It’s nearing the end of the year. As a solopreneur or small business owner, you’re probably exhausted and ready to put the past behind you. Right?
Think again. If you decide not to review your business this year (meaning the ups, the downs, and everything in between), it’s more than likely that you’ll encounter the very same issues next year. As the familiar saying goes, history repeats itself.
That’s why a proper year-end review is crucial, where you intentionally set aside the time to celebrate your business wins and identify any business losses.
The key to doing this successfully? Keeping a positive mindset and allowing yourself enough time to do a thorough deep-dive. This means looking at the bigger picture and asking yourself the hard questions. Performing a review will help you make a more qualitative analysis of what happened and where you want to go.
Start your year-end review off right with a simple inventory of your work. In other words, your “work” is what you’ve made and/or what you’ve completed/delivered.
For example, if you run a blog, your “work” refers to the total number of blog posts you’ve written and published for that year. If you run a small e-commerce website, your work is every product you’ve put online and subsequently sold to a customer. If you’re a consultant, it’s every deliverable you delivered to a client. If you’re a web designer, it’s every website or landing page you’ve designed for a client (or your own side projects).
Once you’ve established your body of work, whatever that may be, now’s the time to look at what initiatives made an actual difference and which ones didn’t quite pay off.
To do so, ask yourself the following two questions:
- What went well?
- What didn’t go well?
Let’s start with the first one: What went well?
Whether it was the right pricing strategy or making use of the right resources, sometimes the biggest business successes are the unexpected ones.
For example, as a blogger, let’s say you wrote a post that received over 15,000 page views. Perhaps that was also the most you ever received since starting your blog. Ask yourself, was there something different about that post? Was it the subject material? The audience you were writing for? Did you use a particular marketing channel (i.e. advertising it on your Facebook page rather than your Twitter account)?
By answering these questions, you’re better able to pinpoint your successes, rather than attribute them to blind luck. (And of course, give yourself a nice pat on the back for a job well-done.)
Now, the often-dreaded second question: What didn’t go well?
Don’t use this as your opportunity to beat up on yourself. See it instead as a growth opportunity, your chance to figure out what went awry so you can avoid it happening the next time around. Asking some of the follow-up questions can help you get there:
- Were some of your goals too unrealistic or aggressive? Did some of your goals require more budget, focus or effort than you could provide? Did you fall short on certain resources? Were you not utilizing the right channels?
While it might seem easier to focus on the letdowns, resist the temptation. Focusing on the negative only means you subconsciously invite more of it. So, keep your eye on the prize and remember recognizing any downfalls allows you to make better decisions in the future.
When you work for yourself or employ a small number of individuals, make sure that you firmly establish some sort of a company culture. (If you haven’t yet, don’t worry! Just make this a goal for next year.)
What do we mean by a “company culture?” It’s simple. Identify something that motivates you (and your employees, if applicable) to do better, to strive for success, and to remember why you’re in this business to begin with.
Company culture often revolves around three pillars—vision, mission, and values. Since they’re often mixed up, here’s a brief rundown:
- Your vision is the heart and soul of your business, driving you to do what you do. (For how to write one, we recommend these steps.)
- Your mission is how you want to move forward with your vision, usually taking place over a certain time period. (While some say 15-20 years, others suggest it’s more realistic with 3-5 years.)
- Your values is how you go about doing your business, meaning how you engage with not only those outside your business but also inside.
Although most businesses—big, small or somewhere in between—claim to have established these three pillars, more often than not they don’t actually live by them.
If you’ve already got yours in place, now’s your chance to check in with yourself and ask:
- Are you actually enjoying your work?
- Are you having fun running your business?
- Are you feeling personally fulfilled in serving your clients/customers?
If you answer “no” to any of these questions, perhaps you need to simply adjust your three pillars and the rest will fall into place.
Now that you’ve identified your achievements, accepted your disappointments, and re-established your three pillars, don’t forget to look at your numbers. (For a refresher on the vital statistics you should be tracking for your business, check out our previous blog on this very topic.)
Not only will you need to do a full review of your financials but also on all the measurable data that’s available to you. This includes, but is not limited to, the following metrics:
If the above metrics are applicable to your business, don’t be afraid to investigate further and discover what exactly contributed to any growth (and yes, any loss). This is how you can start to decipher where you should be better investing your time and money, inevitably allowing you to cut down on costs and increase your profits.
Business not exactly booming? It happens to the best of us. Check out our helpful guide to navigating seasonal slumps.
Don’t keep your year-end review all to yourself. Let people know (especially your employees, if you have them) what you’ve learned and are trying to achieve for next year.
By making this “public” evaluation a routine part of your strategic planning, you ultimately hold yourself accountable.
And don’t be so quick to eliminate goals that didn’t exactly pan out this year. Look instead at other ways you can make them happen for the year ahead. Sometimes, all it takes is redirecting your energy to realize your intended outcome.
For further advice on how to create your own plan (as well as what practices you want to stop, start, or continue), Namecheap’s Emily Jacob breaks it down nicely.
Let’s get real. Most solopreneurs and small business owners don’t actually take the time to step outside the quantitative (data/metrics) and properly reflect on the qualitative. In an ideal world, they matter equally.
However, when you decide to do both, this helps narrow down your priorities for the year ahead. And, one of the most important decisions you’ll face is to decide what comes first. In this case, always think small—not big. Small wins build momentum, so start your year off right with projects and goals you can realistically accomplish. Bigger projects or ventures can, and should, come later.
This is also the time to take a look at those around you. Even with the best strategies in place, it often takes a village to help you execute and see things through. So don’t be afraid to cut ties with those who aren’t up to the challenge or don’t live by your vision, mission or values.
Sometimes your year-end review is as simple as making changes, jotting down your wins, and celebrating them so you can make next year even better. Good luck!
Do you have any other smart tips you’d like to share with us? Feel free to mention them below.