Because I’ve been in sales and entrepreneurship my entire career, I have a slightly skewed view of the last days of the year. While my friends and family were often taking days off to calmly wind down the year, I’d usually be neck-deep in spreadsheets and napkins full of sales projections. Of course, that is if I wasn’t desperately trying to find a prospect who was in their office so I could hit my year-end numbers or get a head start on my goals for the next quarter.
You’ve probably had some similar experiences. As I continue to work with sales professionals, business owners, and entrepreneurs, I’ve found just how important this planning is for success. Taking the time to pause, reflect, and plan can be the difference between just getting by and excelling in the next year.
The Black Hole between Christmas and New Years
In 2016, both holidays fall on the weekend so there is a full work week between the two. Sure, many of us say that we’re going to work hard through the season and not let up at all, but let’s be realistic. It’s hard for a salesperson or entrepreneur to create business when the office is half empty and it seems like all of your prospects and customers are on holiday.
If you are going to take the week off to spend with your family and those close to you, good on you. It’s valuable to actually live the meaning of “Work to live. Don’t live to work”. But what if you don’t want to take a break? What if you want to use that time to get ahead?
Going into this week with vague and unstructured ideas about “working on my business” leads to a lot of wasted time and unfocused effort. If all you have is a giant and unorganized “to-do” list, it’ll be easy to get off track. You don’t want to get to December 31st and realize that you haven’t done anything with your time.
Tapping the Experts for their Expertise
Instead of just giving you my suggestions, though, I decided to crowdsource the best ideas from the pros. You see, one of the perks of writing books on professional networking is that it gives me a great excuse to reach out and connect with other people (I do have to walk the networking walk). Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to connect with some pretty stellar individuals. They are leaders in social selling, content creation, marketing, personal branding, sales training, and so much more.
If you look in the dictionary under “The Real Deal”, you’ll find these folks.
It makes sense that the best people to learn from are the practitioners who are out there making business happen on the regular. I knew they wouldn’t offer empty ideas that may or may not work. They’d share what they were actually doing themselves to kick off a huge year.
I went to them with a simple question: If you weren’t going to sell or do customer work, what would you do with the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day to get a great start in the new year?
Leverage the Last Week of the Year
The ideas I received from everybody were spot on and insightful. I have to admit, though, I wasn’t too surprised by the answers. In my experience I’ve found that successful people aren’t necessarily successful because they re-invent the wheel, but because they execute on the basics better than anyone else. There are always new and different ways to approach the basics, so what are top people going to do to kick off the year?
1. Perform a post mortem on 2016
You can’t just plan for the next year without knowing what really happened this year. What went well? What didn’t? By spending time analyzing your activities and results you can open up new opportunities and expose gaps in your current work. This isn’t about doing a report for someone else. This is about looking in the mirror and finding your areas of success and opportunity.
Ita Olsen, the communication-savvy owner of Convey Clearly, suggests doing an assessment of the past year and an action plan for this year. Sounds simple, but she pointed out a little step that most people won’t take that is critical (emphasis mine), “Reflect on your successes and figure out what made them so. Do all of this in writing first. Then make an action plan for the next year that details the activities to engage in.”
Sima Dahl, the globe-trotting social selling expert, reminds us that we can aim our analysis at our business relationships. “Successful sales people need to understand their RONI, or Return on Networking Investment. There are a lot of places to build relationships online and offline, and we need to balance both in-person and digital forums. Figure out where you get the best return for your time and attention. When social networking becomes an extension of the way you work, your RONI will be evident in your paycheck.”
Sandy Jones-Kaminski, the West Coast LinkedIn and networking pro, focuses on how that kind of analysis can also help our digital presence. “Get access to the year-to-date analytics report of incoming links to your online sites so you can assess whether some of the co-marketing or cross promotional things you’ve been doing have been worth the resources/time you’ve put forth. My own analysis showed me that I should refocus even more on my overall LinkedIn presence and start saying no to more of the overly-broad opportunities and yes to more super-targeted ones.
My addition: when you are working on these reports and analyses, don’t get caught up in the form. I’ve seen people waste a day making their Excel spreadsheet “look” nice. It’s more important for you to get usable information. Numbers scrawled on the back of an envelope will be better than a fancy PowerPoint if you actually dive into what they mean.
2. Map Out Your Connection Strategy
Do you know how you’re going to create relationships next year? We usually gloss over our yearly plan, but the more time you put into it, the more benefit. If you create a poorly thought out mishmash of feel-good goals, random activities, and unconnected affirmations, you’re going to have a wishy-washy year. There are better ways:
Brynne Tillman, the LinkedIn pro from PeopleLinx, goes old school and I love it. “Take out your planner, schedule prospecting time every single day, and treat that time as if you were with a client. Meaning, if you got a call, you wouldn’t answer it if you were with a client, if you got an email, you would wait until the client meeting was over. If you respect your prospecting time as sacred – you will absolutely see success in 2017.”
Jill Rowley, the social selling dynamo, suggests using your preparation time to refine your prospecting plant. “It’s not just who you know, but what you know about who you know. Use social networks to find, listen, relate, connect to, and engage with your buyers. Do research on your buyers now so you be can relevant to your buyers… so you can build better relationships with your buyers.”
