The above graphic is from the Caswell Corporate Coaching Company, which facilitates our planning meetings. You could use their services -- or other qualified consultants, to co-ordinate your own planning meetings. You probably should not try to do this sort of thing without outside expert assistance.
In a few weeks, our employees and some key contractors will gather in West Quebec for the annual planning meeting. This is the time when everyone involved in the business participates in setting the course for the next year. The business plan guides our objectives, sets 'limits' on exuberance, and allows for realistic and challenging achievements.
Planning meetings like this are relevant and important from the start, though you may only formalize the process when you have five or six employees. By then, however, you should be ready to implement regular meeting and planning systems into your operations, no matter how busy you are, or how strapped you may be for time and cash to pay the costs. By engaging your employees in the planning system -- ensuring they truly participate, contribute (often lead) and 'own' the plan, your chances of success are magnified, and you will see growth and creativity in your organization you couldn't have imagined otherwise.
Without a plan, you'll find you tend to fall into traps and bad decisions when you go with the flow and follow the short term path of least resistance.
So, what happens if things don't go according to plan, or an exciting opportunity arises outside the plan? (And you can expect both to happen.)
On the former, you can look at your plan, the failure, and determine what adjustments you need to make and what to change.
On the latter, you can either defer a decision until the next planning meeting while doing some preparatory research (not a bad approach for something requiring significant capital or a major change in focus), or you can structure the alternative or additional venture within the plan's guidelines. As an example, recently a significant and exciting business opportunity landed in our laps, but it is one that is outside the business focus and core mission. So I invited joint venture partners to co-ordinate the initiative; freeing our staff resources and time to work on projects within the business plan, while allowing for the revenue and learning from the new business to be adapted into the picture -- and possibly included in future business plans.
You should not rush to conduct these business planning meetings on your own -- competent outside facilitators and consultants can help you with thee mechanics and also ensure the planning process stays on track. You may need to spend $3,000 to $10,000 or more to manage this process -- but if you do, you will set the course for your business future, avoid some of the pitfalls common to many small businesses which don't look beyond short term survival.