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How to Create an Actionable Annual Plan for Your Business in 2018

Brian Lim
Brian Lim

For a successful new year, you need well-organized and thought-out goals and metrics.

Do you have a plan for your business in 2018 – something beyond "do better"?

If you don't, then you have a new assignment before Jan. 1, because a business without a plan is a business in free fall. Benjamin Franklin said it best: "Failing to plan is planning to fail." 

Don't set your business up for failure in the new year. Instead, take the last few weeks of the year to write out an annual plan that will prepare your business for a successful 2018. You can get it done in just a few steps if you get your entire company on board.

1. Reflect on 2017.

Before you start your annual plan, the first thing you have to do is reflect on what happened this year. You can't know where you're going until you know where you've been. It's what you learn from 2017 that will have the greatest impact on 2018. So, how do you go about this in a clear and logical fashion?

Start with your current year targets and actuals. Did you exceed or fall short of your targets? If you fell short, by how far did you miss your targets in 2017? If you performed better than anticipated, which targets did you exceed throughout the year?

These are a few other questions you should be able to answer:

  • What did we accomplish this year?

  • What didn't go as planned?

  • What lessons did we learn this year?

By answering these basic questions, you can get an overview of where your company is by the end of the year. But from there, you need to get more specific.

The next part of your company reflection should focus on each of your departments: marketing, finance, sales, HR, etc. Ask each department head to give you a list of what activities, targets and initiatives they want to start, stop or keep. There should be at least three answers per category that you can then evaluate to see what is working well, what is failing, and where the department sees opportunities for future success. 


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2. Complete a SWOT analysis. 

Once you have an overview of your business, the next step is to complete a SWOT analysis, which looks at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. In a business context, this is a valuable tool for uncovering opportunities you can exploit and weaknesses you can eliminate. It's a fairly simple analysis that can have a big impact.  

To get started, there are a few questions you should ask yourself: 

  • Strengths

    • What do you do well?

    • What are your unique skills?

    • What experience do you have?

  • Weaknesses

    • Where do you need to improve?

    • What resources do you lack?

    • What costs you time and/or money?

  • Opportunities

    • How can you do more for your existing customers?

    • How can you use technology to enhance your business?

    • Are there new target audiences to reach?

  • Threats

    • What obstacles do you face?

    • What's going on in your industry?

    • What are your competitors doing that you aren't? 

3. Set your 2018 KPIs.

Now that you know where your business is in 2017, it's time to start planning for 2018. The place to start is with your KPIs. You'll want to set basic targets for KPIs like your revenue and number of team members.

The key to setting actionable KPIs is to look at both your short-term and long-term targets. Break down your annual plan into Q1 goals. For example, at INTO THE AM, we use OKRs (objective key results), but any type of SMART goal works well.

To put this into perspective, let's say your long-term marketing KPI is 2,500 MKLs (marketing qualified leads) monthly. From there, you’ll want to go back and determine your short-term goals based on last year's numbers. Let's say you currently generate 1,500 MQLs a month, and you have 12 months to reach your target, which means you need to generate an additional 83 MQLs a month to hit your goal. In Q1, that means you need to gain 250 MQLs. 

Finally, you need to define your north star metric. This is the KPI that rules them all. It's your main theme for 2018 and what you'll use to define your business and its success throughout the year.

4. Create outlook sheets. 

Next, you'll want to update or create outlook sheets for your business. These create the trajectory for your business over the short and long term and ensure that everyone in your company is on the same page.

  • First, you'll want overall company outlook sheets – typically no more than one page each – that define your three-year and one-year plans.

  • Next, ask each department to create an outlook sheet that outlines and defines their initiatives for the year. It should be based on the company's overall goals and objectives.

  • Finally, gather your executive team together to approve all annual outlook sheets. This is to ensure that everyone is on the same page and each department is prepared to support the others. 

For outlook sheets to work, you need to ensure that nothing goes live without buy-in from multiple departments. This ensures that your company has a cohesive plan and everyone is working toward a common goal.


For your annual plan to be successful, you'll want to overcommunicate your plan (particularly your Q1 goals) over the next few weeks and months. It's imperative that the entire company knows the plan after it's been set so everyone can execute it daily. This will help all of your employees understand how their work adds value to the company's overall mission.

Image Credit: Jirapong Manustrong/Shutterstock
Brian Lim
Brian Lim Member
We collectively gross over $20M per year. I started out with $100 selling out of the trunk of my car, and was able to grow that into a 50+ person company. I was on season 6 of ABC’s Shark Tank where I received offers from all five sharks. On the show, Robert Herjavec said I was “one of, if not the best entrepreneur we’ve had here”. I took a deal from Mark Cuban for $650,000 in exchange for 5% equity in the company, and a licensing deal from Daymond John for 20% of profits. I have been featured on notable publications including Business Insider, CNN, Yahoo Finance, MSN Money, CNBC, Elite Daily, BBC, Entertainment Weekly, CBS, Inc, Vice, Huffington Post, and many more. My companies have also been featured in the annual “Inc 5000” list for the past four years in a row.