I have a confession: I still haven’t done my planning for 2017. While all the other productive, motivated entrepreneurs I know have their 2017 objectives set out and ready to go, I’ve been dragging my feet on it for weeks now. Why?
Well, one, because I’m the queen of procrastination and can’t seem to get anything done unless it's the last minute and I'm panicking. But also because I don’t want to start looking forward until I’ve taken the time to have a good look back.
That’s right: the year-end review. If you haven’t yet taken the time to look back over this past year and really evaluate what you’ve accomplished (or not), you should really consider it before diving into next year’s goals. Because unless we have a good idea of what worked and what didn’t last year, we risk making the same mistakes next year-- wasting time, energy and money.
Have I convinced you? Good. So let’s look at the four questions I’m asking myself for my year-end review.
1. How did I measure up against this past year’s objectives?
Taking the time to look back at the objectives you set at the beginning of the year has two roles. First, it lets you see how you did overall, giving you a snapshot of your progress. But, even more importantly:
Reviewing your progress on this year's objectives helps you evaluate whether the objectives you set are helping you move in the right direction.
Did you revisit your objectives throughout the year and adjust your work accordingly? Or did you excitedly set them last December and then forget about them completely until just now?
If it’s the latter, you’re in good company. And by “good company,” I mean “my company,” because I haven’t looked at mine either. You see, last year was my first year of business and I had no clue what to expect. So any objective I did set was a random number pulled out of my…. head.
Since I didn’t have any real objectives this year, here’s what I’m looking at as I do my review.
Total profit (revenue minus expenses, incl taxes)
Number of clients
Number of contracts (or products sold)
Average contract amount
Average number of billable hours per month
Number of proposals sent
Number of leads in my CRM system/ pipeline
Number of blog posts published
Number of blog comments (or average per post)
Website traffic (unique views per month)
Newsletter subscribers and number of sign-ups a week
PR/ Marketing opportunities: Partnerships, guest blogging, speaking opportunities, interviews, published articles, etc.
So if you didn't set objectives last year, no problem. Simply look at the list above, and remove what doesn't apply and add what's missing to give you an idea of where you stand now compared to the beginning of the year. If you need some help, enter your email for the free guide.
2. What worked and what didn’t?
Ok, I know that's two questions, but it's only one sentence, so just roll with it, ok?
Once you’ve reviewed each objective and added your numbers in, you need to evaluate what those numbers mean. It’s not enough to just fill in the numbers, see if you’ve achieved your goals and call it a day.
A real review-- one that will grow your business-- should help you know what you need to focus on going forward.
So how do you do it?
Understand the numbers
A year-end review isn’t just about the numbers: it’s about what led up to them. So as you’re reviewing your progress, really challenge yourself on each objective to understand what your results reflect about your efforts last year.
So for each objective, ask yourself:
How important is this objective to the success of my business?
What did (or didn't) I do to reach this number?
What didn’t work?
Focus on money-making activities
I know I said it’s not just about numbers, but revenue is what keeps you in business, so it should remain a focus of your review. But it’s not just about the what, it’s about the how: How did you make money this year?
As you list out your contracts from last year, write down how you acquired those clients. How did they discover you?
When you note down your client acquisition process for each client, you’ll notice patterns-- and those patterns will be clues as to how to get more clients in the future.
As you’re thinking about your client acquisition process, think as well about how you’ve successfully turned leads into clients. What can you learn and replicate? What can you improve or streamline? What successes can you bring into next year’s strategy?
Learn from the past to identify tactics for the future
As you think about all of the tasks that helped you reach your objectives, there’s a great technique that will help you start planning your priorities for next year.
It’s called the KISS technique: Keep, Improve, Start, Stop.
The way it works is you write down where you’re spending your time (or not) to achieve your objectives (or not). Then you go through each task and ask yourself:
What should I keep doing the same way?
What am I doing that could be improved or ramped up?
What aren’t I doing that I should start doing?
What am I doing that’s not working and I should stop?
The clarity you get from these questions will be a lifesaver when you’re doing your priority planning for next year.
3. What were my three biggest wins?
By now you should have a pretty good understanding of how your year went: how you stacked up against the goals you set, what worked and what didn’t, and what you can learn from last year that you can use next year.
So now’s the time to celebrate what went well.
Write down the three things you achieved this year that you’re most proud of or that moved the needle the most for your business. And don’t just note them down and move on to the next step, really recognize the work you put in to make it happen.
As entrepreneurs, we’re all constantly striving to grow, to improve, to do more and better. But it’s essential to take the time to acknowledge and celebrate our achievements.
First, because that feel-good, warm-fuzzy shit will motivate us when things get rough. But also because really exploring and celebrating what you did well is good for your business.
Identifying what worked well helps you know what to replicate or expand going forward. Rather than focusing on what you need to improve, you can build your business on your strengths.
You can focus your energy on what is proven to work, rather than wasting time trying to improve weaknesses.
Because focusing all your energy on improving what doesn’t work is not only demoralizing, but it’s also a waste of time. Even if you spend hours, days, months trying to get better at something you aren’t great at, chances are you’ll still only be average-- which means you’ll still be worse than the experts.
But if you focus those same hours, days, months on building upon what’s already working?
So don’t skip celebrating the wins. Don’t chalk it up as eye-rolly inspirational BS. It might feel weird to pat yourself on the back for your achievements, but believe me, your business will thank you.
4. What were my three biggest mistakes or failures?
Ok, I know I just got all uplifting in that “wins” section, but I’m not one to sugar coat things, so let’s be honest: last year wasn’t all gumdrops and puppy dog tails, was it?
There were some missteps, right? Or if you’re anything like me, there were about a million of them.
Which is normal (or at least that’s what I tell myself.)
So the idea here isn’t to beat yourself up or dwell on your mistakes, the point of this exercise is to learn from them.
When you identify your biggest fuck ups-- whether it’s something you did that you shouldn’t have, or something you didn’t do and wish you did-- you learn two things. First, when you get clear on what exactly went wrong, you’re less likely to repeat the same mistake. And second, when it’s clear what not to do, it becomes clearer what to do, i.e. where to spend your time and energy.
But as you look at some of the failures from this past year, just remember: failure is normal. In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that failure means you’re doing something right.
Because if you’re not making mistakes, you probably aren’t challenging yourself enough.
Making mistakes means you’re taking risks. You’re getting out of your comfort zone and trying new things that will push your business-- and you-- forward.
And that’s a good thing.
It’s easy to celebrate the wins, but we should celebrate the losses too: that’s when we learn the most.
So when you’re looking back over the year and tallying up the mistakes you made, celebrate them. Celebrate what you learned from them, what they brought you, or showed you. Celebrate how they made you stronger and more resilient. Celebrate how you’ll use what you learned going forward, making next year even better.
And while you’re at it, celebrate the mistakes you know you’ll make in the future. Because if you’re making mistakes, it means you’re pushing your limits.
And that’s what running a business is all about.