Ask a small business owner about their strategic plan and they'll either laugh or get that stricken look in their eyes. Yet it's well documented that businesses with a strategic plan are more successful. No matter what size business, from solo practitioner to hundreds of employees, a thoughtful strategic plan will help you achieve your dreams.
Many business owners don't go down the strategic planning road because they are a little intimidated by the idea. They don't know how, they are not familiar with the terminology and simply don't know where to begin.
We can remedy that. A couple of preliminary principles to understand: a strategic plan is not a long to do list ? it's about the big picture, your approach to the market, and the metrics you'll use to measure your progress. Strategic planning is a bit of an oxymoron. Strategizing is a creative process; planning is a rather linear process. So be creative first, then organize into a plan. To keep the creativity in the strategic planning process, remember that it's not etched in stone. You create it and you can change, modify and tweak it as needed.
Here are ten steps to creating an effective strategic plan:
1) Start by listing five or six values by which you want your company to operate. Be honest and be real. If intensity is part of your culture, say so. If fun is part of your culture, say so. There are no right and wrong values.
2) Write out your company's brand promise. This is the one unbreakable promise you make to your customers. For example, our brand promise for EWF International is "Real-life, real-time business help in a confidential community of peers."
3) Articulate your vision. Get clear on what you want your company to look like long term. Though you are thinking about some point in the future, describe in present tense terms what your company looks like in five to ten years.
4) Set big goals. Goals are desired outcomes, not a description of actions or activities, but the final picture. For example, "Achieve 95% customer satisfaction" as opposed to "Improve our customer service process." Your goals should be ambitious and achievable, not bravado. Choose three to five big goals that you want to accomplish in the next five years.
5) Now it's time for numbers. Choose three to five key metrics that drive your business. Of course everyone tracks income and expense, but what key numbers, ratios and percentages, specific to your industry and your business, do you need to faithfully track weekly and monthly? Don't overcomplicate this, simply ask yourself, "What numbers need to go up or down for this business to be successful?" For example, if you're in retail, you might want to track profit per square foot. A professional services firm might track billable hours. You might track client retention or profit per client. There is no one set of numbers relevant for all businesses, but you know best how your business works and what needs to be measured. Then choose one critical number that needs to be watched carefully and immediately. Often this is a measure of some activity, one aspect of the business or someone's job. For example, how many sales calls do you need to make each week to get new clients? How many new strategic alliances do you need to expand your market?
6) Next it's time to think about what actions need to be taken in the next 90 days to move you toward your goals. For example, technology improvements, marketing connections, staff training, new equipment, better financing, certifications, strategic alliances. Review these actions every quarter and determine new actions for the next 90 days.
7) Determine accountability ? you must determine who is responsible for what by when. Use a simple three column chart to track the initiatives.
8) The most often overlooked part of a strategic plan is celebration. You and your team will work hard to implement the plan. Decide in advance how you will celebrate. What's the reward? It could be bonuses or some new piece of technology you've wanted, a company party, whatever sounds fun to you.
9) The next step is to have each person set weekly priorities, and from those priorities each person chooses the #1 priority for their week. This simple process, when written and tracked faithfully will create the biggest difference in your organization.
10) Above all, don't worry about perfection and keep it simple. Your plan is not going to be published and critiqued. It only has to make sense to you and your team. The purpose is to be focused and intentional, yet flexible.
Have fun with it!
? 2004 Darcie Harris
Darcie Harris is co-founder of EWF International?, an Oklahoma based firm providing peer advisory boards for women business owners and executives. With 30 years experience in marketing, sales, management and entrepreneurship, she is achieving her dream by helping others achieve theirs. EWF International? franchises are available throughout the Southwest.