Q4: The Planning Season
Q4 means finishing what you started AND looking ahead to next year. As we gear up for the planning part of that equation, here are some things I apply to Syrup’s process:
Seriously. Everything. You’ll of course review YTD PNL, sales ##s, etc. – that’s a given. What I’m saying is to use this time to get under the hood of your business and measure things. Play around with data. Much of what you measure will generate “as expected” or no insights and you’ll do nothing with it. But the roughly 10% that does can hold key business insights into things such as Ideal Client Profile (ICP), pricing, sales-cycle, conversion metrics, client retention….you get the idea. The key here is to be curious and ask “I wonder” type questions. Pull the data, chop it up and see what you see. Apply the insights, discard the rest.
Push yourself, but not too far
In most cases, you should be honing in on a small handful of quantifiable improvements year-over-year. It’s unlikely that every single metric will improve in one year. So the important thing here is to decide what are the most important improvements – increased revenue, increased profit, decreased churn…..and set reasonable goals for them. What is equally important is identifying the supporting metrics that will drive the primary goals. For example, revenue growth may be a primary goal but will be supported by some combination of new clients, new sales volume, existing clients sales, or decreased churn. The key here is to set a couple of primary business goals and then identify and set goals for their primary drivers.
Make all 1-year goals quantifiable
The one-year plan is all about perfect clarity. Did you win or lose and in which areas of your business? Save the softer, fuzzier vision goals for your 3,5 or 10-year horizon plans. For your one-year plan, you should have a Pro-forma PNL, a Sales and Marketing Plan, and goals for operational improvements (quantifiable of course). Pro-tip: Do not adjust # #s up or down until at least mid-year. If they’re off track early, you still have time to course-correct. At the mid-year point, you have less of a chance and should adjust off track (including goals ahead of pace) to what you think you can achieve given the time, resources, and trajectory of a given goal.
In one way, this is just like any other year planning-wise. “Expect the best, prepare for the worst” is always the guiding philosophy. Whenever I have planning conversations with other business leaders, it always ends up boiling down to this. Every year.
In another way, it’s very, very different. This year (2021), we are having a good year and are on track, and expect to hit our primary annual goals. That said, it hasn’t gone according to plan. Buying market has been hot & cold. You know how hard the talent market is (everywhere). I always tell my Owners Box the annual plan is a business guess, and they laugh it off. Sometimes we hit our plan with uncanny precision, sometimes we hit it due to adaptation, opportunity, and good old-fashioned management. What is different planning for this year is that many key assumptions are baked on an unknown time horizon. When will we go back to in-person work in a more permanent way? When will our daily lives get to whatever they’re going to become? When will the talent wars end? How will all pandemic-related issues, direct and indirect, affect our markets?
Since the pandemic started, we’ve operated on a series of very short time horizons expecting big, unknown changes when they arrive. So far, none have and we continue to operate on shorter horizons than we are used to; shorter than traditional planning methods allow for. Embrace this forced adaptability and see it as an opportunity. Apply it to your planning.