Episode 2: Don't Set It and Forget It

Making a plan or creating a vision for your business is one thing, but if you set it and forget it you're liable to lose track of where you are and miss the mark. In this episode, Isaac walks through four ways to keep your goals at the forefront of your business brain and make progress on them, warns against falling into the online entrepreneur's trap of blogging about an annual review, and speaks with Academy of Handmade member (and Seattle chapter co-leader) Jill Evans of Hapertas & Co. about some of the more drastic shifts she's had to go through in her own business following a full-on catastrophe.

Tell me if this sounds at all familiar:

The end of the year rolls around, and you’re recovering from the holidays. You’re flush with happy customers, you feel like you’re on top of the world, and in the magic and inspiration of the new year, with the spirit of new beginnings and resolutions, you get excited about what’s next for your business. You scribble down some notes in your journal, throw together a Pinterest mood-board, or proclaim your intentions to your bewildered pet.

Then three weeks go by. A month. Two months later and suddenly you’ve completely lost track of what you set out to do in the first place. You became so caught up with what’s in front of your nose that you’ve forgotten about the end game.

We’ve all been there. Heck, some of us may even already be there.

In our last episode, I talked about the importance of having a big-picture plan for your business—a vision that you can use to make sure you’re on track and meeting your goals. Today I’m going to focus a little more on keeping that plan at the forefront of your day-to-day.

Let’s face it—the annual review period that so many entrepreneurs blog about is undeniably sexy. And a quick google will turn up a million blog posts where the successful, independently employed minimize what they didn’t do so well by sandwiching it with the successes that they want to brag about, and the goals for what they want to be able to brag about at the end of next year.

“What went well? I broke six figures! What didn’t go well? Uh, I completely ignored my friends. What am I going to do this year? Break seven figures!”

Okay, so maybe I can be a bit cynical sometimes when it comes to online world of entrepreneurship. Don’t get me wrong: going through an annual review and goal-setting process is indeed an important part of any small business owner’s planning agenda, and I wholeheartedly and non-cynically recommend it as a way to help you keep track of your big picture vision. It will also help you make sure you’re celebrating your successes and recognizing your challenges on a regular basis. Beneath the sex appeal of six-figure bragging lies a critical principle for owning a business.

The tricky part is that it’s incredibly easy to get sucked into that annual review process and goal-setting, then ignore those goals throughout the twelve months that follow. If you let that happen, you have the potential of facing a year’s worth of catch-up or course correction should you find yourself off track come December. And that can leave you depressed, dejected, or feeling like a downright failure because you didn’t measure up to the lofty goals you set for yourself one year prior. You deserve better.

Plus, life can throw some crazy curve balls—ahem, 2016, amiright?—and as small business owners, we need to be nimble on our feet to adapt and overcome any changes or shifts in our vision or circumstances that might arise. So please, please, please: Don’t set it and forget it! Your plan and your vision are living things that need to be nurtured and cared for on more than an annual basis.

But how exactly do you do that?

First, shout it from the rooftops. I’m not talking about blogging into the ether—I want you to tell your best friends, your spouses, your children, your parents. The more you talk about it with other people, the more you’ll feel accountable to what you said you were setting out to do, and the more likely they are to support you in that pursuit and check in on you periodically to see how you’re doing. And if you’re anything like me, where out of sight most definitely means out of mind, your vision should be writ large (either literally or figuratively) in your life. This might be a giant collage on the wall above your computer or workspace, a customized cover for your weekly planner, or, some other way to keep it visible in your daily life.

Second, review your vision and goals early and often. At minimum, you should be checking in with yourself on a quarterly basis. Monthly if you can manage it. Block out at least an hour on your calendar for the whole year in advance, then set a reminder for each event so you get an alert on your computer or phone one or two days prior. This little trick will keep the review periods from sneaking up on you and catching you off guard. During each review period, ask yourself if you’re making progress, if you need to tweak anything, and determine what your next best steps are to keep you on track.

Third, keep track of your progress, both in celebrating those tiny victories and larger milestones (I’m a big fan of positive reinforcement), and in breaking the big goals down into actionable steps. Setting sub-goals makes your progress even more achievable and trackable, rather than having a single lofty goal floating out there like the elephant in the room. BUT. If you sit down to check in with yourself and realize you haven’t quite made it, don’t beat yourself up for not succeeding.

This brings me to my final point.

Take everything in stride. Mistakes happen. Events outside of our control happen. Some people even have total changes in their vision over the course of the year. And that’s okay. You can’t control everything all the time. No matter what happens to you along the way, there’s always room to compensate, adapt, overcome, or change course. Does your vision need tweaking? You have my permission to tweak it. Do you need to shift your focus to respond to changes in the market? Shift it. Is something taking longer to accomplish than you thought? It usually does, so keep working at it. Think of your business like software: every time you tweak a product or work toward your goals you’re releasing an update with new features, bug fixes, and improvements over the last version.

Your plans, goals, and vision are living, breathing, flexible things. Don’t just set it at the beginning of the year and forget it—

Talk about your goals with other people.

Review goals and vision at least quarterly.

Track your progress and celebrate your victories along the way.

And take everything in stride if something doesn’t go quite as planned.

Keeping your goals top of mind will help you make your day-to-day decisions with confidence that you’re on the right track, headed in the right direction.

Episode Guest

Jill Evans started Hapertas & Co. in 2014, specializing in modern haberdashery for the classic gentleman. Quality is her top priority, and she uses the finest ethically made & USA sourced materials. Her current line includes Neckties, Bowties, Pocket Squares, Cuff Links, Scarves, and Leather Accessories. All items are handmade in her Seattle-based studio in the heart of Ballard, and her menswear accessories are truly heirloom quality pieces that will withstand the test of time.

Relevant Links

The Harvard Business Review's 4-step tool for breaking goals down into actions.

Jill mentioned Merchants Like We, an accountability group offered by Merchant Method that's been critical in helping her stay on track.

Membership to Academy of Handmade opens next week on January 31. Among many member benefits, we offer a quarterly goals chat in the forums, and the option to pair up with an accountability partner on a quarterly basis.