In my work as both a consultant to entrepreneurs and an entrepreneur myself, I've encountered a recurring problem: We lack a "long-game."
To be fair, we usually have general long-term objectives, accompanied by more nebulous strategies for achieving them. And writing a strategic plan for the upcoming year(s) may seem both tedious and abstract when you are caught up in the day-to-day trials and tribulations of running your business.
But having a practical and lucid vision of your company’s long-term trajectory is essential to ensuring its success. Give yourself some time to think and put into writing a simple strategic plan.
Here's are the basics:
1. Where we are now. Write a brief paragraph describing the current status of your business. For example, here is a blurb I wrote for Ice Cream Mama, a promising startup in Muscat, Oman:
Ice Cream Mama is a successful Omani SME that has gained brand recognition and popularity among Omanis within a short time. We have opened five profitable branches. We are known for our creative flavors and emphasis on Omani national pride. The atmosphere of our stores and social media brand presence is youthful and energetic.
Compile the hard data required to quantitatively support this qualitative assessment. In our case, we focused on general indicators (total income, net profit, number of products, staff, and customers served) as well as new media indicators (website hits, Instagram/Twitter/Facebook engagement). If you do not have this information available at present, set up the required systems to measure such data points going forward.
2. Where we hope to be in one year. Write a second paragraph consolidating your priority objectives. Be as specific as possible. For instance:
Ice Cream Mama has 1) achieved brand recognition/sales popularity among expatriate as well as local customers and 2) presents a competitive threat to global franchises such as Tropical and Baskin Robbins. 3) Staff, branches & services have been expanded. 4) Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are active platforms; website is updated regularly. 5) Three new flavors have been introduced.
Note: In a way, these preliminary steps function as a simplified SWOT analysis; feel free to write out one of those if you prefer the format. The critical next steps remain the same.
3. Brainstorm solutions to each problem. If you are like most of us, your goals may be pretty broad: launch X successful products, expand W services, reach Y customers, compete with Z alternatives. Once you have delineated them, determine three to five specific steps you can take to directly advance each individual goal. Do you need to hire a staffer exclusively responsible for managing and integrating your brand’s social media platforms? Do you need to update packaging or store décor to more effectively appeal to your target market? What new product or service can you create to outpace a competitor or respond directly to a threat?
To facilitate this process, consider E. Jerome McCarthy’s four P’s of marketing – Price, Product, Promotion and Place – and what modifications you might make to each in order to creatively pursue every individual objective.
4. Make a timeline. Whether in Excel, Word or hanging on your wall, prepare a visual calendar for the next 12 months. Fill it with international and local holidays/observances and dates important to your business or customers. From this skeleton, develop and incorporate target dates for completing both overall objectives and the specific steps necessary to achieve them.
5. Prioritize, delegate, execute. Whether you manage 20 employees or two, determine a starting point, delegate tasks, and start implementing your strategy.