Creating a Strategic Plan for Your Business

The simple way to keep your business on track

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Creating a strategic plan for your business doesn’t have to be an overwhelming or monumental task. It doesn’t have to be perfect or fancy. A business without a plan is like a car without a steering wheel. A rough draft is better than no plan at all. You can put together a solid plan by sitting down with a few key people in your organization to hash it out.

Pinpoint Your Competitive Advantage

The result of a well-developed and executed strategic plan is to develop a competitive advantage, stating what your company can 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 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.

State Your Purpose

A mission statement is a statement of the company’s purpose. It is useful for putting the spotlight on the focus of the business and identifying the needs of the customer it is serving. The mission statement is also useful as a guide for day-to-day operations and a foundation for future decision-making. A mission statement should establish why the business exists and cover the focus of the business, in addition to illustrating what you’re trying to accomplish for your customers

Visualize the Future

A strategic vision is an image of a company’s future and the direction it is headed. The vision should convey 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 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 five to ten years from now?

Take Assessment of Your Strengths and Weaknesses

The SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) system of 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 what you do best and what you don't do best. List your company resources, assets, intellectual property, and people.

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 the important and potentially important markets? What is happening in the world that might affect our company?

Create a Profile of 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. You can develop a customer profile by examing customers' needs, motivations, and characteristics and determining how you can uniquely provide value to your customers. You should also consider the things you can do to improve your performance to grow your customer base.

Write Down 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, which 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 and then establish 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 while shoring up your weaknesses, capitalizing on your opportunities, and recognizing your threats.

Take an Assessment of 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 determining which goals make financial sense and assessing whether you have the human resources to achieve your plan.

Set up an Action Plan

Tactics set specific actions/action plans that lead to implementing your goals and objectives. A quick way to develop your tactics is to find out what roadblocks exist to achieving your goal and then develop action items for each one, assigning 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.

Keep Track of Your Goals

Once you’ve defined your goals, enter the measurements and targets on a spreadsheet, which will essentially act as an instrument panel guiding your company towards achieving your vision. With the scorecard, you can actively track your progress on a monthly basis.

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.

Erica Olsen (Erica@m3planning.com) is a principal of M3 Planning (now OnStrategy), a business development firm that helps companies understand who they are, where they are going, and how they will get there. She is also an instructor and a writer.