/171: A Year in Review: Business Lessons from 2017

171: A Year in Review: Business Lessons from 2017

Business Lessons

One of my favorite times of the year is when I get to sit down and gather up our biggest business lessons learned from the past 12 months.

But this hasn’t always been the case…

Looking back at my first year as an entrepreneur, I now know what an incredibly valuable learning experience that was.

But the problem was: I didn’t see it as such at the time.

I was blinded by frustration and overwhelm, which caused me to jump from project to project and task to task without ever taking time out to review what was happening. As a result, there were a lot of lessons I learned years after the fact – ones that had I taken the time to uncover them back then, could have helped me make big moves in my business that first year.

Since I have started to take time out to review what’s happening, I’ve learned so much. And more importantly, I’ve learned lessons that serve me in real time instead of years after the fact.

I now know how critical frequent reviews of your business are to its success – and to your growth as an entrepreneur.  So while I get excited to do this at year-end, keep in mind doing a review like the one I’m about to share with you shouldn’t only be a once-a-year thing; it should really be happening at least once per quarter.

Knowing what’s working and what’s not

Unless we’re looking back at the strategies and tactics we’ve implemented or tested, and then taking the time to understand which ones worked and which ones didn’t – and why – we’re never going to know what to continue doing, or stop doing, moving forward.

I not only hope the business lessons I’m about to share will be valuable for you and your business, but I also hope this post and episode will inspire you to do the same type of review in your own business.

So before I dive into our biggest business lessons for 2017, I want to share the steps you can take to do a review in your own business.

How to do a Business Review

Regardless of whether it’s the start of a new year, the middle of the year, or nearing the end of a year, a business review is always a good idea.

One of my biggest lessons year over year is that no one cares about your business as much as you do, and that’s never been truer than when reviewing what’s working and what’s not working in your business, because if you’re not looking out for your time and what gives you the best ROI, who is?

The answer is NO ONE.

Step 1: Take note of your bigger projects

First step is to take a look back at the bigger projects you’ve worked on in your business over the past year.

This will include things like:

  • Creating and/or launching new products or services;
  • Trying out / moving into a new piece of software;
  • Hiring and/or firing team members;
  • Engaging in new business relationships / partnerships; and
  • Anything else that took a significant amount of your time to prepare / implement.

Step 2: What worked, and why?

Once you have your list, it’s time to review each item and make note: which were successful?

If you have a hard time determining whether one of the projects on your list worked, then that’s a business lesson in and of itself.

It should be very simple to answer whether something worked based on the SMART goal you set when you committed to doing it.

Once you’ve picked out the ones that worked, actually write out an explanation of WHY it worked.

Step 3: What didn’t work, and why?

The same way you reviewed each item and made note of which were successful, make note of those that were unsuccessful.

Once you’ve picked out the ones that didn’t worked, actually write out an explanation of WHY it didn’t work.

Step 4: Lessons learned

Based on the list you’ve just created, including the notes you’ve taken by each project re: whether it worked or not (and why), what are you biggest lessons learned?

  • What will you do again in the future because it worked so well?
  • What will you avoid doing again in the future because it didn’t work at all?
  • Make a list of all of your biggest takeaways

Step 5: Looking ahead

Remember: knowledge is power.

Now that you have a complete list of the projects you’ve worked on, which ones worked and which didn’t (along with why), and you have pulled out your biggest lessons learned as a result, it’s time to look ahead.

  • How can you leverage this knowledge to help you WIN in your business moving forward?
  • How will you double down on what’s working, and avoid the things that didn’t work so well for you?

Now that you have a complete system for how to complete your own business review, let’s dive into what I discovered after following these steps for Entrepreneurs On Fire.

No one cares about your business as much as you do

This will always continue be a major business lesson for me.

In fact, I remind myself of it every day. Because no matter how many team members you hire or how much money you invest in consultants and professionals to help you build a business, none of them will ever care about your business as much as you.

I don’t share this business lesson to freak you out. I share this business lesson because I’ve learned this the hard way, several times.

Most recently, I realized that we weren’t being paid out on our American Express transactions.

Tens of thousands of dollars that we thought were being deposited into our account weren’t being deposited into our account.

