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As a busy business owner, you’re probably concerned about looking towards the future. After all, you’ve got a five year plan and all these goals you want to achieve. Before filling up your to-do list in your planner, don’t forget one crucial task: reviewing what has transpired this past year.
I get that it can feel hard to find time to sit down and review what’s happened. However, it’s a crucial activity as a business owner because it’ll help you love your business even more.
Whether it’s maximizing your earnings potential, enjoying more time outside of work or understanding what support you need to have an easier go at entrepreneurship, reviewing what’s happened within the last 12 months will help you get there. That’s because it’ll give you insight into what’s working and what’s not, so you can pivot if need be.
Since each business is unique, I’m not going to suggest a generic way to do your business review. Instead, here are nine questions to help you reflect on the goals you wanted to accomplish, some mindsets to declutter and what you can do to create a vision for the upcoming year.
What have I accomplished this year?
It’s a simple question on the surface, but as you start listing all your business accomplishments, you may surprise yourself at what you’ve done. I know I’m so focused on what I need to do next that I fail to reflect and celebrate all the cool things I’ve completed or opportunities that came my way.
Starting on a high note by celebrating you and your business is a great first step for your annual review. No accomplishment is too small!
To start, look back at your calendar and note all the projects and activities that have happened.
Here are some suggestions of things you can write down:
- All projects you’ve completed for clients (name each one)
- Each invoice that was paid ahead or on time
- Every time a client or customer sends you a compliment
- Whenever you reach or exceed your income goal
- Paying your quarterly taxes on time
- Hiring much needed help, like a website redesign
- Taking vacation time when you said you would
- Opening a self-employed retirement account
Once you list them out, keep this list because you’ll need it for all the other remaining reflection questions.
What went well and what didn’t?
If you created goals or intentions at the beginning of the year, now’s the time to dig these up and see where you stand. To be clear, this question isn’t meant to make you feel guilty or ashamed if you can’t tick off items in your list. The point is to look objectively at what happened and to see whether these goals are aligned with what you want and to see what may have held you back.
To work through this question, try to be as specific as you can. That way, once you uncover the reasons for what went well and didn’t, it can help to inform what action items you need to take next year.
For example, I wanted to take my exam for my Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) designation this year. As of December 2020, I have yet to pay for and schedule the exam. Looking back, I had a few family challenges that I ended up prioritizing, plus I am currently volunteering to help in the VITA program, the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.
What I learned is that I prioritize my family and I took on too much — studying for the AFC and VITA by itself was a lot. Next year, I will only be scheduling one major activity every quarter, and working on my mindset to be ok with letting work stuff fall by the wayside if my family needs me.
How have my accomplishments or goals aligned with my business values and mission?
Whether you’ve explicitly stated them or not, you have business values — they’re most likely aligned with the personal ones you hold. If you’ve been feeling off about what you’ve been doing in your business this year, it’s most likely that it was because it didn’t align with your values.
Take time to think about what your business values are and what drives your work. Have any of your accomplishments helped you towards them? If so, great! If not, think about the reasons why and figure out how you can change course.
How did my spending have a direct impact on my business goals?
Looking at your spending in terms of goals can help you to be more intentional about where it’s going. Since your business goals are (in theory) aligned with your values, spending money towards your goals means it’s going towards what you value the most.
That being said, not all spending can help you accomplish your goals or live out those values. It’s crucial you look at where your money is going so you can direct it in ways that can have a bigger impact.
Perhaps you wanted to increase sales for a product so you can donate more profits towards a worthwhile cause. You decide to spend a lot of money on Facebook ads to lead potential customers towards it. However, the money you spent didn’t generate enough of a return on investment. Instead, you notice the person you hired to manage your Pinterest account was able to drive lots of traffic to your sales page, leading to a lot more sales.
In this case, the Facebook ads weren’t as effective as your Pinterest manager — guess where your money should go next year?
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How did I implement work/life balance successfully this year?
What’s the point in being your own boss if you can’t take time off? Even if it’s a day off to browse your favorite bookstore or take a nap, you should be able to do it guilt-free.
Look at your calendar and see the times where you felt you should have taken time off. How can you ensure you schedule in vacation days next year?
Is there anything I need to forgive myself for?
Forgiveness is powerful in that it releases any negative thoughts you harbor about yourself. Having a better mindset about you and your business is what’s going to help you carve a life you live, so let the past be the past.
Sure, you can use what has already happened as lessons learned, but there is no point in feeling bad. What’s done is done — focus on forgiveness and move on.
What’s one thing I’m scared of implementing in my business?
Do you have a big scary goal you wanted to strive for this year but were afraid? Or do you want to finally hire a part-time assistant (and you can afford to) but you’re too much of a control freak? Maybe you’re scared of failure, or it’s too hard to put yourself out there.
Whatever the reason is, name it and declare your intentions to the world, or at least tell a few trusted business friends. It might just be the thing you need to kick your behind into gear.
What are my priorities for next year?
Now that you’ve looked at the past, it’s time to use all that knowledge to look towards the future.
Instead of calling them goals, think about calling the things you want to accomplish priorities. The word “goals” tends to carry a lot of baggage, like it’s something you have to do. Instead, priorities implies you have a choice.
Plus, this subtle shift can help improve your mindset to something that you want to do and will put at the top of your to-do list instead of feeling overwhelmed at all the things you can implement in your business.
Who can I seek for outside support to implement my plan?
We’re all human — even with the best of intentions we get scared or our schedules get the better of us. Even if you’re super organized, having some form of outside support could help kick your mindset up into high gear and feel better about your business.
Support can come in many forms. Maybe it’s a virtual mastermind group, hiring an accountability coach or a virtual assistant to help you schedule meetings with clients. Start small and look at your budget to see if you can afford this added expense.
Hopefully these reflection questions will help you level up your business and mindset next year. Good luck
Sarah Li Cain is a finance writer and a candidate for the Accredited Financial Counselor designation whose work has appeared in places like Bankrate, Business Insider, Financial Planning Association, Investopedia, Kiplinger, and Redbook. She’s the host of Beyond The Dollar, where her and her guests have deep and honest conversations about money affects their well-being, and Podcasting Q&A, a branded podcast from Buzzsprout.