Even experienced business owners or investors can benefit from using a Strategic Plan. It is truly an integral part of a successful business operation or investment strategy and critical for success.

Yet… its use has even become more important. The effect of Covid on businesses and the economy has been catastrophic at the macro level, but at the micro-level, a variety of businesses and industries have emerged as big winners and losers. Both situations require careful and strategic planning. 

What the Heck is a Strategic Plan Anyway?

First and foremost, a Strategic Plan is not a ‘Business Plan’. A Strategic Plan sets forth a timeline of specific tasks that need to be completed in order to meet your business or investment goals. Otherwise stated, the Strategic Plan makes your Business Plan a reality. Simply stated, it’s a specific list of objectives to reach specific goals.

Frankly, it’s difficult to manage all of the loose ends and chaos that can occur when trying to reach your investment goals or running a small business. Those that would consider themselves ‘successful’ or ‘battle tested’ can even feel beat down and frustrated any given day, week, month, or year during the process. Being able to step back and look at a written long-term plan can be critical to get our bearings and back on track.  A “Plan” of any sort can help tremendously in creating success and reducing stress.

Now once you have started investing or your business is up and going, we all know your Business Plan goes in the drawer and your Strategic Plan helps you implement what you conceived in the beginning.

Essentially, I consider it a time-line of things that need to be completed over the next month, 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months as you head towards your ten-year plan (see more below). It takes your investing and business plan to the next level when you are trying to decide where it is most effective to spend your time. In a lot of ways, the Strategic Plan is the how-to of your Business and Investment Plan.

Different Business Structures require a Different Approach

Now some of you may feel isolated or alone in this process.  Others may feel you can’t get your partners ‘to the table’ to build or even implement a Strategic Plan. Here are some situations that could be facing some of you and how I suggest you deal with them:

•   Individual (Sole-Prop).

Anyone that has owned their own business knows that success can often turn on one simple principle: self-discipline. When you are single investing for the future or own your own business, there is usually no one leaning over your shoulder making sure you are working the hours you need to and focusing your energy on the right tasks. A Strategic Plan can give you a regular road map to keep you focused, give you checkpoints, and help you set and keep goals. Next, you can then create a Board of Advisors to get support, advice and not feel alone. (see below).

•   Partnerships (LLC).

A Strategic Plan in a partnership doesn’t have as much to do with self-discipline as it does accountability. It is so important for partners to meet on a regular basis to discuss, strategize, decide, assign, and then document every decision they are making as a partnership. It is so easy to forget who is doing what, and why you decided on a certain course of action in the business. In difficult as well as successful times, the Strategic Plan is oftentimes the glue that can hold a partnership together. Then again, you still set-up a Board of Advisors with your partners and others to formalize the relationship with your partner as the business evolves (see below).

•   Corporations (S-Corp).

Most of us expect and take for granted that corporations use a Strategic Plan to effectuate their purposes. Moreover, most of us understand what a “Board of Directors” is and the fact it’s the nucleus of a corporation implementing the Strategic Plan. In fact, this concept has been around and utilized very effectively by large corporations for hundreds of years. Even Hollywood has taught us a “Boards” fundamental operation and purpose in countless movies. However, what most people DON’T understand is that the Strategic Plan and Board of Directors is just as important for small privately owned, even solely owned corporations, not just for the big guys on Wall Street. Don’t underestimate the power of these resources in your small business.

I explain in a more in-depth manner the steps to create a Strategic Plan in both of my books “What Your CPA Isn’t Telling You” and “The Business Owner’s Guide to Financial Freedom”. Over several chapters, I lay out in detail the pieces and parts of the Strategic Plan and meaningful ways to approach the process. But in order to get you started, I wanted to set-forth the four easy and essential steps to start building a dynamic and impactful Strategic Plan.

Step 1: Start with a 10-year plan!

If you don’t have a written, passionate vision of your future 10 years from now, what is your plan about?!!  Where do you want your finances and business to look like in 10 years? What do you want to be doing? What is the cash flow looking like?  The value? These are all important questions so that you can properly work ‘backward’ and determine what your goals this year should be. Write this plan down, carry it with you everywhere you go and regularly update it.

Work backward from an ‘ideal scene’ of what you want your financial future to look like 10 years from now. Take the time to meditate, pray and be honest with yourself on what truly want this future to look like. Be realistic and then work backward with 5, 3, and 1-year objectives that will ultimately get you to your 10-year ideal scene. Remember, you can always change and modify your plan. It’s yours. But, write it down on paper and give it the care and attention it deserves. This is your future and a Strategic Plan is critical for success!

