I just love this time of the year between Christmas and New Year. It’s such a relaxed time for sharing good food and good times with friends and family.
I also find it’s a great time to reflect on my business- how it’s gone over the last year, and where I’m going in the New Year.
I actually think this kind of reflection and review is essential for the small business owner that is committed to growing their business. An important part of the growth of any business is related to looking closely at what’s working, what’s not working and what needs to change.
I’m going to share with you some of my thoughts about my own business and hopefully inspire you to take some time-out to reflect on your own for the coming year.
I have broken my reflection down into a series of sections, so I can organise my thinking and make sure I’m covering the most important parts of my business.
Dreams, aspirations and goals
I like to start big and then work down to the smaller parts of my business when first starting this reflection process.
To review my dreams, aspirations and goals, I need to go back to my 1-5 year plan that I created for my business. If you haven’t started one yet, now’s the time to do so. Just write down your dreams and aspirations for the next 0-1 year and then the next 1-5 years. Think big and don’t hold back. Then break your big thinking into smaller achievable goals.
This is the fascinating bit. Some of my goals were exceeded, for example a year ago I said I wanted to maintain about 15 clients a week across 4 days. Well I did maintain that and often exceeded that goal, but I also took on two business associates to take on the extra referrals I couldn’t see. This wasn’t part of the 1 year plan, but was a way I was able to grow the goal into a bigger one, and increase my revenue.
Other goals were not achieved at all, for example I had ‘run men’s groups 3 times a year with different themes and shorter time frames’. As it turned out, the administration for organising the men’s groups became so time-intensive, that the groups were not becoming profitable enough and I pulled back to running it once a year. So it made sense to abandon this goal and focus on where the revenue-making activities were, which was to increase the number of face-to-face relationship counselling and business consulting sessions I was doing.
So it’s great to see how things didn’t work out, and that I was able to change direction on a goal to make it a better goal for the business in the long run.
As an aside, I use the free software Evernote – one of my favourite apps for my mobile devices and computer – to write down my 1-5 year goals, so I can easily find them and reference them when needed.
Growth, fees and revenue
An important part of looking at growth of my business is to study the numbers and do some maths.
Now I know that many small business owners glaze over when I start to talk about money (and I’ll admit it- I was one of these people!), but I truly believe you cannot be successful in your business unless you become better at tracking your income and expenditure.
A big shift in my business happened when I started taking my accounting seriously and moved to using Xero (a cloud-based accounting system) for all my accounting needs and employed a bookkeeper to assist me with my accounts.
Yes, it was an additional monthly expense, but the convenience and ability to track all my invoices and expenses has been invaluable. Best of all is the ability to compare a month, quarter or year to a previous period to see how much my business has grown.
Most of the small business owners I speak with are not willing to invest in their business and somehow expect that their business will grow.
If you want a successful business, you have to invest in it at some point. There are no two-ways about it. If you’re not willing to invest in your business, it might be best if you look for employment where someone else gives you clients and does the marketing for you.
Some important large expenses on your business might include:
- website redesign
- marketing coaching and consulting
- SEO support from qualified professionals
- online marketing training and courses
- membership of online directories
I recommend that you set aside a budget from your income that is dedicated to investing in your business.
The one thing that never fails to amaze me (in the therapy world at least) is the large sums of money that therapists don’t hesitate to spend on professional development, yet the reluctance to invest money in the marketing of their business. Unfortunately all the top-notch professional development in the world will NOT bring you clients.
One of the big eye-opening experiences of seeing all my figures has been to see the expenses I have outlaid for my business. Seeing the gross profit and then the net profit helped me realise earlier in the year that I needed to reel in my expenditure on the business and work smarter. I’ve now lowered my expenditure and my net profit for the remaining year has gone up.
As part of my review, I have also raised my counselling fees from the 1st of January for new clients. Reviewing your fees is an important thing to do on a regular basis and warrants a post all of it’s own, but for the moment, make sure you’re looking at your fees and considering if you’re still happy to give up an hour of your time for that fee in service of your clients, without feeling any resentment whatsoever. Oh and if no one ever complains about your fees, it’s likely they’re too low.
Time management, scheduling and productivity
This is always a big one for me. I’m often looking at how I can improve my time management and productivity. With my hands in so many pots – doing relationship counselling, small business consulting and coaching, managing my membership site Australia Counselling – I know I have to be laser-focused at all times to make sure I get everything done.
So my review of my time-management for this year is mixed. I was happy that I was able to increase my output for article writing and was able to continue to provide valuable PD content for the Australia Counselling members. However, I think my output was inconsistent at times. At one stage I was able to write everyday for a couples of weeks with an output of 1000 words a day, and this allowed me to create my free 5-part online marketing eCourse: 5 Ethical Practice-Building Strategies for Counsellors. However, there were other weeks I was unable to write anything as other tasks pulled my attention.
Because writing is at the core of all my businesses, I’ve made the decision to schedule a dedicated writing time every week. I will schedule into my diary a time to write every week and this time will be non-negotiable. There will be no email-checking, phone calls or attending to other items on my to-dos list while I am working during my dedicated writing time.
I’m excited about making this change as I do enjoy writing and often feel disappointed when I haven’t made time to do it.
My final reflection on my business is looking at my work-life balance. This year was very up-and-down in the area of maintaining a balance. Overall, I know I worked very long hours and often 6-7 days a week. This is unsustainable- particularly when I’m still working as a counsellor – so I’ve made a big change in this area.
For a number of years now I’ve been seeing clients 4 evenings a week. This has been very convenient for many of my clients, particularly those that work 9-5 in an office job.
While it’s convenient for many clients, the truth is it doesn’t work for me when I am finishing work at 7 or even 7.30pm.
So I’ve made the decision to cut back my work in the evenings to only 2 nights a week.
This is a scary decision as my catastrophizing mind thinks that my counselling business will collapse overnight. The truth is, while I may lose clients initially when I can’t see them in the evening, I will attract those clients that are more flexible and can come during the day.
The reality is, I work for myself, so I set the rules. By continuing to work long hours, it can feel like I’m still working for someone else and not myself.
The other truth is when I’m clear about the hours I am willing to work, a funny thing happens. Suddenly clients are available to come during office hours (as happened just as I was finishing this post.)
If we are to be effective and successful business owners, we need to be clear about our own limits, and then communicate them clearly to our clients and patients.
Are you taking time-out to review your own business goals and reflect on the past year and coming year? Share the changes you’re committing to for the New Year in the comments below.
photo courtesy of the City of Sydney