How To Plan For The Year Ahead

Business Articles

Dec 02

2nd December 2019

How To Plan For The Year Ahead

Planning for the year ahead

Looking back at 2019

With 2019 coming to a close,  December is the perfect month for looking back at the past year and to think about how to plan for the year ahead. 

Wherever you are in the world 2019 has been quite the year. With Brexit, Extinction Rebellion and Royal babies all filling our news feeds and the headlines, I wonder what 2020 will bring... 

Before we can start thinking about how to plan for the year ahead we must know what has gone well over the past 12 months. It is equally important to look at what went not so well so we can start to put together a plan.

Exercise 1

Spend a few minutes writing down your top 5 wins for the year and 5 things you would do differently. For example, one of your wins might be gaining 3 new high value clients, and something you would do differently might be to network more.

It is really important with exercises like this, that if you want to, you just keep writing. Don’t feel like you have to stop at 5. If you feel like you have achieved loads then just let it flow onto the paper. Likewise, if you feel you have had a year where you would change lots of things, just keep writing about it.

Getting these things out on paper can really make you realise what you have and haven’t achieved over the course of a year.

What we find out from this:

It is usually a really eye opening exercise. Particularly if you are feeling a little bit flat about not hitting all your goals. Sometimes getting them down on paper shows you just how much you have achieved. There are so many things you forget about by the end of the year.

Time to plan

Time to plan

Exercise 2

Once you have done this, I want you to start visualising yourself in 2020 at various points throughout the year. Can you see yourself winning an award, or doing this exercise at the end of 2020 and feeling really proud of what you are writing down in that first exercise?

Perhaps you see yourself spending more time with your family because you have created a better work/home life balance.

Once you start to visualise these things, write each goal on a post it note. They don’t need to be in any order or make particular sense at this stage. We will organise everything later on during the yearly planning. The things you are visualising don’t just have to be work related they can be family orientated, to do with your health, holidays or trips you might want to take, or financial goals you want to hit.

Maybe you want to buy a new house next year, stop smoking or run your first marathon..?

Once you have the post it notes of things you want to achieve in your plan for the year ahead, organise your goals into one of the following categories. The easiest way to do this is to put a coloured dot on each post it note:

  • Family (blue)

  • Health (red)

  • Business (yellow)

  • Financial (green)

Now this may look rather overwhelming, loads of post it notes with different coloured dots, and lots of things you want to achieve in a relatively small space of time! But don’t panic. We are going to organise them into manageable stepping stones so you have the most productive year yet!

To do list for Planning for the year ahead

The Year in Quarters

The best way to look at the year is to break it down into quarters.

Q1: January - March

Q2: April - June

Q3: July - September

Q4: October - December

I like to think of each quarter as 90 days. I then refer to each section of the year as its own 90 day plan.

90 day planning

Exercise 3

So the next thing you will need to do is take a large sheet of paper and split it into 4 columns. Title each column Q1-Q4. You can then start to move your post it notes around the paper and organise them into your columns. It is really easy at this stage to chuck everything into Q1 as you are probably really motivated at this point and think you can achieve anything!

Which is great, but you need to remain realistic…

The easy goals...

The easiest goals to start with are those that are date set. By this I mean the time you have to achieve them in, is out of your control.

For example, if you want to run a marathon and the date of the marathon isn’t until September you won’t be able to achieve that goal in Q1, it has to be set for Q3 on your plan for the year ahead. 

Same goes with winning an award. If the award ceremony isn’t until Q4, you won’t be able to win it in Q2. However, you can start to plan for these goals in earlier quarters, and that is where we start to break down our goals.

Let's look at some examples...

If we start with the goal of running a marathon. Let’s say you haven’t really done much running at all before, so running a marathon is going to take a lot of training. Q1 you might hope to be able to run a 10k race, why not sign up to a 5k and a 10k by the end of Q1. Then moving through the quarters aim for your distances to become much longer. Perhaps try and run a half marathon by the end of Q2.

The same goes for winning an award, think about what your business needs to do to achieve the award, perhaps you need to survey some of your customers to find out what you are doing well, and what not so well.

Speak to your team and see what ideas they have, they will have a different perspective on your business than you do and you should get some really interesting feedback. You will also need to allow time on your yearly plan for entering the award, often these things can be quite lengthy and also require lots of supporting material from your business which can take a while to compile. 

The financial goals...

Financial goals are also goals that can take longer to achieve. Perhaps you have set the goal of paying yourself a certain amount by the end of 2020, you will need to break down this goal so you know it is achievable.

Say you want to have paid yourself £50,000 by the end of the year. A £10,000 pay rise on last year. How many extra clients do you need to bring in to make that goal realistic? How many more cakes do you need to sell? How can you increase your prices or decrease your costs to help you achieve that goal?

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” 

- Benjamin Franklin

By now you should have quite a decorated piece of paper with lots of different post it notes across the quarters of the year. Remember at this point to keep it all realistic. If you put too much on there you are likely to achieve even less as you can become overwhelmed.

Planning for the year ahead doesn't need to be complicated, keep it simple. You will feel like you have achieved more by setting fewer goals that you can complete.