Step 2: Create the Necessary Sections for Your Strategic Plan That Make Sense to You.

The following sections are what I feel are the bare essentials of a good Strategic Plan and what you should consider each time you sit down to plan:

  • Personal Training and Education
  • Organizational needs or Management Issues
  • Product Development
  • Systemization
  • Vendors, professionals, or employees
  • Managing by the numbers and statistics
  • Marketing Tasks (based on your Marketing Plan)

Of course, these categories are not conclusive and serve as simply a starting point for you as you review and build your Strategic Plan. The categories will look very different if it’s based on an investment plan, rather than an investment plan. Also, the type of business or investments you may be pursuing. Be liberal and inclusive of all the ideas you have. It’s your plan and there aren’t hard and fast rules as to its structure. Here’s a video that may help explain the process as well:

Step 3: Create a Timeline for All of the Action Items to Occur.

Don’t stress about this process. All of your objectives and tasks to complete from the different sections above should be co-mingled in an overall timeline. Don’t set up a checklist for each category. Put them all in one master timeline that should be broken into 3-month, 6-month, and the entire year.

In this section of deadlines and timelines, I like to try and set specific criteria to show the objective has been met, or in a partnership, or a board of directors, specifically assign people to complete specific tasks so there is accountability for each action item.

Step 4: Share it!

As a business owner, you should be immediately set up a “Board of Advisors”. Even if you don’t have an LLC or Corporation yet, you can set up a Board of people that love and support you to give you critical feedback AND encouragement.  IF you have a Corporation, this would be a Board of Directors.  Inside the Operating Agreement of every LLC we set up, we create a Board of Advisors as well.  See “Setting up Your Board of Advisors or Directors”.

Whether you are an individual owner or have partners, a Board of Advisors could be a tremendous resource to you in implementing your Strategic Plan, reviewing it on a regular basis, and being held accountable. This is much more than the “mentor” that may have helped you in the design of your Business Plan. This should be a group of professionals with experience and education in your industry that can give you honest, quality feedback on a regular basis. At the most simplistic level, this board could be a group of family or friends you take out to dinner once a month to get their ideas and assessment, as well as report back to them regarding your accomplishments. Everyone loves to give free advice over a nice dinner. Don’t underestimate the power of this resource.

Step 5. Revisit your Strategic Plan Regularly.

Don’t leave your Strategic Plan in the drawer.  Honestly, I love to carry mine around with me in my bag and take it with me everywhere I go.  I like to review it on airplane rides or weekends when I have a free minute and the pressures of the workweek aren’t bearing down on me.

In fact, I suggest you update your plan monthly, and at the very least review it every three months. Review it constantly, and stay disciplined! Make sure you are making notes to your plan whenever you have a “brilliant idea.” Don’t say to yourself: “I need to do that next quarter when I review my plan.” Write it down now!

Step 6. Continue to Manage by Statistics.

Track your success or failures.  Track the numbers and try to quantify your progress when possible. Your numbers and reports, even if you are only keeping track and reporting to yourself, will consistently tell you if you are headed in the right direction. Don’t get discouraged. Make changes as needed. Being a business owner means change. Don’t be afraid of it. Embrace it, and become accustomed to it.

Don’t let your business control YOU!!  With a basic Strategic plan that you carry around with you everywhere, YOU WILL be the captain of your ship and won’t be tossed around to and fro in the sea of business.

Moreover, let me suggest taking a trip down to Staples or Office Depot one evening this week or on a lunch break and purchasing a Moleskin diary or a personal journal.  These are small, sleek notebooks, that are easy to carry around with you.  Take the first few pages to write down your Strategic Plan and do the best to create a timeline and list some of the assessment criteria you will be using to measure your success.

Don’t be afraid to make some goals and track your progress.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and certainly, your business is going to take time to mature and blossom. I promise a Strategic Plan will help you focus on your priorities and is critical for success. Good luck!!

* To sign up for Mark’s weekly Free E-Newsletter and receive his Free E-Book “The Top 10 Best Tax Saving Secrets Everyone Should Know” visit www.markjkohler.com.

Mark J. Kohler is a CPA, Attorney, co-host of the Radio Show “Refresh Your Wealth” and author of the new book “The Business Owner’s Guide to Financial Freedom- What Wall Street isn’t Telling You” and, “The Tax and Legal Playbook- Game Changing Solutions For Your Small Business Questions” He is also a partner at the law firm Kyler Kohler Ostermiller & Sorensen, LLP and the accounting firm K&E CPAs, LLP.