No-Fluff Quarterly Business Planning for Solopreneurs and Small Businesses

In an effort to be more mindful and purposeful with our time, Caleb and I decreed official “date nights” and added them to our calendar.

For our second official date night, we decided on a whim to walk the pier…and froze our butts off in the late fall wind while wandering around looking for a place to eat.

We ended up at an Italian restaurant (one of the few places in the area that was open on a Monday night) but it only had patio seating available. ❄️❄️❄️

I’m glad we did it, but I strongly suspect there were many moments where, if we’d been paying attention to the signs, we might have decided to do something much less hypothermic. But we ignored the signs and ended up sipping cold espresso.

The thing is, this is so unlike me.

At work, I’m all about KPIs (key performance indicators), carefully watching the numbers and making adjustments on a scheduled daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis. All that monitoring is hard-coded into my business, and it’s something we teach in Scale Society.

We have so many early-detection systems for the shifting business environment that making adjustments and keeping everything running efficiently is fairly easy. For us to end up in an unexpected tight spot, it would either have to be completely out of the blue or we’d have to have been engaging in some serious denial.

If my business were a person, there’s no way they’d ever end up eating cold gnocchi.

Use Key Performance Indicators to Guide Your Quarterly Business Plans

Every business – even businesses in the same industry – will have different key performance indicators. If you haven’t figured out your KPIs yet, try starting with these two and build on them within the 6 Lenses of Business Assessment from there:

  • Annual revenue
  • Critical scaling metric (the thing that tells you if your business is growing, e.g., email subscribers, discovery calls booked, etc.)

Planning with your KPI’s in mind will help you stay focused on whatever you’re trying to grow, fix or iterate in your business.

Before You Start Planning

Before your annual planning session, schedule 1-2 hours to gather and review your most important metrics and KPIs. This will keep your annual planning meeting sharp and focused so you can set informed goals that continue to move the business forward.

  • Gather the current year’s revenue, expenses and profit compared to last year
  • Gather the current year’s critical scaling metric compared to last year
    • Starting number
    • Ending number
    • Growth/loss rate
  • Note any external factors that may have contributed to your numbers

Don’t forget to review other pertinent information on your activities over the last year:

  • Launch debriefs
  • Wins/challenges
  • Things that went really well
  • Things you never want to do again
  • Parking lot ideas that you have but aren’t implementing right away

Quarterly Planning Begins with Annual Planning

Schedule 2-3 hours for your annual planning session 4-5 weeks before the start of your fiscal year. For many small businesses, that will be January 1. My business’s fiscal year starts in March, so our annual planning process is scheduled in February.

Want to see how I do it? For the first time ever, I’ll be sharing my planning process and monthly updates. Join my list to see how power planning works in action!

The purpose of your annual planning meeting is to review the last year and set next year’s commitment and goals. 

Based on the last year, choose your revenue goal and critical scaling metric goal. These goals can vary between industries and for your individual business. Until you have a few years of data to determine your own trends, a general guideline to aim for is 10% growth in both areas.

Some people prefer to plan down to the month during their annual planning session. I prefer to keep it at a bird’s eye view to leave room for inspiration and unexpected events that could require a pivot. If you do have an idea of when you want to do a launch or three, put them on the calendar, but don’t set them in stone just yet.

Quarterly Business Planning Session

Schedule 1-2 hours for your quarterly planning session at least 3 weeks before the beginning of your quarter, based on your fiscal year. The first one of the year might be a little tricky and end up happening just a week or so after your annual plan. Don’t worry! Give yourself that week or so of breathing room to let your annual goals settle in before you decide which projects to tackle next.

The purpose of this session is to decide which projects you’re actually going to take on in addition to your regular work. 

First, check on your last quarter’s progress. As a business, what did you say you were going to do? Where are you on those commitments? it’s not uncommon for projects to remain unfinished. If you manage to get a project to 80-85% complete in a quarter, count that as a win! ????

Clarify and review upcoming projects that are going to exist into the next quarter. Ask your team to update the status of each of these projects. You might even want to look two quarters into the future, just in case there is a big project that requires some extra planning. For example, if you’re launching a product in June, you might want to look at it in the first quarter’s planning session so you’re not rushing to develop EVERYTHING in April and May and then launch in June.

Ask each team member to assess the business based on the Six Lenses of Business Assessment. (Depending on how big your team is, it might be helpful to ask them to do this before the meeting.) Reviewing the Six Lenses of Business Assessment will help you to identify any issues that need to be addressed within the core functions of your business and you can add it to your quarterly plans.

Then comes the fun part: brainstorming! Preferably after a break to refresh after all that numbers talk.

Based on your annual goals, what can you do in the next 90 days to get you closer to those goals? If you’ve got a parking lot of ideas that aren’t currently being implemented, see if there’s something there. Otherwise, allow your team to brainstorm without edits for a set amount of time.

Once you have a whole list of projects you could be working on, that’s when you’ll start prioritizing them. Choose the top 3 projects that will move your closer to your annual goals and, ideally, target your lowest scoring Lens of Business Assessment. If you have a large team, you may take on 4 or 5 projects. And if you don’t have room for 3 projects, choose however many projects you have space for.

The last thing to do in your quarterly planning session is to assign each project an owner. Whether they’re reporting to a project manager or you directly, the project owner will be responsible for keeping the rest of the team updated on that project. They’ll start to detail the milestone of the project and help figure out which KPIs to track.

NOTE: In the quarterly planning stage, you’re still not setting any due dates or defining individual tasks. You might determine that one project needs to be completed before another project, but there are no specific tasks with specific deadlines. Those come later in your weekly planning sessions.

See My Quarterly Planning Process in Action

Whew! This was a big one! If you want to see my quarterly planning process in action, follow me on Instagram and join my email list. I’ll be sharing the results of my annual planning session soon!

Meanwhile, I’d love to know: what’s your quarterly planning process like? How does quarterly planning help you achieve your bigger goals? Share a comment below!

Meet your host

Sandra Booker, Founder of Changemaker Inc. (home to Sidekick COO and The VA Studio) and creator of Scale Society and The Advisory Board, is a mentor, Fractional COO  and growth strategist. She specializes in helping overworked, overwhelmed, multi-hatted entrepreneurs become the CEOs of sustainably scalable, and powerfully profitable businesses. 

After helping local businesses thrive, and receiving accolades in her community (like the 40 Under 40 award) Sandra turned her attention to the world of online service providers, and her clients include familiar names like Chanti Zak, Tarzan Kay, and Laura Belgray.

In her (efficiently used) spare time, she teaches others how to build and grow their own 6-figure virtual assistant practices and is on a mission to create a million jobs by helping her clients and students scale their businesses.

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