Ever Feel Like There’s No Time to Plan?
Small business owners can often like there’s no time to plan. Ever. This is especially true for those in growth mode or trying to avoid a disaster. Or, maybe there’s a feeling that “strategy” should happen during certain times of the year to dedicate time to selling or “getting real stuff done.” The problem with this mindset is there’s nothing more important than strategy because, if implemented and measured well, it increases the likelihood of success. If you’ve ever heard the saying, “luck favors the prepared” (which comes from Louis Pasteur’s notion that “…chance favors the prepared mind.”), then strategy helps you be prepared for luck. Simple as that.
Common Questions That Strategy Can Answer
So, if you’re feeling lucky, then how will strategy help? There’s no mystery behind what makes an organization evolve, idle, and languish. Any firm, whether a small family-owned business, not-for-profit, rapidly growing start-up or a Fortune 100 company, faces the same questions.
- Where are we now?
- Where do we want to go? (I.e., why do we want to grow?)
- How will we get there?
- How will we know when we’ve arrived?
The ability to answer and consistently make progress towards these questions is the difference between flourishing, idling, and languishing. It’s what makes a firm grow or decline.
Four Ways to Embrace Strategy
There’s no need to worry whether these questions have never occurred to you or seem overwhelming to answer. All you need to do is start small and consistently make incremental progress. If you break this process down into manageable and actionable steps, then results will come. Read this blog about leveraging the difference between growth and progress if “strategy” feels daunting. Otherwise, here are four ways to embrace strategy and to increase your likelihood of success.
- Review your internal and external environment. This means doing a little discovery work with your team inside the business and then exploring the world around it. To do this, try to understand your firm’s current financial performance, resources, capabilities, and competitive strengths and weaknesses. Then, evaluate your industry’s conditions, changes in the environment that may affect your organization, and compare your position against direct and indirect competitors. The Business Model Canvas is great for understanding how your firm makes and spends money, a SWOT analysis will organize your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and Value Shift will clarify the growth assets and liabilities you control against opportunities and threats beyond your control. Conducting a market analysis and performing competitive intelligence will make your marketplace more clear, actionable, and help to differentiate your business. This is the step shows where you are and lays the foundation for your strategy. It increases awareness about your business and the world around it.
- Embrace your vision. This step articulates where you want to go. It’s easier to create a clear competitive advantage once you better understand the world around you and, more specifically, the value you create within it. Once you can differentiate your firm and its offerings, the process to embrace your vision becomes easier to implement. At this point, your mission and core values can either be affirmed or refined. Then, once your vision, mission, and values are set or updated, the next step is to identify your optimal growth path. Options include increasing market share, introducing a new product to your existing market, adding a market with your existing offering(s), or bringing a new offering into a new market. Get the Growth Guide to learn how to gain focus on your growth path without losing control. Or, purposefully and confidently pursue sales targets with Atlas. You’ll be ready for action when this step is done.
- Operationalize your strategy. This step shows you how to get from you from one place to another. Reviewing your environment and embracing your vision will prepare you to put your strategy to work—from point A to point B, C, and eventually Z. To measure your strategy’s progress, you need a manageable, actionable, and measurable work plan. When finished, share it with the team, get input from every stakeholder, and make sure the objective and key results align with your vision. This step should bring your competitive advantage to life. If you articulate up to five SMART objectives with supporting key results, resources, constraints, roles, and responsibilities, then you’ll have a solid strategy in hand. Review this Strategic Boost Template with your leadership team and firm to get feedback, refine the direction as necessary, share it internally, and provide regular progress monthly or quarterly to keep everyone on the same page. This is the point where strategy starts to feel palpable. The next step is where you begin to experience strategy way beyond anything on paper or in your head.
- Measure progress. This final step will tell you when you’ve arrived at your desired future state. Please remember to continue making, measuring, and sharing progress with everyone, because it will take some time. Persist, focus, and stay the course until you have enough data to pivot with confidence. The iterative process of making progress and growing will slowly unfold. Progress only makes itself known when you stop to measure or hit one of those indescribable watershed moments. Use your Strategic Boost Template to track key results as indicators of progress towards an objective.
Be warned: growth will come if you persist and remain focused, disciplined, and prepared for luck. Just wait. You’ll see.
The Benefits of Strategy
While all of this may seem daunting and like a lot of work, it is. But, strategy is valuable and transformative work that pays off over time. By following these steps, you will:
- Know how to create a competitive advantage and to better compete with rivals
- Be able to respond to your environment and its changing economic and market conditions
- Understand how to capitalize on growth opportunities
- Manage every functional part of the business, including key results and indicators
- Visualize how to improve financial and market performance
Almost every organization wants to evolve. The question becomes, what’s the easiest or most effective and efficient way to do so. This is what strategy does; it simply increases the likelihood of success. With proper strategy and implementation, your vision and execution are the only things holding you back.