The new year's coming fast upon us, so I decided to spend some time thinking about what I experienced with my company in 2013, and on everything we already have in sight for 2014.
This calm period is indeed a great opportunity to reflect about what we have accomplished, and the plans we can make to bend luck in our direction.

This article is a framework to help design this important review and forecast document.

So, fill the Mr Fusion reactor with that banana peel, and reach for 88 miles per hour.

Avant-propos

About the form

Pick the kind of document you are most comfortable working with. If you love writing long and well constructed sentences in a long and well structured document, use your favorite word processor.
If, on the contrary, you have the blank page anxiety and words don’t flow easily, feel free to use a presentation program for this exercise.

Who’s going to read it

Before putting ourselves to work, we shall decide who will be the recipients. If your company has investors, great are the chances that they already asked you to work on a financial review and forecast (revenue, budget, gross margin, and other growth metrics and key indicators of all kinds).

This framework is more focused on sketching a general overview without paying much attention to numbers.
In my case, this document will only be shared with my associates. The primary goals are to open the discussion about how to make our company better, and cheer everyone on for the fresh new year.

If you were thinking about this piece of writing as some kind of marketing / promotion document (something you would share with your customers for instance), move along. This isn’t one of those. To be useful, the review and forecast document has to be written while keeping in mind that only benevolent people will read it.

The Review

We’ll take things chronologically and start with the review.

Three biggest achievements

It’s time to celebrate our victories. Start by writing down your three biggest achievements. It can be whatever you feel like celebrating as long as it was important enough for your company. Maybe you want to write about the big contract you landed this year, this new product you released, or the dream team you finally finished hiring.

Why we were awesome

In this part, we’ll talk a bit about our company. Why were we awesome. You can use the following questions to guide you.

Were you a game changer in your field? This big contract we mentioned earlier, how did you manage to land it? What qualities were decisive? What made you different from your competitors?

You can also use the positive feedback you received to fill this paragraph.

What we need to improve

Time for being humble. Try and analyse what you didn’t do so well. Maybe you need to raise the quality of your business offers? Or, you need to be better at communicating with your staff? Be honest: from those words, plans will be born to correct your mistakes so you won’t have to write about the same things next year.

Our key partners

We weren’t alone! During this year, we worked, talked, and met some key people and I bet it was the same for you. I’m not just referring to the people you did business with, but all the meaningful relationships you counted on to make it through the previous year. The people that helped for free, advising you or even just cheering you up when you really needed it. We should be grateful for those people! In fact, I’m going to send a small email to thank every one of them (and wish them a happy new year ;-) ).

The communication channels

For a company, letting the world know about its offer must be the most important thing. What channels did we use this year? What worked and what sucked?

The forecast

Now that we have a clearer view of what happened last year, we’re going to visit the future! (kind of)

What’s hot

I decided to start with the “obvious” pipe. I call it obvious because it’s not much about improbable things, but more about things that you know will happen.
Instead of doing a classical business (sales) pipe check, we are going to put the focus on all the hot things we are already expecting next year. This includes:

  • the new sources of revenue. (You don’t have to be too specific about the numbers here)

  • for each of those leads, we will tell the story behind it. Where does it come from? Who connected us to it? (c.f: key partners section below) Is it reproducible? It is indeed overlapping a bit with the review part, but we are trying to identify patterns that we can later turn into plans and strategy.

  • all exciting things that will happen in the beginning of 2014. Do you have some key/major appointments coming?

  • Last but not least, list all new products, features or services that you are planning to launch soon.

Our key partners

The same way we spent some time acknowledging the influences of external people on our businesses, we are going to spend time to think about the partners we can count on to make the best out of this new year. Start by listing the most reliable contacts, those who helped you during the previous year and let you think they’ll keep on doing so this year. Then, try and list the new key partners you wish you already knew. For example, it could be investors, distributors, or just people inside or outside your industry yet connected to your customers.

What communication channels could we use

Since we’ve made an analysis of our communications in the review, we don’t have to rely on luck to get results. First step (and we will write that down), do more of what worked and less of what didn’t. That might sound easy, right? Although we tend to keep on trying inefficient things in a desperate attempt to prove ourselves right. I plan to do my best in order to avoid that.
So, I’ll first list the things that have the most chance of success, imported from last year. Then, and only then, I’ll think through some extra, original ideas.

What’s missing

If you want to write an exhaustive document, you can add sections like one relative to the costs, one about the suppliers you use, and the relationship you have with them. You can also review your internal processes, etc.

Remember when I said that this wasn’t about the numbers?
Well, now that we have nailed down everything else, you can spice the dish up with numbers. Throw in the important ones where it applies (communication budget, revenues, income, and everything).

You might also want to add a section regarding your portfolio of products or services. Being the bosses of our companies, we are supposed to be clear with what we are selling. Although, it’s good to have a look at all the weapons we have at our disposal before getting into the fight for success! Plus, maybe you’ll find out about some promising unfinished product that you almost forgot about.

At last, you can probably spend some time thinking about specific aspects of your business (how was the market? What are the trends?). But, I’ve decided that this is out of the focus zone of this document.

What’s next: the road map

If you are looking for a way to turn this document into something that could easily be followed and updated during the coming year, it might be a good idea to summarise it on a road map. If you are lucky enough to have someone who can draw you something beautiful and visual, I consider it the best option. Something you’ll love looking at when in doubt. If you don’t, you can just present it as a list of key points and metrics.

Takeaways (tl;dr)

  1. The review

  2. What were your 3 biggest achievements

  3. Why were you awesome
  4. What do you need to improve
  5. Who were your key partners
  6. What were your communication channels. What worked and what didn’t

  7. The forecast

  8. What’s hot. What you can be excited about this new year

  9. Who are the key partners you have and want to have for the new year
  10. What communication channels you can use this year
  11. Products & Services portfolio