One of the most important things to know about planning for 2018 may be what happened in 2017.
To help clients reflect, he sometimes asks them to imagine driving home from work on the last day of the year, not to return until the new year has begun.
"Are you excited or dreading it?" Vorobieff asks. “If dreading it, why? What is the one issue you could address that would make the drive home next year better?"
The exercise helps business owners identify the most significant things they've done in the previous year that worked, as well as those that didn't, he says.
You're sure to have your own answers to that question. But when planning for 2018, you may want to also consider the following.
Learn From What Worked
Business owners crafting a strategy for the coming year often start by looking back and identifying moves that worked—and didn't work—in the past year.
Chicago-based real estate sales management and consulting firm New Home Star received national recognition as a best place to work by Glassdoor. The honor—and the internal work it took to achieve it—helped reduce turnover and has expanded the number of applicants they can choose from, says founder and CEO David Rice.
And according to Rice, that 2017 success guides 2018 planning.
"What worked for us in 2017 was to focus on our employees and we'll do that again in 2018," he says.
—Joanne Sonenshine, founder, Connective Impact
Technology is another area where New Home Star's successful 2017 investments are influencing 2018 plans. Technology enabled the company to expand from one market eight years ago to 22 markets today. While adding new markets, it has averaged 30 percent sales growth or better each of the last six years, Rice says.
"Tech for 2017 was a big focus and I'm planning on increasing our investment in tech," he says, "I've probably spent more time on how we are investing in tech in 2018 than on anything else."
Among positive tech initiatives at New Home Star is an in-house social platform that encourages employees to brainstorm and share ideas about how to improve the business, he says. Other business owners may be able to leverage similar networking technology to improve their own employees' teamwork and collaboration efforts.
Focus on Payroll
Payroll frequently comes up as a sore point when business owners consider what didn't work in the previous year, Vorobieff says. So when planning for 2018 staffing, it may be a good idea to start with a look back at the previous year's hires.
"Year-end planning often accounts for raises and new positions, but what about the current payroll as it is today?" he asks.
Businesses planning for 2018 can identify "dead payroll," consisting of employees who are poor fits or who aren't needed, Vorobieff says.
"How would it feel at [the] end of [the] first half of 2018 if your dead payroll [were] eliminated?" he asks. Answering this question can help put last year into next year's planning.
Hiring too many people in search of growth is a 2017 misstep guiding 2018 plans for Joanne Sonenshine. She's the founder of Arlington, Virginia-based Connective Impact, which helps corporations work with nonprofits on worthy causes.
After adding several full-time and contract employees during the year, Sonenshine had to trim staff back to about the level she had when the year started.
"We would have been best to hold off and think about our strategy for the year, rather than jump into hiring people," she says now.
For 2018, she envisions Connective Impact adding staff more carefully, with attention to fit and role, rather than simply hiring piecemeal.
Eye on Overhead
Overhead expenses are also likely to figure in 2017 retrospectives that influence 2018 plans. Sonenshine, for example, says Connective Impact put too much in untargeted marketing initiatives.
Compared to scattershot investments in social campaigns, webinars, magazine ads and public relations advisors, Sonenshine got better marketing bang from video initiatives and from publishing her book ChangeSeekers. As a result, her 2018 marketing plans call for a sharper focus and more video, in-house blogs, podcasts and online courses.
“I'm going to be much more mindful of my audience and invest only where I know the readership or participants in our audience [are exactly] so we're directing our money to the right people," Sonenshine says.
Put a Plan in Place
No matter what wisdom a previous year's experience offers next year's plan, business owners have to actually utilize plans for them to be helpful, Vorobieff notes. He tells clients how next year's plan will be used is an essential consideration.
“I ask them what is going to change this time that will help them to use the plan effectively to get a return on their time investment," he says.
Often, that means scheduling monthly and quarterly review meetings to measure performance against plans and identify needed mid-year corrections, Vorobieff says.
For Sonenshine, 2017 has provided guidelines and boundaries that will steer her planning for 2018.
“I think 2018 is going to be a year where we take a step back and think about our needs, what scaling really means and how [we] define growth for our company, " she says. “That might be different for us than for anyone else."
Read more articles on strategy.