90 day business planning

I’m writing this as we approach the end of June and begin to think about the next quarter.

And this next quarter is always a bit tricky. Certainly if you have school age children. Because you have the dreaded school holidays to contend with (or maybe you look forward to these days). And running a business with children around can certainly be challenging (I wrote a blog post “School’s Out” with some ideas of how to manage to free up time when you have the children at home).

But that doesn’t mean you should write this quarter off. This quarter, like all others, has 13 weeks in it.

You might have 3 or 4 weeks when working is a write off, perhaps you’re away on holiday (holidays are a very good idea when you run your own business) or you want to spend that time focused on your children and accept your business is secondary. And, for many of us, having the flexibility when the children are off is a key reason we work for ourselves.

You might also have 3 – 4 weeks when your working time is going to be more limited than usual. Either because you have children around more or because there’s end of term activities like sports day, plays, and social events. Maybe you just want to make the most of the sunny days and go to the park after school.

But that still leaves 6 to 10 equivalent weeks (taking into account those “part time” weeks) when you can work on your business. And they’re too valuable to waste.

You might not be a natural planner (I’m not). You may prefer to “go with the flow”. But one thing I have found, is when I “go with the flow” I get less done. And when I have more limited time than usual, planning how I’m going to use that time helps enormously to make the most of it. It means I’m not wasting time thinking “what should I do now”. I can just get on and do it.

Every 90 days I plan out the next quarter. Why quarterly plan? Well I plan annually too but a year is a long time and more targeted quarterly planning helps me to keep to my annual plan, or adjust that plan as needed. And 1 month is a bit short.

That quarterly planning exercise is just as valuable in June as January (if not more so).

What do I do?

90 day business planning

Look Back

First of all I review the previous quarter.

I don’t do this to beat myself up if I haven’t met my goals for the quarter, but to learn from it and inform my goals for this quarter.

If I have met/exceeded goals I’ll look at why that might be. Has a new strategy been particularly successful? I’ve previously found focusing on following up leads led to an increase in bookings (no super sleuthing required on that one!). I’ve also found working for half an hour/an hour first thing during school holidays (before everyone else is up and ready to go out – something that happens later and later when your children hit secondary school age) on a big goal (like launching my podcast) meant that it did progress. Finding time later in the day just never seemed to happen. Writing out the steps I needed to take, in the right order, so I could literally just get up and start work without needing to think, also helped.

And if I haven’t met goals I’ll also think about why. Revenue goals don’t always get met because the timing of website launches is not completely within my control. I’m reliant on clients giving me content and feedback on designs. So I may have fallen short but that might be because a website launch (or two or three!) hasn’t happened and is just deferred to the next quarter. During lockdown several websites were delayed because clients had home-schooling responsibilities and photo shoots couldn’t take place. It has made me think about what I can do to reduce this happening in future.

Sometimes goals have just been a little too ambitious and other things have gotten in the way. My podcast was on my goals for some time before it actually happened. It wasn’t just that it took me longer, but also other things took more time too. And each quarter I was ticking off some of the items so getting closer to my goal. That is valuable.

Setting Goals

I never used to set outcome based goals (because I struggled to think of what they should be), but have found I achieve more when I do.

Some people like to set realistic goals. Others prefer to set stretch goals. You should set them at a level that best motivates you. If you give up when you realise you’re never going to hit a goal then a realistic goal is going to be better. If you enjoy striving and take great delight in hitting a difficult target then set stretch goals. You can do a mixture too.

Whether they are realistic or stretch, outcome goals should be specific and measurable. It means using £ targets (not “more revenue than this time last year” – put a number on it), numbers (X new clients) and words like “launch” or “complete” (not “progress”).

You might have a revenue goal, a profit goal (or a goal to pay yourself a certain amount), a number of new clients goal, a completion of client work goal, a marketing goal and maybe a project you want to do. Think about what you really want to achieve in the next 90 days (and yes, just having a functioning business and surviving the school holidays can be goals too!)

