The great thing about small businesses is that… well, they’re small. We can react to changes in our market, our audience, and even our own lives much faster than some of the larger companies out there.
Of course, because we can be agile, it also means there are a lot of moving pieces. Because things pop up and priorities often shift in a small business, it’s important to balance long-term goals with what’s happening right in front of you.
When you’re always shifting your short-term/immediate needs and strictly dealing with what’s right in front of you… you don’t have a whole lot of space for the more strategic things. I like to think of it like you’re a cake baker.
If that’s your business, you have to have time to play with new techniques and discover new combinations and flavors. It’s not just about completing orders you already have on the books or getting more people to buy the things you already make.
But how do you balance these short-term changes with your long-term vision and growth? Quarterly planning.
How to create a solid quarterly plan
Quarterly planning involves more than just writing down a handful of things you want to accomplish over the next three months. It also means looking back at the previous three months to see what’s changed — and where you stand with previous goals.
Braindump all the ideas
This is usually a missed step in a quarterly planning session because most of the guidance online about how to host them is for larger businesses.
But as a small (maybe online) business, you have the opportunity to do something bigger businesses don’t: To dream up new ideas!
I don’t want you to go too wild here, but I do think it’s valuable to write down any ideas you have about improving your:
- Customer or client experience
- Team structure or management
Take what you’re currently doing into account, and also write down new ideas that come up.
Reflect on your focus and goals
Next, take some time to reflect on where you’ve been putting your time and energy. Does it support where you want to go in the future? Or are the things you’re working on day in and day out keeping you stuck?
Go over your lists, project boards, and ideas from Step 1 to see if the things you’re making the most space for are actually moving the needle forward.
If you need help understanding what’s worth your focus, the Kick Shiny Object Syndrome to the Curb Workbook can help.
Use a Benefit/Effort Matrix
After you’ve reviewed your ideas and current initiatives, it’s time to decide which ideas are going to get your attention for the next three months.
Plot your ideas on a Benefit/Effort Matrix to help you see which projects or ideas are actually going to be easier to implement — or which ones you need to plan for more time on.
Don’t skip this step, because filling in this matrix actually helps you see that, sometimes, good ideas are not worth our time.
Take into consideration time, money, and resources when filling this in. You may find that while the payoff seems good, the effort is not worth it in the end.
Here’s an example, where the dots represent each task.
I talked to Amanda Warfield about ways to simplify your business — and this matrix was one of my most recommended tools! Listen to our chat here.
Create a Parking Lot
You know those ideas that crop up throughout the year? The ones that you say, “Oh that’d be so cool!” but you’re not sure if it fits in your offer stack or how you’ll find time to do it?
Those go in the “Parking Lot.” I actually have a Parking Lot project in my Asana, where I keep a running list of ideas for myself or clients.
Then, at the end of each quarter, I do a Parking Lot Evaluation. Do these ideas still seem relevant? Are they actually going to help us reach other goals we’ve set? Where do they fall on the Benefit/Effort Matrix?
This is a time to be honest with yourself and remember: Just because something is a good idea doesn’t mean you have the bandwidth to do it.
Turn goals into plans
OK, now that you’ve reviewed your current projects and your potential/upcoming ones, it’s time to make a plan.
Let’s say your goal for last quarter was to create a course. After your quarterly planning session, you decide that your course is ready to launch — and you want to sell 10 seats.
That’s the plan for the quarter, right? Sell 10 seats.
It’s a goal to sell 10 seats, but how are you getting there?
- What’s your marketing plan?
- Will you have a live launch?
- Do you need a better social strategy?
- How does the course sell via email?
- Have you collected reviews and testimonials?
Working your goals backward like this will show you what actually needs to be done to hit them. This is where your quarterly planning session can get really granular — and you may even want to pull up your Asana projects to start mapping things out.
I have Asana templates here, to help make this step easy!
Stay accountable with quarterly planning sessions inside the Your Best Business Mastermind
If you’re struggling to figure out the balance between short-term progress and your long-term goals, you’re not alone. Hopefully everything I shared above helps you sort through your ideas, projects, and immediate needs — and gives you a framework for auditing your business every quarter.
But sometimes, you want guidance and insights into where you should really focus for the next quarter. An outside perspective on your growth and goals can help you find the balance you need.
My mastermind, the Your Best Business Mastermind, is here to provide the extra accountability, support, and insights you need to move your business forward.
No more wondering what your next (right) step is. Because we’ll help you identify your biggest priorities, pinpoint next steps, and create a framework for decision-making in your business. No more winging it, or realizing you’ve spent another quarter working on things that don’t move the needle.
Just real coaching, helpful resources, and a supportive community that helps you find your path to your best business.
PLUS! When you join the Your Best Business Mastermind here, you’ll get invited to our next Quarterly Planning Session.