In my client-facing activities and my own business practices, the last quarter of the year often becomes a sprint to reach year-end sales goals which were set according to a twelve month plan. Because those goals and strategies are set annually, there are few opportunities to evaluate what is working and what isn’t throughout the year. Businesses may be making money, but without taking the time to explore what’s working (and what isn’t), and planning for success, it’s difficult to know why or how to replicate it.

Working with business leaders, our focus was often on the last 90 days of the year. What would need to get done so that the year ended well? A definition of ‘well’ was different for each client—most meant hitting or surpassing the financial plan, for others it simply meant ‘arriving alive’. In many organizations, the calendar year end is the close of business for the fiscal year. Knowing this, those organizations get into a sprint-mode and focus all attention on anything and everything sales (aka dollars) related. I know from my retail operations experience—this time of year was called (and still is) the ‘golden quarter.’ Giving clients the opportunity to envision the last day of the year and talk through what it would look and feel like, helps them see what they have to do to get there. With any luck, it will include some celebrating.

The biggest argument I have with clients is about their time and how it is spent, because as they move through the visioning process, they begin to feel overwhelmed with work. We wrestle over which activities the client should be doing and who should be doing the rest. What is it the best use and value for their time? Should they be outsourcing parts of the work, or not doing it at all? This is a tough subject that clients stumble over discussing because they may have never been challenged in this way before. Without taking time to step back and reflect on what worked well and what didn’t, they won’t be able to figure out how to replicate their success. Things that worked well will continue to be pleasant surprises, something I call making money “by accident”.

What became evident, one client at a time, was that more time was needed to work on the business than in the business. While most entrepreneurs are core to their business or practice, the need to designate focused time to planning, thinking, and reviewing the business is even more critical.

Working on the business can mean a number of things, and primarily means planning:

  • For the sustainability of your practice or business
  • Metrics including sales, margin, time, profitability, expenses
  • Marketing activities to drive results
  • People needs for growth
  • For the future – having the next 24-36 months in place with a vision
  • The roadmap to make your vision come to life

Now, there is a trap. Entrepreneurs and many other business leaders feel guilty spending a day out of the business to ‘reflect and plan’ because if they are not selling, no one is, so where are sales going to come from?

Ask yourself, when was the last time you spent a day reflecting on the past quarter or month, and course-corrected for the next time period? Taking time to reflect and plan on an annual basis and then at the very least, a quarterly basis, to check in on progress and course correct or pivot if necessary, is essential.

I recently finished reading The 12-Week Year by Brian Moran & Michael Lennington, which provides strategies for adopting a twelve week planning cycle for increased clarity and focus, and to avoid the stagnation of traditional annual planning. This cycle means that leaders have to spend more of their time working ON the business, instead of IN the business, continuously evaluating their successes and failures, and course correcting for the next month or quarter.

I love the approach in The 12 Week Year, facing each quarter as a new year gives back the excitement of starting fresh on new goals and ending strong. The goals are attached to your vision for the future, yourself, and your business. Planning to hit your goals begins with just that—really solid planning that breaks out into clear actions or tasks that lead to success. I guarantee that by spending time reflecting on your vision and past activities, and crafting your plan for the next quarter and committing to those actions, you will begin to see a marked difference in your ability to serve your client and hit your targets.

Most importantly, you will be able to link your planning to results, and replicate what works in the future, so that you’re not simply making money by accident.

Building a Sustainable Business