Even experienced business owners can benefit from using a Strategic Plan as an integral part of their business. It is so difficult to manage all of the loose ends and chaos that can occur when running a small business. A “Plan” of any sort can help tremendously in creating success and reducing stress.
A Strategic Plan is very different from a Business Plan. A Strategic Plan sets forth a timeline of specific tasks that need to be completed in order to make your Business Plan a reality. It’s a specific list of objectives to reach specific goals.
Now once 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 in many ways a checklist of things that need to be completed in the next month, 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months. It takes your 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 Plan.
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 owners. Anyone that has owned their own business knows that success can often turn on one simple principle: self-discipline. When you 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.
• Partnerships. 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.
• Board of advisors. 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.
I outline the steps to create a Strategic Plan in my book “What Your CPA Isn’t Telling You” and also suggest that there certainly isn’t a universal equation or approach for everyone to creating a successful and meaningful Strategic Plan. Of course, many would concur that simply going through the exercise of setting some goals and objectives for the year would be more than most business owners do. In fact, many entrepreneurs would agree that it is extremely difficult to see the Forest through the Trees.
In an effort to help through the process, I suggest there are four essential steps to creating 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 business 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 ‘backwards’ and determine what your goals this year should be. Write this plan down, carry it with you everywhere you go and regularly update it.
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:
• Organizational or Management Issues
• Product Development
• Personal Training and Education
• Employees and Vendors
• Managing by Statistics
• Marketing Tasks (based on your Marketing Plan)
In my book mentioned above, (more specifically Appendix E) I discuss some questions and/or topics in detail to consider in each of the above categories. Some of these include Organizational or Management Issues, Product Development, Systemization, and Managing by Statistics, just to name a few. Of course these are not conclusive and just a starting point for you as you review and build your Strategic Plan.
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 setting 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 every the Operating Agreement of every LLC we set up we create a Board of Advisors as well. See here for an Article on how to develop, build and utilize a “Board”.
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 plan that you carry around with you everywhere, YOU WILL be the captain of your ship and not tossed around to and fro in the sea of business.
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. Good luck!!
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. For more information about Mark, his firms and education, please visit: www.markjkohler.com.