I love the end of a calendar year. It is a time for family Christmas celebrations. It’s summer and there are some extra holidays to be had. There is generally a positive vibe in the community. These are all good things, but perhaps the thing I like most about the end of a calendar year is the opportunity to reflect and project. To reflect on the year that has been and to project the year ahead.

Business PlanningHere are some questions I like to ask at year end

Reflect on the year that has been

  • What has worked well?
  • What am I proud of?
  • What would I do differently?
  • What did I learn?

Project the year ahead

  • What will I start doing?
  • What will I stop doing?
  • What will I do more of?
  • What will I do less of?
  • What do I want to achieve?

These are great questions to ask both of yourself as an individual and then also to consider for your business. Get the team involved and share what you all come up with. As a business owner you might be surprised by what your team say.

A time to plan

From a personal and business perspective I also believe December/January are great months for accounting and other professional firms in Australia to do more detailed planning. That is because for many firms there will be a “quiet period” where there is the chance to get off the merry-go-round of the day to day business and think more deeply about where the business is going and how it is going to get there. The questions above are a great start but I believe they are just that, a start.

Outside influences and the impact of change

I have heard on the odd occasion an argument against planning on the basis that in the 21st century things are changing so quickly that to plan for anything is futile. I strongly disagree with this view and believe that the speed of change is what makes planning so important. When I facilitate planning sessions for firms the place I like to start is by looking at what I call the external influences/environment. I typically break this down into the following areas:

  • Political / regulatory
  • Economic
  • Environmental
  • Social / demographic
  • Technological
  • Competitors
  • Industry providers

All these need to be considered at a local, country and global level. What we are looking for in all of this are things that have or will change, that have an impact on your business. You don’t operate in isolation so need to be aware of what is going on around you. That way you can respond to or prepare for changes in an effective way. If you have not thought about these things and discussed them with your team I recommend you do.

Individual v business

The second area of focus when planning for your business is to look at the goals, aspirations, beliefs and values of the owners of the business. I have a process I use to bring these into focus, but whatever approach you take I encourage you to rigorously consider the alignment (or not) between personal and business goals, aspirations, beliefs and values. In my experience it is not unusual to discover significant misalignment in multiple owner firms and even in a single owner firm. In some cases this will not be fatal and in others the hard truth might be that some people leave the business. (And that will be a good outcome for those people and the business.)

There needs to be a very clear understanding of what each owner is seeking to get out of the business. If there is not, it often ends in tears. Or worse. Getting this sorted up front is arguably the most important thing you do as part of your business planning process as it provides the foundation for everything else.

How long does business planning take?

In my experience the annual or twice yearly planning work is a combination of preparatory research and thinking and a day or two of formally bringing it all together with the leadership team. There might be a day of work for each owner on the research side and then the day or two of the owners (and managers if you decided to include them) formally working through the building and/or refreshing of the plan.

Where are you today?

This is the reflection piece. Ask the questions I listed to earlier and consider them in respect of all the elements of the business. When we build a route to get to our destination, we need to know where we are starting from. It provides insights that make it easier to plot our path for success.

Where do you want to get to?

This is the one of the important questions you are trying to answer in your planning process. I am a big fan of goals for a whole range of reasons including the ability of a goal or goals to galvanize and inspire the team, provide a point of focus and a shared purpose. The goals you set will be across the different elements of your business and not just about revenue and profits.

How you get there

This is the key! Having established where you are and where you want to get to, you have to do the hard yards to work out the specifics of how this will happen. And this is where the planning process often fails. In a one or two day session you may not get all the answers but you do need to get some very clear next steps with allocation of responsibility – who will do what by when.

The value of a third party

I appreciate that coming from me this might sound a bit self serving, given that I love to help firms with planning. I’ve been in five different firms and involved in planning processes for all of them. I’ve led the planning process in some and have used a third party to assist in some. What I learned is that the use of a third party frees up the owners and managers in the business to focus on the business and not the process of planning. I genuinely believe you get a better result and would be happy to chat with you if you would like to explore using me to facilitate your planning.

I could write a book on business planning but my goal in this article has been to prompt your thinking and action on this important topic. Find a time in December or January to do some personal and business planning.

There is an old saying which I believe is very true – that failing to plan is planning to fail.

I don’t want that to happen to you.