On Thursday 28 February, I set autoresponders on all of my company’s email addresses advising that the office would be closed. I called SA Parks and Wildlife, to make sure that the Belair National Park was going to be open (40 degrees and Severe Fire Danger rating – you can never be sure!).
Then, I sat down and wrote out a list of about 13 things I wanted to review and think about while sitting in the bush.
Then, early in the morning on Friday 1 March, I packed two notebooks, a full set of financial reports, three pens, 2.5L of water, lunch, two phones, and my laptop into a woven tote, filled my car with fuel, and took off.
Well, when I say, ‘took off’, I mean ‘drove about 20 mins from my house’.
I got into the Park without incident, parked at Government Farm 2, and found myself almost the only person around. The picnic shelter was free, it was close to the loos, and a breeze was kicking up through the bushland.
It was just stunning – and so much cooler than down on the plains, or in my office.
Kicking off my sandals, I picked up my notebook with a smile the size of Jupiter, and started working through the list.
First on the list was, How are we performing: Money, time, wellbeing. I started with the financial reports, making notes over the print-outs as I started to come to grips with the position of the company. I came out of that with 12 actions and things to follow up.
Out of the time review, I came out with 10 additional actions.
The wellbeing review yielded 11 additional actions.
I’d just started and I already had 4 pages of notes.
The review went through goals reviews and repositioning/rewriting/recommitting; wins; lessons; behaviours; and so on and so forth.
By 2 pm, it was burning hot – 40 degrees – and windy. The magpies were harrassing me for food. (Shame on you humans who have conditioned them!).
I’d had a police officer check my (unlocked, badly parked) car without noticing me watching him. And when I went to say hello, he tried to regain his composure by suggesting locking one’s car is always a good idea. Even in the middle of the bush, with nobody around.
By 2 pm, I’d worked in two different areas of the park – analytical work in one, problem-solving work in another. I’d talked to the birds, got my feet in the dirt, scribbled workflow charts, changed processes, and watched a large tree fall down.
Then I was really too hot, so decided to head home. I ended the day on my wifi, changing the file structure so that I’d be able to navigate it even while drunk, and then got everything downloading.
It was a remarkable day. And now I have shitloads of work to do.
A client suggested I’m disciplined to do this kind of thing. I disagree.
Here’s why I disagree.
All I do is book the time ahead, honour it, and follow a method I’ve developed that works for me.
It’s not just discipline that makes me do it. Nor is company health the sole reason why I do it.
I do it so that I don’t freak the fuck out all the time.
Stress mitigation is the unsung hero of business reviews
This is particularly the case when you’re in a micro business.
My company sometimes appears to the world to be large, but it’s a micro operation. Which means: It’s 99% me. I’ve employed people, I’ve tried to drive scale, but right now I’m focused on making it work for me, and giving me a life that I love to live and work in.
As far as jobs go, it’s about the best there is (in my opinion). BUT when it’s all you, it’s stressful as fuck.
Everything is on you: The project management, the financials, the sales, the marketing, the customer service, the delivery, the planning.
A business review is your moment to stop. It’s a breather. It’s that time where you can honestly look at every aspect of your company and find out what is really going on.
That moment when everything is known to you is powerful. It gives you a tank of oxygen that, last week, as you were drowning, you never thought you’d see.
You with me?
Now, I’ll give you the core reasons why I run business reviews. And then I’m going to give you some advice.
The first reason I do them is because they give me visibility and oversight
I find that I get stressed out when I can’t see what’s going on. Getting in and getting the work done is fantastic; but if all I do for more than a month is just the work, I start feeling like I might be missing something.
That feeling of something unseen, or missed, is the heartland of panic.
Visibility is something that I prize above all else. It’s a good part of the reason why I can’t stand convoluted systems. It’s the precise reason why any project management system that doesn’t give me a portfolio view goes in the bin; and why I’m so fussy about who I bring in to advise me.
The kind of visibility you get with a good review includes:
- What is your cash position, and how is your business performing financially? You can earn loads of money, be turning a good profit, and still end up in dire straits if your cash position is shit.
- What’s standardized, and what isn’t, and what your next steps might be.
- How your processes are working.
- Where you have gaps – major and minor.
- How you’re tracking on your company (and personal) goals.
- Where you’re winning, or being challenged, what lessons you’ve learned, and what behaviours need to change.
- How your company handles projects, and time, and people issues.
It’s only when you can see what’s going on that you can even understand whether you’re in a good place or not.
The second reason I do them is because business reviews help me to understand how I’m feeling
They give you the space to understand how you feel in relation to both the company and the work.
If you don’t think this is important, then I’m going to respectfully suggest you need to pull your head out of your arse.
