Conducting a “year in review” process is incredibly useful. It can also be excruciating, because looking back at the good & bad of the past year forces us to confront uncomfortable realities. It serves as a window to evaluate goals, examine priorities, and identify where we’ll focus our energy in the coming year.
In this post, you will hear how my Year In Review has strengthened me as a business owner. I’ll share what happened for me professionally in 2017, what worked and what didn’t, and some lessons learned.
Have you heard of the worldwide movement where business owners publicly share the most vulnerable details of their past year’s events?
It’s called the “Year In Review,” and I have decided to join the thousands of people who do this—including thirty-one amazing people that are featured in my last post, 31 “Year In Review” Examples to Inspire You.
For the first time, I’m publicly sharing a “behind the curtains” perspective of my business. You’ll find out what happened to me throughout the past year, as well as some useful takeaways to help you avoid making the same mistakes.
The process of introspective self-evaluation is very important as a leader, because it’s an essential part of learning and healthy growth. When examining areas of pain, we don’t need to get stuck in paralyzing fear (see 5 Painful Discussions That No Organization Should Ignore). In fact, looking back at the problems of the past year can be a journey to self-discovery; and if you’re lucky, a personal epiphany about what is keeping you from succeeding.
So in the spirit of solidarity with gutsy business owners world-wide, I now present my Year In Review for 2017.
A Look Back at 2017
In the past year, I’ve experienced a lot of contrasts: success and rejection. Personal fulfillment and professional hiatus. A renewal of creative energy, and months with no perceptible results.
I’m a business consultant, which means that I help professional service owners to identify barriers in their company, analyze the reasons for those problems, re-balance their decision-making process, and create pathways for positive growth both professionally and personally.
For the past 3-1/2 years, I’ve had the incredible joy of supporting and encouraging business owners in a number of ways. When my family relocated to the Pacific Northwest in mid-2015, I became more aware of the importance of creating a balance between extreme energies as a leader (see Yin and Yang Approaches to Management).
But I did not expect the bombshell of emotional upheaval that 2017 brought to my doorstep. Throughout the past year, I faced several situations that forced me to re-examine past experiences with workplace harassment, trauma, and a massive shift in core beliefs. (Read Why #MeToo Inspired Me to Be Transparent and Share My Failures)
My first instinct was to disappear. I took a break from consulting and reevaluated my priorities. But after some self-reflection and encouragement from a trained counselor, I began to ask difficult questions that revealed deeper layers: what was my philosophy of the world? How could I rectify past experiences? What needs to change?
As a result of these questions, I chose to adjust my business goals.
One of the gifts of owning a business is the freedom we have to make changes to the company as we see fit. We set SMART and CLEAR goals and keep track of the results. Each year, we evaluate the mix of positive and negative outcomes and decide which goals need tweaked, and which to leave behind.
While 2017 may not have been very successful quantitatively (high numericalgrowth), it was an absolutely pivotal year for me qualitatively (high emotional and relational value).
I’ve learned to appreciate the small gifts of simple, non-measurable benefits:
- mental clarity,
- developing close relationships with trustworthy advisors,
- helping clients who can most benefit from my services, and
- enjoying the satisfaction of doing work that matters to me.
Here are the specifics of what I’ve learned in the past year.
What Went Well (Wins)
Despite the setbacks, a lot of wonderful things happened in my company. Here are the highlights:
- Served clients who truly benefited from my coaching and consulting services. It felt wonderful to help them avoid making costly and painful mistakes.
- Published 34 blog posts (with an increase in momentum starting at the end of September).
- Developed a Definitions page with 133 unique terms
- Designed 178 visual graphics (find them in my Definitions page and sprinkled throughout my blog posts)
- Overhauled my website, http://laconteconsulting.com
- Shared 18 new YouTube videos
- Created a free video series on essential oils that support the 9 areas of a strategic vision board
- Recorded and transcribed 44 hours (2640 minutes) of voice memo recordings
- Typed 1,285 pages of blog post drafts (286,544 words) for upcoming content
What Did Not Go Well (Failures)
1. Unexpected expenses.
There’s never a great time for technology to bite the dust, but the past two years really made me reexamine my reliance on electronics. In 2016, my smartphone died, taking with it all the stored photos, video, voice memos, notes, texts, and contacts. I immediately learned the importance of backing up one’s phone data (which, up till then, I’d never done).
