My Past Year Wasn’t Great; Should I Still Do a Year In Review?

We’re almost at the end of another year! And although 2021 may not have gone as expected, you now have a choice:

  • You can head into the new year with a renewed determination and hope that things will improve…
  • Or you can take stock and prepare for what could be coming, whether good or bad.

Which will help achieve your ultimate business goals: the first option of hopefully anticipating improvement? Or the second option of realistic pragmatism?

In my experience, when we take the time to measure our current situation (the As-Is), the future point where we want to be in the future (the To-Be), and assess which resources are needed to move forward, we are much more likely to achieve those goals. So I’d say we could combine both options: Anticipate a better future, but also identify any barriers that could slow down your progress.

One tool that adds a lot of value to your business planning process is called the Year In Review. This simple exercise allows you to review what happened in the previous 12 months, what went well, what didn’t, and how you can make changes for next year. January is an ideal time to evaluate and create new goals, but you can use this tool anytime.

While it sounds really simple, looking back at your past mistakes and failures can be painful — especially if things did not go as well as you’d hoped.

You can read my business reviews from 2019, 2018, and 2017 below:

Paradigm Shifts Taking Place

You may notice that I did not share a 2020 Year In Review, and that’s because 2020 was definitely not a very pleasant one. To be honest, I wasn’t sure anyone wanted to read about a not-so-good year. We are constantly told to be inspirational, aspirational, and positive.

But… what if things did not turn out well? What if you lost several clients? What if cut way back on your budget? What if you experienced high staff turnover, escalating prices, or experienced a personal tragedy?

Can you be proud of a year where your business did not earn a profit? Even the most positive-thinking person will have trouble maintaining that cheerfulness in a year where you didn’t meet any of your strategies goals.

The COVID pandemic and its impact on the economy have deeply changed the way we do business. As with many owners, it has affected my clients and resulted in fewer opportunities than in previous years. I felt guilty about not sharing these struggles in a yearly review, but millions of people have endured very painful times as well. There’s no shame in recognizing failure and making adjustments.

Rethinking the Consulting Promise

Because of my struggles of 2020 and 2021, I began to see consulting from a different light. I began to ask myself:

  • Why do “experts” tell a business owner what they should change?
  • Who is really the expert — an outside observer, or the owner and their team?
  • Can consulting really effective if the changes aren’t implemented?
  • Is consulting just a big ploy that takes advantage of business owners… but doesn’t really help business owners in the long-term?

These questions have come up in my conversations with clients, and it is clear that traditional consulting — providing expert advice for a fee, with no agreement to see results for that owner once the initial process is over — is not very effective.

Since I now believe that traditional consulting doesn’t work, I have transformed my business model; I now partner with my clients instead of simply telling them what to do. This creates a dynamic relationship that demonstrates trust, improved communication, and a focus on value.

Economic, Social, and Financial Changes

Several other massive shifts are taking place around the world that could be affecting your business.

Consumer goods are not as readily available. (Remember the rush to get toilet tissue and cleaning products?)

Supply chain issues and a lack of raw materials have resulted in an electronics shortage.

Rising gas prices have increased the cost of goods and shipping, which often affects revenue for both B2B (Business to Business) and B2C (Business to Consumer).

Many of my clients are under pressure to produce more with less, despite rising prices and a delay or lack of raw materials. This added pressure means they’re working more hours and feeling a tremendous sense of dread about the future. They may have trouble attracting new job candidates. They are concerned about staff turnover and employee engagement. Several are also thinking of selling their business, but profit margins may not be high enough to attract a good buyer. While there are lots of ways to squeeze out more profit, these should be done from a holistic view of the business that aligns with the owner’s ultimate goals.

We’re also seeing a transformation in the significance of work itself — which some are calling the Great Resignation. This phrase was first used by Anthony Klotz, Associate Professor of Mays Business School at Texas A&M University. Yes, employees are resigning; but the numbers actually show that many companies are actually expanding and have more job openings. Retirement-aged Boomers are the most likely to “resign” permanently, and hundreds of thousands of workers are simply moving to a better work situation. This phenomenon is also known as the Great Quit or the Big Quit: many lower-wage workers, especially in retail and accommodation industries, are taking jobs that offer higher pay, benefits, and a sense of personal satisfaction and fulfillment. (Sources: Three Myths of the Great Resignation – The Atlantic and What Retailers Can Do About the ‘Great Resignation’ – Unity Marketing)

You can read my analysis about how what happens to a company if their employees quit — especially the qualitative effects (more mistakes, lower employee engagement, a change in customer loyalty, loss in trust) — in this article:

Rather than simply an increase in resignations, we’re seeing a Great Reshuffling as well: new businesses are forming at a faster rate (especially in e-commerce). More people are relocating to suburban metro areas. And there is less need for physical office space, as work-from-home becomes a desirable permanent option. Companies are offering extra flexibility to job candidates and existing employees as a way to keep them from leaving. (Source: The Great Resignation Is Accelerating – The Atlantic)

Responding to Change

OK, so all of these things are changing. But why would it have anything to do with reviewing the past year?

Maybe you’re not convinced. “I’d rather not look back at the pain and problems of the past year (or two),” you might say.

But taking the time to review what happened, what went well and what didn’t, and determining how you will respond is extremely valuable. You’ll be much better prepared to pivot your company and stay ahead of potential pitfalls. This is especially important in these uncertain and rapidly changing times.

Completing a Year In Review also allows you to get a true picture of what has occurred in your business: the logical progression of how your decisions resulted in measurable outcomes. You’ll also be able to catch gaps in your workflow, flaws in your decision-making process, and — most importantly — allow yourself to forgive bad decisions. You’ll be able to “accept the things you cannot change” and identify a path forward that still allows you to achieve your ultimate goals.

We can only learn if we’re willing to step into the pain of our failure and to recognize what went wrong, then correct those actions for next time, right? Otherwise, how can we expect a different result?

How to Get Started

If you’re ready to dive right in and start reviewing your past year, take a look at this free guide:

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How to Do a Year In Review

And if you’re still on the fence and need inspiration, check out these other articles that explain more about the Year In Review process:

I hope you find a lot of benefit from doing a Year In Review of your business, or of your personal life. If you publish a summary of it online, feel free to link to it in the comments or send me a link.

Wishing you great success in the coming year!

Grace LaConte is a business strategist, writer, and speaker. She is the founder of LaConte Consulting, which offers guidance for business owners who want to improve their profit, growth, and value. Grace also helps accounting and finance professionals to become top-tier business consultants.

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