When I worked as a full-time journalist, annual reviews and strategic planning for the coming year were not high on the agenda – we were always too busy dealing with the immediate issues in front of us. But now that I am entering the seventh year of running my own business, an annual review and business strategy planning session are vital.
Now – let me note at the outset that the plans I make never actually survive contact with reality. But the process of sitting down and looking back on the past year, and then using those learnings to think about what I want to do the following year are invaluable. Any incremental progress I have made over the years has been largely due to sitting on the couch and applying my mind to the “meta” aspects of what I do every day.
Also – and this is never a bad thing – strategic planning always seems to mean I need new stationery. New pencils, flip files, notebooks, a new diary… all these are a must-have, or so I tell myself.
The process tends to be different every year but most often it involves starting with a Google search for something along the lines of “annual review template for small business”. (Of course, I am always hoping to find something free). Over the years, I’ve found various versions of that template, some better than others. And finally, at the end of 2022, I found one that really, really worked for me. I added it to another tried and tested planning tool, and sailed through my strategic planning.
The one that worked
The magic bullet in December 2022 was the “Calm Business Review”, which you can buy as a notebook or download as a free PDF (in exchange for your email address, and I can report that handing mine over hasn’t resulted in huge amounts of spam).
It’s the brainchild of Kerstin Martin, a Squarespace web designer who lives in the Pacific Northwest in the United States, who advocates a non-hustle, calm approach to business. That sounded good to me!
The business review takes you through ten steps, beginning with a review of the previous year. You then work though areas like values, marketing, finances, tech and income. None of these areas are much different from any other review process I’ve undertaken – but the way they are approached is really helpful. The path to thinking about your values, for instance, starts with listing people who inspire you and looking at the qualities that you admire about those people. I found that an interesting way of thinking about values.
But the most useful thing was an energy review exercise. As Martin says:
“a calm business is all about energy management. Most of us start because of a creative passion that we want to turn into a business, not because we enjoy sales funnels, number crunching or making executive decisions. I see it over and over again, how quickly entrepreneurs become overwhelmed, and discouraged. What gives us calm and stability? Simplicity + organization. How do we achieve simplicity + organization? By identifying our energy drainers and then using systems, tools and processes to eliminate or change them.”
As a result of doing this exercise, for the first time this year, my plans include a strong resolution to use my time well, to make realistic goals and to find ways to protect my weekends. I know those are not the usual things one finds in a strategic plan, but I feel that they will be a game-changer.
And the planning
I am a long-time fan of the work of Tonia Kendrick and have been using her business strategy planning tools for years. Even though the Calm Business Review has perfectly adequate planning tools (including a monthly evaluation sheet that looks super useful), I am so used to Kendrick’s 90-Day Planner that I took elements of that to map out the first three months of the year.
My top planning tips
Keep it simple. If you are a one-person business, you don’t need complicated spreadsheets and detailed financial projections (unless of course those are the things that you can’t live without). Set a goal or two, break down the steps you need to take to get there and just start implementing.
It begins with a day. One of my favourite quotes, from writer Annie Dillard, goes like this:
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.”
What that means is taking your plans for, say, getting a thriving TikTok account and breaking that down into simple steps that are on your list for a particular day. My own system for that is an adaptation of the time-blocking system advocated in this video by Cal Newport, and that’s also been a game-changer.
Do your business strategy planning in a different place from your desk. I don’t know why this works, but it does. For me, it means taking all the printouts and diaries and my laptop and snuggling on the couch with the dog. I guess this just doesn’t feel like work and frees up the creative spirit?
Make sure you have new stationery. Nothing says new year, new you like a visit to a stationery shop. Just try it!
Main picture: Jess Bailey, Unsplash
The stuff that’s always at the bottom of blog posts….
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