How to Create your 12-month Strategic Plan (and my 2014 Annual Review)

Download the free strategic planning worksheet which goes with this post here..

Warning: this is not your typical “annual review” post.

Every year in December and January, you see a lot of bloggers publishing blog posts reviewing the past year and setting goals for the next year.

There are some great examples of models you can follow, and I credit many of them for inspiring me to do my own.

Here are a few: Chris Guillebeau (complete with templates), Brennan Dunn’s 2014 annual review, Natalie Sisson’ Epic 2014 Annual Review of Lifestyle, Travel and Business, Jeff Goins (always a fabulous writer, even if he’s writing an annual review post), and James Clear.

This post is going to be very different.

I want this post to be very practical for you, so I am going to make this post actionable, while using my own experiences to illustrate the points.

How is my approach to annual reviews different?

As with everything I write about, I start by considering relationships.  I use annual review time as an opportunity to do a “network checkup” – to review some of the new people who I met and got to know in the past year.

I also list some of the people I want to get to know better in the coming year, which is really important.

This is the basis of the Conversations List strategy which I teach others to use and I wrote about here.

Prefer to watch video? This year, I also held two free training webinars where I went over my process for creating a strategic plan for the year ahead. You can watch the recording of one of those webinars here:

The Problem with “New Year’s Resolutions”

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that most New Year’s Resolutions fail. Why? Because they are not tied to reality.

People pick a random number or arbitrary goal out of thin air, like they want to double their income or lose 45 pounds, but these goals are not based on real world conditions.

Rather than setting these arbitrary goals, I prefer a simple process which is based on magnifying my existing relationships and developing new relationships that are aligned with my goals.

The process breaks down into three simple steps:

  1. Evaluate your most important relationships of the past year.
  2. Consider who you want to get to know better in the coming year.
  3. Identify your relationship-building tools and strategies you plan to use in the year ahead.

Only once you have completed this simple, 3-step process, then you can move on to setting goals.

In other words, the goal-setting comes last, rather than first.

I think this is critical.

Why Would a Lawyer Start a Blog?

Before I get started with my own review, I should recap why I blog and run a podcast in the first place.

Because a lot of people say “Hey John, you’re a lawyer. Why do you blog and podcast?”

(If you just want to get started with your own strategic plan, you can skip this section.)

That’s a great question.

  • I started blogging because I have always enjoyed writing, and it’s a great way to contribute value to the world.
  • I’ve always wanted to publish a book. If you ask any publisher what someone who hasn’t written a book before should do if they want to write a book, they will say “start a blog.”
  • I wanted to diversify my income so that I wasn’t 100% dependent on the billable hour.
  • I wanted to be able to be more selective about which legal clients I take on.
  • I podcast because it is an excellent tool for building relationships with interesting people, many of whom have become legal clients or introduced me to legal clients. I would podcast even if no one is listening.

Along the way, writing for my blog and various other blogs has become more gratifying than it was when I first started.  Increasingly, I write because I get positive feedback from readers who find value in my advice.

(NOTE: due to client confidentiality issues, I do not discuss much of my law practice in this post. However, I do continue to practice law and serve some amazing clients, which improved in quality during 2014.)

How Much Time Do you Spend on Smart Business Revolution?

This is becoming a very common question. The answer is, I’ve been spending more time on this blog as the revenue has increased. Currently (January 2015), I spend about half of my time on the Smart Business Revolution blog, podcast, or writing guest blog posts. I anticipate this will increase during 2015.

I have no intention to give up practicing law, but I do intend to be more selective about which clients I serve.

Review of 2014

The first step is to do an honest assessment of your successes and what did not go well. Then you evaluate which relationships were crucial to these successes, because chances are those successes would not have been possible without certain critical relationships.

Evaluating which relationships were instrumental in your biggest victories is vital to understanding how to duplicate your successes.

What I did well: At the beginning of January 2014, my email list was about 1,000. I was making maybe a few hundred dollars a month from my blog on good months. It wasn’t a lot of money. During 2013, I had run a live version of my Power Networking System course twice. People liked the content but wanted higher quality. They wanted live videos, screencasts, audios, and worksheets.

In March/April I took the basic structure from Power Networking System and created Connect with Influencers, a much higher quality and more in-depth version of Power Networking System, with live videos, screencasts, a private community, worksheets and interviews.

