A Practical Guide to Self-Appraisals for Business Owners

When you work in HR you quickly learn to accept that we are not popular people at annual appraisal time. And despite appearances, believe me, we get it. We may fly the flag in public, but behind the scenes most of us agree that annual appraisals or performance reviews can be unwieldy, bureaucratic and traumatic for everyone involved. So I have to admit I would never have predicted that self-appraisals for business owners are one of the topics that comes up again and again in conversation with self-employed friends.

Feedback can be difficult to receive and equally difficult to give. Each turn of phrase in an annual appraisal can appear loaded with meaning, playing on our deep-seated fears and self-doubt. It can stay with us for days, weeks, even years and shape how we see ourselves and our capabilities.

Being told to “improve collaboration” so easily morphes in our minds to “not a team player”. “Develop technical skills” morphes into “not up to the job”. “Asserts herself in a group” morphes into “too pushy”. We’ve all been there.

Whilst merrily waving bye bye to the corporate yearly appraisal by a manager — business owners, in my experience, are wise to the benefits of reflecting on the year just gone. Self-appraisals for business owners take stock of what worked, what didn’t and what needs to be developed.

— “How should I approach self-appraisals and personal development when it’s just me?”.

So how can you do this in practice? First and foremost — keep it simple. You don’t want to create a naval-gazing paperwork exercise which has no long-term meaning or benefit. Keep it structured, focused and actionable. Here’s how.

Let’s get to the nitty gritty of what purposeful self-appraisals should tell you, and give you some ideas for your own review.

Are you still travelling in the right direction to build the business you want to create and the business that you want to work in? This is at the heart of why appraisals are carried out. Are you moving in the right direction, and working in the way you want to get there.

If you’ve previously done some work on your Why or Purpose, now is the time to get it out. If you haven’t done this before, then I’d strongly recommend exploring that first. I’m not a believer in detailed business plans when you’re a company of one. But broadly knowing why you have your business definitely helps keep you on track .

I produce beautiful ceramics that hold pride of place in a person’s home.
I support business owners to market their business in a way that feels right for them.
I help women overcome their self-doubt and reach their full potential.

These could all be examples of your business Why.

Kayte Ferris talks about it in depth on this podcast episode of Grow With Soul, so if you want to understand more about finding your why, I’d recommend listening to this first.

Self-Appraisals – Part 1

Now that you have your Why to hand, Part 1 is thinking about how to break it apart into key skills for the business you want to create. For example, I produce beautiful ceramics that hold pride of place in a person’s home could be broken down into skills of:

  1. Pottery production
  2. Clay and glaze technology
  3. Kiln operation
  4. Design
  5. Marketing
  6. Financial and accounting
  7. Website management or Etsy shop management
  8. Order fulfilment, packaging and shipping

Don’t panic if it seems a long list. 8 to 10 skills is perfectly normal. After all there are many different dimensions to being a business owner and it doesn’t stop with producing the product or service. Marketing, finance and delivery all play a part in the customer experience so you want to understand how you’re performing here too.

Put that list aside and we’ll come back to it at the end.

Self-Appraisals – Part 2

Part 2 dives into the experience of the business you want to work in. Before taking the leap into self-employment, most of us will have day-dreamed about what that would look like day-to-day.

I will be working from a home office, with a view out to my garden.
I will spend most of my days creating, away from computers.
I will be able to take my dog for a walk / drop my kids at school / meet my partner for lunch, I will have the flexibility to shape my day.

Whatever experience you imagined when dreaming of working for yourself, write this down.

This experience is what should guide you in your business. How you spend your days is how your spend your life. If your dream was to spend time designing and making pots, but the reality is only 50% making; the other 50% is packing, making trips to the post office and updating accounts — this is not the business you wanted to work in.

Reality will never quite match the dream, but it’s important to take the time to reflect on the variances. Are you comfortable with the reality and the compromises? If not, what steps can you take to redress the balance?

Perhaps you could outsource some of the areas you don’t enjoy, such as the accounts. Or if outsourcing isn’t yet financially viable, perhaps you could batch packing and shipping into certain days. Perhaps you could consider changing your packing materials to make each order quicker. Make the parts of the business you don’t enjoy as efficient as possible, freeing up your time to spend on the parts you love.

Bringing It All Together

Now that you’ve done Parts 1 and 2 you should have a list of:

  1. 8 to 10 skills
  2. A description of how you want to spend your days

Fantastic — you now have the basis against which can evaluate your year. Draw a mind map on a large piece of paper, use a bullet journal, a normal journal or even a spreadsheet — whatever your preference. Personally I like to draw a mind map on A3 paper, then transfer a neater version into my bullet journal. But that’s definitely overkill!

Review your year against each of the skills from Part 1. For each one, identify any gaps between where you are now and where you need to be. Make actionable tasks for yourself to address each gap. But here’s the key — does that task you’ve just created take you closer to how you want to spend your days (the description from Part 2), or further from it? If it’s the former you’re on the right track.

But if it’s the latter, pause for a second. Are you creating that action because you think you should? Is it really going to bring you closer to the business you dream of? It can be tempting to buy into the story that we need to get better at X if we want our business to succeed, even if that X is something we hate. Stepping into our discomfort can help push us past our self-limiting beliefs, but doing something just because we feel we should only moves us further from the vision of our dream business.

Trust In Your Own Expertise.

This is your business. If something doesn’t feel good or right for your business, trust your gut and in your own expertise. Decide how to move forward in a way that feels right for you.

If you’d like a printable template to help you in your self-appraisal, pop your email in the subscription form below to receive this and other resources as soon as they are live.

For business owners with more than a business of one, I’m currently working on a free guidance booklet to help you design and setup an annual appraisal system that works for your team. Drop your email in the subscription box and receive your copy as soon as it launches.


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