Planning for 2011? Don’t start until you have written your “letter-to-self”…

It’s the middle of May and many of us are thinking about planning for next year. Well, next financial year anyway – the one ending June 30, 2011.

Even though there are another six weeks or so to go until the end of this financial year most business owners already have a pretty good idea of how the year will finish up. Which is just as well; because without a clear understanding of 2010 it’s hard to plan properly for 2011.

There is a problem though. And it is that, when we come to reflect on the past year, we often present ourselves with a less-than accurate picture of how the year actually unfolded.

Why does this happen? It happens because we spend so much of our time talking our businesses up. And that’s not a criticism; we have to do it. Our role is as a positive, optimistic, ambassador for our business. We spend much of our lives in sales mode; we want and need our employees, customers, suppliers, friends and advocates to feel good about our business. So we get into the habit of painting the glossy picture of the business and, naturally, we sometimes get a little carried away by the success in our own tales.

When it comes to planning for 2011 however, we have to unravel the story and take a spin-free look at our business. We need to give an honest answer to the question “Did we achieve what we set out to achieve?” But this is not always easy to do.

So here’s a tip – or a tool – to help you be objective about the year. It’s a letter to yourself.

In the letter-to-self (which you keep nice and short) you want to cover:

1. A list of the goals for the past year.
2. A list of the strategic priorities/initiatives for the past year.
3. A note for each goal as to whether it was met, and if not why not.
4. A short paragraph for each priority as to whether it was addressed sufficiently, and if not, why.
5. The three most important lessons you have learned over the last year.

A small but important point: you do have to actually write the letter-to-self. The act of writing stuff down clarifies your thoughts and you simply won’t get the benefit of the letter-to-self if you just roll it around in your mind.

Because you don’t need to show anyone this letter, you can be painfully honest with yourself. And it is these true observations that will properly fuel your planning for 2011.

Of course, if you come to write the letter and can’t remember, or didn’t set goals and priorities for 2010, you know now to frame this years planning process in such a way that you can do this letter next year!

To read more Profitable Growth expert advice, click here.

Julia Bickerstaff’s expertise is in helping businesses grow profitably. She runs two businesses:Butterfly Coaching, a small advisory firm with a unique approach to assisting SMEs with profitable growth; and The Business Bakery, which helps kitchen table tycoons build their best businesses. Julia is the author of “How to Bake a Business” and was previously a partner at Deloitte. She is a chartered accountant and has a degree in economics from The London School of Economics (London University).


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