Then just a few days later, I changed website servers… and managed to disconnect my old website, which also shut down my e-mail account. This sequence of unfortunate events resulted in a long process of trying to piece together my business once again.
The bad news: It took weeks to get back on track. The good news: I became less reliant on technology and focused on building strong relationships with my network and clients.
Fast-forward to 2017. My trusty laptop started to show signs of a major malfunction, so in preparation I backed up all the files and coaxed it along until… kaput. The same thing happened to my printer. So in the course of yet another 1-week span, I was shopping for two more pieces of equipment.
- Back up your data: computer, cloud, cell contacts, voice recordings… everything. Have a backup of your backup, because you never know what could go wrong. And consider writing your most important information on paper (old-fashioned, I know; but in my opinion, extremely practical).
- Plan ahead for a “rainy year.” Expect the unexpected. Always have money in the bank to fix broken equipment.
- Reduce your dependency on electronic communication. During my laptop-free hiatus, I learned how to connect using original methods like phone calls, mailing letters & cards, and face-to-face visits.
2. A failed launch.
This past fall, I created the “ND Strategy Bootcamp,” which was intended as a 2-hour workshop on strategic planning specifically for naturopathic physicians (you can read about it here). Despite a multi-pronged marketing approach that included mailing an info packet and sending personalized e-mails inviting a select group to participate, the result was… crickets.
Even though there were no signups for the actual event, I did gain a lot of experience from launching it. I repackaged the course content into blog posts. Several potential clients contacted me due to the mailers and e-mail campaign. And I benefited from a Post-Mortem Evaluation of my “fail-yay” (something that didn’t work but is still worth celebrating).
- Before you act on an idea, get at least 2 people to commit before you launch the product. Have them go through the signup process, and use their input to adjust the product. If I’d talked to previous clients first, their feedback would have saved me a lot of marketing costs and time.
- Publish your ideas in smaller chunks (like blog posts or articles) to see whether the topics “stick.” This allows you to test the market and adjust as you get more feedback.
- Find out how your target audience likes to receive information. I was surprised to discover that many of my target clients are rather shy when it comes to direct marketing. Several even called me and actually told me, “I definitely want to hear about your services, but please don’t add me to any e-mail lists.”
- This goes against everything you’ll hear from popular digital marketing gurus. So I learned to adjust to the needs of my audience, and to not necessarily follow in the footsteps of famous “experts.”
3. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Pretty basic, but it’s true nonetheless. In 2017, I didn’t do a lot of networking, phone calling, e-mailing, LinkedIn messaging, letter-writing, press release sending, or self-promoting. In retrospect, the “forced sabbatical” provided a needed rest.
As I look to the next year, I’m more certain of my message and am mentally prepared to network, call, send, talk, share, write, and promote with a clear sense of purpose.
- Put yourself out there. Nobody knows what you do unless you tell them. And they don’t care what you do unless they can understand the pain you remove.
- Know why you do what you do. What annoying or aggravating problem does your service or product solve?
- Go ahead and ask. I’m analytical, introverted, and have struggled with a fear of sales rejection for years. But I found it easier to sell once I did four things:
1) Develop a deep respect for the person you want to reach;
2) Treat the “sales discussion” like a simple conversation, asking how she or he is doing and where they are struggling; and
3) Find out whether your solution is the right one to solve their problem.
4) Finally, ask if they want your help. The fear of “sales talk” is much less scary once you see it as a 1-on-1 conversation about headaches and challenges that you are qualified to help fix.
What I’ll Continue in 2018
Of both the Good and Bad, here’s what I want to do again.
More Blog Posts.
Publishing fresh content is the number 1 way to:
- share ideas that you’re passionate about,
- provide a “breadcrumb trail” of searchable content to your website with Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and
- be seen as an expert.
The past year was one of “Expression” (see my “Word of the Year” at the end of this post). So I spent considerable time writing, organizing, creating, and sharing content on my blog and website. The results are significant: more website traffic, social media mentions, consulting requests, and a strong platform for future speaking and writing projects. I definitely want to continue this in 2018.
