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The Basics of Strategic Planning

The Basics of Strategic Planning

By Karen Geier

When you’re building a company, you don’t always have the gift of acting months ahead, or even seeing beyond tactical execution. As your business grows, though, you could find your company in a growth crunch, or you might be unable to easily take your marketing endeavours to the next level. At this point it’s important to pause and try to take the long view of where you want to take your business. It’s time for strategic planning.

Strategy Doesn’t Have To Be Set in Stone

Many business owners and stakeholders experience trepidation at planning in the initial stages because it can feel like that roadmap is set in stone. Plus, there may be costs associated with changing strategy. While it is true that scrapping sales collateral and pulling ad buys might cost extra, the money you’ll save by sticking to what’s working should offset the potential cost of cancelling something in your plan that’s not effective. You should strive to optimize campaigns, not see them through to the bitter end if they aren’t working.

Strategy Keeps the Team Focused

If you have no foundation, you can’t build a house. It doesn’t mean that you have to have the fanciest or most elaborate foundation; it’s just that one must be present to support what sits on top of it.

If you can get all stakeholders to come to an agreement on the basic framework of your strategy, then you can get everyone to execute toward that strategy. Your company will be better for the structure, and if you take into account the input from your team members, they will want to execute to your plan because it will benefit them too.

Getting Started: Strategy Starts with Objectives

When meeting with your teams, it’s important to get consensus on business goals. Are they to surpass a sales number you’ve already met? To decrease churn? To transform free members into paid members? If people aren’t aligned, you need to address why that is before you move any further. Dissent at this stage in the game will only lead to your strategy falling apart due to poor adoption.

You need to pinpoint up to three things that you want to accomplish as a business in the 12 months ahead. Keep these focused, because the effort involved in executing your plan shouldn’t be splintered chasing too many things.

Start At 12 Months from Now

With your objectives in mind, what are the steps you can take to achieve those objectives and how long will you need to accomplish them? Remember, you are limiting your team to 12 months. You will need to be realistic about what can be accomplished. Take into account production turnaround times and third-party partners. Use actual project data from the past to inform your plans. Be realistic and leave more time than you think you need, not just as contingency, but in case you decide to add elements or change them. 

It’s important to decide what metrics will equal success in your team’s eyes. This is one of those times when the metrics will look different to each team. Development teams will want minimal downtime and infrastructure that leads to sales, whereas marketing will want to know the cost per customer acquisition, for example, but both feed the “increasing sales” objective. 

Working Back: 6 Months from Now

Using the workback schedule, establish what your “midpoint” looks like. In six months of executing to this schedule, you should have completed campaigns and have real data. You should be able to look at the data and make informed decisions about where to take your campaigns for the remainder of the year. Think about what your Plan B will be if you reach your midpoint and need to course-correct.

What You Can Accomplish Now: 3 Months

Using the midpoint as your guide, decide what kinds of campaigns you can test right now, and for the next three months. Leave enough time to execute and measure these campaigns so you have an early warning if your ideas aren’t working and can course-correct. List the assumptions you will be testing and how you will be effectively testing them. It’s important to be scientific and accurate.

Strategy planning often comes with a stigma of sitting in a room for hours on end, pushing paper around. This shouldn’t be the case if you approach your planning with a view to your objectives, figuring out what you can realistically accomplish, and having a sound testing methodology. Keeping your team focused on just those few objectives and making stakeholders take an active role in planning to those objectives will make the process smoother and easier to get buy-in. Don’t risk being unprepared. Your competition won’t.

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