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How To Create a 5 Year Plan That Actually Means Something

It’s often difficult to imagine five years out in our lives and/or businesses: to paraphrase a well-known saying, if you want to make the Universe laugh, make a plan!

And the Universe knows, we have a hard enough time keeping our New Year’s Resolutions for a week or month, not to mention for a year!

But snark aside, plans and goals are noble things, and they can and do drive success…when formed properly and executed consistently.

Part of the overwhelm that creeps in when we’re asked to form a plan for five years from now is that it just feels huge. And that’s because in our instant gratification culture, we don’t just want it – we want it now!

The example below comes from my own business-but the basic structure for making a long-term plan that actually means something works for any (ad)venture.

I’m fairly risk-averse, so the idea of being completely and successfully self-employed as a health coach in five years felt like a huge weight on me. Initially, I stuck with my “real job” and tried to build a practice as a side hustle, which proved to be relatively impossible for the COO of an active family of four, a health coach, an entrepreneur, and an aspiring author.

When I dropped back to being a part-time contractor for the nonprofit where I’d been working full time, I plunged headfirst into building my practice.

The first year, every day I spent on my venture was a whirl of working in the business: website, social media, blogging, email blasts, networking…and all without much attention paid to the results I was getting, which were characterized by a minimum influx of clients.

But I was busy, and I was doing everything I was told to do to grow my practice. I’m sure the Universe was trying very hard to get my attention that first year – and she did drop plenty of miracles into my path, mostly in the form of coaches and mentors, each of whom urged me to not just set a long-term goal but to build a foundation, then reverse engineer it into manageable (i.e., daily!) actions. Which, as a health coach, really should not have surprised me; after all, it’s the way I coach my own clients (back) to health: slow down, breathe, back up!

  • lay the groundwork
  • create your five-year plan
  • state your one-year goals
  • identify your quarterly objectives
  • take the smallest possible daily steps

Lay the groundwork

No, really, you can’t create a decent long-term plan without knowing three critical items: your vision and mission, and method.

And the bad news is that you may have to take a while to wrangle these into place…and it will be well worth it.

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Even before sitting down, you might want to spend some time thinking about what your core values and beliefs are and whom you’re serving-because if your vision and mission and method don’t align with these, they will forever feel icky (that’s a technical coaching term), and deep down, you will not want to work toward them, no matter how much you say you want them.

Yes, this is the deep work, and yes, you really have to do it. And I’ve found that it’s really best done with the help of a coach who is an expert in the area.

Three prompts that might help you get started along with examples from my own business:

1.) Vision: My work is grounded in the belief that [insert what your vision of your perfect world looks like five (or more) years from now]. (Mine reads: My work is grounded in the belief that women can live happy, healthy lives, meeting all their obligations and honoring their own wildest, sweetest dreams.)

2.) Mission: What do you do at the most basic level to make that vision possible? (Mine reads: I support women 40+ who feel that the only way out of their overscheduled lives involves a plane ticket, a wad of cash, and a change of identity.)

3.) Method: How do you do what you do? (Mine reads: I coach overwhelmed working wives and mothers over 40 in identifying and interrupting the patterns that contribute to their overwhelm and in establishing simple, sustainable new habits that will help them not just survive but thrive in what-contrary to popular belief-can be the happiest, healthiest decades of our lives.)

Create your five-year plan

Imagine your world five years from now – dream big and don’t be afraid to go a bit woo here.

  • Where are you?
  • With whom are you with?
  • What are you doing?
  • What is a day in your life like: how does it look? feel? sound? smell? taste?

Get seriously concrete now: what metrics will let you know you have completed your plan? Possible answers include:

  • Number of clients served (annually? monthly? weekly?)
  • Number of units sold (annually? monthly? weekly?)
  • Amount of time now spent on tasks as opposed to previously?
  • Amount of revenue achieved
  • Amount of profit made

State your yearly goals

This is where you start to chunk the plan into more manageable units…and where it starts to feel more achievable. Use the same metrics as you did in your five-year plan, and instead of just dividing by five, think about what you can realistically achieve each year.