Video is the new wave of business communication, so I’ll be publishing additional videos to YouTube. One way I’m making the most of this is by recording a video, then transcribing the text and publishing it as a separate blog post. I then add the video link as an embedded file at the top of the post.
I found this to be an extremely effective way to generate searchable text content, as well as provide a multi-sensory learning experience for my website visitors.
I spent a lot of effort creating my own images and tagging them for maximum SEO effectiveness. Each of my website images is searchable on major search engines, and I’m getting a tremendous number of hits from image searches. So that’s something I plan to continue doing.
Leverage Search Topics.
I was surprised at the number of hits my site got from “TheMinimalistManager.com.” This concept started as a live video discussion a couple of years ago, then evolved into a 30-day challenge (watch the playlist), and I finally redirected the domain name to my main website in mid-2017.
After studying my website data, I’m finding that minimalism, yin and yang, and balanced growth generate the most traffic. So I will be writing more posts related to these topics.
Streamline My Services.
I’m also on a journey to improve the customers’ experience of my sales and communication workflow. In the past, I’ve relied on word-of-mouth or random conversations to connect with potential clients, and my sales process has been a bit inconsistent.
I’ve decided to be more intentional about guiding potential buyers through the buying process with several “gates” to make sure nobody falls through the cracks. In 2018, I will roll out some new products, so keep an eye out for new announcements (subscribe to my newsletter to stay up to date).
What I’ll Do Differently
In the coming months, I am also making a few adjustments from last year.
Speak more frequently.
Since I didn’t do much public speaking in 2017, one of my goals for 2018 is to speak at least once a quarter at conferences and seminars. In the past, I really enjoyed participating in virtual seminars. I will be adding some new topics to my speaking list, including:
- Maximizing Your Strategic Risk Intelligence
- How to Eliminate Transaction Avoidance Syndrome
- Easy Ways to Recognize Organizational Vulnerabilities
- Why Frankenstein Management Syndrome is So Terrifying
- Creating Yin & Yang Balance of Your Management Style
Connect more authentically.
In my opinion, the “Fake It Till You Make It” mindset is ridiculous. Not only is this attitude hypocritical (because we present a reality that isn’t really true), it also keeps us from being honest about failure.
I’ve discussed the many reasons failure is so essential to growth:
- A Letter to My Business Mentor: From Fear to Confidence
- Why #MeToo Inspired Me to Be Transparent and Share My Failures
- 5 Reasons to Share a “Year In Review” of Your Business
No more faking it. Let’s be authentic and honest about failing in 2018. Are you with me?
3 Main Lessons
The most important discoveries I made in 2017 were:
It’s easy to “feel bad” for others (compassion). But actually entering someone’s world and feeling their pain was a new and very painful experience for me in the past year. Entering the experiences of others requires a high level of emotional intelligence (EQ).
This past year’s journey of experiencing others’ pain has allowed me to think of some new terms. Here are a few:
- Scrooge Effect
- Employee For a Day
- Pull Back the Curtain
- Reverse Interviews
- Hollowed-Out Engagement
- Frankenstein Management Syndrome
- Empathetic Leadership
After a season of confronting intense emotional experiences, I finally faced some of my own fears that have plagued me for years. I’m very aware of the pain that fear can create. But growth that is only possible once we become fully aware of the unseen barriers that hold us back from achieving our goals. Don’t be afraid to face your biggest fears.
There’s nothing quite as compelling as watching pure and unencumbered self-expression:
- A child who can’t contain their excitement when blowing out birthday candles
- The person whose eyes light up when they talk
- Feeling moved to tears by a compelling speaker
- Experiencing the intense emotion of a piece of art, music, poetry, or movement
I’m so grateful for the examples of strong and self-assured influencers who have demonstrated what it’s like to feel completely at peace with who they are. That is what I’ll be pursuing in 2018.
Books I Finished Reading in 2017
The written word is really significant to me. At age 6, I was writing stories and my first major in college was Linguistics (changed to Communications after the phonetic alphabet got the better of me). So although I have a pile of half-read books on my nightstand, my goal this past year was to finish as many as possible. By December 31st, I had completed 26 books.
