“What the heck do trees have to do with a Holidays checklist? ” If I was in your shoes, that’s what I’d be wondering. The answer is in the old saying (nearly five centuries, so older than most trees :)), “Can’t see the forest for the trees.” You see, Holidays serve a really important purpose for us humans, beyond any religious or cultural reason. They help demarcate our lives, and give us an opportunity to stop, take stock, and see our context (the forest), rather than just the day-to-day details of our lives (the trees).
A Checklist for the Business of Your Practice
Personally, I use a simple to-do list, Google Tasks to be precise, to help me keep up with all the minutiae of what I have to do for each business and when. This includes making estimated tax payments, sending monthly financial info to my CPA, invoicing clients, tasks for each client, etc. Now, I’m seriously considering aggregating some of these tasks that fall near the end of the year into a single end-of-year business checklist. Here are some things I’d put on that list, and that you may consider putting on yours.
Seeing the Forest
We all tend to compare ourselves to others. If you’re the best, you feel great. If you’re one of the rest us, you’re disappointed. To quote Jim Rohn, “That’s not a class I’d sign up for.” Instead, compare how well you did this year to last year, and to your goals from last December. Didn’t set goals last year? Set one now for next year. Meanwhile, compare your current profit to what you wanted it to be. Personally, my consulting business exceeded my projections this year by a wide margin. On the other hand, I was so busy consulting, that my new business launch is delayed by more than six months, so it’s in the red.
Marketing, Marketing, Marketing
There’s a rhetorical question, “When should I plant a tree if I need lumber now? ” The answer? “Twenty years ago.” Marketing is like that. If you need clients today, you need to market a month ago, a week ago, yesterday. If you haven’t been marketing enough, start now and keep plugging. Back to the metaphorical lumber, if you didn’t plant that tree 20 years ago, better plant it right away so you’re not still stuck twenty years from now.
Review your website to check if everything is up to date. If you updated your fees and have the old ones on the website, that’s a problem. Check your traffic to see if you need to refresh and reposition your content. Whatever you decide needs doing, schedule it.
Check your marketing plan. Have you renewed your directory listings? Is your AdWords budget where it needs to be? Are you running Facebook ads? Review your marketing spend and how effective it’s been. If something is off, figure out what you need to fix and schedule it.
Do you post on Facebook, Instagram, etc.? If not, do you want to? Decide and put on your calendar whatever it takes to implement it. If you let your blog slide, decide if you want to restart it, and if so, put it on your calendar.
Closing off the (Financial) Year
Meet with your accountant to make sure you’re on track with all the forms you have to file, including:
- Estimated quarterly tax returns for the final quarter of the year
- Annual business tax returns (for S corps or LLCs taxed as one)
- Business Personal Property Tax return (yeah, that’s a thing, at least in Maryland)
- W2 forms for employees
- 1099 forms for unincorporated vendors and contractors
- Annual personal tax returns
While there, review with the accountant her recommendations for reducing your taxes next year. The new tax plan winding its way through Washington DC these days will make that a moving target, so make an appointment for mid-year for any needed course correction.
Make Sure You Have a Roof (or Rent Income) Next Year
If you’re leasing office space, renew your lease on time (unless you prefer to move out). If you’re leasing or subleasing to others, put on your calendar when you need to renew those. A few years ago, I realized to my chagrin that my renters didn’t have any leases in force. We were all proceeding on autopilot without a lease to protect us. Needless to say, I renewed all of them, and promptly put all those renewal dates on my Google Tasks list.
Review and Celebrate Your Accomplishments and Be Grateful
In an era when most of us deeply distrust and disapprove of Congress and most other parts of the government, a significant majority of us approve of NASA, and I’m lucky enough to work there. This afternoon, a young engineer came over to chat. He’s a friend of my daughter’s and wanted to catch up. He asked me what I’ve been doing. I told him that I’ve been supporting technology development management for future astrophysics Flagship missions (think Hubble Space Telescope of the 2030s and beyond), and for NASA’s contribution to a European equivalent that will have three spacecraft flying in formation millions of miles apart from each other to measure gravitational waves from far-off colliding galaxies. Those collisions briefly release more energy than the rest of the universe combined, causing the very fabric of space to vibrate! Wild! We agreed that working at NASA is a real privilege. That’s something I’m grateful for. How about you? If you’re a therapist, be proud of the difference you make, and grateful for the opportunity you have to make it.
What were your achievements this year? Write them down and keep the list near your desk. When your mind hands you negative thoughts about your practice, reread that list and tell your mind to mind its own business. For each triumph and success, figure out what you did that led to it, and see if you can’t recreate or even build it up to something bigger.
If there was a big one that got away, figure out what emotional or other wall you ran into so you can avoid it next year. A few years back, my consulting took a major dive – I was 80% unemployed for almost a year due to a government shutdown followed by the federal sequester. I figured that the wall I hit was concentrating too much of my business around the government. I expanded and started working for lots of small companies and individuals, adding to the services I offered. It took a while, but that pivot brought me back up, and then some. Making sure I don’t run into that particular wall again is a large part of why I’m launching my new business.
Set Yourself Up for Next Year’s Triumphs
Place yourself mentally a year from now. Where are you in terms of your practice? How many clients are you seeing? What’s your profit for the year? What recognitions did you win in that future? Now turn around mentally and review the year that led to those wins. What milestones will have brought you there? Put those in a list. Then, for each milestone, what are the things you need to have done to reach it? List those too. Finally, put on your calendar all those milestones and actions, and get ready for next year’s victory celebration!