In my last post, I discussed how critical strategic planning is to creating success in business. It is absolutely fundamental, and yet most business owners fear and avoid the process. In fact it isn’t all that intimidating when you break it down and approach it logically. The strategic planning process involves exploring and answering three key questions:
- Where is the business today?
- Where do you want the business to go?
- How are you going to get there?
You aren’t trying to create an operational plan. The objective is not to detail each and every step required to achieve your goals, but rather to ensure that you understand the ultimate aims for the business and have a general map leading to the realization of those aims.
For example, you may be strategically planning to introduce a new product within the next year. The plan will include all the major steps to introducing that product—source suppliers, create collateral material, etc., but it won’t list each and every step involved, such as telephone supplier A and interview three graphic designers.
Set aside a large chunk of time, like a day or even a weekend, for your strategic planning session. Step one has to be done before the session, so evaluate how long you anticipate this step to take and mark a future date as strategic planning day.
During your session, you won’t be involved in actively running your business. You need to focus on the future, not on the day-to-day. This is your opportunity to work on your business, so avoid the possibility of interruptions by getting away from the office.
A word of caution—strategic planning really can’t be done alone. Find someone who can keep you on course, assist you in evaluating your ideas and provide both feedback and support to join you for the entire session.
Step One: Where are you now?
While dreaming is required in strategic planning, it must be based in reality. If you don’t understand exactly what’s going on in your business today, any plans you make for the future are no more than pipe dreams that will never be realized.
A systematic evaluation of the entire organization that looks at both the internal and external factors affecting the business will tell you everything you need to know so that your planning session is based on fact rather than fiction.
Perform this analysis in the days, weeks or months leading up to the strategic planning session.
Step Two: Where do you want to be?
This is the most exciting part of the process. During this step, you’ll clarify the vision you have for your business, as well as its mission. Where do you want your business to go? What do you want it to look like? How much profit do you need?
After considering general economic factors as well as those specific to your industry, you can make assumptions about the future that will allow you to develop your goals for the business and formulate a workable plan.
Step Three: Getting there
You know what you want. Now you have to determine how you’re going to get there. In this step, you’ll create specific action steps that will allow you to achieve your goals and move your business forward.
I also recommend establishing timelines and detailing levels of responsibilities so all parties know what’s expected and when.
In the future
Life goes on. You’ll change; the business will change; the economy will change.
Revisit your strategic plan on an annual basis in order to evaluate progress and determine if the contents of the plan are still applicable. Scheduling at least one strategic planning session a year will keep your business flowing smoothly and ensure growth occurs exactly the way you want it to occur.