It’s a little difficult to believe, but 2017 is already over. Figure in a few Christmas carols, a present or two, sweets at the office party, and another year will be wrapped up before we know it. If you’re like me, this news is stunning. Admittedly, I’m sometimes fascinated by simple truths – but the passing of days, weeks, and months moves apace regardless of our attention.

Meanwhile, overachievers everywhere have been planning 2018 for months. (I don’t know if that’s actually true, it’s just the sort of sneaking suspicion that I have about folks who look like they are holding things together better than me!) Fortunately, business planning is always great, whenever it happens.

It is never too late to plan for a better year. An old proverb reminds us, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Planning is like planting a tree – now is always better than later.

Before you Plan – Reflect

Planning is difficult without reviewing where you are starting from. It’s worthwhile to spend a few minutes considering your efforts and outcomes from the prior year, before jumping into the next.

What went well?
What activity should you be doing more?
What didn’t go well?
What do you need to stop doing?

Using the changing of the year to get a good look at your work by the numbers helps you make a solid plan that’s based in reality. At the bottom of this post, we have a free tool to help with this process, but anything will do – a piece of paper and a pen is enough tools to engage you in some reflective activity!

Show me the Money

The obvious starting point for a review is money – and the transactions that make it. How much came into your bank account? What were your expenses? How much was left over? This last number is, of course, the biggie.

But money is a bit tricky, especially in the real estate business. Money is a lagging indicator, sometimes by several months. What does this mean? It means often you’re investing in work that pays off months later. And by the time you get the money, most of the work is completed. In other words, it’s over but the crying (or celebrating).

Counting money is useful at the very end of a period ( how well did I do this year, or over the last three) or as an ultimate measure of your progress, but it doesn’t necessarily provide the sort of insight that helps us perform better.

Ready, Set, Action!

Usually, that sort of insight comes from measuring activity. Actions are a leading indicator that helps you measure if the investment you’re making in time and effort is at a level that’s likely to generate the sort of payoff you want.

If we’re running the math forward, we’d say:

x amount of advertising (ads, Facebook ads, open houses, cold calls, drawings at the mall, etc.) generates x leads

And x leads = x amount of activities (info requests, showings, listing appts., etc.)

and x amount of activities results in x amount of transactions.

Once again, this is one of the benefits of looking at this for a big chunk of time. In any given week, you might say well, I ran an ad and no one called. But over a year, you can say ‘all these activities brought all of these people, which brought all of these transactions.’ Time brings perspective.

All Systems Go

Lastly, I think it’s a good time to review your systems. Sometimes when you’re in the heat of the battle, you don’t spend a lot of time thinking if you’re fully using your CRM or if you website really reflects the brand and messaging you want to portray. But again, at a stopping point, it’s good to review these things. Are you fully leveraging referrals? Following up with leads? Using your CRM to keep you steady even in the busy periods? Do you need to use these tools better or find better tools?

Make sure you also consider ‘Am I using all of these tools?’ Sometimes it’s easy to get so focused on ‘getting leads’ that you miss the fact you can’t handle any more details and actually your personal glass ceiling of time and process management is what’s holding you back, not more leads. Is your whole pipeline functioning? Do you have consistent efforts in each area? Or do you only market after you run out of transactions? Only follow-up in slow times? Drop direct mail pieces when you’re flush with cash?

Consistent, effective effort at increasing levels will result in growth – do you have the necessary infrastructure to support you at the highest level of personal performance?

Could You Just Behave?

The last category I find worthwhile to consider is my own behavior. While the above items are important, in a small business, the most important actor is you. So in the midst of counting money and reviewing systems, take a minute to reflect on your own performance.

There are lots of ways to gauge your conduct. Perhaps your own spiritual path offers some wisdom in this area, or you have your own personal inventory. The thing about reflection is that almost anything will do – what we need to consider is how well do our actions match our intentions – and what needs to change to improve that alignment.

If you’re looking for a list, I’d offer these gems from the book, The Four Agreements.

Be impeccable with your word. 
Don’t take anything personally. 
Don’t make assumptions. 
Always do your best.

It’s hard to imagine a human taking that inventory without finding a few areas that could use improvement. Good – who wants to have it all together already? Taking note of and recommitting to focus in areas where we’re lacking is an important step toward improvement. Be brutally honest – business can be a great screen for avoiding ourselves, but remember, the businesses we build reflect our own dysfunctions, so if you want something beautiful and healthy that lasts, you’ll need to grow too.

Assuming you’ve taken stock of your performance in all these areas, and you’ve celebrated the triumphs and appropriately regretted the misses, you’re ready to move forward. 2018, here we come.