Some time in the period between Christmas and New Year I was having a bit of banter with some of our locals and I airily proclaimed that 2019 would be our Best Year Ever. I’m not sure what made me so assured of this fact but, I decreed, the next 12 months would entirely surpass their predecessors.

The thing about having the Best Year Ever, however, is that in order to appreciate the highs, you’ve got to ride out a few lows along the way. If it was all win-win-win, how would you know you were winning?

We’ve dealt with one or two obstacles along the way. In fact, at one point, we were tackling calamities on a daily basis that provoked me into creating a ‘Disaster Manual’ after a list of 27 things went wrong, broke down or dangerously threatened the business in the space of 6 weeks. Usually on a fully booked Friday night. At no point in my Best Year Ever had I envisaged the associated stress of power failures or road traffic accidents involving our cat or the myriad other unpredictable events that seemed to take up the last of our energy over the summer.

Our Best Year Ever has also entailed a huge personnel overhaul. In the Spring we basically had to start building the Fleur kitchen team from scratch again. In May we said goodbye to a beloved manager. By the start of Autumn we were once again recruiting chefs for The Bulls Head. They say hospitality is a people business, and that’s never truer than when you have a revolving door of recruitment!

Our seasonal staff changes meant that something like 40 new starters and leavers were processed through our team before we even started to get our heads around who could do what shifts on the rota. It’s a lot of time and resources poured into the admin, training, development and departure of our team, which can be both extremely rewarding and somewhat exhausting at the same time.

That being said, the injection of fresh energy, new faces and limitless enthusiasm from our team has been awesome. Creating solid teams of management who act as the spine for both our pubs liberated Nick and I from the day-to-day minutiae of pub operations and opened up a whole new world of being able to work ON our business, rather than being beholden to working IN it.

For me, this meant dipping my toes back into the creative and marketing side of things, as well as having the opportunity to finally put together half a tonne of policies, management guidelines and tedious pieces of admin that have thus far lived only in my brain but now provide us with the blueprint from which everyone else can operate. For Nick, the liberation of time meant that he finally managed to start tackling the never-ending list of jobs that are inherent in the upkeep of a building of this age and a business of this scale.

And obviously, for both of us, we welcomed our first baby into the world back in September. I’ve previously written about how we knew now was the right time to give it a try, but the thing I could not have anticipated at that stage was the sense that we are now building a legacy for our little one as well. I have romantic dreams of passing the business on to our son and for him to continue to help these lovely country pubs thrive, but even if that doesn’t come to fruition, we hope that the hard work we have put in now will still be a dividend towards his future.

The funny thing is, at the end of 2018 I downloaded a workbook called ‘Unravel Your Year’ by Susannah Conway after I saw some cool Instagram kids raving about it. I remember going through it and disregarding all the “woo-woo” parts that I found irrelevant and instead using it as a way to strategise our Best Year Ever by doing a deep analysis on both of the pubs as well as my own personal aspirations. After I’d finished filling it in (and it took me a few days, so you can rest assured I drilled right down into the logistics of what I wanted from 2019) I popped it into the log burner and didn’t give it a second thought.

Except that…everything I remember setting as a goal has come to fruition. Everything that I envisaged for the year ahead has become reality. It may not have been a straightforward line from A to B, but despite all the bumps in the road, we made it. 2019 has been challenging, but it has been necessary in order for us to achieve all of the things I set out to accomplish in those dawning days of the year.

My advice to all you other small business owners is to take the time to sit down and map out what you want your business to look like this time next year. The internet is bursting with workbooks, guides and e-courses if you need a helping hand to focus your thinking, or you can just take a blank piece of paper and start writing.

Be specific. Be absurd in your demands. Be realistic in your time scales. Be mindful of what and how your business and your goals affect your personal dreams and then be specific in how to marry the two together. And then let it go. Your subconscious will have received the message – you don’t need to keep the list – so you are free to go about your business and see what you can reap in return. You never know, it might just turn out to be your Best Year Ever.

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