Reflecting on what we achieved last year should help overcome any trepidation at the year ahead

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January again! Who would believe it, with all the challenges last year brought addressed, and a moment to reflect back on all that we achieved, often in the face of considerable adversity.

I usually spend the last day or two of every year hopefully taking some satisfaction from what has been a good year (however one might define that). Inevitably though, as I look ahead, a certain dread fills me at the thought of having to do it all again. Whether it is the thought of having to generate all the fees again or perhaps deal with other business issues, it always feels more daunting contemplating what lies ahead, even if only a repeat of what has just been done.

Over time I have come to realise that there is no point in worrying about the whole year. It is easier to break things down into smaller, more digestible chunks and deal with them a month or a quarter at a time. Most of us, I hope, will already be doing that with financial projections and monthly management accounts. Do we, though, also set out a schedule for our bigger issues and goals, and break them down into achievable chunks as well? All too often I’ve spoken to firms with great plans that you know will not be achieved when they move from the discussion to the execution phase and client work inevitably interferes. Rather than getting just a little done each week towards it, their plans sit neglected. They justify this by the demands of fee paying work. Indeed, one of the reasons why so much was achieved last year was that things were forced on us and we had to prioritise them for our businesses to function.

There can be little doubt that 2020 was an unusual year (my new year resolution is to give up the word “unprecedented”), and we all should be suitably proud of ourselves for what we have achieved just by steering our businesses through to 2021. For those of you who do not remember 2008, 2001, 2000, 1987 or 1974 (a small prize if you can confirm the major challenges in each), or any of the smaller recessions or disasters in between, what we have come to realise is that these unusual occurrences are in fact a recurring theme in the modern world. Likewise, in the microcosm of our own practice areas there are changes happening constantly. Perhaps, then, as with our finances, we should be looking ahead each year at how best to prepare ourselves for some of the challenges on the horizon or some of the changes that we want to make.

2020 saw the profession embrace technology and leapfrog a decade forward, in a way that it hasn’t done for 20 years. We have seen huge progress in remote working, e-signatures, paperless offices, and an even greater reliance on digital marketing. As we look back, these journeys no longer feel as long or as difficult as they were at the time. Isn’t this, then, the right moment to think about the next round of changes that we need to consider? What do you want to achieve in the year ahead, and what are the steps that you or the firm need to take that will allow you to get there? The exciting part, I hope, is that the last year has shown us almost anything is possible.

This year already is exposing new issues to address (I also gave up the word “Brexit”). We already know that change and challenges are the only constant in life and business, and we don’t have to look far to see a number of areas that might drive these. Likewise the speed of change will never again be as slow as it was in the last few years (yes, I meant what I wrote there). Having overcome as much as we have, though, what lies ahead shouldn’t frighten us. We just need to decide what we want to achieve and break it down into manageable pieces, then make sure we do them.

The Author

Stephen Vallance works with HM Connect, the referral and support network operated by Harper Macleod

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