New Year’s Resolutions, “The Word” and a Small Business Retreat

Do you spend so much time working in your business that you never work on your business?

The corporate world knows the value of taking time out for a step back, taking time to assess what is going right, what is going wrong and what just plain isn’t going anywhere. As a business owner (or as one who dreams of owning a business), it is critical to take time out to plan for the upcoming time period, be it a year, or even a long-term goal. Otherwise, how can you get where you want to be if you don’t know where that is? I usually plan two business retreats per year:

~ One in late summer — it’s late enough in the current year to have a good idea of how the year is progressing and yet still have enough time to make changes if necessary.

~ One over the holidays just before New Year’s — this saves me from also doing New Year’s resolutions. 🙂

As part of my “New Year Retreat”, I pick one word around which to focus the year. This makes it much easier to plan the year and every choice, every decision is first weighed against “the word”. If the outcome furthers my journey in reaching the word, I do it. If it doesn’t, I don’t. Past words have included “freedom” (from a corporate job that sucked the life out of me), “stability” (financial, emotional, new business) and even “romance” (and now I have my darling hubby).

I centered my word for 2007 on some poster board, cut out pictures of what it represents to me and hung it up in my office. I’m now ready to build my plan.

I take a few critical tools and go somewhere alone for a few days (or lock myself away in the house) where I can sit and reflect on my business as a business, its successes and opportunities. In order to have a successful business retreat:

1. Bring your financial records…in whatever form they exist. I use QuickBooks to track my finances – it allows me to track my income and expenses by any number of categories and dates. With the click of a few buttons, I can tell when my peak times of year are, what products and services bring in the most income (and how that changes seasonally) and what my expenses are.

I used to figure out how much money I had (or would have based on an estimate) and then what to do with it. No longer. I now use the technique found in “How to Make Money as a Service Professional” to figure my billable time.

If your financial records are a mess, now is the time to straighten them out. If you can’t do it yourself, get help, this is one area that you can’t skip! You need to know where you are now in order to effectively plan for the future. If you need assistance, check out the article on my blog on “How to Hire a Bookkeeper”.

2. Bring a calendar. Personally, I use a large write-on/wipe off wall calendar so I can see the whole year at a glance. This allows me to easily see what I’ve planned. I also use colored stickers to label different types of days: profit generating, business building, vacation and holidays. This allows me to know what’s planned on any given day. It’s not easy…it takes time and effort to know where I want to be 12 months from now, so I start with some basics.

* Holidays…I take the major ones off.

* Vacations…I am planning several long spa/yoga weekends and at least one week away with my hubby.

* Business Building…I’m meeting with my Mastermind group in Los Angeles in February and attending a Dan Kennedy seminar in October. There are a couple of other conferences I’m toying with and they will be tentatively marked on the calendar.

* Profit generating…these are the days that I’m working on activities that make money for my business: client coaching, online business management, etc.

3. Bring all those scraps of paper or notebook in which you wrote down ideas for your business and things that you want to do. Record them in one central place; I call mine my “Dream Notebook” – it’s actually a sketching notebook with a gorgeous picture of the beach on the front cover. If you have a laptop, bring it. . .otherwise a notebook and calculator will do just fine. Use this list as the starting point of where you want to go, what you want to do and, equally important, what you don’t want to do in the upcoming year.

4. Break it down into small segments…after determining where I want my business to go over the next year (month, quarter, etc.), I break down the larger goals into quarterly objectives and then into monthly objectives, etc. This takes the “big picture” and makes it more manageable as I can get my arm around quarterly and monthly (and then weekly) objectives much easier than I can the entire year, and it won’t seem as daunting if you plan to take smaller steps toward a larger goal.

5. Relax and remember that you started your own business to do what you love, to focus on those things that bring you joy and also…to make money to allow you to continue to do the things you enjoy. Keep this in mind as you plan and remember to plan some time for yourself away from the business – we all need this to keep things fresh and exciting!

It is critical that you take the time to plan what you want your business to be like. You don’t need to do something just because “you always do it” or because “you’re good at it” – focus on those things that you enjoy doing!

You’ll be much happier and productive – after all, you didn’t go into business for yourself to feel pressured or dislike what you’re doing!