When you first start a business, you’re often not thinking more than a couple of years ahead. Your motivation might simply be, “I need some work to put food on the table,” or “I don’t want to work for someone else, so this is what I need to do.” A great opportunity might come up, and you need to jump on it fast.
But as the years go by and the initial stress calms down and things with the business start to stabilise, you begin to think about the future. You’re in a good place now, but the market is changing. Where will you be in five years time, ten years time? There are so many different options for how to guide and grow your company - what do you want to do?
It’s time you had a strategic plan.
What is a strategic plan? It’s just that; a plan where you set out your goals for the business and a strategy for making them a reality. The plan is valuable not only to help you plot a course of action to ensure you meet your goals, but it’s an important document to help staff, shareholders, stakeholders and potential investors to see the “big picture” for your company.
In this article, I give you a short and sweet template for creating a strategic plan. The rest is up to you:
Section 1: The Executive Summary
The point of this section is to succinctly outline your plan for the business and its direction. It should be written in a way that enables employees, stakeholders, investors and other interested parties to quickly grasp the concepts, even if they don’t understand the industry.
Tips for the Executive Summary
- Complete this section last. You’ll be able to call out ideas and information highlighted in other sections.
- Don’t go into details or give numbers, unless they are big, round conceptual numbers. Just focus on the big picture.
Section 2: Mission Statement
Your mission statement is your company manifesto. It’s what you bring to the world. It’s who you are and why you do what you do. In the statement, go into more detail than you did in the executive summary, focusing on the overarching goals and themes for your company.
Tips for the Mission Statement
- Don’t overthink it. For many business owners this is the hardest section to write. Just start by writing freely about your own goals and where you want to company to be in five or ten years. Let the words flow out. You can edit later.
- Have a look at mission statements on other company websites to get an idea of how others articulate the essence of their business.
- Think of the mission statement as the document that drives all your decisions. Employees and stakeholders should be able to read the statement before making a difficult choice, and then be able to say, “This is the choice that aligns with the company’s goals.”
Section 3: SWOT Analysis
SWOT analysis is a specialised analytical technique that focuses on looking at Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This is the section where you outline the strategies you’re going to use to take your business in the direction you want it to go, and identify what might stand in your way.
Tips for SWOT Analysis
- You should consider hiring a business analyst to help you with your strategic plan and, in particular, this section.
- Look at examples of SWOT analysis done on other businesses to understand what you need to do.
Section 4: Goals
You move your company forward by setting and achieving specific goals, whether those goals are based on a certain number of customers or income, or something else entirely. In this section, you identify a series of goals for the company.
Tips for writing goals:
- Make sure your goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reasonable and Timely.
- First, set your long-term goals. These have a timeframe of five to ten years.
- Then, identify the steps that need to be taken to reach those goals. Drill down until each step can be identified as a short- or medium-term goal. Include these in the strategic plan.
- Don’t feel as though you’re locked down to the plan or your goals. Things could change over the next couple of years, and your strategic plan will simply change too. But having a plan in place to start with, even if it isn’t the plan you finish with, is vital for your continued success.
- In the goals section, you should also include data on your Key Performance Indicators - KPIs. These are the numbers that tell you how you’re doing against your goals. You need to track these KPIs and measure them regularly, so you can continue to plot a course towards your goals.
Spection 5: Financial Plan
So, where’s the money for you great goals and plans and schemes going to come from? In the financial plan section, you outline the hard numbers.
Tips for the Financial Plan:
- Don’t try and do this section yourself, unless you are an accountant. Bring a business analyst or accountant on board to give you accurate, realistic figures.
- Financial projections often include three scenaries: a conservative scenario, a likely scenario, and an OMIGOD-I-AM-RICHER-THAN-BILL-GATES scenario. Remember not to base your expectations on the latter.
- Once you’ve got the financial plan in place, you should track your progress month-to-month against your goals. The reporting tools in software like WorkflowMax can help you get an accurate picture of how your business is doing and whether you need to move the guideposts.
Section 6: Target Customers and Industry Analysis
In this section, you take an in-depth look at the state of your industry and the people - clients and customers - who you serve.
Tips for the Industry & Customer analysis
- In this section you look closely at your competitors, and figure out their strengths and weaknesses in the market. In order to crush your enemy, you need to truly understand him!
- Use this data on your competitors to figure out your own competitive strengths and weaknesses. Do you have any strategies for eliminating or minimising those weaknesses?
- Figure out if your market is growing or shrinking, and what you can expect demand for your product/service to be over the life of your company.
Section 7: Marketing Plan
The marketing plan outlines how you intend to present your company to market and what your goals and projections are for increasing your customer base or reaching the next level.
Tips for the marketing plan:
- First, define and outline your USP - Unique Selling Proposition. This is the “it” factor that sets your company apart from the rest. Your USP should be something that resonates strongly with customers, such as delivering quality, speed or a unique product.
- Next, think about positioning. How is your product or service positioned? Is this right? What can you do to change it? Are you a premier brand or do you target cost-saving customers?
- Think also about different distribution channels and how the marketing for each channel may differ. For example, if you own a retail store, but you also sell online, how will you market those two different storefronts?
- What kinds of offers and special deals are you going to provide?
- What marketing collateral do you have and what do you still need to create?
- Outline both your above-the-line and below-the-line strategies.
Section 10: Conclusion
Wrap everything up at the end with a clever conclusion and a peppy statement about your company’s bright future. Bring in data from the different sections together to focus attention on the important areas for growth and the areas you need to dramatically improve.
Depending on the type of business you are operation, you may need additional sections, particularly where you talk about your team or operations plan, or provide specific financial details.
And there you have it. You’ve completed a strategic plan for your business! Now, it’s time to make that strategy a reality ...