Whether you have a business plan or not, every business has a strategy. The only question is if your strategy is deliberate and constructive or unintentional and ineffective.
The strategy behind your business isn’t something you just set and forget.
Your business strategy is a living, breathing thing.
Just like your favorite furry friend, it needs regular attention (but hold the water and the Kibble).
Because your initial plans, as thorough and thoughtful as they may be, were rooted in assumptions and ideals around all sorts of things like your ICA (Ideal Client Avatar), pricing, capacity, schedule, offers, and goals.
You likely based your approach on market research or your past experiences. But, as the old adage reminds us, “the only constant is change.” What was true back then, may not be true now or in the future! Many unforeseeable factors can influence your business strategy from idea to implementation.
Sure, you may have initially anticipated meeting a goal of completing ten different client projects per month or idealized working a 4-hour work week. But, until you put those expectations and goals into practice, they’re simply living in a vacuum.
I don’t say this to discourage you. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Sometimes our big business goals feel out of reach simply because we haven’t taken the time to understand the barriers standing in our way. Fortunately, with some strategic reflection, assessment, and measurement, you can seamlessly and successfully make adjustments in your business to bring your business strategies to life.
When we know better, we can do better, and there is ALWAYS room for improvement in running a successful business!
It’s time to measure and adjust your business strategy so you can prove to yourself that everything adds up or make the necessary changes to get yourself one step closer to making those dreams a reality.
Before jumping into action, take time to reflect and get curious. Notice how the assumptions you made when building out the strategies behind your business are actually playing out in real life.
One of the best ways to train yourself to do this kind of reflection regularly is to journal.
Ask yourself questions like:
Your responses to these questions can serve as helpful temperature checks around what is or is not working for your creative business.
Notice patterns or trends that aren’t feeling good in your business. These will give you clues into areas that may need re-thinking, re-strategizing, or re-working.
While journaling will shed light on the things that require improvement, it also offers an opportunity to identify the practices in your business that ARE working.
Pay attention to the things that feel great in your business too! These nuggets of wisdom can point you in the right direction and show you opportunities to amplify what is already working well! Focus on areas where you can double down, invest more, or pour gasoline on the fire.
So often, getting to that next level or finally making things click is achieved by going all in on what’s working rather than trying to fix every little problem area you find.
Now that you’ve done some inner reflection on how things are going in your business, it’s time to do a more analytical assessment.
To build out your business, you had to make a ton of assumptions, predictions, and (informed) guesses. But business strategies aren’t meant to be addressed once and left to collect dust in some old filing cabinet or the depths of your Google Drive!
You need to regularly revisit and update your business strategy to ensure it is still serving you well.
(keep in mind, this information is the core of what you’ll use in the measurement phases to come)
First, you need to assess where your time is really being spent.
You probably ballparked your average work day and work week. Maybe you predicted you’d work a 30-hour week and put in 6-hour days 5 days a week. But once you get going, you might realize expectations and reality don’t line up.
Maybe you’re spending way more time working than you’d like, and your boundaries are getting crossed left and right. Or perhaps you’re working much less, which makes those financial goals near impossible to reach.
The best way to find out where your time is REALLY going is to complete a 7-day time audit.
A time audit is an opportunity to see where your time is going within a given week (including personal time). This is the first step in reclaiming your time.
Because once you know where your time is going, you can make adjustments, notice trends, and optimize your time wisely. It helps you be more productive within your working hours to maintain your boundaries while working towards your goals.
COO Tip: There is ALWAYS a reason why this week is different than a “typical” week. Don’t use this as an excuse to put off your time audit. There’s no time like the present!
Your capacity as a business is the maximum output you and your team can produce. It measures how much you’re able to achieve within a set period. Ultimately it is connected to your time!
You may have estimated how many projects you could handle at any given time or how many products you can make per day. But once you put these estimates into practice, you might discover that your capacity is much less (or possibly more) than you planned for!
So how can you tell for sure?
Do a capacity calculation after your time audit to assess your true capacity.
When calculating capacity, I recommend starting with the 80:20 rule. It’s a ratio that helps you dedicate about 80% of your time to working in your business and 20% to working on your business. This is a solid starting point that will help you ensure you’re finding balance in your work time overall.