How you feel about your work is a very big deal. You spend most of your life doing this stuff! Why would you run a company you are uncomfortable with, for people you dislike, doing work that you hate (for example)? You wouldn’t. So if you’ve got to the point of discomfort, work it out early.
And more to the point, if you aren’t willing to face the feelings side of your business, good luck with your strategy. Data’s great, but intuition before data is even better.
Having a breather to really understand how you’re feeling allows you to get to grips with:
- How many hours you’re working, and why
- Whether there’s a better way to block your tasks and time
- Whether you even like your direction and your clients
- That feeling of niggling something, and to finally deal with it
- How you’re handling the interface between work life and personal life.
In my reviews, I always consider my working hours. Are they too many or not enough? Am I getting enough done? Am I just doing client work, and letting on-business stuff eat into family or relaxation time?
Am I getting time for ME? Are my hobbies languishing? How are my personal relationships going? How’s my sleep? What am I eating? What am I not doing that I could be doing, or that I want to be doing?
In my latest review, I realised that loads of things had gotten away on me:
- I wasn’t getting to work on time
- I was letting client work eat into everything else… and with it, my on-business stuff was heading into evenings and weekends
- Project management had slipped, and with it all visibility over capacity and time
- Meetings were scattering all over the week (again!) and have to be brought back into line
- … etc.
So if I want to be able to get to 4 dance classes a week, have time to read 14 books every quarter, and work in my garden, things have to change.
The third reason I do business reviews is because they improve everything in my business
When I say everything, I mean everything!
The kinds of things that improve are:
- How decisions are made
- How systems are captured and updated
- How information is handled
- How the customer experience is managed
- Efficiency ratings and productivity
And they also allow me the time to go back through existing protocols and weed out even more inefficiencies. Wherever there’s an opportunity to improve the business’s health, or how it relates to others, I do it.
That’s how come I spent the end of the afternoon in my last review fundamentally changing the file structures I work in.
Now they match our (forthcoming) project management system, finding files is easy, understanding what they relate to and how (and how old they are) is simple.
But the main reason I do business reviews? They help me to relax
After I’ve done a review, I know what’s going on in every corner of the company.
I know how to make my own life better, and life for my customers and team members.
I know how I’m tracking on work and personal goals, and the ones that aren’t working (or important any more) are removed or revised.
It doesn’t mean that I come out of these things with less work, though.
Oh, no! I come out with loads more work to do. But I also come out with an Action Plan, a timeline, and a hierarchy of tasks. And that means that I know what things to do, in what order, to make the biggest impact, over the next three months.
Reviews also give me the confidence to change my approach.
If I discover that time is bleeding away and affecting clients, I have no problem insisting that I have meetings with people on a particular day, or after hours. Or not at all.
If I’m not getting to work on time, I’ll change my start time and how my work is scheduled.
If a new sales or marketing method had been trialled in the past quarter, I’ll check the results and then craft decision-making trees, in case it’s used again in future. That way, it will be more effective than last time.
You get my point.
Here’s the problem you run into when you try to be ‘disciplined’ about your business planning and reviews
You start exerting effort. You do them because you feel like you should do them, not because they are meaningful to you.
And then, because you know you should, it becomes a drain.
You might find yourself, on the morning of your review day, not knowing what the fuck you’re even going to be doing!
It’s also highly likely that your review-because-you-should will be completely ineffective. You might ignore your own recommendations. You might look at the task list and feel like none of it really matters.
I know, because the last time I was doing business reviews because I felt I ought to, they were completely ineffective. It was early in the business, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. It just seemed like a waste. I knew what was going on, right? Even if I didn’t have the financial intelligence, I sure wanted to look like I did!
Pfft, what a poseur! Fuck me, it’s almost embarrassing. Almost. 😛
And I eventually just didn’t do them. I booked work over the top of the blocked-out day, and just ignored Past Me and her amazing planning.
It wasn’t until I had learned enough (and learned enough about me and my company) that I created a method that works.
So my advice to you is this:
Never approach business reviews and business planning from the perspective that you gotta.
Instead, do them because you want to achieve an outcome. And, if you can, make one of your outcomes stress mitigation.
Take out an entire day, and have the confidence to be unforgiving about it.
Go somewhere else. Work on paper, stay offline, talk to the wall, or the birds. Draw and walk. Allow yourself to feel it as much as analyse it.
One of the risks of working in a solo or a micro business is that stress becomes a continuous state. But it doesn’t need to – and it shouldn’t!
At the end of this process, you’ll find yourself re-invigorated, re-inspired, and looking forward to seeing how much you’ve progressed next time.
Leave a comment and tell me: How do YOU approach your business reviews?
Did you enjoy this? Get The Letter and unlock even more:
1+ letters per month by either email (sign up below) or in your real-life letterbox (sign up here instead).