Business owners are typically quite adept at forecasting the future needs of their companies. In fact, for entrepreneurs, planning ahead is an indispensable skill. Yet, by the same token, looking forward in a practical way is often next to impossible without accurately evaluating the past.
Of course, each year presents its set of highs and lows; and it’s just as important to celebrate an achievement as it is to assess and learn from a flawed decision. Simply stated, in order to create a working plan for the upcoming year, it’s imperative for business owners to take stock of the past one. Small-business adviser to entrepreneurs across the globe and contributor to Inc.com, Marla Tabaka, shares some valuable guidelines for preparing a smart annual business review.
1. Establish your goals.
A yearly review requires a sense of objectivity as well as the ability to “[separate] yourself from the business to access a bird’s-eye view”, says Tabaka. Rejoicing in the wins and recognizing the areas where improvements are needed requires a positive outlook because, as Tabaka states, “…no matter which way it goes, you’re about to make it better”.
2. Prepare a query list.
A direct approach to the review process will help you cover all bases, and even create an innovative forum. Therefore, it is always helpful to prepare a list of questions; for example:
- What were our/my achievements?
- How did these achievements affect our growth as a company?
- What did we learn in the past year, and how did it support our progress?
- What were our greatest setbacks and/or disappointments for the year?
- Were strategies created and implemented to tackle any setbacks?
- Were there any unforeseen expenses which could be avoided in the upcoming year?
3. Create a schedule.
Remember that it’s not necessary – or beneficial — for a year-end review to be completed in one sitting. It’s important to set aside enough time to properly delve into the issues that matter most to your company. Tabaka advises, “Keeping the pace is important, so schedule time slots in each day during one particular week”. While your own company may require more or less time than another, don’t limit yourself and your organization during this crucial process.
4. Reflect on the positive.
Learning from our successes is just as important as learning from our mistakes. Recognize what works for your company, and recreate the specific practices that led you to those achievements within the context of the future needs of your organization. Remember that talent and skill play roles in success too, so this is also a time to celebrate your team’s (and your own) natural abilities.
5. Ascertain your metrics.
It’s time to identify the tools you will need to measure your company’s performance over the past year. Naturally, you will need to review your financial statements, but other metrics may also include assessing new customer growth and retention, email list development, Google analytics for your company website, as well as downloads and new subscribers via your own online published content. The next step is to, “carefully review your metrics and ascertain what contributed to your growth, as well as best practices for further growth”, according to Tabaka. Business owners should also try researching and pinpointing other ways of contributing to their own metrics arsenal.
6. Review goals for upcoming year.
Most often, our objectives will change with time, so assuming that your post-review goals will remain identical to those of the prior year is generally unrealistic. As supply and demand, as well as economic trends shift over time, so will your company’s objectives. Tabaka’s advice to business owners is to “[identify] which goals are worth keeping, which will be eliminated, and how you will redirect your energies to realize your desired outcome”. However, don’t rush to eliminate valuable goals that didn’t necessarily work out. Rather, try seeking out alternative strategies for achieving them. Always remember to consider both the long and the short term when contemplating your objectives.
7. Don’t overlook company culture and values.
Whether deliberate or unplanned, company culture is a pivotal factor in a company’s reputation and overall success. Nevertheless, without a solid value system, a positive and supportive culture is much more difficult to achieve. Even sole-proprietors should maintain a distinct set of values in order to be successful. Tabaka advises business owners to take stock of both the positives and negatives in relation to their company’s culture by asking the following key questions:
- What did you do to encourage a positive company culture this past year?
- Were there any missed opportunities?
- How can you be even more focused and effectual when supporting a positive company culture in the upcoming year?
8. Remember to follow up.
Plans are only as effective as the degree to which they are upheld. Don’t forget to arrange periodic (monthly or quarterly) meetings to ensure that your goals and strategies are not only in working order, but also having the desired effect. Conversely, keep in mind that these tactics are not necessarily “carved in stone”, so to speak. As Tabeka supports, they are rather “…fluid like water. Make changes, note your wins, and continue to celebrate them”.
More from Stewart Cooper & Coon: Risk Management and Business Planning: Handling the What-Ifs
Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200