It’s Easy to Design – and It Actually Works!
December is that time of year when we can reflect on how we did over the past year in growing our business, then build a business strategy and a plan to do even better in the next year- certain next year is the year where we grab that success we’ve been working so hard for!
But then we stop. Maybe we should check Facebook first. Or schedule that root canal we’ve been putting off.
Building a business strategy and plan can feel overwhelming, which is why over 80% of businesses (including non-profits) don’t have one. Most of these businesses don’t need a plan with the level of complexity required for venture capital or bank investments, however. They just need a clear roadmap so they can see where they are going.
Here is a 4-part, step-by-step process for building the simple strategy your business needs. For each step, I share the most common obstacles for completion that businesses create for themselves, and then the solution to overcoming those obstacles. As a result, you can build your plan effectively in a single day, so you can make 2020 your year to actually thrive – and not just dream about it.
Simple Business Strategy Step 1: Know Where You Are (Assessment)
Timeframe: 1.5 hours We adapt, grow and learn throughout a year of doing business. Even if we have stopped to look at this in the past, each year it is crucial to see what has changed in an ongoing capacity. This is where we look at what we do really well, what worked and didn’t work, what customers resonate with, and build a SWOT (strengths – internal, opportunities – external, weaknesses – internal, and threats – external) analysis that captures our present reality.
Obstacle: Our personal perspectives are our worst enemies when it comes to realistic assessment of our business. We are too close to our current situation, and too deep in the day-to-day operations, to have a clear view of what is actually going on at a 30,000-foot level. In brief: we are in crisis management and reaction mode. We absolutely must stop, and look around us.
Most of us love the visioning part of a business strategy, but without the realistic foundation, the vision is really directionless. If a company is not profitable, doesn’t have the infrastructure to grow, or is unclear about its message (weaknesses) then addressing these issues absolutely must be primary in the plan.
Solution: Businesses have no choice but to get out of crisis-management mode in order to grow. Look at who is getting the business you think you should have, and look at what you can address within your business in order to change that. Look at where you are overwhelmed and understaffed, or not turning a big enough profit, and consider starting to implement change in your business before January is over.
Simple Business Strategy Step 2: Know Where You Want to Be (Baseline and Components)
Timeframe: 3.0 hours To know where we want to be, it is vitally important to see where we have been, what has worked, and what has not. History is constantly being written, and repeating it is just a huge waste of resources. It is equally important to be clear about any current, significant issues, recognize current capabilities, and be clear where there are gaps needing to be filled (Baseline). Only then can we move into visioning, goal-setting and objectives (Components).
Obstacle: There are actually two obstacles here – but they both involve skipping one or both parts of this vital step.
The first is unique to passion-based businesses, including non-profits. Those typically love the idea of mission, vision, and values, and are eager to race into the future, without stopping to look at the past and the present. They build vision castles on the sand of impractical vagueness, and pretty sentiments.
The second obstacle is more common in larger enterprises, who are eager to move into tactical specifics immediately. They might be willing to look at significant issues and present capabilities, and even assess the gaps, but they dismiss mission, vision, and values as cosmetic, rather than the absolutely most important components driving the company’s success.
Solution: First and foremost, give yourself a break and don’t try to be a perfectionist here. Business plans are living documents – even your vision and mission can change if they aren’t working for you! But choose ones that you can be both inspired by, and measure the coming year’s decisions against to ensure you are focused and intentional in every activity you undertake.
Regardless, allocate a minimum of 1.5 hours to your baseline, which includes your situation (past, present and future), any significant issues, alignment and fit with current capabilities, and any gaps that need to be filled. Then spend another 1.5 hours to your mission, vision, goals, and objectives.
Simple Business Strategy Step 3: Know How You Will Do It (Specifics)
Timeframe: 1.5 hours Tactics, initiatives and projects, timeframes and resources are all a part of Step 3. Love it, or hate it, this is where the plan takes shape.
Obstacle: Most business owners are big picture thinkers, and candidly, many of them are also doing far too much of the detail activities. We are constantly getting great ideas for new products and services we could deliver. Unfortunately, we also launch into them too fast, without context, timelines, allocating resources, or driving objectives. In short, the biggest obstacle to doing this step is – we don’t do it.
Solution: There are scores of free and low-cost planning tools available, but it is difficult to start this process there. The best way I have ever found to do this step is to get a big whiteboard, or a blank wall with about 5 different Post It colors. If you have more than 5 major initiatives in a given year, you are going to need a lot of resources. Most small businesses are best served with no more than one per quarter. Map out the initiatives on a wall, using the different colors for the type of efforts required to complete them, such as marketing, creation, testing, and ongoing efforts to support it.
Take pictures, and transfer the initiatives into a planning tool after your strategy session.
Simple Business Strategy Step 4: Know How You Are Doing (Evaluation)
Timeframe: 1.5 hours Having ongoing performance metrics is a non-negotiable for business success. The decision of what success looks like is always attached to some measurement, so deciding what this is, with tremendous specificity, is the key driver for ongoing efforts throughout the year.
Obstacle: The biggest obstacle to knowing how we are doing is we either have no idea what to measure, or we are not currently measuring anything and therefore have no data. It never ceases to amaze me how even enterprise scale organizations have no idea about the lifetime value of a customer, or how long it takes to convert a prospect into a customer. Or they are measuring their followers on social media, but are not tracking when those followers convert to a sale.
Solution: Be willing to start wherever you are in the measurement game. If you have no idea about your average sale, or how to price your newest offering, then make an educated guess, maybe do a little research during this process about what others are doing, and then place a stake in the ground. If it doesn’t seem to be measuring up as the year goes by, take the time to come back to your plan, and either adjust your measurement, or shift your focus to something that can deliver on the objectives.
When you take these 4 steps, even if you don’t achieve perfection, you will be light years ahead of 80% of your peers towards making next year your best year yet. These 4 steps have been designed for an 8-hour day, but if this is your first time to build a business plan, allow yourself the luxury of at least two days.
Of course, if you are still feeling overwhelmed, hire a facilitator you trust to help you maintain focus, avoid confusion, and be a sounding board for this powerful process. The investment in doing this right will pay off hundreds of times over in the coming months.