A Publication of WTVP

What comes to mind when you think of a strategic retreat? If you're like me, you imagine corporate executives spending time at a lavish resort or country club to plan future strategy and play a little golf at the shareholders' expense. Don't get me wrong; I've been on a couple of corporate retreats, and-besides having a lot of fun-I know they often produce excellent results and provide an opportunity for teambuilding. However, small business owners rarely conduct any type of retreat because they think it's not necessary or they can't afford it. The truth is you can't afford not to. A strategic retreat allows you to get away from the daily grind and plan your company's future without interruptions. In reality, a retreat is a meeting and doesn't have to be expensive or entertaining.

Still not convinced? There are numerous studies showing companies that use some form of strategic planning enjoy greater success, higher revenues, and outperform companies without a planning process. If you're looking to grow or would like to shore up your business for tough times, a strategic plan will increase your chances for success. The good news is it's easy to start, and there are very few rules.

The few rules that do exist, however, are critical to the success of your retreat. The first rule is to plan your retreat in advance and stick to that date. Tell yourself and others there's nothing more important than the future of your business. Next, schedule the retreat away from the workplace or home to minimize distractions. In addition, no cell phones, voicemail, or e-mail. The final rule is to be brutally honest about your business. Question everything. Don't make excuses or sugarcoat anything.

Except for these general rules, the rest of the planning process is very flexible. For example, some owners set aside two hours each week for strategic planning. Others take one day a month or one day each quarter. Do what you feel comfortable with. Retreats can include only owner/principals, while others may include managers and employees. It all depends on where you are in the planning process. Keep in mind employees can provide critical information about customers, competition, and company culture.

I know this may seem overwhelming at first, but keep in mind that planning is a continuous long-term process. Start small. Create a mission statement and company values if you don't already have them. If you already have one, revisit the statement and make sure it still reflects your vision and beliefs. A mission statement defines why you're in business and is the starting point for strategic planning. Moving forward, topics you should take a look at include your product's life cycle, company strengths and weaknesses, defining who your customers are, and examining your competition, to name a few.

The key for small business owners is to get started. Don't be intimidated by the planning process. Make it as simple or as detailed as you like. The sooner you get started, the sooner you'll understand the power of planning. IBI