It was my first full-fledged course, and I’m proud of how it turned out. Throughout the summer, my plan was to follow Ramit Sethi’s model with his Earn 1K program and to test what converts and what doesn’t. I did dozens of webinars on various topics, which ended up taking longer than I expected.

Later in the year I created a second course which is a little far afield from my core focus on relationship-building/networking. That course is 6-Figure Law Firm, and it came about from the dozens of lawyers over the years who have asked me if I could help them to start their own law firm.

My email list went from around 1,000 subscribers to around 7,500 by the end of the year – over a 6-fold increase.

As my email subscriber list, my income increases. These two numbers were definitely tracking in the same direction. It illustrated to me the importance of growing my email list.

My highest revenue month was around $8,500 in October from a combination of my own course sales and affiliate commissions. I was pleased with that. This is aside from my law firm business.

I also invested in myself. I took Ramit Sethi’s Zero to Launch program and continued to belong to the great community at Fizzle (check out my video review here), and I am happily investing a lot of money to attend the Mastermind Talks conference in Napa of 2015. I am already seeing dividends from these investments.

What I did not do well: I had hoped to grow my email list larger. I wanted to hit 10,000 email subscribers by the end of this year. I struggled to do things like running webinars as well as writing guest blog posts which increase leads. And of course, creating the courses was very time-consuming.

I also struggled near the end of the year to get enough content out. I am countering this my trying out some researchers and writers now.

What Relationships Contributed to the Successes: I can definitely say that a number of key relationships made a big difference, including:

  • Art of Manliness – I have been a regular contributor for Art of Manliness for all of the past year. These posts always do very well. Of course, my relationships with AoM founders Brett McKay and Kate McKay and editor/renaissance man Jeremy Anderberg are paramount to my AoM involvement.
  • Noah Kagan – I connect with Noah at the beginning of this year, and he has quietly behind the scenes provided me with tons of advice on how to grow my email list, which is kind of like getting tips from Tom Brady on how to throw a football. His awesome Sumome has been hugely helpful.
  • My mastermind group members Tom Morkes, Jeff Rose and Bjork Ostrom have been a constant source of encouragement and advice.
  • Tony Rulli helped me with Facebook ads and LeadPages split-testing.
  • Jeremy Hall took my Connect with Influencers course and used the strategies to land a job working with LeadPages CEO Clay Collins, even though Jeremy had almost no experience in tech or relationships at the beginning of the year. He’s been very helpful behind the scenes now in helping me take full advantage of the amazing LeadPages product.
  • Dov Gordon invited me to participate in a mastermind group comprised of over 70 successful business owners around the globe. I am indebted to him for including me.
  • Thanks to Dov, I met both Danny Iny and Michael Port, two people who I had admired from afar. I look forward to continuing to support both of them in 2015.

How my Network Grew in 2014

I find it helpful to also reflect back on how your network changed in the past year. Think about the people who you met and got to know a little better in the past year and who you want to continue supporting.

I met some amazing people in 2014.  A big part of the reason for this was for the past year, I’ve been trying hard to make a lot of quick introductions, and it has really paid off. As a result, I’ve either met or (in most cases) been introduced to some really great folks, including:

  • Michael Port – As I mentioned, I was a huge fan of his books and work before I met him, and Matthew Kimberley (another great bloke) was kind enough to do the mutual introduction. He’s as generous and kind in person when no one is looking as he comes across on stage and on video.
  • Jordan Harbinger of The Art of Charm podcast – Jordan quickly became a good friend and co-conspirator and I’m looking forward to plotting further world domination with him. And The Art of Charm quickly became the podcast that my own podcast hopes to be when it grows up.
  • Jayson Gaignard- After Matthew G. Monroe and Brent Summers both independently introduced us within 24 hours of each other, I thought, well I definitely need to meet this guy. He was one of my best podcast guests of the year and I am totally excited to go to his MastermindTalks in April.
  • Noah Kagan – one of the smartest entrepreneurs I know, and I know a TON of smart entrepreneurs. He really sincerely cares, even when no one’s watching.
  • Dan Franks and Jared Easley – these guys pulled off one of the greatest conferences of the year in the inaugural Podcast Movement, which was like going to the Olympics as a rookie and getting a gold medal. I can’t wait to see how far they take the movement.
  • Dov Gordon – As I mentioned, Dov was kind enough to invite me to participate in his high-level mastermind group, which has opened many doors and opened my eyes.
  • Derek Coburn was a great podcast guest and is a service professional who really “gets it” and has a great future.
  • Adam M. Grant authored one of my favorite books I read in the past year and was kind enough to let me interview him (after 6 months of begging and pleading : )

After thinking about the key people you met in the past year, your next step is to review a list of the people who you want to include on your Conversations List in 2015. (Read more about how to create your Conversations List here).

