Step 1

If I told you that the annual plan you write today will be useless as soon as you complete step 1, how would you respond?

“You must write terrible plans.”

“This just confirms why plans are so pointless”

“That’s nonsense, I always follow my plans to the letter, to the very end.”

You may be thinking that I’m about to tell you why you don’t need a business plan but actually, I’m going to do quite the opposite.

You’ve probably heard Stephen R’ Covey’s quote “begin with the end in mind”. If you want to know what you need to start working on tomorrow, or next week, or what to get done by the end of the month, you are going to find it extremely hard to figure out unless you have a vision of where you will be one year from now, three years from now and 10 years from now.

Whenever I start working with a new client, we always start with their vision and if they don’t have one or it seems unclear, we make one together.

Once we both know where we’re headed, we start to work backwards to determine what they need to do to make meaningful progress towards that vision in the next three years, the next year, the next quarter.

Then and only then do we talk about how the next month is looking. Because now we have line of sight.

The thing about line of sight is, the further in front of you you try to see, the fuzzier it becomes. That’s how it’s meant to be. Business planning is not an exercise in predicting the future. It’s an exercise to help you identify what your next step should be.

Set a calendar reminder in three months to review your progress and reflect on what you’ve learned. Chances are, you’ll need to either refine or even completely revise your plan.

Then take your next step.

Going deep then wide

When you are just starting out in business, it’s common to feel like getting enough customers or either going to take forever or a lot of money.

Quarter 2 is just around the corner and so I’m taking stock of my annual budget. Am I on track? Where do I need to take action to improve my cash flow?

If I want to hit this target in June, how many clients or projects or hours is that? Extrapolate that through to end of the year and it equals more clients, more projects, more hours than my brain can handle.

Where is all of this work going to come from? How am I going to reach all of these new people?

The thing is, it’s not always about going after the new. In fact, if you’re always chasing those elusive new clients, where does that leave your existing ones?

How can you go deeper with clients you have? What can you do for them next?

Missing the point

When we are so busy paying attention to the individual trees, we lose sight of the forest. By the time we realize the forest is there, it might be too late.

Somewhere along the line we missed the real need, the real pain point. We were so focused on the deliverables for which we were asked, we missed the bigger picture.

Sometimes a quick pause to ask “what are your goals and how does this fit?” can transform a project into what it needs to be.

Here's something we can agree on

If you’re having trouble convincing someone of the best way forward, perhaps you are going about it the hard way.

Humans all have the same needs - safety, shelter, food and water, belonging, love and connection, to be respected by others, to feel fulfilled. There’s a reason Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has endured for decades.

Yet we all have different ways of getting our needs met. Our beliefs determine our actions and getting others to agree with our beliefs is hard. But what if instead, you find the need you share? What if agreeing on the outcome is all it takes?

Taj James, found and Executive Director of the Movement Strategy Centre talks about how much time we spend wanting people to believe what we believe as opposed to working towards the same outcomes. Say for example, you want to establish a new community garden in your neighbourhood because of your belief that eating home grown produce is healthier than eating conventionally farmed produce. Your neighbour also wants to see a new community garden in her neighbourhood because she believes kids can benefit from learning how to garden. You don’t have to share the same beliefs but you both want the same outcome.

We are always going to have different needs to our clients. We need to work within our process. Our process might be too arduous or take too long for our clients. An emergency to our client is a just another step towards their goal to us. Your process might be evolving while some of your clients will want to work with you the way they always have.

Your job is not to convince them that your way is the best way. It’s to find the outcome you both agree on and work back from there.

Making butter

If you have ever tried making your own butter, you know that before you see a yellow glob form in the jar, you must first endure a long period of shaking the cream back and forth. Back and forth. The process will fool you. You will begin to wonder how much more shaking will be needed. You will begin to wonder if this is really the way to make butter at all.

Meanwhile, your arm is starting to tire. The ache makes you switch hands. Still nothing.

‘Am I doing it wrong’? you will say to yourself.

Sure, there are certain conditions that do make the job easier. Using a large jar that provides ample space for the cream to move back and forth will help. Having a friend on hand to take over shaking the jar to give your arms a chance to recover has the added benefit of making the task more social.

Still, there will inevitably be a long period of shaking the jar when no change is evident.

The cream will give you no indication that it’s changing states until you sense a telltale glob moving from end to end in the jar. The butter will suddenly, almost miraculously, form itself in the bottom of the jar with just a trickle of watery run off remaining of what was once fluid cream.

Making butter is a repetitive process. There are no shortcuts. It involves doing the same thing over and over until you see change.

Do you have a marketing problem or a goal setting problem?

Do you have a marketing problem or a goal setting problem?

In 2017, when I was first thinking about launching my own business, I created my first marketing strategy document.

Who was my target audience? What problems do they have? How do I solve those problems? What is my unique value proposition?

Then, I started setting some goals for myself. Things like:

To be the best small business marketing consultant in Greater Vancouver.”

And:

To have a great reputation for doing great work.”

For a year or so, like most freelancers starting their first small business, I went from project to project. I took what I could get. Most of the work was a far cry from what I wanted to do or what I promoted on my website but I put this down to figuring out what I really wanted to do. Searching for my niche.

Yet, somehow I was holding onto the thing I had set out to do in the beginning. That it was still a good idea. I just hadn’t done the work required to truly make a difference.

Why I had I given up on it so easily?

I thought it was because I had a marketing problem. I didn’t know how to get people to buy it.

But I didn’t have a marketing problem, I had a goal setting problem. When I look back now over the goals I set for myself in 2017, they don’t excite me. They read like something I would write to impress someone else. Like someone else was looking over my shoulder. I had no emotional connection to what I was trying to accomplish, nor a way to know when I had reached my goals.

So this year, I’ve re-written my goals. They’re big with lots of blue sky and a long runway. I really want to reach them and this has made it a hell of a lot easier to know what I need to do this year, this month, this week and today.

Today, tomorrow and the next day

What is your big, hairy, audacious goal? Your main objective? The thing that makes what you do today, tomorrow and the next day worth it?

If your dream is for your idea to become a movement, do you know what you will do tomorrow to bring you a step closer?

Big goals require consistent effort over time. They require persistence - doing the same thing over and over again. Daily practices.

Just because that social post of yours that got tonnes of engagement never eventuated into a sale, doesn’t mean it’s not worth celebrating. Instead of going to work everyday trying to make that million dollars, try celebrating the small wins that put you on the path. Because when the small wins happen again and again, that’s when they grow into bigger and bigger gains in your business.

Want to sell 5 million books? Where to start? On her blog over on Forbes, Brand Strategist Pia Silva talks about working backwards to find the task before the task, before the task.

Find out what you need to do tomorrow and again the next day.