Make a 3-year plan: Step 2 - Identify your functions and set measurable objectives


A big corporate company has a long term as well as short term strategy that includes everything, every function and employee to ensure that they are reaching the business goals. This type of planning - a 3-year plan - is something I learned and lived by when working as a marketing project manager for a big global car brand, before I started Bear Bell Productions.

As I had no experience in running my own business, or knowledge of how you succeed as a pattern designer it was close at hand to plan my own business in the same way as I had learned from corporate life. And I found that it’s a great way to stay on track, know exactly what to do and not and how to stay focused - even for a small one-woman company. Perhaps even better than for a big one.

In a series of articles about how to make a 3-year plan you can learn how to apply big corporate strategies to your own business/blog/project like this too - and make sure you’ll make that big goal of yours happen.


From fluffy to crystal clear

Now we have come to the second step in the process of making a 3-year plan. In the first step I talked about how to find your big goal - where you want to be in 3 years - the vision and mission of your business, project or other life goal.

The vision and mission are qualitative goals, which means that they are based on perception. In your mind you can probably tell wether you have reached the goal or not, but it’s subjective and can be interpreted differently depending on who’s viewing it. This makes it a bit diffuse, floating if you will.

In big companies you can’t have that. Everything needs to be crystal clear and easy to understand for everybody in the organization. It’s black or white, on or off, numbers and ratios. In a big corporate company there have to be measurable objectives too - quantitative goals.

And this is what this second step is all about; 

To turn our big fluffy goal into something that we can put our finger on!

This can be done by breaking it down into measurable pieces that can tell us if we have reached our vision or not. And if not, they can show us where we are in the process and guide us towards the next step, the next task.



Corporate functions - A lot of experts sorted in departments

In a larger company those pieces or tasks are executed by different people, all experts in their field and these tasks are gathered into different functions - Product, Sales, Marketing, Finance, HR, Logistics, IT, Operations, Legal and so on. What type of functions and how they are organized depends on what kind of business it is of course.

small business functions - A one-person show with many hats

But in a one-person show like in mine or your business, all these functions are done by one and the same person. Me/you. We do everything (and we know it!). And when you think about it it’s kind of schizophrenic, we have to put on different hats several times a day.

We have to learn and master all kinds of things which can be frustrating sometimes, but also a lot of fun. I often joke that my boss is such a great person, letting me take a day off whenever I want, or that the IT department really needs to get some more training :-D.

Finding your functions

Now we come to my favorite part. To identify all those different hats, all the functions (tasks) that are conducted in a one-person business. 

In the same way we used big company strategy to find the vision and mission we’re going to find the different functions/tasks for our one-person businesses.

Let’s look at this from a big corporate point of view. A big company is in general organized in departments that in turn are divided into their functions. Here is general and simplified presentation of those departments and their functions - and a suggestion how to apply it to our own small businesses: 

The Product department

The obvious thing that this department does is producing the things or services that can be sold. So if we apply this on a small design business this is what the functions of the Product department could look like:

1. Patterns designs and illustrations to license or sell - either ready to use from a pattern bank or on commission.
2. Products that are sold in a web shop. It can be art prints, pillow cases, trays and makeup bags.
3. Other digital products - like courses, ebooks, images, illustrations.

But there is a lot more than producing things going on in a product department, for example: 

- Researching and planning what type of products and services that can be profitable for the business.
- Finding materials and suppliers for each product and service.
- Negotiating with suppliers.
- Purchasing products and materials needed.
- Making budgets and calculations for costs and profits.
- Researching and deciding the price for every product and service.

As you can tell there is quite a wide spectra of tasks in this single department. So this actually calls for dividing the function into sub functions. For the design business it could be:

The design studio
Creates all the patterns, illustrations and other art work.
Puts together the portfolio

Digital products
Creates other products like mockups, images, online courses.

Physical products
Ordering products from suitable print services that is to be sold in the web shop.
Creating products by sewing, printing at home & other crafts.

Research and planning
Finding information for deciding on what products and services to market, making budgets and cost calculations for campaigns and pricing.

Negotiating with suppliers and buying products and materials needed.

