Strategic planning is all about making sure that every decision anyone in your business makes and every action anyone takes supports achieving your goal. In business, the ‘goal’ is often called a ‘vision’. In developing your strategic plan it’s crucial to start with this end in mind.
For example, many professional sporting clubs or associations realise that the future of their sport is children. Their vision might be to have a huge pool of endless talent that feeds into their sporting clubs. The idea of developing children for the sport is the overall strategy. The individual activities that they do, running skills camps, getting current players to run sessions, giving scholarships, are all part of the (strategic) plan.
1. What is your goal?
If developing a ten or even a five year plan has you sweating, simply start smaller, go for six months, or a year. Whatever you feel comfortable with. Just as marathon runners train in running smaller distances and building up, so too the largest of businesses, IBM, Virgin, BHP, Microsoft, the list is endless, started with the ideas of one or two people.
- What could this business look like?
- What products and services could we sell?
- Who could be our customers?
- Franchising opportunities
- Moving to better premises
- Developing new products and services
- Becoming more adaptable and sustainable – no matter what the outer economics
Whether it’s blue sky (very ambitious) or more grounded, an achievable vision is essential. Consider involving your staff in this process . If you’ve got staff of different ages, this can be particularly eye-opening. You’re likely to get a lot of ideas you would never have thought of by yourself.
2. Where are we now?
It’s vital that you are honest about the current state of the business. Otherwise, it’s like buying a ticket from Adelaide to Brisbane – while you’re in Sydney. This will give you a clear understanding of where you are in relation to your goal and therefore the best ways of achieving it. While you might be tempted to adjust your goal – and there’s nothing wrong with that – consider simply extending the timeframe in which you want to achieve it.
Here’s some questions to consider:
- How is your financial situation looking?
- What skills do your staff have?
- What products and services are you selling?
- Where are you located?
- Who are your customers?
Also consider the current external factors are and how they are impacting your business. For example:
- What are the local, national and global economies like?
- Does advancing technology impact your business? If so, how?
- What is the labour market like? Can you get the skills you need at suitable wages?
- Who are your competitors and what are they doing? Or not doing?
Often, this exercise is called a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT). Strengths and weaknesses are characteristics of your business, while opportunities and threats come from outside your business.
Gather as much information as you can, however, ensure that it’s useful and that you’re not simply drowning in too much detail. A general rule of thumb is that if you’re not clear on something, you probably need more information.
3. Develop your plan
Your strategy is the bridge between step 2 and step 1. Don’t let the words ‘strategy’ or ‘strategic plan’ trip you up. They’re really business jargon for an overall idea of how to get from point A to point B (strategy) and the details of how to get there (strategic plan).
Start with what the business will look like when you’ve reached the vision and work backwards. Consider all the options. Let your imagination loose. Again, consider asking your staff for their ideas on what you can be doing that will move the business closer and closer to the goal.
Gather as many ideas as you and your staff can come up with. Then put them on a line from those closest to where you are now (point A) to those closest to your vision (point B).
As you move along the line consider the following:
- What skills do you need in your business at that point?
- Do you have these? If not, how will you get them? Develop staff? Hire new people?
- Do you need to develop new products and services? When will you need these? What will they be?
- How much will the ideas cost? Where will this money come from?
Because you’re going from point A to point B, refer back to your vision often to ensure that you whatever you’re doing is still leading you there. It’s all about aligning. Everything you and your staff do everyday in your business must contribute to pulling the business towards the vision.
Remember too, that even if you’re taking tiny steps, you’re still moving forward; better to inch along than try to take too great a leap and fail.
Once you’ve got an overall plan, add timeframes. And you must have timeframes – even for the smaller goals. Otherwise it simply becomes, ‘Oh we’ll get there one day’. Besides, having timeframes gives you milestones that you can celebrate achieving. This helps to keep everyone motivated and focused.
Whatever your plan, make sure that you always have one part of the business that is solid and making money. This is the stability that allows you to confidently try new products and services without the fear that failure of any one project will lead to the downfall of the whole business.
Developing a strategy for your business is actually easier than it might first seem. Understand where you are now. Know where you want to be. Decide the steps you need to take to get from here to there. That’s it. That’s your (strategic) plan!
So get clear. Get focused. Get going!