At the end of each year, I purposefully schedule at least one day dedicated solely to reflecting on the last year and mapping out the next. Here is a quick checklist I use to keep my planning days structured and planned so I’m as productive as possible.

1. Perform a SWOT analysis

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Create a list for each of these four categories as they relate to your business. This analysis serves as the foundation to create and prioritize a plan for the upcoming year. Otherwise, you may be haphazardly setting goals or expectation of the following year.

2. Clarify your vision and your mission

If you haven’t done so already, it’s imperative that you have a vision and/or a mission for your business. Whether you’re a one-person business or manage a large team, clarity of vision and how you plan to get there will help you in all areas of your business: your messaging and branding, your marketing and advertising and ultimately how you connect, convert and retain clients. Basically this is your who, your why and your how.

3. Create a development plan for the upcoming year

Based on what your SWOT analysis reveals, create a development plan for the upcoming year. Start by breaking down 4-5 major categories of your business you need to focus on in order to move the needle forward. Then list out more specifically what needs to be accomplished within each category. For example, in my business, the five major areas of focus for this next year are 1) increasing membership (we set a very specific goal), 2) strengthening and empowering our staff (and how we do it), 3) revenue (monthly and annual goals, new profit centers), 4) the member experience (how we continue to maintain a loyal membership and raving fans), and 5) overall brand growth (this is the bigger picture of the business). These are the “top 5” areas of focus that I believe, when focused on regularly and consistently in a planned and purposeful manner, will have a direct impact on hitting our big goal for the year. Anything that doesn’t fall within these five categories will not take priority without very careful consideration so we avoid getting distracted.

4. Outline, plan and calendar the “pieces”

The “pieces” are all the logistics that are necessary to run a business successfully – marketing, accounting, team management, client sales and retention, scheduling, cleaning the facility…the list goes on. Unfortunately, many business owners become so bogged down by the day-to-day of running the business, they often feel overwhelmed by just staying afloat rather than efficiently spending time and energy on actions that will generate growth and longevity.

Look back at the past year and write down what worked and what didn’t for your business. Everything from how you scheduled clients/classes, promotions or programs you ran over the year, your email marketing and blog posts, client surveys, events and community service - basically anything you did over the year on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. Map out over the course of the next year when specific tasks will be accomplished. As you understand the ebb and flow of your business better year-after-year, this will become easier, but the sooner you (and your team) are held accountable to a system of actions, the sooner you’ll be able to move away from working in your business, and can shift your focus to working on your business.

The way you start the year – specifically the first quarter – will largely dictate how the rest of the year will be. Start out strong, planned and purposeful and end even stronger than you started.