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Two years ago I had a shocking realization: everything I thought I knew about my business was wrong. I'd built a software platform for event professionals that had been moderately successful for about 10 years. On the surface everything looked fine: we were bringing in new business, we had loyal clients and we were certainly very busy every day. But, the 'spark' had gone and we seemed to be doing the same thing over and over. It was the start of New Year, so together with my business partner we did something radical: we took some time out to re-evaluate and plan.
The first day was brutal. Everything that came out of our mouths was things we had said before. After 10 years we thought we knew what we were doing and so all we could see was what we already knew. Realizing we were getting nowhere, on the second day we decided to test our assumptions. We went into research mode and armed with nothing but Google and a fresh set of eyes we started to re-examine the world of technology and events.
By the third day it was obvious that most of what we thought we knew was now out-of-date. This was a strangely exciting revelation. Now we were actually free to be creative and we were bursting with new inspiration. With enthusiasm, a giant flip-pad and a plethora of coloured markers we created pages and pages of new ideas. What we ended up with was a whole new direction for our business that was not just exciting, but current and relevant to the marketplace.
If you are running a business that is more than two years old, the chances are you are stuck-in-a-rut of some kind, even if you can't see it. The start of the New Year is an opportunity for reflection. Here's an approach that is guaranteed to shake things up and get the creative juices flowing.
1. Take some a time-out
Schedule some time-out from your daily routine, ideally at least 2 days. It may take something to pull yourself away from your phone, emails, social media and the daily pull and urgency of your regular work but the time will well worth it.
2. Stimulate your mind
Your physical environment trains your mind to think in certain ways that become routine. In order to get the best out of your planning time you need to get out of your office, or wherever you usually work. A new location will naturally lead you to think in new and different ways.
Also, while you might tempted to do this on your own, it is highly recommended that you do your planning with others. Getting together with a business partner, mentor, colleague or your core team will be more fruitful as they will bring fresh thinking to the mix.
3. Clear out the past
When your cup is already full, you can't add anything more. Before you create anything new, take the time to discover what is already there. Questions you can ask are:
- Where have you been successful? What are you already great at?
- Where is your business at now compared to what you thought?
- What disappointments have there been?
- What do you absolutely know to be true about your business and/or the events that your support? What assumptions do you have?
- What keeps you awake at night?
- What stops you from creating the business or producing the events that you really want to?
Once you have uncovered all the assumptions, assertions and disappointments that are already there you can let them go. They are so 2013! Letting go of what you already know will create space for exploration. This is a time for discovery, where nothing is censored and no idea is too much, too crazy or too expensive. Don't get stuck on one thing, instead tap into your imagination and ask yourself the following questions:
- What would you do with your business if money were no object?
- Who are your best clients? Who do you want to work with?
- What do you want to be known for?
- When are you most fulfilled?
- What don't you know about your business?
- What kind of events would you create if you could do anything?
5. Creating the Future
By now you will have pages of notes and ideas and it is time to step-back and review what you have discovered. There may be one idea or direction that instantly stands out, or you may need to go back and review what you have created. At this point your goal is to identify your pathway to creating the future you want and you should focus on more action-orientated questions:
- What actions can you take in the next month that will forward your new plan?
- What are your quarterly goals for the year?
- Who are the most important people to share your plan with?
However inspired you are, you new plan is fragile. What is predictable is that as soon as your return to the office all the urgent day-to-day work will displace your new ideas. For this reason this last step is essential to completing your plan and having it be effective.
Pull out your schedule and create time-slots for doing all the actions you identified, as well as regular weekly time-slots for reviewing your progress. Thorough scheduling will likely take you a couple of hours but will yield almost immediate rewards as you see your plan come to life.
Planning the year ahead will not only enliven your business and breath new life into your events, it will also get you back in-touch with what you love about what you do. Carve some time out of your new year to take a new look at what’s possible: you’ll be amazed by the results.