Another December—and another opportunity to write up goals for the coming year. It feels like déjà vu. Some of you view writing and revisiting your business plan as nothing more than practice management mumbo jumbo. To the rest of us, it is an essential business management habit. For both groups—those of you who go through this exercise every year and those who do it reluctantly—I have some ideas on how you can set up your business plan in a way that will pay off by the time you’re sitting in this same spot next year.
Keep It Simple
Too often, I see written business plans that are beautifully designed and bound but also big and cumbersome. I am usually left wondering, where’s the beef?
You can have meaty content without loads of pages. Keep things simple: all you really need is a document that outlines the vision, the long-term direction of the firm over the next five years and a set of SMART goals for the upcoming year. You want just seven or fewer of these goals (which need to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time bounded). By keeping the number small, you can narrow your focus on the few things most important to the firm.
Personally, I like to include one or two stretch goals even though they don’t quite fit the “R” (realistic component) of SMART. Doing so pushes you outside the comfort zone. It works as long as you don’t get hung up or feel like a failure if you don’t reach one—or any—of your stretch goals. More likely than not, you’ll at least move beyond what the realistic goal would have been. Just remember that beating yourself up when you don’t reach a goal is totally counterproductive.
Additional documents that support your plan warrant attention. For example, a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis tends to embody why you think the goals for the current year are important. You can also fold in analysis of the previous year’s goals to provide a contextual lookback that will enhance your planning process.
Here’s the Twist for 2017
One new concept for 2017 concerns the “time-bounded” component, or the “T” of SMART. Many of us are inclined to set all our due dates to December. New research tells us to do one thing at a time instead. It even suggests that multitasking is bad for our brain.
So this year, instead of putting December 31, 2017, on each of your goals, prioritize and schedule them one after the other. While you may not be able to do it perfectly, staggered due dates can help you focus on each goal and enhance your brain function at the same time.
Find the Missing Ingredient
There are no guarantees. Just because you’ve written down that you’re going to do something, the action still has to happen. The plan only goes so far in keeping you accountable.
In fact, the one missing ingredient of what business planning and goal setting can specifically provide is accountability. The way goals are written matters here. Clearly designed SMART goals can be measured. They can also increase accountability. You’ll be absolutely clear on whether you have achieved your goal or not if you’ve written your goals in such a way.
To make sure you do, it helps to find a coach, consultant, colleague, boss or mentor who can keep you on track. You want someone who will help you stay focused on your goals and your progress toward achieving them. Any associated expense will be worth it when you solidify the right goals and realize you have a support system grounded in your long-term strategy.
The closer you can keep your firm tracking toward your vision, the more likely you’ll realize value from your business planning efforts. Perhaps this time next year, planning will have become a welcome habit.
Managing Principal of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network