Since our last post was “A Step-by-Step Guide to Planning Next Year’s Marketing,” I thought it would be useful to share this insanely simple tool we actually use here at 2C to help us plan.
Knowing the steps is great, but what you use to get from brainstorm to timeline should help move the process forward rather than hinder it. The truth is, all you really need is a pad of paper and something to write with; but I’m a very visual person and I find it helps to see everything together and manipulate the pieces while going through the planning process.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 3”x3” sticky notes
- A roll of 3’ wide craft paper
- Tape or tacks
- Your team of “key players” (You can decide who this is. The point is to not do this alone.)
- A fresh pot of coffee
This is about as low-tech as you can get, but it’s my go-to method for starting most plans. There’s something about physically manipulating a to-do list that you just don’t get while sitting at a computer. It’s like you’re actually IN the process itself.
This method is particularly useful for youth enrollment programs. Whether you're a child care center, a dance studio, a gymnastics program or martial arts academy, seeing your year stretched across a wall helps identify when tasks need to get done prior to program start (or seasonal "pushes" if you have rolling enrollment).
Change this to suit your needs, but here’s how we do it:
Find two empty walls (preferably in the same room!). On one wall, tape or tack up (horizontally) about 15 feet of craft paper high enough to write on.
On the craft paper, list out the months across the top (about 1 foot apart if you have enough room) leaving 1 or 2 feet of blank space at the beginning and end of the timeline. Draw vertical lines between the months to separate them from top to bottom. The blank space at the beginning will be used to identify what project, campaign or other main category the proceeding steps are related to. The space at the end will be your “parking lot,” or where you place the ideas/tasks that may not fit in to your timeline right away.
Grab your team, a whole bunch of stickie notes and a marker…and some coffee.
Go over to the blank wall for the brainstorm session. For each idea, project, step – whatever – write it on a stickie note and put it on the wall. You can either start organizing them as you go by wall location or color of note, or you can organize them when you’re done. The beautiful thing about this method is the ability to stick/re-stick them as you organize your plan.
I usually group the notes by project or a general topic like “Social Media Updates.” We’ll also discuss each in terms of easy vs. more complicated. I talk a lot more about the steps in THIS post.
Remember to include any ongoing tasks and “black-out” dates for vacations, holidays, etc. As I said in the last post, it’s any time where you know you and your team will lose focus on the tasks.
Once the brainstorm is more organized, transfer over the notes to their respective point in the timeline. Use the empty space on the left to identify what topic the proceeding notes refer to. For example, you may have “New Website” all the way to the left followed by all the monthly steps needed to complete the site chronologically from left to right.
I usually put the “black out” dates at the top or even write them right on the craft paper so I can see where they fall while organizing the rest. Ongoing tasks are usually right under that.
You can also put the responsible person’s initials in the corner of the note or in the topic section if they’re responsible for the whole project. The less “assignments,” the better at this point. Don’t get bogged down deciding who’s doing each step. If it’s one person’s responsibility to get the new site up and running, let them decide who needs to complete the associated tasks. That’s why you’re the boss, right?!
You will probably need to add more notes as you identify more steps for campaigns/projects and add “due date” or milestone notes.
TIP: If you use 3” square sticky notes, there’s enough room in a foot-wide month space to put four weeks across each. That way, you can break down the months by week.
What you end up with is a wall-length timeline with everything that needs to get done, when it needs to get done and who is responsible. If anything is left in the “parking lot” all the way to the right, it’s time to decide if you can realistically do it or need to put it off. Remember: if your plan is unrealistic and unattainable, you’re just setting yourself up for later stress when it doesn’t get done.
From there, you can take the giant, stickie note timeline and put it in any calendar program you like to use. It doesn’t matter what you use, but Google calendars are free, simple and allow access to your whole team. Putting it in an actual calendar also helps refine the dates.
There are oodles of ways to approach the planning process. This simple method is a great way to get your team involved. By gathering everyone’s input during the initial brainstorm or even further along the process, you’re inviting them to see the “big picture” and feel like they have a “voice” in your organization.
It usually winds up being a fun process, too!
What’s your planning process? How do you get your team involved? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments!
Until next time – Be Well. Be Happy. Shape Minds. - Tom