A Step-by-Step Guide to Planning Next Year's Marketing

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I like to build things – generally uncomplicated things with a lot of right angles, but still. For some reason, it relaxes me (insert my wife rolling her eyes here). I built a wall-length bookcase this summer, and do you know what the first thing I did was?

You’re right. I planned it out.

I measured everything and drew a really bad diagram to figure out the order of the steps and what materials I needed. Then I took that list to the hardware store, got what I needed (plus a few extra boards ‘cuz…ya’ know) and locked myself in the garage where I spent the weekend inventing new swear words.

Your child care center, dance studio, gymnastics program or dojo is the bookcase in this analogy. Without a plan, you waste your time wandering around the store, spending money on things you don’t need (even though the salesperson says you do); only to come home and randomly nail pieces together hoping it turns in to a bookcase.

What do you get by planning ahead?

  • A blueprint to follow for the next year with measurable goals. No more last-minute, reactionary marketing. You’ll know what needs to be done with plenty of time because you’ve already taken the time to think it through.
  • Clarity of vision…for real. Just the act of organizing your thoughts and writing them down provides an entirely different perspective on your situation. Seeing your ideas on paper helps you sift through and prioritize.
  • Less anxiety. A big list is of “to dos” can cause paralysis. When that big list is organized on a timeline, you don’t worry about the whole list; just the part that’s right in front of you. You can trust that the rest of the list will be taken care of when the time comes. Baby steps!

If you haven’t started planning for next year, that’s OK. It’s November. You can still fit it in. It doesn’t need to be super complicated. It just needs to BE.

If you don’t have a planning process in place, here are the 5 questions I ask myself and clients when putting plans together:

1.     What Are Your Goals?

I like to start with a brainstorm session where everything is acceptable. It can be a big, long-term goal or a small project that’s been on the shelf for a while. The point is to write it all down so you can sort through it.

TIP: It’s best not to do this step alone. If you have a mentor, sit down with them. Grab your center directors or key instructors and get all the ideas out.

After the brainstorm, start separating everything in to big goals like “increase enrollment by 30%” and smaller projects like “open an Instagram account.” You may find that some of the smaller projects are really a part of the bigger goals.

Once you have everything a bit more organized, it’s time to prioritize. Ask yourself these questions: “What absolutely needs to get done? What can wait? What’s easy to get done? What’s going to take a lot of effort?”

From there, start putting “due dates” on everything. Some of these may change later, so don’t fuss too much over it. Consider putting a few “easy” goals at the beginning of the year. The positive experience of completing low hanging fruit early on is a great way to create momentum!  

2.     How Are You Measuring Your Goals?

A goal is useless if you can’t measure it. How are you defining success? Are there any milestones along the way to make sure you’re on the right track?

For example, if your goal is to have 1,000 Instagram followers by the end of the year and you already have 400, you can use 50 new followers per month as your measurement (600/12=50).

3.     What Do You Need to Reach Your Goals?

Start by looking at what you’ve done over the past year. What worked? What didn’t? What will help you reach your goals?

Next, look at what you do ongoing. This can be anything from social media updates, web site maintenance, ongoing AdWords…whatever you do or delegate to someone else on a regular basis. Ask yourself if these things will help you reach your goals. What should you keep doing? What should you stop doing? What do you need to do more of?

Finally, think of anything you may need to add to your ongoing tasks to reach your goals. For example, if your goal is to increase Facebook engagement, you may set a new monthly quota of posts for your staff to meet.

4.     When is Everything Happening?

This is where the rubber meets the road! By creating a timeline of ongoing tasks and those associated with new projects or campaigns, you’re building your business’s “instructions” for the following year.

Start by listing out all obligations, events, vacations, historically busy times and anything else you know of that will take you and your staff away from focusing on tasks. Do not skip this step! I am guilty of skipping this step on occasion and it ALWAYS bites me in the butt! Put these on the calendar before you do anything else. You’ll thank me later!

Next, add the ongoing tasks you just identified to the timeline. Be sure to include who is responsible, the frequency and any milestones.

Once all of that is on your calendar, drop any projects or campaigns from the first step on their respective “due dates.” Leave them there for a moment, step away and list out everything that needs to be done to complete each one. For example, if one of your goals is to build a web site, you may need to outline the site structure, write all the copy, find or take photos, hire a designer and decide on a platform as a few of the steps. For campaigns: Where are you advertising? What's involved? What are the offers?

Put each of those project steps in order, decide who is responsible and assign a length of time to each. You may need to contact people outside your company (like designers or programmers) to get some of these time frames. Don’t guess at how long it takes to build a web site.

Finally, work backward from your due dates using the steps and timeframes of each project or campaign. Do your “due dates” still work? Do any major steps fall on a busy time? What can be moved and what needs to stay the same?

This part is really where your plan comes together. Look at everything happening over the year and ask yourself this simple but CRUCIAL question: “Is all of this attainable?”

If you’re anything like me, this is the point where I step back and say, “Whoa…this probably isn’t happening the way I thought.” It’s totally fine to have that reaction. In fact, that’s why we go through the process in the first place!

You may need to shift a few of your goals around. You may need to go back and look at what your TRUE priorities are from the first step. You may decide to hire more staff or postpone a project until the following year. It’s fine!

What you ultimately want is an organized timeline to follow that doesn’t try to kill you or your staff with unreasonable expectations. You need to stay motivated, but you also need to be honest with yourself and reasonable with your staff. As an old boss of mine once said to me early in my career, “EVERYthing can’t be a priority.”

5.     Does Everyone Know What’s Going On?

Once you have everything planned out, you need to share it with the key people involved. For example, if you’re a child care owner, this is most likely your center directors. Really, it’s anyone that’s listed on the timeline as responsible for something.

By doing this, you’re providing your team with their role in your overall vision, what they’re being held accountable for and the ability to manage their own time and staff.

Be sure to put in place ongoing meetings or check-ins with your staff to make sure the plan is being followed. It’s a living document, not something that sits on your shelf.

One final piece of advice from a guy that’s been managing projects for a long time: Don’t freak out when things aren’t working out EXACTLY as you planned them. This is inevitable. “Things” happen. People quit. Things break down. Markets change. It’s fine. Stick to the plan – even if you need to rearrange it on the fly. Without the focus of a plan, you're wandering around the hardware store trying to figure out how to build a bookcase. 

How are you planning for next year? There are a lot of different ways to approach the planning process. Do you have a proven method? Do you prefer to work “on the fly” with no plan? How do you make that work? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Until next time – Be Well. Be Happy. Shape Minds.  - Tom