You don’t have to kill a tree or shut down the office for a week to create a successful strategic plan. In fact, you can create a successful plan for your business in just one day. It doesn’t have to be an overwhelming or a monumental task. It doesn’t have to be perfect or fancy. Just grab a few key people in your organization, turn off the phones and let’s get started.
Step One – Be the best. The result of a well-developed and executed strategic plan is to develop a competitive advantage. Just what is a competitive advantage? Business lingo aside, it is simply the answer to: What can your company potentially do better than any other company?
Understanding your competitive advantage is critical. It is the reason you are in business. It is what you do best that draws customers to buy your product/service instead of your competitor’s. Extremely successful companies deliberately make choices to be unique and different in activities that they are really, really good at and they focus all of their energy in these areas. You may decide to incorporate your competitive advantage into your mission and/or vision statements.
Step Two – State your purpose. A mission statement is a statement of the company’s purpose. It is useful for putting the spotlight on what business a company is presently in and the customer needs it is presently endeavoring to serve. It also serves as a guide for day-to-day operations and as the foundation for future decision-making. To write a mission statement, answer the questions: What is our business? What are we trying to accomplish for our customers? What is our company’s reason for existing?
Step Three – Visualize the future. A strategic vision is the image of a company’s future – the direction it is headed, the customer focus it should have, the market position it should try to occupy, the business activities to be pursued, and the capabilities it plans to develop. Forming a strategic vision should delineate what kind of enterprise the company is trying to become and infuse the organization with a sense of purposeful action. Think big! To write a vision statement, answer this question: What will our business look like in 5 to ten years from now?
Step Four – Take an inventory. The SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis helps you look critically at your organization. It is a tool to help produce a good fit between a company’s strengths and its opportunities.
Assess your strengths and weaknesses by answering these questions: What do we do best? What do we not do best? What are our company resources – assets, intellectual property, and people? What are our company capabilities (functions)?
Assess your opportunities and threats by answering these questions: What is happening externally that will affect our company? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each competitor? What are the driving forces behind sales trends? What are important and potentially important markets? What is happening in the world that might affect our company?
Step Five – Profile your customers. If you want to move your company from being successful to wildly profitable, you need to meet your customers’ needs and wants better than your competitors do. Develop a customer profile by answering: What are our customers needs, motivations, and characteristics? How do we uniquely provide value to our customers? What should we improve to grow our customer base?
Step Six – Write your goals and objectives. Goals and objectives are like stair steps to your mission and vision. Realistic goals and objectives are developed from the SWOT analysis and customer profile. Objectives set the agenda, are broad, and global in nature. Write two to five objectives that give action to your mission/vision and will take a few years to achieve. Then, develop goals to achieve each objective. Goals should be measurable, quantifiable, and support your objectives. Think about achieving them in a one-year timeframe. Effective goals must state how much of what kind of performance by when is to be accomplished and by whom. Make sure both your goals and objectives build on your strengths; shore up your weaknesses; capitalize on your opportunities; and recognize your threats.
Step Seven – Assess your resources. Now that you have completed your goals and objectives, it is time to do a resource assessment. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to all well laid strategic plans is time and money. As with every business, budgets are never big enough to do everything you want to do. Prioritize key goals by asking: Do implementing the goals make financial sense? Do you have the human resources to achieve your plan?
Step Eight – Take action. Tactics set specific actions/action plans that lead to implementing your goals and objectives. Basically write a to-do list for each goal. A quick way to develop your tactics is to answer this question: What roadblocks exist to achieving my goal? Use the answer to develop action items for each goal. Assign responsibilities and deadlines to ensure implementation. A great method to get buy-in from your staff is to assign a goal to each employee. Ask him/her to write the action plan and be responsible for making sure each task is accomplished.
Step Nine – Keep score. In step six, you wrote goals that were measurable. Put these measurements and targets on a scorecard (in Excel), which acts as an instrument panel guiding your company towards achieving your vision. With the scorecard, you can actively track your progress on a monthly basis.
Step Ten – Make strategy a habit. A leader devoted to the successful implementation of the strategy and plan is key. The plan needs to be supported with people, money, time, systems, and above all communication. Communicate the plan to everyone in your organization. Hold a monthly or quarterly strategy meeting to report on the progress toward achieving the goal. Don’t forget to take corrective actions when needed and adapt as the environment changes.
Conclusion. My last word of advice is a plan is a living document. It does not have to be perfect or 100 percent complete to start using your strategic plan. A business without a plan is like a car without a steering wheel. A rough draft is better than no plan at all. Put your plan on paper so you can look back on 2004 and celebrate your well-earned success. Happy Planning!
Erica Olsen is VP of Marketing for MyStrategicPlan , a web-based strategic planning site for small and medium sized businesses. Results: Focus, growth, and success in her clients’ businesses. She is also an instructor and a writer.