Who Wins? Planning or Reflection?
Updated: a day ago
As 2020 draws to a close, and the Christmas rush dies down, I’m no longer spending all day every day making jewellery and fretting over markets, social media, packaging and gift receipts. For the first time in what seems like ages, I have time to think. I’ve really missed thinking. It’s one of my favourite pastimes. And so my mind turns to what happens next. And the obvious answer is to plan for next year.
This is what all businesses start doing at some point around this time, regardless of when their financial year ends, simply because the calendar end of year is such a strong part of our lives. But is planning really the best option? When I worked in the corporate world, we were asked to spend so much time on creating plans – project plans, quarterly plans, contingency plans, blah blah blah. But rarely, if ever, do I recall being given the time to reflect on what actually happened and why, compared to the plans we’d made.
To me, this was a huge missed opportunity. I’ve always been of the view that we have to acknowledge our mistakes, learn from them and then move forward. And although I haven’t been running for a year, this seemed like a good time to check where I’d got to compared to where I thought I’d be. So I looked at my plan from April to December 2020 as a point of reference.
I’d gone about the process sensibly enough. I’d decided on three goals for the 9 months, and put down what I thought I would want to achieve towards each goal in each quarter. Then I broke each quarter down into months, and listed out the tasks I would need to do each month to achieve my quarterly progress. On the face of it, it was all perfectly logical and sensible. But I scratched the surface just a bit, and here’s what I found.
First of all, I’d put Halo Jewellery at the centre of the universe. I’d focused on so much on what I wanted to achieve, that I’d completely forgotten that there was a big old world out there which couldn’t care less about my plans. And by this I don’t mean the pandemic. That I’d taken into account. But in all my navel-gazing, I’d totally ignored the biggest calendar event of the year - Christmas.
I’ve heard that some jewellery brands get between 75 and 90 percent of their business in the last three months of the year, so you can imagine what a foolish mistake that was. I’m actually embarrassed to even talk about it here in the public domain, but this wouldn’t be an honest account of my business journey if I didn’t.
I’d allowed no time for the preparation that would be needed for the Christmas period, from ensuring I had enough raw materials and packaging, to allowing time for writing product descriptions and many trips to the post office. I’d allowed no time for the events that I would need to participate in to make the best of the most lucrative time of the year, nor the time I would need to prepare for those events in terms of displays, sales patter and product ranges. Whether it’s Facebook Lives, Twitter or Instagram stories, they all need time and preparation – much more than I’d ever imagined.
To give you an idea, I had a 10 minute Facebook Live interview in early December. For that, I spent several days finishing off a new range that I wanted to introduce that day. The day before, and on the day, I spent about three hours deciding what I was going to display and polishing everything that needed to go on the displays. Then I spent another hour or so setting up the displays and an hour tidying up my workspace because I wanted to show it on the interview. And finally. I spent several hours just fretting about how I was going to say what I wanted to say while trying to hide my double chin and the gap between my teeth!
All just for 10 minutes. Had I allowed for several days of prep? No, of course not.
But most importantly of all, I’d completely forgotten to give myself time to be a human being. I hadn’t catered for the fact that I may get tired; not just tired, exhausted. There was only me doing everything, and between mid-October and early-December, I worked pretty much every weekend and slept badly because I was too tired to sleep.
I hadn’t catered for the fact that jewellery making is so straining on the eyes, that you shouldn't do it for more than a few hours a day. I hadn’t taken into account the shortening days, and that photography and making would compete so fiercely for those few hours of natural light. And I hadn’t catered for the fact that some orders might stress me out more than others.
This last one puzzled me. I had orders from two wonderful ex-colleagues, who wanted to do nothing more than support me in my new venture. They certainly had no intention of putting me under any pressure. Yet I fussed and fretted for days over their orders, not really understanding the underlying cause. I mentioned this to my daughter and she hit the nail on the head.
She said it was natural, because they knew I was good at my previous job, and I wanted them to think I was just as good at running a business too. The difference was that in my previous job, they were looking at a woman who had worked in that industry for 32 years. I’ve been running this business for not much more than 32 weeks. How could I possibly measure up to my earlier self?
In my defence, I had woken up around mid-August and scrabbled together a little ‘Christmas plan’ which had no bearing on reality. Here's a photo of it, that cleverly hides the numbers. I underestimated the number of pieces I would sell. I sold items I didn’t expect to, and didn’t sell the ones I thought I would. All in all, the projections were an utter fiasco! In fact my little ‘Christmas plan’ was so wildly wrong, I’m not sure it was much better than forgetting about Christmas altogether. They say that if your first year of business doesn’t embarrass you, then you left starting your business until too late. Well at least I haven’t made the mistake of starting too late.
So did I achieve my year end goals? Hmmm. My goals were to create my product ranges, enhance online presence and increase brand awareness. All three of those things happened. So yes, I could say that I did achieve my goals, albeit somewhat by accident. My goodness! So much needs to be improved in the way they were achieved.
For example, one of the methods by which I wanted to increase brand awareness was by writing blog posts. This I did as consistently as I could manage. My plan said that I should create a list of say 15 blog topics, and always have four blogs written ahead of time. But that’s just not how I work, and it’s certainly not how my mind works. Blog topics such as this one come to me at random times, get written rapidly, set aside for a few days, edited and published. That’s how I’m most productive; not the way some textbook says I would be most productive.
There’s a list as long as my arm of things I would do differently next year. But on reflection, the most important takeaways are to stop navel-gazing and to have a plan that treats me like a human being instead of a robot.
So is there a clear winner between ‘Planning’ and ‘Reflection’? They say that to fail to plan is to plan to fail. I would totally agree. But allowing no time for reflection would be like looking into a mirror and seeing nothing but the mirror. I’m not sure I want to choose.
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