The article was initially published in Smart Business.
Not all growth is smart. While everyone likes to see revenue swell, long-term growth isn’t achieved flying by the seat of your pants. Strategic business planning has transformed my business. I sat down with my board and other key leaders in our company to ask tough questions, set goals and brainstorm tactics to help us achieve them. The result was a three-year strategic plan that addressed every facet of our company.
Consider these tips to make your own strategic planning journey a success.
Build the plan
- Ask for help. You and your leadership team know your business inside and out, but the daily grind may make you blind to certain issues, pitfalls or opportunities. Don’t underestimate the power of a third-party facilitator to guide you through the strategic planning process.
- Do your homework. Survey customers (current, former and even prospective) and examine competitors to uncover growth opportunities and areas for improvement.
- Identify key strategic areas. Based on your big-picture goal, work as a group to identify the key strategic areas of your business that directly affect its success or failure. These will be the backbone of your plan and include operations, technology, products/services, sales, client retention and workplace culture.
- Ask the right questions. It may be difficult to jump right into tactical planning. Instead, start with high-level questions to get the gears turning. What do we want to be known for? What are our short-term goals? Long-term? What will stop us from reaching our goals? (barriers) What will help us reach our goals? (strengths, opportunities)
- Prioritize. Once you have a list of priorities, determine what’s critical to the business, critical but not as time-sensitive, essential to maintain and not a priority (but still important to address).
- Establish a timeline and metrics. Determine what you want to accomplish and define success for each strategic area of the plan. Without measurable outcomes, your plan will be difficult to evaluate.
- Delegate. If your strategic plan ends up anything like ours, it’s going to be big. Delegate tactics or whole key strategic areas to members of your leadership team.
Grow with the plan
- Follow the plan. Don’t stash your plan away until your annual review. Begin all leadership meetings by reviewing current priorities, and set aside time each month or quarter to conduct a more comprehensive review.
- Go with the flow. Even the most prepared team may not foresee unexpected challenges two or three years down the road. During your regular progress reviews, identify areas that are off track, get to the root of the issue and revise if necessary.
Evaluate and repeat. Set aside time at the end of each year and at the end of each strategic planning cycle (if you develop a multiyear plan) to evaluate the effectiveness of your plan and develop a new one to further your goals or achieve new ones.