Here they are, in the order I read them:
- The Consulting Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Create and Expand a Seven-Figure Consulting Practice by Alan Weiss
- Million Dollar Maverick: Forge Your Own Path to Think Differently, Act Decisively, and Succeed Quickly by Alan Weiss
- Million Dollar Launch: How to Kick-start a Successful Consulting Practice in 90 Days by Alan Weiss
- Value-Based Fees: How to Charge – and Get – What You’re Worth by Alan Weiss
- How to Maximize Fees in Professional Service Firms by Alan Weiss
- How to Win Friends and Influence People(1969 edition) by Dale Carnegie
- Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition by Robert Cialdini, PhD
- The Appeal by John Grisham
- 60-Minute Operational Risk Management by Stewart Lancaster
- When Someone You Love Has a Mental Illness: A Handbook for Family, Friends, and Caregivers by Rebecca Woolis, MFT
- How to Blog a Book: Write, Publish, and Promote Your Work One Post at a Time (Revised and Expanded Edition) by Nina Amir
- A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide, Fifth Edition) by Project Management Institute
- The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation, Bilingual Edition by Robert Pinsky
- Risk Intelligence: How to Live with Uncertainty by Dylan Evans
- The Ultimate Board Member’s Book: A 1-Hour Guide to Understanding and Fulfilling Your Role and Responsibilities by Kay Sprinkel Grace
- The Firm by John Grisham
- What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell
- Cesar’s Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding & Correcting Common Dog Problems by Cesar Millan
- The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
- A Window on Williamsburg by John J. Walklet, Jr. and Thomas K. Ford
- Working With You is Killing Me: Freeing Yourself from Emotional Traps at Work by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster
- The Chicken Whisperer’s Guide to Keeping Chickens: Everything you need to know… (and didn’t know you needed to know) about backyard and urban chickens by Andy Schneider
- What Color Is Your Parachute: A Practical Manual for Job Hunters and Career Changers (1995 Edition) by Richard N. Bolles
- The Partner by John Grisham
My Favorite Quote
Out of the 26 books above, Malcolm Gladwell spoke to me the most. Here is a quote from his book, “What the Dog Saw”:
“Late bloomers’ stories are invariably love stories, and this may be why we have such difficulty with them. We’d like to think that mundane matters like loyalty, steadfastness, and the willingness to keep writing checks to support what looks like failure have nothing to do with something as rarefied as genius. But sometimes genius is anything but rarefied; sometimes it’s just the thing that emerges after twenty years of working at your kitchen table.”
(“What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures” by Malcolm Gladwell, page 313)
Word of the Year
Just before 2017 started, I picked a word to act as a frame of reference. The word I picked was:
Looking back, Expression is exactly what happened in 2017.
I confronted some very challenging and painful experiences from my past and recognized my strengths more clearly. I also emerged from obscurity by re-launching my website and writing blog posts on topics that align with my core values.
Throughout the past year, I moved toward with authenticity without holding back. I created more blog posts and videos than ever before, connected with ideal clients 1-on-1, and used social media more strategically than I had in the past.
Even though the year didn’t turn out as I’d expected (with less client work and growth than previous years), my work quality became more powerful and purposeful.
As a result, I’ve streamlined my services and feel more comfortable with topics that best serve the needs of my clients:
- Rebalancing Aggressiveness or Passivity as a Leader
- Creating a Strong Transaction Philosophy
- Recognizing Hidden Bias
- Listening to Painful Truths
I’ve learned to appreciate the small gifts that come from simple pleasures: mental clarity, developing close relationships with trustworthy advisors, and enjoying the satisfaction of doing work that matters to me. That’s the biggest lesson of the past year.
I wish you a year full of wonderful success and happiness!
To read the 2018 update, click here.
Let me know what you think of my Year and Review, and share the link to yours in a comment (or message me directly)!
Grace LaConte is a business consultant, writer, workplace equity strategist, and the founder of LaConte Consulting. Her risk management tools are used around the globe, and she has successfully reversed toxic work environments for clients in the healthcare and non-profit fields. Grace specializes in lactation law compliance & policy development, reducing staff turnover after maternity leave, and creating a participatory work culture.