Your true capacity will also give you a more realistic impression of how much time you can dedicate to projects (and therefore help you estimate your capabilities more accurately). As a business owner, it’s important to realize that you cannot sell 100% of your working time. There will always be internal and admin tasks that you need to carve out time for in order to be successful.
You should also regularly reassess your goals. Take time to consider how they feel now that you are actively working towards them rather than just in theory or on paper.
You can journal on a few simple but impactful questions:
For example, you may have set an ambitious financial goal but realize that now your priorities lie with spending more time with your family. This could cause you to adjust your money goal and either replace it or modify it with a lifestyle and time-focused goal instead to reflect the current season of your life and business. Everyone’s version of what success looks and feels like will be different, and they can change for each individual over time.
How are you progressing towards those goals?
Sometimes, you’re going to make headway faster or slower than you anticipated. The rate at which you’re progressing will likely influence the strategies that you implement and could determine the capacity levers you pull to support what you need to continue to move forward.
You can move a lever up, down, and within a range. The objective is to get all of your levers lined up in a way that supports your goals.
Maybe that looks like making adjustments to your pricing to get back on track with your financial goals. Or perhaps you want to consider hiring a team member to open up some additional capacity in your schedule.
Assessing your progress can help you decide if you’re on the right track or need a little more help and support to build momentum.
The next step of the process is to decide how you will measure the pieces of your business strategy, such as your time and capacity, your marketing efforts, your project or product volume goals, and more.
If it can be measured, it can be managed.
We measure how reality is matching up to our business strategy by using KPIs or Key Performance Indicators.
KPIs typically refer to numbers that tell you how successful your business is in a specific area of your work. You can set KPIs for sales, finances, marketing initiatives, customer experience, team management, and more! KPIs will help you set, track, and assess your progress towards specific goals in a measurable and subjective way!
Here are some examples of KPIs that can support your business goals:
It is important to establish and regularly monitor KPIs for all of your goals. This will help you ensure you’re making progress and can ultimately achieve those goals. These KPIs will show you objectively how you are progressing towards your goals and if the strategies you put in place are working and how effectively.
COO Tip: Create a scorecard or dashboard to view all of your KPIs easily and in one place.
Sometimes our assumptions turn out to be incorrect, or our strategies prove ineffective. It can be easy to beat ourselves up for getting it “wrong” or feeling like we “wasted time” on an ineffective approach.
But the reality is missing the mark is part of the process.
And it’s completely ok.
In fact, I encourage it.
But what we can control is how we react and respond when we learn what we THOUGHT was the answer is, in fact, NOT.
This is where a growth mindset and resilience as an entrepreneur are key.
When you allow yourself to be a lifelong learner and let yourself off the hook, you’ll be able to see the lessons in the so-called failures.
With a growth mindset, we can reframe our setbacks and move forward.
You didn’t fail.
And along the way, you’ve learned another way that doesn’t work. And you can use what you learned to pivot now and do better next time.
Now, for the finishing touches!
When you realize something in your business isn’t going according to plan, it can be tempting to throw everything out and start from scratch. While there may be a time and place for starting with a clean slate, most challenges can be overcome by making small, intentional, but impactful adjustments.
For example, maybe something isn’t quite working in its current form but could be polished a bit to fit your needs. Or maybe something was working in your business for a while but is starting to be less effective as your business scales, grows, and evolves (for example, your team grows, the algorithm changes, or your referral system isn’t as consistent as it once was).
As you continue to measure, you’ll be able to see what works and what doesn’t. Plus, you’ll learn how each tweak and adjustment actually affected the outcome so you can build on this new information.
Slowly you will fine-tune your business, processes, and strategies until you have everything running like an efficient and effective, well-oiled machine.
The power of measuring and adjustment is getting you into the mindset and practice of continual improvement.
When you take time to truly understand what’s working and what’s not, you’ll feel confident that you’re always building off what works instead of building off of a gut feeling or a prediction.
As a CEO, it is important that you keep learning, experimenting, and trying new things. This will allow you to be proactive so you can get ahead in areas of your business where you may struggle now or in the future.
If you’re looking to dive deeper into the business side of your creative work, check out my upcoming course! I designed it specifically with you in mind. It’s a self-paced course dedicated to all the things they didn’t teach you in art school. I’ll help you build your creative business from the ground up so that you can become the proud owner of a business you LOVE that loves you BACK! Click here to join the no-obligation waitlist.