I’m part of an accountability/mastermind group with two other women who, like me, are owners of service-based small businesses. Our group serves as a unique platform for bouncing ideas, sharing best practices, and providing feedback to one another on various areas like marketing, operations, staffing, administrative, financial planning, growth planning, and creative strategy.
As busy business owners juggling full client rosters, marketing initiatives, and a bevvy of other responsibilities to keep our respective ships sailing smoothly, we often talk about the challenge of finding the time to sit down and truly focus, focus, focus on setting goals for the upcoming quarter and year. My colleague Tracy came up with the idea a few weeks back to do a “virtual business planning retreat”, having heard about the idea from someone in her network who had done the same and had success.
We agreed to block off the entire Monday strictly for business planning, strategizing, and creative goal setting to get ourselves, and our businesses, good and ready for Q4 and Q1 of 2014. This meant no working on existing projects, no worrying about what’s already on our plates, and making arrangements ahead of time to deal with any impending or new workflow that came up. The day was to be reserved whole-heartedly for business planning, if this was going to work to best of its ability!
Our plan was to check in approximately every 2 to 2.5 hours, starting a 8am, and then again at 11am, 2pm, and finally at 4:30pm for our wrap-up call. Studies show that segmenting your projects into 2-hour chunks maximizes both creativity and productivity, as 2 hours is sufficient time to make progress, and just long enough to maintain focus.
We kicked off the retreat with a 30-minute call at 8am, each of us discussing our initiatives and goals for the day, what we wanted to get out of the retreat, and how we planned to structure our three 2-hour planning segments in between check in calls. I decided that my focus was going to be on 1) streamlining all of my systems and processes in places where they weren’t yet streamlined, or could be much better, 2) hashing out my financial plan for 2014 – P&L, revenue trend, pricing strategy – and 3) developing a high-level plan to grow and expand the business in 2014.
I’ll admit, you can’t always pull yourself away from email completely, and right after we jumped off our call around 8:30, I was already responding to lingering inquiries. If there’s one thing I can’t stand as a business owner, it’s leaving my customers waiting and wondering, as I’ve built a reputation for swift follow up and excellent customer service. Also, I just start to feel guilty, and I didn’t want anything detracting from my focus. So I gave myself permission to spend a few minutes getting those remaining small tasks out of the way before I proceeded with the heavy lifting of business planning.
11am| Goal: Streamlining My Systems & Processes
By 11am, after the first segment was up, I had a solid outline of what was working and not working in my existing systems, where I could more efficient, what times of day were best for which types of tasks (to maximize my energy and productivity), and how I was going to best utilize my support staff to maximize my ability to work on revenue-generating activities and client-focused work.
2pm | Goal: Establish Revenue Goals for 2014
I purposely left the heavy number crunching for the middle of the day, as I find that I’m at my best creatively and analytically roughly between 11 and 2:30. By our 2pm check in call, I had created a completely new revenue outline for 2014 complete with my goals for monthly and yearly target revenues, clients billed, and other financial components.
4:30 pm | Goal: Develop a Confident Growth Strategy for 2014
Now that the financials were in place, it was time to figure out my strategy for how I was going to not only hit them, but handle the increased workload required to get there. For me, it was a combination of looking at my pricing strategy, how much work I could reasonably take on consistently, and whether I might need to increase my staff to pull that off next year. By 4:30pm, and the close of the retreat, I felt that I had accomplished my goal of having a solid growth strategy in place that felt both slightly aggressive, but also reasonable.
While there were several key takeaways for me from the virtual retreat exercise, one of the biggest was the importance of not just blocking off time to get important tasks like this (and that aren’t necessarily revenue-producing, at least right away) completed, but also giving yourself permission to block out anything that could potentially distract you. The confidence I felt was amazing, and I felt more prepared than I had in months, with a solid go-forward plan for getting my business to the next level, and feeling like I had everything I needed to get there. I knew I had ideas to implement all along; it was just a matter of really giving myself the time and space to get them out of my brain, onto my screen, and into play!
Try it for yourself – and let me know how you make out, what worked for you, and what you found helpful.