From Goals to Plans

“A goal without a plan is just a wish” as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry apparently said

He was right. After setting goals it is important to make a plan to meet those goals, otherwise they are unlikely to happen.

I divide revenue goals into the different parts eg the number of new clients paying a deposit, the number of websites completed (and even which specific ones), the amount of revenue from existing clients (I have a maintenance plan and this revenue is pretty predictable) and the amount from any new products or services I might be launching or other products/services I sell. Breaking it down this way makes it more real and you can see what you need to do to achieve it (and whether it makes sense – especially if you have less time to work on your business over those weeks).

For any projects I write down the precise things I need to do to complete the goal. When I was launching my podcast it was things like complete the podcast training course I’d signed up to, find podcast hosting, create cover art, find (and buy) theme music, record the intro and outro, brainstorm episode ideas, outline and record the first X episodes. The benefit of this is when you have time to “work on podcast” you know exactly what to do without having to think.

Even when it comes to signing up new clients I’ll give thought to the actions that are going to help drive that and write them down. That’s where things like “following up” came from.

Translating the plan into actions

Some of the plans will be about “one off ” things (like creating podcast cover art), others will be regular activities (eg following up leads).

I take those regular activities and make them into a list. That list might include things like “posting on Instagram at least 4 times a week”, “following up leads within 2 business days”, “publishing my podcast weekly”. Again these are specific and measurable. Some of them are more critical than others.

These are the actions I can control. I can’t always control the outcome of my goals, but if I can complete these actions and the rest of the plan then I have done everything I can to achieve the goals.

The Reward

As part of my plan I think about what would I consider to be a successful quarter. It’s not just about meeting all the goals, it might be making just one of them or a couple of them and some of the actions. So it might be launching a new service and finishing X number of projects or maybe meeting my revenue target and finding someone to outsource my accounts to. And even if I get nothing else achieved I’ll still consider it a successful quarter.

Then, I think about how I’m going to reward myself if I have a “successful quarter”. After all we all need something to motivate ourselves!!

celebrating meeting business goals

Weekly List

Each week I write out a “to do” list. I try to make it realistic. I gave more detail on this in my blog post How I Plan My Week.

But, as well as client work and any business admin that goes on the list I add the regular actions that are going to help me achieve my goals. It’s a useful reminder and I can tick them off each week. I will also look at the other actions and, depending upon what is happening that week, add some of the “one off” actions that will also help achieve my goals.

Monthly Review

The thing about a 90 day Business Plan is that it is a “live” document. I look at mine regularly, at least monthly, and look at how I’m doing against each goal. I might then adjust my focus if I think I’m behind on a goal. So if I’m behind on say “number of new clients” signed up, I might make more effort on marketing to reach that.

If my revenue goals are looking good I might focus more on the project I want to complete.

Focus on business goals

Conclusion

90 day business planning is a really useful tool to ensure that you are making progress in your business. It’s easy just to drift throughout the year.

It means you know what you need to focus on to do the things you want to do in your business. And of course you can always choose to do something different – no plan needs to be rigid!

A plan should start with thinking about what has worked before. And what hasn’t. So we can learn from these. If posting on TikTok hasn’t brought in new clients in the past quarter why might it now?

Then it is a case of considering which goals are going to be your priority this quarter? Because you can’t do everything at once. Of course, there is nothing stopping you from achieving those goals and then adding more…

What actions do you need to take to meet those goals? Because hoping you’re going to achieve them is not a strategy that has a high degree of success. You need to know the steps you’re going to take to give yourself the best chance of meeting those goals.

How would you define a “successful quarter”? And how are you going to reward yourself if you are successful?

Then you need to get started. Remember to refer to the goals when you make your weekly plan. And check back in regularly to see what progress you’re making. If you’re meeting some of them and not others, can you spend more time and focus on the actions that will help you achieve the ones you’re less likely to meet?

If you’d like to plan your next quarter with me I’m running a workshop on Thursday 30 June 2022. You can find more details here

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