And all of these sub functions all have their own sub functions, or tasks. So even if our businesses are small they are quite complex, with a lot of things to do (as if you didn’t know that ;-).

The Sales department

In a business all major functions are equally important. You can’t have one without the other. But if I despite that had to pick one function that is the most important one I would say that it’s the sales department.

No selling -> no revenue = your business won’t last for long.

And if you’re like me selling is also the most difficult task, to convince a person to give us their money for something that we offer. It’s just scary like hell to put yourself out there, exposed to be judged and perhaps rejected. But it has to be done, we have to find ways to get over that.

A way to do that is to learn more about it, because the more you know something the easier it feels: easy task = fun task.
A corner stone for motivation.

The obvious thing the sales department does is selling the stuff we make, but as with the product function there is more to it:

- Researching, planning and deciding where to sell (what sales channels to use).
- Building and maintaining the sales channels.
- Contacting potential customers and clients.
- Convincing a potential or existing customer that they want to buy something from us.
- Making budgets, calculations and prognoses for what needs to be sold in order to reach goals.
- Tracking sales.

And speaking of sales channels there are a quite a few of them and they all need to be handled by someone (you):

Channels where the customers come to you:
- Physical stores, pop-ups, markets etc.
- Online stores

Channels where you come to the customer:
- Knocking on doors
- Tupperware-party style
- Callcenter / you and your phone

And then we have different types of customers or clients to be considered:

Business to business (B2)
where you sell your stuff to another business; a producer, manufacturer, retailer, agent etc.

Business to consumer (B2C)
where you sell directly to a person without any middle hand.

All of these things are handled and executed by the sales department - often dedicated to a sales channel Key Account Manager (KAM). And looking at them I can quite easily see what I do and what I don’t - what I want to/should continue/stop with and also what to start doing. Can you?

For the little design business the Sales function and it’s sub functions may look like this:

Research & planning
Google and researching new sales opportunities and channels, deciding and setting the sales goals for each product and channel.

Own physical sales channels
Attending at design markets, different industry exhibitions and pop-up stores.

Licensing/buying company Key Account manager
Contacting and selling to companies that need prints for their products.

Retailer Key Account manager
Contacting and selling patterned/printed products to shops and boutiques.

Online shops Key Account manager
Handling all the external web shops and services like for example Etsy, Spoonflower, Society6, Redbubble etc. (The own web shop is not included here, since it’s more of a product and marketing task.)

The Marketing department

But, and this is a big but: just because you make stuff and create places where your products can be bought it doesn’t automatically make the customers flock there.

Remember the movie Close encounters of the third kind where the character of Richard Dreyfuss heard a voice that said ”build it and they will come”? Well, that is just not true in the real world and I’m not even talking about attracting aliens, but ordinary people. 

In order to make your potential customers come to your shop/website/see your portfolio you have to let them know it exists and where to find it. You have to wave it in front of them. That in a nutshell is marketing and to some extent borders to sales too. (Actually in some companies the sales and marketing functions are organized under the same department.)

But, as with product and sales, marketing is a lot of things. So to have somewhere to start with - here are the big tasks (and also the sub functions) within this function that might get your thinking going:

Defining what your business is about (here the vision and mission can be a good starting point) - what it stands for, how it will look, sound and feel to others and finally who it’s for - your target customer.

For the small design business it could be summarized in a brand document that describes how everything should look and feel on the communication platforms and in advertising - from combining the right fonts to the tone of the copy.

Communication platforms
All the places that you own and where you can talk to your audience: website, blog, social media, mailing list.

All the places where you can pay money to reach and talk to your audience and potential new customers: magazines, websites, blogs, social media, TV, cinema, newspapers, flyers.

PR (public relations)
Activities you do to make people feel about you the way you want them too. For example creating an auction, a competition or donation for the benefit of a good cause, or dressing up as a big pink bunny and run around town wit a big sign (!), or collaborating with another company that has values that you want to rub off on your own brand and business.

CRM (customer relations management)
This is about identifying and categorizing your existing customers and make them stay with you. It can also be about winning lost customers back, and finding new customers by targeting ”twins” (consumers that are like your existing customers).

