There’s a reason that most road trips begin with a map, college courses have syllabi, and businesses create forecasts: It’s hard to succeed without a plan. If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you expect to get there? And while so many of us have goals and aspirations, many of us don’t have a clear path to that destination.
I’ve addressed ways you can increase your productivity on a daily and weekly basis, but without a long term plan, obtaining the career trajectory you want can be difficult. You may be chugging along – finishing projects, signing new clients, getting a promotion – but you also must know what you’re working towards, and more importantly, what you need to make it happen.
I operated my business for years without a long term plan, flying by the seat of my pants as I signed new clients, expanded my media relationships, and increased my knowledge of the market. I grew my PR business to 30 clients in less than a year and was profitable from day one. But I was also working an insane amount of hours, trying constantly to stay on top of everything, and because I didn’t have a financial forecast (or any good bookkeeping system, really), I was unsure of whether or not I could afford to hire help. When I finally sat down to assess my business, I realized quickly that I was undercharging and that if I wanted to grow and still maintain any sanity, that I had to raise my prices and dedicate regular energy to analyzing the time spent on clients and the revenue I was bringing in. I needed a plan.
If you’re employed in a more traditional work environment, you may feel that your plan is built in. You work hard at your job, and when your superior moves up to a new role, you’ll move up to theirs. Associates become Managers, Managers become Directors, and so on. You move up the title chain in the pre-assigned pecking order.
But is that really the career trajectory you want?
If you’re a maker or a creative, you just want to sell more widgets (books, music downloads, artisanal soap, etc.) But there are side effects to sales increases. You spend more time promoting, talking to customers, and creating additional products. You have extra expenses. You have greater responsibilities.
Are you able to handle that? Do you want to?
My business coach, Amber McCue*, recently said, “What got me here won’t get me there.” A long-term plan requires identifying the best path from where you are now to where you want to go.
Here are a few places to start:
Put together a financial analysis of your current year and create a forecast for the coming one. This can be broken down by month or by quarter, depending on your cash flow, and should include both revenue and expenses. If you have different revenue streams (one-on-one clients, products, day job + side hustle) then it’s best to break those out into different categories. The same goes for expenses; break out the different types of expenditures so you can identify patterns. (When your product sales go up, do your operating costs go up? Are you spending a lot of time wining and dining clients, but not seeing a rise in client revenue?)
Once you’ve mapped out your financials for the current year, map out your forecast for the following year. Yes, it’s okay to guess, as long as that guess is informed. If you’re doubling your revenue each quarter, then it makes sense that you’d continue that trajectory (and nice work, btw!). But don’t forget to also increase your expenses in a similar way and identify points where you may need to add a team member, expand your office, or upgrade your systems.
You may love what you’re doing now, but it’s important to map out what you’ll do next. If you’re still in the same role with the same responsibilities five years from now, will that make you happy? If so, then fantastic, feel free to skip this part, but most of you are reading this article because you want to grow.
Take a look at your current role and map out your responsibilities. Then, ask yourself:
- What do you currently enjoy doing?
- What do you wish was off your plate?
- What do you want to do more of?
Write down your answers, then begin listing different roles that would fulfill those desires. If you’re currently making products, but would like to move out of the manufacturing aspect and just do design, then the next step would be to hire and train an apprentice. If you love working one-on-one with people, but don’t like the on-boarding, bookkeeping, and administrative tasks, then it may require hiring an assistant. If you really don’t like managing people, then what changes could you make to remain solo and still grow? By clearly identifying what you want to be doing 1, 5, and 10 years from now, you’ll be able to start laying the groundwork to manifest those goals.
Another thing that I learned from Amber McCue* is the power of the 90-day plan. Daily and weekly tasks are great, but mapping out what your quarter is going to look like can be equally powerful. Let’s say you want to find a new job by this time next quarter. You may spend a few hours a week on LinkedIn or Indeed searching openings, and maybe you send out a few resumes. But if it’s not strategic, nothing is going to come of it. Plotting and scheduling exactly what you need to accomplish each month to achieve your goal will ensure you stay on track.
It may look like this:
- Update and improve resume
- Compile a list of potential companies to work for
- Contact and interview recruiters
- Identify professional networking events and add them to your calendar
- Research those potential companies
- Finalize recruiter relationships
- Begin applying
- Follow up with applications
- Send out additional applications
- Create new list of potential companies based on what was learned in the interview/application process
Seems super manageable, right? That’s because it is. When you set reasonable goals and plan ahead, the path to career success doesn’t seem so daunting.
Many of you may have already shifted into holiday mode, but 2018 is going to be here before we know it. Let’s start it off right–let’s start with a plan. I’m participating in Amber’s 2018 Planathon* and I encourage you all to join me. It’s a free event consisting of 15 speakers and an online community to help you plan the year ahead. I hope you’ll join me!
*Denotes affiliate links. I receive a small commission when you purchase products through these links and I only link to products or services that I’ve used and can honestly recommend. Reputation is everything, and I have no plans to risk mine for a few bucks.