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If your five-year plan includes serving 100 individual clients per year, stop thinking that you need to serve as many as you can (as close to 100 as you can) in year one of the plan or that you need to serve 20 per year. You may decide that it looks more like this:

  • Y1: serve 5 clients (What??? That sounds like totally scary few…or totally doable!)
  • Y2: serve 10 clients
  • Y3: serve 20 clients
  • Y4: serve 50 clients
  • Y5: serve 100 clients

Identify your quarterly objectives

What systems and processes do you need to have in place to reach your yearly goals?

Aha! If you only need to serve 5 clients in year one, you will have plenty of time to devote to infrastructure-to working on your business, not just in your business.

This is when you can create your programs/products, pilot them (using your limited number of clients to test-drive them?), evaluate and refine them, and have them ready for year two.

You can also create your marketing plan (maybe with the help of a consultant or coach?) and start implementing it, set up a website, establish a social media presence (to be grown later), etc. As with your products and services, the plan might need some tweaking as you go.

In year two, you start implementing the refined marketing plan in earnest, and as a result, you reach more people and get more clients. In year three, your infrastructure will be sturdier, and you’ll have more time to devote to the increasing number of people who come knocking.

Just as with your yearly goals, your quarterly objectives should be measurable: you can tell whether you’ve reached them or not.

A list of objectives might look like this:

1.) Publish 12 blog posts and repurpose them for emails to your list and for social media

2.) Publish 3 guest posts on well-known industry sites

3.) Do 3 podcast interviews with thought leaders in your field

Do you see how we’ve moved away from “I need to make $X so I need Y clients, STAT!” We’re now looking at what will get us those clients.

Take the smallest possible daily steps

This is where you will identify the smallest, simplest actions you can take to achieve your quarterly objectives-which drive your goals, which help you reach your five-year plan.

The daily steps must feel completely doable because only then do they become sustainable, repeatable on a daily basis day after day after day.

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In the health coaching world, it can be as simple as adding a single glass of water before each meal – that’s not so difficult, right?

Again, your steps must be informed by your objectives: if your objective is to publish a guest post on a thought leader’s blog, spending aimless hours on social media won’t get you there. Following a thought leader, engaging positively and productively with him/her on social media for an extended amount of time before making your request just might.

What have we done?

Well, we’ve just made a five-year plan actually feel achievable!

Where am I in my business? Three years in, I am well on my way to achieving my plan.

Did it all go as planned? Well, no: there were plenty of surprises along the way – and I’m still on track.

Now what?

Now go take action-or rather, take small daily steps, check in on yourself weekly, quarterly, and yearly. AFTER you make your five-year plan!

If you have really done the deep work ahead of time, your vision and mission probably won’t move too much – they are your guide stars.

Activities, objectives, and goals may shift over time – and that’s okay as long as the shifts are intentional and still keep the vision and mission in sight.

Does a new goal move you toward your mission? If yes, then add it to the plan or replace one that no longer does.

Does a new objective inform a goal you’ve set? If no, then walk away. It might be right for someone else, and that doesn’t make it right for you.

Constantly check in with your inner voice and keep your eyes on the five-year plan.

If you find yourself constantly changing direction, jumping from one activity to the next, repeatedly changing your objectives and chasing every new shiny object, you probably have not really rooted yourself in your true vision and mission.

In that case, return directly to start-don’t waste time fixing the building if the foundation is cracked!

With thanks to…

The system above is not original – it’s really a hybrid of concepts I learned from my own coaches. If you want to check out their work and get in touch with them, tell them I sent you!

  • Creativity coaching for authors: Chad Allen
  • Nailing your market, message, and irresistible offer: Wendy White
  • Business coaching + EOS implementation: Kevin Suboski
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  1. Liza Baker

    July 17, 2018 at 4:51 AM

    Thanks, Nikhil—and all best on your journey!

  2. Nikhil

    July 17, 2018 at 1:04 AM

    Very helpful for achieving my life goals.
    Nice article, Thanks for sharing.

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