Also look at the balance of goals. Try not to have everything business related in one quarter and all your personal goals in another. Try to have a little bit of each category in each quarter on your plan for the year ahead.

Where you should be...

Now at this stage you should have goals and targets balanced across the quarters of the year. You will also need to keep in mind busy times of the year. If you know you busiest season is Quarter 4 gearing up to Christmas, then avoid putting too much in that section. Like wise if you know you want to have most of the summer off when your children break up from school, keep that part of the year fairly free. 

By getting to this point of your yearly planning you should have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and just how manageable it is. You should have your year laid out in front of you and you can then move on to tackling a quarter at a time.

Exercise 4 - The 90 Day Plan

Planning for the year ahead using the 90 day planning method is a brilliant way to keep you focussed throughout each quarter.

It isn’t too daunting as you are not trying to tackle a years worth of goals all at once. Goals you have set out for later in the year can be put to bed for now and you can really focus on getting stuck in on Quarter 1 and smashing those goals!

A 90 day plan is a working plan and it goes into much more detail than what we have done above when looking at the plan for the whole year. There is no point planning the full year in detail as so much can change in a year and you can just end up wasting your time. 

So how do we start...

First we are going to look at our 90 day planning template which you can download below for free:

Once you have downloaded the 90 day plan template we can start to look at how we fill it out.

It is a good idea to have a copy of the blank template and the example template so you can look at both together. 

What's first...

The first thing you are going to do is enter your quarterly theme.

Take a look at the goals you have set out for quarter 1 on your main plan. You should have around 5-10 goals with a mix of business and personal goals in there. It is good to take a common theme from these goals. This could be something as simple as:

  • More time for myself
  • Increase Profits
  • Streamlining home life and business
  • Be more organised
Monthly Phone Planning

You then need to enter the months and dates that fall in the quarter you are working to.

Don't worry it your quarters don't match up. If you start this in February or March then great. 

Starting late is better than not starting at all!

Next up... need to look at the strategies down the left hand side. 

Each strategy should have a different heading and a slightly different focus. You will see on my example that my Overall Goal for the Quarter is increasing profits and my Strategy 1 is Website Updates. 

I have then broken down what is involved in updating my website to help increase profits and these are added into the activity section of the template.

Whilst you are adding the strategies and the activities, you need to be referring back to your post it note plan and make sure you have included everything for the quarter.

You don't have to complete all the strategies, if you just want to have 1 or 2, and really focus on a specific section of your business then that is great. On the other hand don't go above 5, try to keep your strategies manageable.

 My goals fro planning for the year ahead

Now you need to look at who is going to do the activity and when. Spit the activities between your team and if you work on your own make sure you include any services you use. 

For example I might assign certain website updates to my web designer if I am not doing it in house.

Ladder for planning

Here are some top tips to make meeting your goals possible:

  • Don't take the whole burden on yourself. Split the activities between the whole team.
  • Give yourself realistic timescales. It is really tempting to want to complete all the activities within the first week, but this really isn't possible. Spread them out over the quarter.
  • Don't be afraid to take something off your 90 day plan.
  • Likewise, don't be afraid to add things to your plan, a lot can change in the course of 90 days!
  • You can move things about and reschedule them. If it is becoming clear that you won't be able to complete a certain task then take it off or push it back by a few weeks depending on its urgency. 
  • Keep those goals SMART!

Keeping goals SMART is essential when planning for the year ahead. Every time you set a goal you must ensure they follow the rules of a SMART goal.

What is a SMART goal?

S - SPECIFIC - Don't allow your goals to be vague, break them down into smaller goals if they aren't specific enough to enable you to complete them easily.

M - MEASURABLE - This helps gives you goal context. For instance if you decide your goal is to have a higher turnover this month, by changing the goal from 'Increase my turnover' to 'Increase my turnover to £20,000 this month'  and adding the amount makes the goal measurable.

A - ACHIEVABLE - If your goal is out of reach and virtually impossible to complete then not only will you fail at smashing that goal, but it could also effect your confidence in completing other goals from your yearly plan. It could even put you off following your plan for the year ahead all together!

R - REALISTIC - Keep it realistic. There is no point setting a goal which is completely irrelevant or unrealistic.

T - TIMELY - This is exactly what we are aiming for with our plan of the year and also the 90 day plan. Giving yourself a time limit for what you want to achieve will help keep your goal SMART

Smart Goals

So by now your 90 day plan should have your strategies filled out and also your activities. You should have started to decide who is doing what task. It doesn't matter if you leave some activities unassigned at this point, sometimes it is good to see how the plan pans out before assigning everything.

From here we need to start looking at time scales. When you want an activity to be completed, fill the box for that week in red. Some activities will span over a couple of weeks or even a month. Once you have started that task you can turn it orange and then once it is complete you will turn it green.

By the end of the 90 day plan every activity should have a green box next to it at some point along the chart.

So, what's next..?

Towards the end of each quarter you need to look ahead at the next 90 day plan. Always go back to your full plan for the year ahead and after quarter 2 it is a good idea to review your yearly plan as you get to that half way point.

If you have read the above and want some more great resources, then check out this fantastic Podcast by Suzi Witt:

5 milestones on your business journey

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