Two years ago, I started doing something that I’d previously shunned. I think it probably goes back to my days of corporate finance when you’d have to spend two hours filling these out and then have an awkward meeting with your boss that really never mattered.
Before your eyes glaze over, bear with me a minute here.
I know what you’re feeling, these are pointless and useless. I used to feel the same way. Until I was taught how to unlock the power of the annual review.
If you’ve been interested in how to do an annual review for yourself and your business, we’ve got you covered.
Ready to dig into it?
What is an Annual Review?
In the simplest terms, an annual review is time spent going over the last year and taking stock of what happened.
Now, you can do that mentally, which is what I used to do, but you really don’t get the same results as actually sitting down and really thinking about it.
As you get more into the benefits of annual reviews, you can set aside a few hours and write down your review. You might jot your thoughts down in a notebook. But I’ve found a really solid way to get a lot out of your review is to create a template where you answer some pre-set questions.
What You Can Include in an Annual Review?
The honest answer is there are tons of things you can include, but you also don’t want to go too overboard.
I really didn’t get just how much you can learn about yourself (and by extension, your business) by really digging into what happened in the last year.
Just like anything else, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.
But on a basic level, here are a few benefits I’ve found over time:
A huge focus of my annual reviews has been around what worked in the past year. This is a flip from my past mindset where I’d spend a lot of time focusing on the things I thought I screwed up (more on that later).
But, when you sit down and look at the things that worked, you can start building repeatable systems around them for even more success.
Here’s an example:
In my 2018 review, I realized that I had a pretty good success rate in pitching ideas to potential clients. But, at the same time, I hadn’t doubled down on doing that, it wasn’t a major focus of my marketing mix. I was spending most of my time trying to land new clients.
In 2019, when I was thinking about my goals for the year in preparation for coaching sessions with Taylor, I learned that I should spend a lot more time building systems around the things that worked.
So, I spent most of 2019 just pitching my clients over and over again or contacting them and asking more work versus devoting tons of time trying to get new clients.
Sure, I still grabbed a few new clients, but I got a ton of repeatable work from my current clients. I was able to see successful pitch rates of upwards of 75% every month.
You can be that translated into a lot more money.
This is just one example, but it’s important. Use your review to figure out what worked and then build your goals for doing a lot more of that, you’ll probably get good results.
What Didn’t Work
It’s also important to figure out what didn’t work, and why.
I could say ok just forget the stuff that didn’t work, but the why is really important too. Sometimes, it’s a matter that your approach just wasn’t good, or you could improve a few things and turn something that didn’t work into something that did.
And other times it might just be that one particular strategy didn’t work for you, so you can push that to the side for now and focus your energies on something else.
Regardless of how much money you make or success you have, you’re always going to run into things that don’t work, that’s ok. But knowing what they are and why they didn’t work can present an opportunity to flip a negative into a positive in the next year.
Opportunities to Capitalize Upon
Another good way to think about the stuff that didn’t work is to reframe them as opportunities moving forward. While some things just flat out might not work, other stuff can if you put the right focus or attention on them.
It’s also probably likely that during the year a few things popped up out of nowhere that ended up working or were ideas you wanted to explore in the future. These could present some interesting opportunities for you to explore more and capitalize on.
For instance, in 2018, I went to a conference and learned all about trade magazines, something I didn’t know much about at all. So I looked at that as an opportunity for 2019 to make a list of trade mags in my niche, find out their pitch requirements, and send off some pitches.
An opportunity could be as simple as spending more time on LinkedIn and as complex as trying a brand new business strategy. Chances are, you can probably come up with 3-5 of them to focus on next year.
Feel Good About Yourself
Another benefit of an annual review is you can find a bunch of stuff you did well and feel good about yourself. That’s really important going into a new year.
You want to capitalize on that momentum and take a minute and congratulate yourself.
In my annual reviews, I always write down at least 5-10 things I did really well, even if they seem small. Life is all about growth, and all too often we spend a lot of time harping on the negatives rather than celebrating the positives.
So if you’re goal was something like ‘go to one networking event a month’ and you did it, rock on. That’s awesome. You hit your goal, you probably met at least one cool person to chat business with, maybe you nabbed a few clients, or maybe you got really great at making small talk for 15 minutes.
All of that stuff is great, feel good about it.
Goals and Aspirations
Most people go into a new year thinking about goals. That’s pretty natural, and you probably have a few swirling around in your brain right now.
But the more specific you can be about your goals and aspirations, the better off you’re going to be in the long run.
Because once again, these types of goals can help you build systems around getting them done and you have things to aspire to during the year.
For example, here’s a set of goals you might have:
- Make $75k a year: You can break that down to $6,250 a month.
- Send 350 pitches: You can send one pitch a day (and leave yourself some wiggle room).
- Attend 2 conferences: You can highlight those conferences that are perfect fits for your niche or education and go to those.
- Raise my rates: You can give yourself a 10% raise for every new client you get during the year.
When you get specific with your goals, you’re far more likely to find ways to break them down and get them done.
And it’s ok to reach high too.
For example, I set an income goal that I felt relatively confident I could hit in 2019 and then I set a ‘would be awesome’ goal that was higher. When I nailed my yearly income goal in the fall, I hustled to hit my aspirational income number by the end of the year — and did.
But even if I hadn’t hit that second goal, because I had it, I was still able to make more money than I’d been expecting, which is always a good thing!
Your mileage may vary, but as a freelance writer, my life and business often end up blending together. Because of that, I also include some non-business specific goals too.
These don’t have to be anything crazy, but you can go for it if you want. I’ll often include some goals and thoughts about things like health and fitness and social life too.
I’ve also realized the importance of giving myself time off, so I also work on making sure I have goals for vacation time or just days off sprinkled throughout the year to make sure I don’t hit any burnout levels.
What I would caution against is going too deep on too many categories. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself, especially if this is your first run at an annual review.
It’s ok to pick just business to start and then add in one other key category if you can manage to track both.
Review During the Year
One important thing to realize about your annual review is it’s not a set it and forget it sort of thing.
You should revisit it a few times during the year to see if you’re on track.
A lot of people, myself included, do a shorter mid-year review too, this is a great opportunity to really dig into your annual review.
A lot can change in six months, so use this opportunity to re-evaluate your goals and cash in on some of those new opportunities. You don’t have to go all in on another extended review, but hit some of those major points to see if you’re on track for the rest of the year.
I think this is great motivation to stay productive all year long and beat out some of those common slumps.
Some Questions to Ask
We shared an annual review template inside the Location Rebel forums, but you can use a few of these questions to help you get a jump on your annual review.
- When will I complete my annual review?
- What were 5-10 of my biggest successes this year?
- What are 3-5 of my biggest opportunities for next year?
- What are 3 actions you can take to capitalize on those opportunities?
- What are 3-5 things I do really well? How can I leverage them?
- What are 3-5 things that didn’t work? Why didn’t they work?
- What are the 20% of things I’m doing that is driving 80% of my results?
- What are the least valuable things I’m doing, the things not driving results?
- What’s one new habit I want to establish? What steps will I take to do it?
- What’re your 1-3 big goals for the year?
- What can you do each quarter/month/week to help achieve those goals?
- What are 1-3 stretch goals for the year?
Start with these questions and you can expand from there.
But, whatever you do, make sure you really take the time to sit down and think about these. The more you’re willing to dig deep and take a hard look at your business, the better your answers.
You can then use all that good info to create a plan for the rest of the year. It’s no coincidence that over the last two years I finally started taking my annual review seriously and I had substantial income jumps as a freelance writer both years.