This post in a nutshell:

  • Annual planning is downright scary
  • Evaluate your past without judgement
  • Share the wins
  • It feels like eating an elephant, so start with strategy
  • Work backwards from strategy and get everyone aligned
  • Start budgeting if you aren’t already; any budget is better than no budget
  • Have fun and dream a little! It’s not all work and no play - boring!
  • Stay tuned for our e-book on what marketing trends to look out for

As the end of the year gets closer, we all start taking a look at our business strategy and marketing plan, and getting the next year’s strategic planning underway. And rest in peace assured, it can be a stressful time.

If you want to have a little more peace of mind this year as you plan for 2019, read on for a few tips from those of us who have honed a valuable skill and have done our best to make annual planning anything but scary.

  • Evaluate, objectively and without judgment.

Looking back over the past year can often be a painful exercise, which is why many of us don’t end up doing it. After all, even if you’ve made progress in some areas, you’ve probably also made some choices that didn’t pan out or maybe even wholeheartedly regret. But it’s crucial you review the past year in order to learn from your successes and failures. Let your team know you’ll be evaluating all of it as objectively as possible, without judgment.

Discuss what initiatives you pursued, and what the results have been. Heck, start with sharing the wins! Ask your fellow leaders and your team members what’s worked well, and what hasn’t. Invite everyone to weigh in, and be open to feedback (feedback is not criticism). Most likely, when egos are set aside, you’ll find that the majority of your team is in agreement about what needs to continue to help your company grow - as well as what can be left in the past.

  • Strategize.

So now you know what worked well and what didn’t work so well in the last year. But that doesn’t mean you have all the answers. One of the main reasons that strategic planning can be so overwhelming is because it can feel like there are endless decisions to make and, if we’re honest, not a lot of clarity about how to make those decisions. It might sound too good to be true, but there really is a simple fix for this: start with strategy. Before you ever discuss your budget for the coming year, or what tactics you want to prioritize, work backwards.

Get your core team together (at least the leadership team and one leader from each department) and look at your company’s strategy. What are your organizational goals? Let’s say you run the marketing department of an eye clinic, for example, and your goal is to become more focused on eye surgeries rather than eye exams and contacts or glasses. It’s critical that your whole team understands this strategic direction so they can then support it with strategies of their own.

Once you have the corporate strategy set, each department can more clearly figure out their own best path. Continuing with the eye clinic example, the marketing director might then decide that a strategy built around content marketing is most likely to help educate prospective clients in need of eye surgery and achieve those goals. This will help the marketing department narrow their focus, and choose only those activities that support this business strategy. Then the whole team knows what direction not only their department is headed, but everyone else as well.

  • Don’t be spooked by new possibilities.

Experienced marketers know all too well how quickly the field can move. If it isn’t a new piece of technology that everyone is clamoring about, it’s a new approach or a new must-have tactic. Some of these things are flash-in-the-pan trends that aren’t worth your time, but some of them are actually really worthwhile. So, how can you figure you out what to ignore and what to consider including in your marketing mix?

Well, again, go back to your strategy. Let’s say you’ve set your marketing strategy to focus on growing and upselling existing customers (rather than acquiring new ones). In this case, you can dismiss any new trends that deal with customer acquisition without further thought. But if a new piece of tech comes out that promises to help you upsell customers, it’s probably worth a demo. This is a helpful lens (pun intended) you can use to decide what merits a further look, and what doesn’t.

To further help you figure out what marketing trends might make sense for you, we created an e-book that is coming out soon. It covers some upcoming trends in-depth, how they’re being used and why they might matter to you. We hope it will help you sort out some of your own marketing decisions for 2019! Sign up for our newsletter to get notified when it comes out.

  • Your budget is your friend.

Depending on how your company handles the budgetary aspect of annual planning, you might enjoy getting your marketing budget - or it might make you want to run for the hills. Most marketing executives have a tendency to hate the ‘b’ word, but we’d challenge you to think of it differently. Instead of seeing your budget as restrictive, try to think of it as something that gives you freedom.  

It probably sounds weird, but so many organizations get into trouble because they decide on their tactics but they don’t allocate costs to each one. Or they try to set a budget, but they end up guessing about the costs and then end up spending way more than they planned on. Don’t let this be you.

When you figure out what your marketing budget is going to be for the next year, prioritize the tactics that you’ve laid out to support your strategy. If you have $20K per month to spend on marketing, you can look ahead at each month and determine how you’ll distribute that budget to the most important marketing tactics. For example, you might dedicate a significant portion of the budget every month to social media advertising. But you might also have two industry trade shows you attend each year that always require a big investment, so you’ll want to look ahead and make sure you’ve carved out the budget in those particular months so you’re not left with more expenses and not enough funds.

Try your best to connect the dots between timing and tactics, and be generous in what you allocate. As you’ve probably discovered, most tactics end up costing more than you think they will.

  • Dress up your expectations.

Finally, what’s annual planning for if it’s all work and no fun? Evaluating, strategizing, exploring new possibilities and budgeting are crucial to making a marketing plan that will be effective and help your company fly. But before you consider your planning final, allow yourself and your team to dream a little. Where will you be at this time next year, in terms of revenue, clientele, big goals? What is one thing you hope will happen for the company (or your department) in the next year?

Write down your goals, even the lofty ones and even those that aren’t directly connected to your strategy, and talk through how you can make them happen. Then expect these to be realized. When you dream together as a group, and look forward to the future, you take out any of the fear associated with planning and give everyone some excitement to hold onto. This, above all, is really the magic of annual planning.

Are you ready to plan for 2019? Need a little help with your strategy and execution? Contact us any time to learn how we can help.

Work Habits & Productivity

2. Effortless
Speaking of actions becoming more effortless, this is another book of McKeown’s that topped our 2022 reading list. Adding onto the powerful guidance around essentialism, this read delivers “proven strategies for making the most important activities the easiest ones,” like mapping out the minimum number of steps, finding the courage to “be rubbish” and more.
About the Author:
About the Author:
Jay Feitlinger

Jay, the CEO of StringCan, oversees strategy and vision, building culture that makes going into work something he looks forward to, recruiting additional awesome team members to help exceed clients goals, leading the team and allocating where StringCan invests time and money.


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