The last three years have shown us a picture of just how unpredictable the world around us can be. Change is everywhere—pandemic, inflation, interest rate hikes, social unrest—and the examples are obvious because they're happening to all of us, all at once. Underneath all this shared experience is the realization that even when things start to seem more “normal,” there’s still plenty of change impacting us. Small businesses are often the first to feel the next big change.
Maybe this extended exposure to continual change has helped you discover new ways to hard-wire sustainability into your business. Here’s another way to do just that: Have you made a habit yet of annual planning? You definitely should. It’s a powerful way to strengthen your business and financial sustainability no matter what comes. If you have a solid annual plan and you allow it to guide your actions and decisions in the year ahead, you’ll find that you can create the business you want and not feel like you’re constantly reacting to the unpredictable.
Annual planning starts early—ideally now, in the midst of your regular business year. Don’t be tempted to treat it like a holiday break from regular business. Begin by getting clear on your financial goals for 2023. Be reasonable, but not overly cautious. Goals need to be both achievable and aspirational in order to inspire the work ahead. Paint a picture for yourself of what would need to happen in your business to reach a level of financial sustainability that would feel like it really matters. Connect your goals to the longer-term strategic vision you have for your business, get them recorded so you won’t lose or forget them, and start working backward from the results you want to the steps you’ll need to take to get there.
Here are three powerful commitments you can make to annual planning to help get you started.
1. Create a vision for your business
If you want your business to grow, you need to picture it when it’s done and at each stage along the way. What’s your business doing three years from now? How much revenue is it producing? How many people work for you, and in what roles? What do your customers say about doing business with you? Equally importantly, what’s your life like, both at work and when you’re not at work? Every creation begins as a work of imagination, and imagination is a leader’s job.
Here’s an exercise to help you get started imagining the future: Focus on one big goal that really matters for 2023—and just let yourself dream. Don’t be held back by false modesty, doubt or uncertainty. Make yourself conscious of your inner voice and don’t let it tell you that you can’t do it, don’t know how, or don’t really believe in yourself. You can deal with that later, after you know what you really want to create. For now, just give yourself permission to imagine.
2. Baseline your business today against your goals for the future
Don’t do this step until you have a clear picture of where you want your business to be. When you have that firmly in mind, take an objective look at where you are now. It’s your starting point, and the way you’ll measure the distance you need to travel to get from here to there.
There are two parts to your baseline. First, you need an inventory of the skills, experiences, qualifications and resources you already have and can marshal to work toward your goals in 2023. Make a list. Include your own personal attributes and resources, and then take a walk around your business and see what else and who else can contribute. Take a fresh look at the people and systems you already have and re-imagine what those people and systems could do to push your business toward your goals.
Second, you need a current-state evaluation of each of the Seven Essential Systems in your business:
- Customer Fulfillment
- Lead Conversion
- Lead Generation
If you’ve never done this kind of evaluation, here’s our comprehensive business assessment. It’ll help you gauge the strengths and challenges of each system in your business. And it’ll tell you what’s missing that you haven’t created yet.
A thoughtful, thorough baseline will give you a clear understanding of where your company currently stands in the context of planning for your goal. It’ll also show you some of the assumptions you’ve made, and whether you want to keep them or replace them. You’ll have a realistic starting point for planning.
3. Design a goal-focused plan
So now you’ve fully imagined your goal and set up the context from your business assessment. Next, revisit the Seven Essential Systems and work out what needs to change within each one to get from where you are now to where you want to be.
- Are you clear on the vision?
- Can you tell a compelling story that inspires others to want to contribute?
- Can you feel what it will do for you to achieve your vision?
- Are you telling a story that attracts the right customers for the goal you want to reach?
- Are you marketing to your current and past customers, not just trying to bring in new customers?
- Is your pricing where it needs to be to generate the revenue goals you've set?
- Are you confident your costs are in alignment with what you're trying to achieve?
- Who's going to be accountable for creating the project plan? What about the project team?
- Is project planning a new discipline for your business, and do you need to make an investment to establish the skill to do it?
- Customer Fulfillment
- Are you sure you can produce your service or product to keep pace with your sales?
- Do you know all the elements you need to deliver a successful service or product, including customer service and support?
- Lead Conversion
- Do you know what it costs to convert one client?
- Do you have a way to measure conversion rates? Are you testing different approaches to see what works and what doesn't work?
- Lead Generation
- What lead generation channels best align with your audience?
- Which channels are the most effective for this project, and why?
These are only a few of the questions you’ll want to consider during your planning process. You can find more examples in our free Annual Planning Guide for 2023.
Conclusion: Implement your plan
By the time you complete the goal-planning process, you’ll know the hard questions that you need to address, and you’ll probably have answered some of them. The rest can become part of your project planning. More importantly, you’ll have painted the picture of where you want to be next year at this time, when you’ll be planning for 2024. Don’t let yourself feel overwhelmed. If the vision you’re holding really matters to you, it’ll be worth the work.
Our annual planning guide will give you a place to start with your planning. If you’re the resourceful type, it’ll help you stay focused and be thorough. Talking to a coach is helpful too, because you can’t always see yourself or your business objectively. If you want to find out whether EMyth Coaching is a strategy that can help you make your business vision real, click here. We have a free 60-minute session that delivers real value so you can decide if coaching could work for you.