For the design business CRM activities could be to keep in contact with the clients on a regular basis, having a newsletter, specific posts on social media.

So with all these tasks at hand you can probably start to identify what marketing activities that you are not doing and the ones that you are doing already - plus what condition they are in - up and running like clockwork, needs some TLC or needs to be started?

The IT department

Or could also be called IT & Appliances.

Oh, man. This one is a challenge when it comes to my own business, and probably the one function that I wish I could outsource the most (well, that and cleaning). And this is because of the lack of know-how.

The IT department is the function that makes sure that you have all the technical equipment and systems that you need to do your work properly and effectively. This includes everything from your computer, printer, all kinds of software, email, mobile phone, apps, filing systems, storage, furniture, lamps - down to every single lightbulb or stapler.

As a one-woman creativepreneur I have to do all of these things myself, and because of a steep learning curve it takes a lot of my precious time.

For example: Last year my IT department had to work really hard when I gave my computer a make-over, with new discs and more memory to make it run better. Which meant reinstalling EVERYTHING - from email accounts to Adobe CC. Then they had to change to a new accounting system, buy a new printer and renovate the whole home studio.

Let's not even begin with the back-up routines necessary (rolling my eyes).

So as you can tell, the IT-department is quite an important one (too), and deserves a place in your strategy on how to reach your big goal. So here are a few areas where IT does it’s magic and where we need to identify what is being done and what’s not in our businesses.

Do you have the right tools and equipment and are they working the way you want them to?
Computer, iPad Pro, Wacom tablet, mobile, printer, scanner, sewing machine, microphone, speakers and so on.

- Computer programs like Adobe Creative Cloud.
- Apps on your mobile phone & tablet.

- Backup, storage and file transfers like Dropbox, iCloud, Airdrop.
- Accounting system.
- Email accounts on your computer and mobile.
- Email marketing services like MailChimp or ConvertKit.
- Website-, blog- and web shop host & suppliers

Office facilities & supplies
- Furniture & lighting
- Supplies like pens, staplers, scissors, printing paper and toners

Ok, there is definitely more, but as I said, my IT-department needs some training…

The Finance department

When running a business you are required by law to meet certain standards when it comes to registering your business activities and transactions, in order to report taxes you should pay etc. So accounting is a big part of the finance departments tasks.

Budget & planning
Are you making a budget for your business every year? For every month? Deciding how much money you are allowed to spend on or invest in your different activities? How much revenue you should generate? If you do, are you keeping track of it (profit & loss), if you are following what’s been decided? That’s also a task for the finance function.

Bank accounts and credit cards
Also needs some administration work.

Making sure you get paid for a job done, a product sold.

The Legal & compliance department

- Making sure you know about the laws and regulations in your business and that you are following them.
- Reviewing and setting up contracts, for example for licensing or buying patterns.
- Dealing with copyrights and any occurring infringements.

The Logistics department

Everything that deals with stock, packaging, postage and shipping.

And last but definitely not the least: 

The HR department

(human resources)
The fact that I mention this as the last function says a lot about how I handle this in my own business. Like it’s not a part of my business. But this is something that us home-studio-entrepreneurs really should prioritize; taking care of the no 1 resource of the company - ourselves. What can we do to make sure we are happy at our jobs? Now, this is probably not an issue for many of us since our jobs themselves make us happy, but this can also be the catch.

These are some things to consider when identifying your business HR functions and how they support your big goal:

Further education in order to increase know-how = difficult tasks become easier and more fun. Investing in learning and knowledge is always a good investment.

Working conditions
Like proper working hours. I tend to work in evenings and weekends because I just think it’s so much fun, but in the long run it just won’t work.

It’s so easy to just sit by your desk all day long, getting wrapped up in the fun and time-just-dissapears creative work. But it’s great for both your body and creative mind to get up, take a walk or go to the gym regularly. I have set up reminders on my phone to do 20 squats every second hour, or else I would just completely forget.

Finding routines is the key to maintaining your health, and also to include it in your business and 3-year plan, as a crucial key to make sure you succeed in reaching your big goal.

