Business Snapshot Template - a visual tool to help you learn lessons from yourself.

I get to participate in a lot of interesting meetings and events as part of my job. Being a graphic recorder and a visual facilitator is probably one of the few roles where you get to hear what is going on at senior levels across sectors, across disciplines and across the country. This puts me in the interesting position of being able to spot the threads and commonalities that tie us together, whether you're from a global corporation or a one-woman micro business.

One such thread, a thread that is unwavering in its presence, is the need for us to learn from what has gone before. To learn from the past in order to avoid the same mistakes, but also to keep what worked, and to identify and build on those past successes. 

Some organisations do it well. They have maturity models that build on what has gone before. Staff feel valued. Customers understand the evolution of your business and buy into the history. Everyone benefits. Some organisations, not so much. The story becomes disjointed. Resources are wasted learning the same lessons over and over, and the people involved, staff and customers, start to feel invisible, disgruntled...or they simply leave.

Here is a visual template that I developed after being inspired by work done by David Sibbet on graphic histories as well as work by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschäppeler's Making-of model.

The Business Snapshot Template

Imagine it like a photo album of your business. (My mental photo album is mustard coloured, like the ones I have of me as a kid in the 70's). This visual tool is like having a flick through that photo album and looking at snapshots of your business. The snapshot acts as a trigger to remind yourself of what went before - your triumphs, your disasters. The template helps you look back at those moments within the context of your business at that time, and helps you capture the lessons from those key moments in your own history.

Step 1

Grab a sheet of paper (A4 is okay, A3 is great. Flipchart sized is even better) and turn it landscape. Across the top draw an arrow. At one end write the word START and at the other write the word NOW.

Business Album copyright Graphic Change Ltd

Step 2

Now over on the left hand side, underneath the START, draw an empty photograph shape and then write the word SNAPSHOT in it. There are 6 steps to this template so leave enough room for yourself to draw 6 icons (for 6 rows) down the left hand column.

Business Album copyright Graphic Change Ltd

Step 3

Underneath SNAPSHOT I've drawn a thought bubble with the word GOALS. These will be the ambitions and aims you had for your business at that moment in time.

Business Album copyright Graphic Change Ltd

Step 4

Underneath GOALS I've drawn some squares and people and written the words BUILDING BLOCKS. These are the practical elements (often resources) of your business that you had in place at that time. 

Business Album copyright Graphic Change Ltd

Step 5

Next is a love heart that represents your FEELINGS.

Business Album copyright Graphic Change Ltd

Step 6

Two more to go. This one is a BARRIER. It represents the challenges you faced at that time.

Business Album copyright Graphic Change Ltd

Step 7

Here is the last icon to add. This one is called NOTES and is the place to put the lessons you learnt.

Business Snapshot copyright Graphic Change Ltd

Step 8

Finally, add in some row dividing lines so that when you fill the template in you don't get muddled up.

Business Snapshot template copyright graphic change

If you've got a blank wall, some washi tape and a pack of sticky notes, then of course you can always go BIG! Here's a version I created on the office wall:

copyright graphic change ltd

Completing the Business Snapshot Template is easy.

Firstly decide on the timeline. If this is your first time, you could choose the whole life of your business. For me that would be 11 years of memories to flick back through. OR I could choose the last 5 years. Or even just the last year. Ideally you would go back as far as your time allows the first time and then repeat the exercise each year, incrementally capturing the last year's lessons. 

Now work your way along each line and fill in the blank space with significant moments in your business. You can do this as a group or solo. You might complete it all in one sitting, or you might need to tackle one at a time until it's done. That's fine.

So, for example here is the start of mine. I decided to think right back to the beginning...

copyright graphic change ltd

Here is how I approached the template:

SNAPSHOT - what significant things happened?

When I set up Graphic Change in 2006 I was pretty green. I'd never run a business before but I knew this was something I wanted to do. I dropped my management job to part-time so that I could build the business and still have a bit of money coming in. I have two snapshots from that time.

1. I knew that the boundaries between my paid job and my own business could get blurry if I ended up getting any job offers from organisations in my network. I'd been working visually for years on my own initiative, but it was definitely not an official part of my job. So one of the first things I did was go to my manager and lay out my plans. CLICK! I had the boundary between my paid job and my personal business made clear, and I had it put in writing that my visual work was my own.

2. I was very glad I did because almost immediately I bumped into someone while I was shopping in town. They'd been part of some training I delivered using visual tools and they remembered me saying I was going part-time to set up my own business. They wanted to know if I could come and run a visual session with some of their clients. CLICK! 

GOALS - what were your aspirations and aims at that time?

One of my first GOALS was to leave work and be entirely self employed. My other GOAL at this stage was to find 4 paid jobs a month. Yes...just 4.

BUILDING BLOCKS - what tangibles had you put in place to build your business at that time? 

At that time my business was in its first couple of months. One of the first BUILDING BLOCKS I had put in place was to consciously set out to increase my knowledge as quickly as possible. I read stuff, I talked to people, I went to people and asked them to teach me things. At the same time I put into place my second BUILDING BLOCK: I made my first website. It was a cheap and scrappy affair but I didn't have any money to pay a web designer and I did the best I could. The important thing was that I got that website out there.

FEELINGS - how did the event/s in the snapshot make you feel?

The clarity I got from having that meeting with my manager made me feel excited. Something that I'd worried was going to become a complication was, in reality, easily solved. 

I was also feeling pretty nervous following that chance meeting, with someone who turned out to be my first client, in the middle of Next in town.

CHALLENGES - what challenges did you face around these snapshot moments?

Of course I didn't have much experience at this point. I didn't know what to charge. I didn't have my branding sorted, I didn't have my invoicing set up. I didn't know what to expect or how long it would take. I certainly lost money on that job. BUT it also helped with another challenge I was facing at that time which was a non-existent client list and a thin portfolio. Now I had my first client for my client list and I was up and running.

NOTES - look up at the responses you gave to each section. What did you learn?

The key lessons I learnt from revisiting these two snapshots were:

  • Talk about your business
  • Have clear boundaries
  • Seize opportunities when they come along

Just think, that's 3 really useful lessons from one period of time 11 years ago. Now imagine how much I could learn by filling in the template up to the present day. Even if your business is new and has only been going for few months, this is a useful exercise.

Take the time to learn from yourself. The lessons we learn as we build our businesses are far too valuable to lose. 

I'd love to see your templates. Follow me on twitter or insta @graphicchange and share your templates #drawabetterbusiness.


Cara works with individuals and businesses helping them to get the benefits of working visually, and is author of the upcoming book Draw a Better Business. If you want to find out more about working visually and how it can strengthen your business get in touch.

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