Why You Need To Set Business Goals For 2017

I’ll be honest with you: I had a bit of a rubbish 2016. I know, so did everyone. And by global standards I know I can hardly complain – even the recent attack in one of Berlin’s Christmas markets left myself and all those I know here unscathed.

But with two funerals last year (both necessitating last minute trips back to Ireland), my father requiring eye surgery, and a holiday that finished with my sister almost dying in a Greek hospital (she’s fine now), 2016 was not exactly a stress-free year.

The thing that really added to my stress though, was work and this is where I have to put my hands up and say “that was totally my fault.”

You know why? Because I started 2016 with zero goals.

A lack of goals can undermine everything you do

This meant that for the whole year, I pretty much had no clue what I was doing. I’d take on projects that although were within my skillset, weren’t really aligned with the type of business I actually wanted to build.

Through my own lack of planning and with all the personal crises that kept occurring throughout the year, I’d also continually overbook myself with work – this was the year when requests started coming in constantly, and I was so relieved by the prospect of not having to hunt for work, I said “yes” to almost everything that came my way.

That was a Big Mistake. I’d drive myself to the point of near-collapse as I frantically tried to squeeze everything in. Then, when a week finally rolled round that was relatively clear, I’d be so shattered that my days were mostly spent staring blankly at my Facebook timeline.

After a precious week wasted where I could have been working on other tasks to benefit my business (writing some posts in advance, or advancing my programming skills, for example) I’d be back to the client work.

Rinse, and repeat.

And that’s not to mention all the personal work I did do that just fell by the wayside. I put a lot of work into a Google Analytics webinar that ended up falling through. I launched a side business for my wedding websites – then immediately found myself swamped with other commitments, and still haven’t found the time to promote it yet.

I’m telling you all this not just because I want to have a moan (although it does feel good sometimes to vent all my frustrations like this!) but so you can see how NOT having clear goals right from the start became a huge problem for me.

If I’d been clear on what I was doing (and more importantly, why I was doing it), I could probably have saved myself weeks, if not months of wasted effort. Some projects I would have never taken on in the first place (thus allowing me to prioritise more important work), others like my wedding website business, I would have simply postponed until I had the time to give them the attention they required.

That’s why I spent the last few weeks doing nothing. Well, it looked like nothing (mostly me spinning round in my office chair clutching a mug of coffee).

What looked like messing about though was actually me doing a bit of soul searching. What I loved, and what I’d hated about 2016. The changes I could make. The compromises I couldn’t.

And then I sat down and wrote out my 2017 goals.

How my process for creating a business strategy can help you

If it’s not clear already, this is a personal post – I’m not claiming to be an expert on business strategy or anything like that. But I tend to assume my problems are not unique in the small business / freelancer world, and since this process helped me, I’m hoping it will do the same for you!

Step One: Stop (Hammertime!)

Ok, ignore the Hammertime reference (couldn’t resist). But seriously, stop whatever you're doing, this minute. Especially if you don’t know why you’re doing it.

Now step away from the desk (kitchen table, whatever). Or just spin about in the office chair like I do when I’m taking a mental break but also feeling too lazy to get up.

Basically what I’m getting at here is: really give yourself time to think.

Think about where you are now in your business, and where you’re hoping to get to. Remember why you started this in the first place, and be honest with yourself if you’re finding your present reality to be very different from what you pictured.

Whatever you do, don’t try to multitask, and go off and do some cooking or cleaning while you think (I’m really bad for that, and then all that happens is I end up thinking of more cleaning jobs I should do).

And don’t try to squeeze this in on some busy afternoon, or when you’re tired but feel like you should be doing something. Then you’ll just daydream, and what we’re aiming for here is clarity. If it helps, I literally blocked out a whole day in my calendar for this, and it did not feel like a wasted day by the end of it.

Step Two: Review

Now it’s time to reflect on the past year, and while usually I try to curb my own negative tendencies, here’s when it’s actually useful to think honestly about all the things you didn’t like.

Be it money worries, client relations, or even simply the steady erosion of your personal life (a real danger for any of us who work for ourselves) – these are things you can only ignore for so long, and the sooner you tackle them head on, the better.

Write them down as you think of them, along with any solutions you can think of, no matter how ridiculous or unfeasible they may seem right now (we’ll come back to them in the next step).

For example, something I really struggled with last year was holding my ground with clients. No matter how great most of them are, every now and then one comes along who’s just a total nightmare to work with – and one of my biggest sources of stress last year was feeling like I had no control over my schedule.

This largely came down to just a couple of clients who although lovely people, were just completely chaotic themselves; every single request would be a last minute panic, and regardless of how busy I was, I would be expected to drop all other work for them, “since it was an emergency”.

There were several solutions here: I could stop working directly with clients altogether, and return to working through an agency. Or I could return to running my own studio and hire someone myself, to hand over the extra work to when needed. I could simply shrug and accept the interruptions to my workflow. Or I could learn to say “no”.

As you will see, all of these options had their own pros and cons but by listing them all out, it was much easier to see the one option that made most sense, even it felt like the most difficult one to implement.

(If you’re wondering, I did eventually grow a backbone, and tell clients they could accept the hours I had free, even if they were a week later, or pay me double time for emergencies. Funnily enough, I haven’t had a last minute request since.)

Step Three: Analyse and Strategize

By now, you should have three things: a clear idea of where you want your business to go, a list of problems you experienced over the past business year, and finally, a whole bunch of possible solutions to the issues that could be holding you back.

And this is how you can start to get really clear on your goals for the next year. First we’ll simply cross off those solutions that you never really intended on implementing anyway – the reason I mention doing this at all is because this is what helped me get clear on the things I can’t compromise on.

Yes, taking on a regular agency job would mean I never again have the stress of three different clients, all wanting emergency work from me, all RIGHT NOW. But there was no way I was actually going to do that – as soon as I started picturing myself back in “regular” employment, I was determined to avoid it by any means necessary.

It also helps when none of your possible solutions seem like things you want to do – as much as I hate conflict, and love making my clients happy, in the end it became clear that refusing last minute requests was really the only solution I had to that particular issue, even if it did lead to a few arguments.

Sad life fact: sometimes your best solution will still only be the lesser of two evils. Choosing it will still be better than doing nothing at all.

And finally, we come to the fun part: now that the analysis is over, and we’re clear on how to stop last year’s problems being continually repeated, we can really start strategizing about how to reach our goals in 2017. For me, this includes creating and launching my very first Shopify theme for sale, as well as getting out of my comfort zone by giving a public presentation about starting an ecommerce business.

Both of these goals will require a clear list of actions I’ll need to take to achieve them, which I’ve now scheduled across the coming year. This absolutely vital by the way – get clear on what you need to do, and then block out the time to do it.

Having these steps in mind is already making it easier for me to manage my schedule, and actually work towards my goals for a change, instead of squeezing them in around any client work I happen to have at that time.

For the first time in months I’m feeling energised and excited about work again, and if that’s as close as I get to my 2017 goals, I guess I’d still call that a result. I hope this helps you too!