Conversations List for 2015

Your Conversations List is the list of the 50+ people who you want to get to know better in the next 12 months.

These are people who you resonate with. They are people who are working on businesses, projects, or initiatives you believe in. They are people who you want to support however you can.

Your Conversations list may also include people who you haven’t met yet, but who you want to meet.

Put another way, if you looked ahead 3-5 years, who are the people who you admire who you’d like to have in your personal network?  Who are the people who you’d want to be able to pick up the phone and give a call?

Those are the people who you want to place on this list.

Here’s my Conversations List for 2015 (in no particular order):

  • Kevin Waldron – amazing business coach and friend
  • Jordan Harbinger – host of Art of Charm podcast
  • Dan Franks – co-founder of Podcast Movement
  • Jared Easley – co-founder of Podcast Movement and host of Starve the Doubts
  • Jayson Gaignard – soooo smart about relationship-building, it’s scary.
  • Noah Kagan -  If he sold cat sweaters, I would buy one. And I hate cats. Check out
  • Brett McKay, Kate McKay, Jeremy Anderberg of the world’s best men’s interest blog, Art of Manliness
  • Michael Port – author, public performance coach, boater, raconteur
  • Adam Grant – author of one of my favorite books of the past two years, Give and Take. (Check out 20+ more of my book recommendations here.)
  • Susan RoAne – my partner in crime at local networking events.
  • Dorie Clark – author of the forthcoming Stand Out which I’m proud to be featured in.
  • Corbett Barr and Chase Reeves – co-founders of Fizzle. As I mentioned above, Fizzle was instrumental in my growth during 2014.
  • Ramit Sethi – founder of I Will Teach You to Be Rich.
  • Omar Zenhom – co-founder of Business Republic and the $100 MBA.
  • Dan Pink – fellow Clinton White House veteran and author of great books like Drive and To Sell Is Human.
  • Andrew Warner – founder of Mixergy and one of the best interviewers I know.
  • Dave Stachowiak, founder of Coaching for Leaders podcast.
  • Tom Morkes – in my mastermind group and a huge hustler.
  • Jeff Rose – a great guy, Dad, and husband. Runs Way too addicted to In-N-Out burger.
  • Bjork Ostrom – runs Pinch of Yum with his wife Lindsay (aka “Snuffleupagus”) from the Arctic tundra, as well as Food Blogger Pro; also in my mastermind group.
  • Zvi Band – co-founder of Contactually, the software which I love and which has helped my business manage thousands of relationships seamlessly. (Full review here.)
  • Dov Gordon – Dov reached out to invite me to join his “Joint Venture Mastermind Group” with other ethical small business owners around the globe who all want to increase their reach.
  • Danny Iny – founder of Firepole Marketing.
  • Matthew Kimberley – business partner with Michael Port and will one day be Prime Minister of England.
  • Matthew Monroe – he introduced me to Jayson Gaignard and great photographer.
  • Antonio Centeno – instrumental in my modest success up to this point.

Relationship-Building Tools to use in the Next 12 Months

The next step is to review the tools you plan to use to deepen relationships.

These are the ways in which you plan to develop relationships, because they don’t just happen by magic, you know?

It could be going to coffee with people. It could be mailing out a physical newsletter. Maybe you want to attend conferences or organize mastermind dinners with influencers.  It could be providing tech tips. It could be attending BNI meetings.

All of these are tools you could use to develop relationships.

When I review all of the relationships above, there are four tools which stand out that have led to the most growth and opportunity. These are the tools I want to continue using during 2015:

  1. Guest blogging – the vast majority of the growth in my audience has been from guest posts. I need to do more of this.
  2. Podcasting – my podcast has been gaining traction. I think 2015 could be the year it starts getting real attention, and it’s been critical for building relationships.
  3. Introductions – As I mentioned above, I have made an effort to introduce more people in my network to other people in my network where there may be a mutually-beneficial interest in them knowing one another. Because I followed this strategy, I have happily benefited from dozens of introductions others have made for me.
  4. Webinars – I held approximately two dozen webinars during 2014, and there are many reasons why I love doing them. I hope to do more for other audiences in 2015.