None of our merchants, or gateway processors, or credit card companies alerted us of this issue, and while that made me really angry – and scared me to think that these companies, even though we pay them a hefty sum every month, weren’t looking out for us – it also helped me come to a powerful realization:

At the end of the day, it’s no one else’s responsibility.

It’s not their business. It’s mine.

So next time you rely on a company, a service, a product, or a contractor, remember that ultimately, the responsibility is yours.

This also prompted a huge overhaul of our system for tracking payments – clearly something that was NOT working in our business given the magnitude of what we were missing.

You’ll never know until you take action

Leading up to the launch of The Mastery Journal in January of this year we thought we had it all figured out.

Having just launched The Freedom Journal in January of the previous year we were feeling pretty confident about the steps we needed to take to make The Mastery Journal launch a success.

So we essentially took out our project plan and checklist and started going down the line.

While this definitely worked as a systems overview of what boxes needed to be checked, we should have known better:

As is true with everything in business, you’re never going to know what unforeseen roadblocks or challenges will present themselves until you take action and just start.

And if this was the case with a project we already knew how to prepare for, imagine a project you don’t know how to prepare for!

Prep and planning is very important, but it’s never going to outweigh the simple act of taking one step forward in order to uncover what’s next.

While our prep and planning for The Mastery Journal was spot on, nothing was going to actually happen until we started taking action.

Compare and despair

Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re comparing ourselves to other people; comparing our launch to someone else’s launch; comparing our podcast downloads to someone else’s downloads; our email list size to someone else’s list size…

All you comparing yourself to others is going to result in is despair.

If you knew you were creating energy that would lead to a lack of motivation, frustration, and feeling down about yourself and your business, then why would you create that energy?

Now you know: every time you compare yourself or your business to someone else’s, you’re creating energy that leads to a lack of motivation, frustration, and feeling down about yourself and your business.

So just don’t do it.

I’ve caught myself going down this path many times in 2017 and it has led me to second-guess a lot of actions I’ve taken. Me second-guessing my actions leads to sub-par work. Sub-par work leads to disappointment.

And so I practice. Every time I catch myself starting down that path, I immediately stop and regroup. There just no point in comparing yourself to other people, and I don’t want to do things that don’t have a point.

Constant improvement is key

Podcasters’ Paradise has been alive for 4+ years now. We launched in Oct 2013, and around Oct 2017 – 4 years later – we gave Paradise a major facelift.

In doing so, we found a renewed energy throughout the community. Our existing members were really excited about the upgrade, plus, it gave us something new to promote on our bi-weekly live Masterclass to potential new members.

Making sure you’re continuing to deliver value on a consistent basis is key when you’re running an online training and/or community.

Sure, a recurring membership sounds great – and it is – but it’s not a “one and done” type of thing. If you’re asking members to pay you money on a recurring basis, then there has to be constant improvements being delivered.

This upgrade worked really well for us in 2017, and it’s something we’ll be putting a lot of focus on in 2018 – for all areas of our business.

Failures are a healthy part of business

There were a few projects we scrapped or decided to majorly tweak in 2017. One of those projects: FireUP, a software tool we launched as an MVP that didn’t quite stick.

In theory, FireUP was a great idea: a software plugin for your website to help you convert your websites visitors into email subscribers, and eventually, paying customers.

The problem was the MVP couldn’t stand up to the competitors already out there, like Optin Monster and Sumo.

We ran the MVP to see if could get some initial traction – enough interest to help prove the concept – and then we would move forward with adding additional features and improving the software.

But we didn’t get that interest, and therefore decided to let FireUP go.

Proof of concept is something we’ve come back to over and over again in our business – because it works. It’s a simple way to make a black and white decision: are we doing this or not?

It wasn’t an easy decision; we had partnered up on this project, and we didn’t want to end that partnership or see the software go. But this is why it’s so critical to have measurements and tracking in place when it comes to hitting goals: it makes it that much easier to make smart business decisions (versus decisions based on emotion).

Live events and the power of community

Committing to attending live events isn’t always easy.

  • When you commit to attending a live event you’re not only committing your time – your most precious resource – but you’re also committing financially.
  • Sometimes it’s hard to tell what the ROI for an event will actually be.
  • Your projects come to halt while you’re preparing for – and attending – said event.