Inspiration and motivation
Being creative searching for inspiration is automatically something I do, but it often follows the same routine. So inspiration and motivation is also an area where we can set some goals and challenge ourselves. Like planning an inspiration day every month, where you go to a museum, visit a park or garden, a new city or something that you haven’t done before or seen in real life. If you think about how this can support your big goal, it’s not that difficult to understand the importance of this, right?


Breaking down your big fluffy goal into measurable objectives

So how can you identify the functions and sub functions of your own business or project and set the objectives that will help you reach the big goal?

Like Socrates we can ask ourselves some good questions and the answers will appear.

Let’s use the little design business as reference and example again where the big fluffy goal - vision and mission was:

”To become an established and hired pattern designer, by offering patterns that are an antipole to the mainstream designs flooding the market.”

Asking questions about your vision

Now ask yourself a bunch of questions about this vision and you’ll see how this helps to break it down into smaller and measurable pieces. Here are some examples of questions and answers:

Q: What does established and hired mean to me?
A1: (hired) To have sold or licensed a number of designs to a number of companies that have used them for their products.
A2: (established) That my patterns can be found in the hands and homes of the consumer.

Break down the answers into new questions

I have now stated that it’s not enough to have only sold or licensed one design, to one company. It has to be more than that. I have also decided that my business and designs has to have some kind of audience. All these answers leads to follow up questions:

Q1: How many companies is enough to consider yourself established?
Q2: How many designs is required to make these sales?

And the answers could be:

A1: To have sold designs to at least 2 big and 4 small companies and if I calculate that I will get one positive answer for every 10 submissions I have to submit my portfolio to 20 big companies and 40 small companies.

A2: A reasonable number could be 3 collections every year (about 12x3 patterns). And in order to pick the very best patterns for the portfolio I probably have to make 15 patterns for every collection. Which means that the design studio needs to produce at least 45 pattern designs a year.

Find your functions & measurable objectives within the answers

So now I have a base for my first functions and sub functions and I can pick them out from the answers I just gave myself.

1. I have to produce designs and create a portfolio = Product department with a sub function of a Design Studio.
2. I have to contact 60 companies = Sales department with a sub function of a Licensing company Key Account management.

And behold, I have defined some measurable objectives for those functions as well:

1. To have 135 patterns & 9 collections in 3 years. (That’s a lot of patterns).
2. To have sold or licensed my designs to 2 big and 4 small companies.

But we're not done, the A2 to the first question is still too fluffy:

The A2 answer touches  on marketing functions with audience, owned and paid communication etc, and with further questions I could specify every marketing sub function I need for my business and also find a measurable objective for each (sub)function.

For example:
I need to have a consumer audience (a following) of at least 10.000 people in order to be attractive to these companies and also to be able to sell enough in my shops. And then you can easily divide this into different digital platforms and give them some numbers.

And then keep going with those questions until you have identified all your functions and within them the sub functions. Use the department definitions and descriptions above as guidelines.



I have also created a worksheet where you can fill in your big goal with vision and mission, the functions and their objectives:

<< Get your workbook for making your 3-year plan here >>


Stay with defining the function and sub function objectives that you think should be accomplished at the end of this 3-year plan and not get into to the smaller tasks just yet, because first we have to do something else (which comes in step 3). To be more exact - the objectives that tells you that you have reached your big goal. For example:

X patterns sold
X big and x small company collaborations
X mentions in media
A following of XK
X products/services sold through shops
X retailers
X [your sub function objective]

Not a business but a life goal or big project?

If your big goal is outside of the business world, you can still use this process or method to clarify your big goal and what needs to be done in order to get there.

For example if your big goal is to live in the house of your dreams. Then you have to ask suitable questions that will define what your dream house is, style, size, floors, the desired type of area, will you build it or find one on the market.

The answers will help you find the functions - or the actions you will have take do in order to get there.

Tip! Dealing with overwhelming problems or tasks in general

Here is a tip in general: If you have a big problem or task at hand that seems difficult to grasp. Break it down into smaller bits by asking questions and you’ll see that each piece isn’t that complex and the problem not so overwhelming after all.

Next step

Next up is to set up some milestones along the way. But for that you'll have to wait to next weeks article that will be published on Thursday March 15.

Until then!

XO / Bärbel