Set Themes for Your Coming Year

One optional step is to set themes for yourself. I like setting themes because whenever you have an array of tasks or projects you can focus your energies on and you aren’t sure which to choose, you can go back and consider your themes and it can help you to decide what you should focus on.

My themes for 2014 were:

  • Plan – I wanted to plan out my days and my weeks for every day I was in the office. Result: Most days I was in the office, I did plan my days and my weeks. Probably 80% of the time.
  • Write – my goal was to write more on various different blogs. Result: While I did not write more for my own blog (I actually wrote much less), I did write frequently for other blogs, and became a contributor to Forbes and Psychology Today. During Q4 2014, my pace slipped, and I want to increase my production by using writers and researchers.
  • Give – I wanted to be more “giving” – to make more introductions, provide greater advice and recommendations and counsel; in general, to be more of a “giver” and less of a “taker.” Result: On balance, I believe I did achieve this.

My themes for 2015:

The themes should serve one purpose – they should give you guidance on decision-making in the coming year. Your themes should build on what you accomplished in the previous year, but also acknowledge your weaknesses and how you need to improve.

I wanted to choose themes which force me to confront what is often the biggest obstacle to my own further growth – and that is myself.

Often I am the logjam. I am the barrier. I am the person who doesn’t get an answer to someone who is helping me, and that causes delays on their end. Or I am hesitant to outsource something that needs to be outsourced.

In order to grow, I need to build a team and concentrate my efforts on the highest and best use of my time. Therefore, my themes are:

  • Focus – I need to get better at focusing on the things that matter, and eliminating or outsourcing the things that are less important for me to spend time on.
  • Delegate – As I mentioned, I need to delegate certain necessary work which takes up a lot of my time and gets in the way of the more important work. For example, I spend a lot of time doing email and I hope to get help with this soon. I also want to use researchers and writers to help with producing a first draft of guest posts for me.
  • Multiply – I want to double down and triple down on the drivers which have led to my biggest growth in 2014.

Goals for 2015

The final step in this process is to set goals for yourself.

Only after you have done a candid assessment of the relationships which have had the biggest impact on your business in the past year, evaluated who you want to support in the coming year, and considered which tools you want to focus on for building these relationships can you make educated, intelligent decisions about realistic goals for yourself for the coming year.

In light of that, here are my goals:

  1. Write for Art of Manliness at least monthly; preferably 2X/month
  2. Publish 4 guest posts per month – during the latter half of 2014, I slipped and didn’t publish as many guest blog posts. I want to get back in the habit.Hit 20,000 email subscribers / $20,000/month revenue from the blog alone. In 2014, my email list increased 6-fold. If it increases 6-fold in 2015, I would hit 45,000. So I think 20,000 is reasonable.
  3. Redesign blog during Q3 2015 – this is long overdue and I think it would give me greater credibility.
  4. Hold 100 free webinars to help more entrepreneurs get better at building relationships to grow their businesses. Too many businesses fail because entrepreneurs struggle to build the right relationships with the right people. I want to change that.
  5. Use writers and researchers. During 2014, I decided I wanted to produce more guest posts and syndicate my content farther by writing for more blogs. After a few months’ work, I was a contributor to or had relationships with key editors at Forbes, Business Insider,, Psychology Today, HuffPost, LinkedIn, Medium, etc. I then found and trained a VA to upload the articles to these places. The final step is getting more content produced, and I have been the logjam in that area. So I want to get a few researchers and/or writers to help with producing the content.
  6. Create 3 new products (Q2 – one small product, Q3 – a bigger product on Face to Face Networking, Q4 – a larger product TBD)

Goals during Q1 2015:

After you have set annual goals for yourself, you can break them down further into more achievable quarterly goals and even further into monthly goals.

My goals for the first quarter include:

  1. Solidify dates for 15 JV webinars.
  2. Submit two guest posts to Art of Manliness per month in January, February and March.
  3. publish the “Relationship Ebook” I have been working on with Jordan Harbinger of The Art of Charm.
  4. hit 10,000 email subscribers by April 1.
  5. publish 1 guest post on I Will Teach You to Be Rich – I have been working on a guest post for I Will Teach You to Be Rich for a number of months and it’s probably 80% done.


Finally, I can’t remember a time when I was more excited at the beginning of the year. After the changes of the past year, I cannot wait to see what happens in 2015. And that’s a great feeling to have.

What do you think of my system? Care to suggest any changes – additions or deletions?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Don’t forget to download the free strategic plan template which goes with this post here.


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