It’s that time of year – the time in which people frantically check for missing receipts and other documentation that might serve as evidence that they deserve a larger tax refund. I have a folder I keep in the top drawer of my filing cabinet that merely says, “Taxes” and the year for which it applies. Every week, I drop items into the folder with scribbles on the back I am convinced will surely ring a bell when the time comes for me to make sense of them for my accountant. In most cases, my cryptic messages rarely provide me with enough information to correctly identify what I did, let alone why I should get to claim the item as a write-off.
Every February, I sit around wishing I had taken more time to document my actions of the previous year and hoping that my accountant will take pity on me and let me include the deduction “just because.” That dream never becomes reality though. I pledge that the next year I will do better. I will take copious notes and no receipt will go unused. I know the pledge well, as I have used it for the last 15 or so years.
I am the only one who is penalized in the end for my lack of attention to the details of my actions. I am the one whose list of deductions is smaller than anticipated because I cannot provide evidence of what I did. I am the one who drags the receipts home, adds them up and realizes the total net of the deductions I lost because I failed to clearly define how I spent my money.
I would like something good to come of my broken pledges and financial loss.
I think this story has deeper meaning and value for those of us who own our own businesses. It not only reminds us to pay attention to the details of our business and work receipts, but it also serves as a great metaphor for how we need to think about our work with clients. It pays to take the necessary time to document our work with them. Here are a four steps you can take to be better at telling your story and demonstrating your value:
- Carefully articulate your goals along with their intended outcomes. This is what convinces clients to work with you. It’s what customers pay for.
- Identify the strategies, tactical plans, performance measures and data sources connected to each outcome. Your work should be intentional if you want to keep your clients. Knowing the alignment of these elements brings clarity to what you’re doing for your client. They will appreciate that.
- Document your baseline or starting point. Your formative and summative data collection should be reviewed in comparison to this.
- Collect, analyze and report on your data. What does the data tell you about your efforts? What does it NOT tell you? Is your strategy working? What evidence do you have?
You’re doing a lot of hard work, and you don’t want the year to slide by to find out you did not record the information necessary to describe your successes and lessons learned. Just like receipts for your taxes, keeping track of your data – your story – might seem like a lot of work, but in the end, the benefit you ultimately get for doing it is worth it.
PHOTO CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons AmberNectar 13