Even though it’s an old chestnut, I’m a huge advocate of working on your business rather than in your business. Having said that, I can talk about this stuff all day long but for some people it just doesn’t resonate. The idea of choosing to shun paid work in exchange for creative business navel gazing just doesn’t seem to make sense, and I can see why it might look like a false economy. However, making time to retreat into your business can actually help your creative business to grow, strengthen, and make more money.
The best example I can give is my own – twice a year, I run away and take a creative business retreat. In fact, I’m writing this in the airport as I wait for my plane to whisk me away for my mid-year hideaway.
This creative business sanctuary happens in January and July. In the first few weeks of the new year I pack my bags with comfy clothes, sketch books, butcher’s paper, coloured markers, post-its and my laptop, and I run away from home. I deliberately choose somewhere far away from my usual family and business life, where I have nothing scheduled and nothing to see. Apart from maybe sharing dinner with a local friend, I make no other plans. I don’t take my family, and I find no distractions. I take three days, I get in a plane or drive my car, and I stay in paid-for accommodation that allows me internet access and somewhere to work. It is, in every sense, a business retreat.
The first few hours are hard. After arriving and unpacking, seeing all my notes and ideas strewn about the place, I feel a bit panicky. I want to go home, see my kids, bury myself in paid work for clients or answering emails. This is the ‘detox’ part of the retreat, and a normal part of the process. It’s just my fear coming out, my fear about taking a good hard look at my own business and seeing all its faults and flaws. I pour a coffee (OK, sometimes it’s wine), roll up my sleeves and get started.
The first mission is to think about my goals. What do I want from my life? Where am I going in my business and my creativity? What does my family need from me? Why am I doing this again? This is the brainstorming part, and is usually built on whatever my goals were the last time I retreated.
The second mission is the brain dump, when everything that’s inside my brain is dumped onto paper. That requires large pieces of butcher’s paper stuck on the wall, each piece the repository for notes and ideas about a certain part of my life – and not just business. In January this year my papers were divided into family (because my daughter is completing senior school exams), Handbag (for my creative ‘Unicorn’ work), and the various and many elements of my business. I put up sticky notes rather than working in the computer because the movement around the room and the writing with markers helps my brain get active too.
Once the brain dump is over, the third mission is to create a goal matrix. I write the names of the next 6 months across the top of a big piece of paper, and the sections mentioned above on the left hand side. I then plot my goals as I’ve created them, and when I want them to be completed. I then have a schedule, and into each month I can write what needs to be done in that month in order to meet my larger goals.
And after that, I create action plans for my business, my marketing, and my creative work so that I can stay on top of what I want to achieve, and when.
The July retreat is usually shorter, and is more of a catch up on the advanced work I did at the beginning of the year. And January and July are not just useful time milestones – they’re also months when I’m often not as busy with client work, and so the time out helps me feel productive and focused rather than panicky that my business is going to collapse.
Why travel and pay for this retreat? Because it forces me to take the process seriously, and not chicken out. Even when I was broke I would still drive down the coast for an hour, stay in a dodgy backpackers for a night or two and work in the local library. Taking deliberate time, and paying for travel and accommodation, knowing full well that I will earn no money while I’m indulging in this retreat? It’s very motivating, and forces me to use my time effectively and come away with solid goals and action plans. I’ve now built the business to the point where it can handle a flight and a nicer hotel – and that’s in no small part to the twice-annual retreats of past years, and the focus they gave me.
Would you like our help to work through your own Business Retreat? We offer the PLAN program, when a trusted Creative Plus Business advisor can help facilitate a planning day for your business, your organisation or yourself. It’s completely confidential and easy to book here.