When something is daunting for me I tend to over complicate it in my mind, finding reasons for it to be too hard to do and take too much time and effort, so why bother starting with it? I’m usually wrong. With that attitude it’s easy to be wrong about many things.
It’s only when I start to explore something, looking for ways to make it simple and workable, searching for what could be phase one so I can get started that I get moving in the right direction.
The most successful projects have been the ones I’ve planned. Where I’ve invested early on with the figuring out what’s really involved. I’ve come to enjoy this planning process; looking at what I want to achieve, how to do it and what sort of timeframe to do it in is an enjoyable research process for me.
This has lead me onto looking more holistically at my year. I know have a very simple planning tool in the form of a family organiser calendar. With it’s multiple columns originally meant for different family members I can plot out the things through the year that are fixed, part of routines and come around with surprising regularity. I hang it on my office door so I see it easily and it is close to where I can take action on things.
Instead of having individuals for each column I have my two businesses and areas of my life. This year’s calendar has a column for She Inspires, Creatively Belle, Personal, Admin and Externals.
For the two business columns it has regular events, like markets and fairs for Creatively Belle, key publishing dates, marketing activities, design and making deadlines, trade shows for when suppliers are in town and any action that’s specific for the business.
The Personal column is often my little life saver, it has birthdays and anniversaries, timeframes that could suit a few days away - anything personal that it’s best I can see quickly for the month ahead. This has saved me a few times from getting into trouble again for missing something because I’ve been too caught up with the businesses. Instead it makes me look caring and organised, which I am of course!
The Admin column is probably much more about cashflow with key money dates like when merchant fees and insurance bills are taken out of the account, when monthly or annual registrations are due and reminders to do the filing.
The external column is more of an adhoc column for other reminders I want to keep on my radar.
I also use post it notes that can be restuck onto other months or even future calendars - particularly useful for registrations that go over a number of years.
To update a new calendar for the coming year I simply start with the old calendar and write up the regular events. Then I can start looking at what I want to fit in where by easily seeing where I have time gaps. It lets me plan for research and development, for growth and fulfilment.
Being a visual creature I like this low tech method. I do use electronic calendars but I’ve had more planning glitches with them than I have with my wall calendar. The electronic calendars such as Google Calendar and your phone calendar are great to have on the go with you and for sharing but I like the initial planning out on paper as I can flick between things more easily. We’ll all have our own preferences but it is the settling down to doing the planning that makes the biggest difference.
When I was first working on these family organiser calendar I found the two business columns the easiest, as well as the putting birthdays and anniversaries in the Personal column. It was the Admin column that gave me the biggest challenge. As a creative business owner I find the making and designing, the writing and publishing much easier, the administration side can be quite draining and I often baulk at it.
It is also the side that gives me the most grief and what I needed was some structure around so it wasn’t as scary. I struggled with knowing where to start and finally I figured I should look at my bank statements and see what regular outgoings I had and to plot them on the calendar.
From there it simply progressed. I could see patterns of cashflow within each month, I could see how August and September are my most costly months with all the annual insurances and registrations due combined with two major trade shows where I spent a chunk of money on components in preparation for Christmas.
While I’d always been able to see the impact on my money via my bank account somehow seeing it on a calendar made me feel better. No wonder I found those two months really hard, especially after coming out from winter trading. It made sense why it took me October and November to feel back on balance. It was this very simple visual process that let me start to take the pain out of those four months simply by planning my money better.
I’d found a simply planning tool that works with my visual way of seeing the world and fitted with my enjoyment of pen and paper.
It is the simplicity of this tool that makes it successful for me and my business (and family). Once I got past my own mental mind blocks with feeling overwhelmed about planning and certain topics and realise they really weren’t worth it, I could get stuck into planning and find a real pleasure in the process.
I’m by no means perfect at this part of life and business, and I doubt I ever will be, but I have taken away those nasty financial surprises, I’ve been able to make time for friends and family when it is particularly important to them, and I’ve been able to create space for growth and development. I’ve also found away to find time for me to have time out - something most of us small business owners are crap at.
The attitude shift and finding the right simple planning tool for me has been the secret to success.
So to help you just get started with your own simple planning tool here are seven practical steps to take. Some will take a few minutes while others can be better suited to 30-40 minutes.
7 Tips for Getting Started with Your Planning
1. What sort of tools do you like working with, low tech or high tech?
2. How easy is it to copy over regular activities from year to year?
3. What are the key areas in your life from business to personal to daily grind?
4. What are the regular and known monthly, quarterly and annual financial activities that impact your cashflow - outgoings basically? You may need to look at more than one account to see them, consider your bank accounts as well as credit card accounts.
5. Make a list of friends and family with their associated birthdays and anniversaries.
6. What are the regular key events for your business and when are they? Think conventions, trade shows, fairs, production schedules, publishing deadlines, marketing strategies, planning periods, customer relationships and selling periods and channels.
Include time out such as weekends away, even an annual holiday (a bit radical there for the self-employed but give it a go at least!).
7. Start with the basics and get that going. Be ready for additional ideas to come to you once you started and update the calendar over the coming months.
Once you have the initial part done it becomes easier and faster each year. As you go on you’ll refine the process by adding or removing things. I love it when I’ve achieved a financial goal of retiring a specific debt and the joy of not writing in the coming year’s calendar while seeing it in last year’s calendar.