One of my favorite things about working in close partnership with a business owner on their numbers is making sure those numbers are an accurate representation of REALITY for any given period. That’s reality, of course, at its most basic level — i.e., according to what the bank and credit card company say (meaning we can account for all the money in and out of the biz), and that’s reality in its most important expression → according to what the business owner themself knows about what happened & how it happened.
Can we see that story clearly and easily in the reports generated by Quickbooks Online, our favorite tool?
Have we set ourselves up as well as possible to read the meaning in those reports, the meaning of what actually happened?
Ah yes, not just numbers, but also: meaning.
And even though we’re not supposed to have favorites, of course our favorite clients are the ones who share that same curiosity about the digits and the story they tell, with whom we are actively partnering to create the best way to understand the past AND prepare for the future. For their specific individual unique and awesome business. For their future.
Meaning, my friends, is the super-fun fun.
And that is how this question, looking back at 2020 and comparing to 2021 so far, came up:
Was 2020 even REAL?
I mean, yes, of course it was real. It happened. We survived. But can we use anything that happened in 2020 as a baseline or a useful measurement? It was such a weird year, so did everything that happened happen in a vacuum, never again (please) to happen again in that same way?
Do we treat 2020 like a first pancake, just something that happens, that we toss on the compost heap and move on, a necessary first effort en route to perfect breakfast?
Or is there valuable data in there, that we can use to plan the future?
Example: If you pivoted and launched an on-line program in your otherwise-historically-only-brick-&-mortar business, and it succeeded, does that mean that that on-line program will do as well this year? Where last year there was novelty in on-line learning and community, where last year on-line programs were a critical lifeline in a time of great uncertainty and anxiety (and lock-down, let’s not forget), is the same true now?
Can you expect the same outcome in a very different time?
The answer, as always with complicated questions, is it depends. None of us can know the future, can truly rely on past performance as an indicator of future success, as they say.
Because damn it, reality shifts all the damn time.
But what we can do, what matters, is to ASK the question. When you’re looking at your business’s performance this year compared to last year, or last year compared to the prior year, it’s so important to look for the context, to be able to tell the story of what was different or special or might’ve contributed to the success or failure of any given thing you tried. It’s not all you, darling.
How real was 2020? Only time will tell. Until then keep asking.