Tuesday, December 23, 2008

30-Day Biz Planning Challenge: Reaching Goals with Support

There are as many ways to do business plans as there are creative professionals. But you wouldn't know that looking at the business planning section of your local library. So in this challenge, I've enlisted some friends and colleagues to describe the way they found their business plans and what works for them. I'm hoping one of them will inspire you.

Today's post comes from healthcare freelancer Karen Childress , who had a former life as a creative coach. She finds success reaching her business plan's goals with formal and informal planning groups. If doing it alone is daunting, consider her approach, described in the Q&A that follows.

You said in our private email conversation that you've been a "goals gal" forever. What do you mean?
In the mid-1980s I started listening to Brian Tracy and other motivational experts on audio tape and became inspired to “be successful.” Over the years I’ve belonged to several goal-setting, business-success, and accountability groups and have found the process to be very helpful.

Some of these were informal groups of friends or co-workers and others were formal, facilitated groups that I paid to join. Around 2000 I became a certified coach and had the pleasure of helping clients identify, clarify, and work toward achieving their goals. Then at the height of the dot-com frenzy I founded a small Internet company that was, in part, a membership-based online goal-setting and tracking system. Unfortunately, that business didn’t take off and I eventually shut the site down. It was an expensive but valuable lesson.

So, basically, I’ve believed in goal setting for years. Some people shy away from this sort of planning as being too structured, but I find it to be useful, especially at the start of a new year.

Why a goal group instead of managing and monitoring your goals on your own?
I think it’s the accountability piece that makes it work for me. I can set goals and make action lists all day long and then blow off doing what I say is important if I get busy, distracted, or just feel uninspired or lazy. But if I’ve shown someone else my list and made a commitment to accomplish certain tasks toward achieving my goals then I’m much more likely to follow through. It’s nice to report successes to other members of a group and get support and feedback when I’m stuck on something or need to hear an objective point of view.

Do you have an individual business plan or does the goal group function as a business planning group?
Typically at the beginning of each year I write down a list of personal and professional goals. That, in addition to a simple marketing plan is really the extent of my business plan. But my business is very simple. It’s just me and a fairly steady group of clients that I write for. But each year I know a few clients will drop off for one reason or another, so I’m always in marketing mode to some degree in an effort to keep new business coming in.

You mentioned that you make annual, monthly and weekly goals. How do you choose those?
I strive for balance. I have business and financial goals, but also have categories related to taking care of myself, projects I want to accomplish around my home and property, and things I want to learn in the coming year. For example, in 2009 I plan to earn a little more than I did this year while maintaining life balance, and also learn to use PhotoShop and InDesign so that I can support a couple of my clients who need simple marketing pieces in addition to what I write for them.

How do you use your goal group to accomplish business goals? Can you remember a specific business goal your goal group helped you reach?
Mainly for accountability, but also to get fresh ideas from other people who are in business for themselves. It’s energizing to hear what other people are up to. I haven’t had a goal group for a few years (just getting started in a new one with a group of writers for 2009) but I do recall when I first went out on my own as a consultant/coach many years ago that being in a group was the thing that helped me jump start my business.

If readers want to set up their own goal groups, what should they look for in other members? How should they structure it?
Compatibility, mutual respect, and commitment. They should decide if they want to be in a group with members in the same business as theirs, or in one with more variety. In the group I’m about to get started with, we’re all freelance writers (six of us total). We’re scattered all over the country, so our plan is to meet weekly by phone for 45-60 minutes.

There are also consultants who run these types of groups as a business. I’ve done some writing for a client, Blair Koch in Denver, who runs The Alternative Board,groups of business owners who meet in person monthly to solve business challenges with Blair as their facilitator and coach. A friend of mine, Valerie Taloni, runs Peer Success Groups, which are facilitated by telephone. Her groups meet monthly as well and I believe she also coaches each person in the group privately between the group gatherings. Another client, Joy Chudacoff in Los Angeles runs success circles exclusively for women.

Anything else I didn't ask that you wanted to add?
I’d encourage your readers to think about their goals seriously and be ambitious in setting them, but not so ambitious that they feel overwhelmed. Better to achieve one or two important goals than make a list so long that you don’t know where to start. And don’t set goals related only to business and money. Life balance is important, especially for those of us who are self-employed.

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