It’s curious that it tends to be January when we set our aims and resolutions. Whether in our personal or professional lives, we are programmed to see that as the time to reset. But now we’re finding the best time to set new aims is at summers’ end. Here’s how to plan at your best, in the ‘other’ new year.
Plan at your best
At New Year we are generally knackered both from the festivities, and racing to finish loads of work before the year is out. Christmas creates a false deadline that we slavishly adhere to, despite knowing that the work won’t be used until well into January.
Our thinking is repressed by the short dark days and some of us may even be suffering from SAD. Every time we look up at the sky, our faces get doused in rain. We may have had time off over Christmas but rarely do you get that much rest and headspace.
Whereas in the summer our senses get flooded with beautiful vistas and expansive horizons. Our visual palette is loaded with the yellows of sun and sand, and the blues of sea and sky. On a summer holiday we get a refreshing change of scenery, and a chance to decompress from the pressures of everyday life.
While it may be tempting, there is no imperative to spend the holiday ruminating on work and business plans. Ideally all that has been put on the back burner, from which fresh perspectives can emerge at a later date.
That back to school vibe
When you are back in the office after the summer holiday, you normally find work moving at a more relaxed pace. I’ve learnt to take my holidays early in the summer. I found if I took them late, I would get frustrated by the inevitable slow down, as clients and colleagues were unavailable to progress projects. When we take our holidays early, it’s easier to adapt to the slower rhythm and you can gradually build back up to normal pace as autumn approaches.
Right when our minds are freshest, that slower pace gives us a chance to do some blue sky thinking and to plan at our best. The people around will also have less meetings to cram in, so it is the perfect opportunity for lateral conversations and new ideas.
And consider that back to school vibe that I bet you still get at this time of year. Remember the buying of new school clothes, or new sports gear? Maybe it was the Helix Oxford Set of Mathematical Instruments – the ruler, the compass, the set squares – in that cute tin – that sealed the moment? Or the Sharpies!
That energy is available to all of us at this time of year. We have the time to flesh out strategies, business plans and fresh messaging. All of which, we naturally feel more positive about in September, than we would as we grind through fun free January.
Start with vision
If you’re the type to get straight into Outcomes and Key Results (OKR) or – I’m talking to you, with the Helix Oxford tin – a multi-tab spreadsheet then pause a minute. There’s a better place to begin. A fresher, more fun, simple and effective way to capture the essence of the goals you plan to set, the idea you aim to make real, the rewards at the end of the journey. It’s called a vision board. A vision board is your dream, hung on your wall.
Even better news: you get to use the ruler, scissors, pencil, Sharpies – the whole shebang. A vision board is a collection of images, story snippets, quotes and artefacts that speak to you about the new things your business Vision boarding is a powerful tool for personal change too. If you’re a one person business, or the founder of an enterprise, the personal and professional can overlap pretty sweetly. wants to realise or achieve. Here’s a recipe:
‘postcard’ the journey you’ll likely follow
stay visual – it’s a vision board:
photos cut from magazines | or from your phone | newspaper clippings and quotes | seashells, sand, feathers, pinecones – the tangible stuff of memories
Stick that stuff to big piece of card, organised in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and feels right to you
(You can do this digitally too, with Mural or a mind mapping tool. As a process I find it tends to be less instinctive and less sensual, creating less resonance. But you aren’t me, so don’t be afraid to give it a go. )
Do it now, and it will naturally soak up and embody all of the optimism, creativity and energy that this time of year brings. And that’s important because in darker months and darker moods, you’re going to want to be reminded of those things. No amount of detail, however eloquent, will pull you through half so effectively. We’ve linked to an article in The Clec | Issue 66 with more suggestions for creating your business vision board.
Vision boarding is backed by science to increase your chances of achieving what you set out to achieve. So it isn’t just a pleasant, slightly outré practice to get in touch with your inner hippy. Visioning, or envisioning, is a mental rehearsal for the action you plan to take. It’s proven to increase clarity, attention, planning, memory and motivation. The sharper and more vivid your vision, the better the outcomes. Now…now… you’re prepared to move on to the detail.
Translating a vision board into content for your business
We’re content strategists and marketers, so when we move to detail we’re thinking about getting a better story made and told. Excuse us as we segue to that application. In your bigger picture, telling a better brand story would be an important key result on the path to revenue growth, or diversification, or sustainability, or whatever long term outcome you’re aiming for.
The wonderful thing about content is that it’s the place where you can bring your vision to life. Take the thinking that you’ve done to create a vision of how you want your business to be, and push it a little bit further. Your content is the vehicle that can take your vision from your joyfully haphazard, multi-coloured board to the big wide world. And by content we mean your stories, your thought leadership, your blogs, your videos, your sales collateral; in light of your new vision, think about the words you will shape for your audience over the next few months.
Good questions to ask yourself:
Has the customer changed? Sometimes the vision board exercise will open your mind to new markets, new products and new services. Other times you’ll have completed the exercise and have realised you want to focus more strongly on a niche. Both positions are fine, you just need to know who it is that you want to connect with through your content. Creating new customer personas, or updating your existing ones is a good exercise to help you bring your vision to life. You need to know who it is you’re writing for?
Have my goals changed? Just as every piece of valuable content has a reader in mind, it also has a goal in mind. Content is valuable if it’s relevant for the audience – it answers a question they’re asking – and if it helps you move closer to your goals. Whether that’s more clients and more sales, less work for more profit, more freedom and flexibility, a bigger team, a new partner or an exit from the business – your own particular goals will shape the content you create.
What’s the big story I want to tell? It’s a big question, and a good one to tackle while you’re in your free thinking, vision boarding frame of mind. What are the images and ideas that you’ve collated telling you? Can you sum it up in a few lines? Don’t worry about finessing the words – they don’t need to be written in perfect copy. Instead capture the sentiment and drive, and see if a narrative starts to suggest itself. And if you do find a story emerging…
Who else needs to hear this story? While clients and customers may be the primary group that you want to connect with, it could be that your vision board highlighted your desire to grow the team, or to change the way the team works. If that’s the case, add some team storytelling or recruitment content to your list. Think about the needs of this audience. What do they need to hear? What will attract people to come and work with you? How can you inspire your team to get behind the new vision?
What are your headlines? Mining a vision board for content ideas means translating visual material into copy. Hopefully you’re in the swing now of analysing the images and ideas in front of you. You’re finding connections and making notes. . Now try to jot down some headlines that capture your key messages. Headline writing is a good exercise to help you crystallise what you’re thinking, and the results can prompt some great original content ideas. See if you can write a headline that excites you so much that you’re itching to get going on writing it!
What’s the best way of engaging my audience with my new story? Your new vision might suggest some new ways of communicating. For example, say ‘growing my community’ loomed large on your vision board. Do you need to create a new content stream to connect with that audience? Maybe that newsletter that you’ve toyed with needs to take centre stage? Weekly, not monthly (or at least consistently.) Maybe real life events are on the horizon. What could you share to get people into the room with you? What could you create to help them remember it afterwards? Video explainers, animations, podcasts – there are so many routes you could take – what’s going to be the best one for you to connect with the people you need to bring your vision to life?
We’ve got a few more content planning ideas to share in How to use the first 20 minutes back at your desk to tell a better story. You’re welcome!
Long story short, capture the energy and fresh perspectives of summer to create a vision of the future of your business. And let that inspire you to greater creativity and commitment daily.
|↑1||Vision boarding is a powerful tool for personal change too. If you’re a one person business, or the founder of an enterprise, the personal and professional can overlap pretty sweetly.|