extra widget each week?”
We might have to look back at the marketing activities we did this year to guide how we increase sales. What marketing activities did we do that really helped boost sales? Which activities worked and which didn’t?
Let’s get back to our example. For our scenario, let’s say we did a monthly newsletter, we attended networking events, and we had a couple of special pricing sales. We had good results with all of those activities but it the newsletter worked the best.
Our action steps might then become a revamp of the newsletter, adding in a special discount coupon, and maybe having a short email that goes out between the newsletters. We can start to add these action steps to our calendar so that we know each month what we are going to do and when.
We also overheard a conversation at the last networking event where someone talked about having really great results with upselling techniques. Knowing that you can easily add this activity without adding to the workload, you decide to start an upsell campaign.
An action plan might include the following action steps: decide on the best upsell offer to use, write a script for telephone sales that includes the new upsell, write copy for the website checkout process that includes the upsell before buyers finish their checkout then, training and implementation.
You can then add the action steps to your January and February task list and be ready to launch the new campaign in March.
Next, begin the process of creating targets and action steps for the other goals on your list for the year.
If you take the time to break things out, making them happen becomes easy. You aren’t spending any time during the year trying to figure out next steps, you are simply checking things off of your checklist and calendar. No overwhelm.
A plan for the year is just a map and once you pick a destination, route, and method of travel, the rest is smooth sailing.
Specificity is key to creating a plan that you can easily take action on.
Planning doesn’t have to be hard or frustrating. Understanding that setting and achieving goals is simply a process broken out into actionable steps, will help remove the overwhelm many of us have with the planning process.
Creating a plan for your goals should be exciting not a chore.
Once you’ve got all of the pieces in place, spend some time deciding how you can measure your goals. Create visuals to show when targets are met to help keep you and your team motivated. At the point where you’ve designed the plan, bring everyone in and share it. Allow team members to contribute additional ideas on reaching targets to increase motivation.
Yearly planning is an effective tool for everyone; you can use it for businesses of different sizes or even personal use. If you happen to be an employee and not a small business owner, you can still benefit from creating your own goals and plans for the year.
So, take some time out to do some goal setting and planning for the New Year. It’s not too late to start creating a successful 2016!
If you use some creative planning methods or strategies, share them with us, we’d love to hear how you tackle yearly planning!