My suggestion: Write a list of 26 people you want to have a better relationship with. They might be prospects, referral partners, colleagues, mentors, etc. Make it a point to have a conversation with one of them every week. It can be on the phone, over coffee, or at lunch. Go through the list once in the first six months and then repeat.
3. Build your Online Network
Most of us wish we had time to leverage the power of social media platforms, but don’t think we have the time. Why not use this down week to do some of the low-urgency/high-value work online?
Ryan Rhoten, the most disciplined personal branding master I know, shares his renewed focus on social. “Moving into 2017, I will be focusing much more on harnessing the power of LinkedIn. LinkedIn allows individuals and businesses to understand the HOW and WHY behind the way you do things. It allows others to get to know, like and trust you. Refine your profile and LinkedIn will allow you to engage with your audience in a way you never thought possible.
Andy Crestodina, the sage and friendly leader of Orbit Media, suggests shifting your online connection strategy. “Open wide on LinkedIn! Too many people are too restrictive about who they connect with and accept invitations from. As long as the connections aren’t totally irrelevant, the larger your LinkedIn network, the better. So I recommend these criteria. Accept invitations from: Anyone in your in your industry (anywhere in the world) and anyone in your city (in any industry at all) If they’re not in your business or you area, just ignore them. If they’re both in your business and your area, drop them a line!”
4. Build Yourself and Build Momentum
With the extra space and room that you have in your calendar during this week, why not look to make a few changes. Dive into subjects and areas that you haven’t before, or do a self-examination to see if you have a blind spot that is holding you back.
Bernie Borges, the insightful head honcho over at Social Business Engine, thinks that you should dive into a new subject that’s been nagging at you. “It’s a great opportunity to do research on a topic that you’ve been putting off because you never have time. It might be a professional topic, or a hobby. Either way, the feeling of accomplishment will help set your mindset in a positive direction when you start the new year.”
Jim Rosas, one of our top Chicago sales coaches, agrees. “Try something new in 2017! Prepare a plan of action that includes new activities, beliefs and ultimately behaviors. So many people get on their hamster-wheel of business, run and run all day doing the same activities and never get anywhere. The importance of breaking bad behaviors in business is a critical step to success. What new activity are you committed to doing to make next year better?”
Gini Dietrich, my favorite PR maven, gives an interesting take on planning out your year to do something new and different. “I’m a big, big fan of reserving one day every week to work on the business versus in it. People ask me all the time how I’m able to accomplish so much and this is how. But, as soon as you tell people about it, they tell you every reason that won’t work for them—client work comes first, they’re not in charge of their own day, they can’t decline meetings, et cetera. So either you can make excuses or you can move your business forward, quickly. I prefer the latter.
5. Invest in Your Relationships
I always say that business relationships start as relationships first. One of our most important goals as professionals and as people is to truly connect with others. Why not take the time to deepen your relationships and create more human connection. It’s perfect for this time of year.
Will Barron, the irrepressible host of the Salesman Podcast, suggests a different approach to your outreach. “I would focus on hitting the phone in this period and connecting with every single prospect, customer and networking contact you have. Not to try and sell but to simply wish everyone a happy holidays and spend 5-10 minutes listening. No pitching, no qualifying just asking how your contacts are and letting them share with you the good and the bad from 2016. There is huge value in giving someone an opportunity to share their thoughts with you and you’re then top of mind moving into 2017.”
I love this suggestion so much I wish it was mine!
6. Read a Book to Boost Your Brain
At this point in my career, I’m no longer surprised by the huge disparity in success between those who read a lot, and those that don’t. If you don’t have reading as a part of your regular personal development, you are missing out. Almost everyone I tapped had at least one book suggestion. I couldn’t even include them all (I’ll have to create a second article.) But here are some great places to start. Use the holiday break to pick one of these books and dive deep.
Shane Purnell, the platform expert and host of Platform Giant, recommends diving into Deep Work by Cal Newport. “In a world that embraces productivity tips, tricks and hacks, Cal Newport asks us to step back and examine the type of work the “hyper-connected” economy is producing… This is a must read if for no other reason than it causes you to examine your current philosophy of productivity in the idea economy.”
Jack Kosakowski, the most energetic social selling evangelist I know, suggests Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last. It’s telling that Jack suggests a book to sales people that is all about serving others. Perfect for the message of the holiday season and for how sales people are going to find success in the next few years.
Trevor Young, the PR warrior from the land down under, shares The New Rules of Sales and Service by David Meerman Scott. “It explores similar themes to his book The New Rules of Marketing and PR, but is skewed more towards the sales and service side of things. It provides a big picture view to put everything in context, and also includes heaps pragmatic ideas and real-life examples of companies and individuals who are doing things well.”
What are you going to do about it?
So there you go: way more knowledge and wisdom than you can possibly act upon. The question I have is, “What are you going to do about it?” I’d hazard a guess that nobody on this list will be offended if you don’t follow their specific advice. But I think all of them would be a little disappointed if you didn’t execute on at least one.
So pick one that speaks to you. Write it down in your planner or on your white board. Tell your sales manager, your mastermind group, your spouse, your dog…whomever will hold you to it.
If there’s anything I’ve found about truly successful people, they want others to rock too. Every single person on this list wants you to have the best year ever in 2017, and so do I.
Have a great holiday season with those close to you.
Then go to work on creating the best year yet.
We’ll see you there.