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Top 10 Steps to Creating a Successful Business Retreat for Self-Employed Entrepreneurs

The notion of doing a business retreat for myself is very new, although not novel, as we used to conduct a retreat each year as a part of both the Student Affairs staff and the Residence Life staff at the college where I once worked. When I heard about this same concept for self-employed business owners from Chris Barrow of The Business Coaching Company, I thought, "Why am I not doing that for myself?" Thus, my Annual Business Retreat was born.

Here's how you can create this annual retreat experience for yourself:

Book 3 days for your retreat on your calendar. Ideally, you'll want to be in a location where you're not readily accessible at a time of the year when you can devote serious time to business planning and development. If you can't find 3 days together, at a minimum book 3 half-day slots that you can devote to this activity.

Isolate yourself from the distractions of life. My initial retreat experience involved staying with a friend in her guest home about 10 miles out of town. She lives in the mountains, so my cell phone didn't work, and the house wasn't wired for phone service, so that meant no phone calls and no Internet surfing. My friend and her husband worked all week and drove their cars to work, so I had no way to escape, as my friend's house is very rural and there's nothing to escape to within walking distance. Forcing myself into isolation left me with little choice than to work on my retreat materials.

Do your work in a serene environment. I have fond memories of that year's retreat experience -- sitting out on the back deck with a moderate temperature and low humidity, and the breeze was gently blowing the trees of the woodsy area I faced. There were no people passing by, no cars on the road -- just me and nature and my computer. It was perfect. I took breaks as I needed them during the day.

Be willing to go in an unexpected direction. At the beginning of the process, ask yourself some hard questions during your retreat. My favorite is, "What kind of business do you truly want?" Answer this question as though money is no object, using your best assets and skills with none of your perceived weaknesses or liabilities, incorporating the best of what you also want in your personal life. The answer you receive may surprise you, and will serve as a great jumping off point to begin writing your business vision.

Write your three-year vision. This statement shouldn't be a vision in which you expect to accomplish everything in the next 36 months. Instead, think of it as a rolling vision, or something you'll continue to work on and revise at a minimum each year at your retreat. Expect it to evolve and change, as most visions do, but at least you'll have some idea of what direction you're headed.

Be willing to acknowledge all that was good, bad, and ugly about your business and your life in the past year. Hiding from the truth, even if you're only hiding it from yourself, won't do you or your business any good. It was my experience in writing about what I didn't like during the past year and what didn't work so well for me that led me to the place of creating my ideal day/week/year and gave me the information about how to structure that new vision for myself.

Create your 90-Day Goals List. After you've mapped out a 3-year vision for yourself, you now need to translate the upcoming year's vision into a set of measurable goals. The easiest and most manageable way of doing this is to create a 90 Day Goals List. On this list, you take 7 categories: Business, Financial, Family, Social, Physical, Intellectual, and Spiritual, and create 3 goals for each category. Do this every quarter, and put the task on your calendar on the first day of every quarter (Jan. 1, April 1, July 1, and October 1) so that it becomes a habit.

Plan your finances for the upcoming year. On your retreat take your financial records -- your Excel spreadsheets or Quickbooks or Quicken files -- so that you know your financial standing. Note your expected personal and business expenditures for the upcoming year, along with things you'd like to do and items you'd like to purchase, and then plan your income, or how you're planning on paying for your expenses.

Map out your entire year on your calendar. Based on your vision and financial goals, you'll craft your upcoming year's calendar in terms of vacation time, travel, other kinds of rest days, profit-generating days with clients, and business development days. I did this for the first time for 2004, and it's made all the difference in keeping me focused!

Be patient. When I first completed this process in 2004, my thoughts and my direction and my work on this vision were just not "wowing" me--I was having a hard time dredging up any enthusiasm about where I had been in my business and where I was going. I continued to plod along regardless, doing my writing and completing my tasks, hoping that at some point I'd have a breakthrough that I could get really excited about. Everything finally jelled with me late in the third day, when I resurrected an idea I'd had several years ago but wasn't quite sure what to do with it, yet it seemed to match perfectly and pull together all of these disjointed ideas I had. Had I not remained patient and vowed to continue to move forward with the process, I wouldn't have found the direction and motivation that I needed.

An annual business retreat is the most powerful thing I've ever done for my business and it has given me clarity of intention for my life and business like nothing else I've ever done. Knowing where I'm going and how I'm going to get there and developing the financial picture of that plan was extraordinarily empowering. Don't delay in creating this this process for your business!

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