This is why it’s key to have goals in mind for the live events you’re attending – and to do as much up-front research as possible before committing.

We attended and spoke at a lot of events in 2017, and we even hosted our very own first live event here in Puerto Rico called Puerto Palooza.

Here’s what we’ve learned:

1. You can’t put an ROI on creating and nurturing relationships…

…and a great way to create and nurture relationships is to put yourself in a physical space with others who are on the same path as you. Doing this has worked really well for us in regards to building a strong community who feels connected to us.

2. You get back what you put in.

You can’t show up to an event unprepared and stand in the corner the entire time. You have to go into events knowing exactly what it is you’re hoping to walk away with, a plan to help you accomplish that, and a positive attitude you can share with others through actually communicating with them.

I’ve proven this to myself many times over, so I speak from personal experience. Don’t go to an event expecting to get something out of it if you’re not willing to put in the time and effort to show up big.

3. Actual experiences bring things to the next level.

The online world is amazing, and it gives us access to so many things we may not otherwise have access to. But experiencing things in “real life” will always bring them to the next level.

4. Hosting your own live event isn’t easy…

…but the results and the ripple effect make every second of prep and planning worth it. John and I are actually chatting now about Puerto Palooza II; if you’re interested in hearing more about our in-person mastermind here in Puerto Rico, don’t hestiate to reach out 🙂

Marketing

We’ve continued to double down on our marketing efforts from lessons learned in the past. For example, our closing and opening of Podcasters’ Paradise is a campaign we ran back in 2015, and that we repeated in 2017 with great success.

The basic outline is that we close the doors to the community for a set period of time in order to make improvements and upgrades within, and in doing so this gives us the opportunity to get a group of members in before the doors close (and the investment increases), and a group of members in when the doors open (based on the improvements we’ve made within).

But there are a couple of things we did in 2017 that didn’t work out so well for us, like running Facebook ads during Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

When we planned for the doors to Paradise to open on Nov 30, we didn’t consider that being right in the midst of these two “holidays”.

As a result, our ad cost and conversions weren’t where we wanted them to be.

I’m not typically one to say the time of year matters for much of anything you do in your business, but in this case, had we thought about it beforehand, we probably would have changed that opening date.

Overall, 2017 proved that marketing as a whole is a system and an idea that, at its core, doesn’t really change much. The psychology of selling and influence doesn’t change.

What does change is everything around us – the actual market – and so you have to continue coming up with new and unique ways of reaching your ideal audience.

In order to do this in 2017, we’ve picked up on a lot of new tactics, like FB Messenger Bots for email marketing.

Never stop evolving and thinking about new ways of delivering your message. This will work because it will set you apart.

Your business foundation

I’m a big fan of systems and processes; it’s my focus here at Entrepreneurs On Fire, and this year it became more relevant than ever due to some unexpected – and some expected – travel.

We’d been planning for most of the year to take a 40-day trip overseas to attend two conferences and to enjoy seeing a new part of the world we’d never been to before: New Zealand, Australia, and London.

What we didn’t plan for was a Category 5 hurricane named Maria to hit our island and community within weeks of our planned departure.

Because we chose to be off the island when Maria hit, we were inadvertently choosing to not be able to go back home before our 40-day overseas trip. So being away from our home office and out of our normal routine for nearly 3 months in a row took us a bit by surprise.

Luckily the foundation we’ve worked so hard to build over the past 5 years in business served us well, and even though we weren’t in our home office and didn’t follow our normal routine, our business continued running as if nothing had happened.

Seeing how resilient our business has become was really comforting and gave me loads of peace of mind, which is why I decided to create this post, which goes into detail about how you can make sure you’re creating a resilient business, too.

2017 in Review

To recap, make sure you’re actually taking a look back and doing some reflection around what’s gone on in your business.

This should be done quarterly at the very least.

It’s also powerful to do it at the end of each year to ensure you’re taking the time to let the lessons you’ve learned sink in, and also so you have the opportunity to double down on what’s working well for you moving forward, and remove the things that aren’t.

We hope our business lessons from 2017 will serve you on your journey moving forward!