When I worked in a corporate environment, there were two categories of people when it came to strategy – those that were eager to define their strategy, draw up a strategic plan and follow through on it, and those who saw strategy and strategic plans as a “paper exercise”. The latter felt that working on strategy was a waste of time, mostly because it would take a significant amount of resources (people and time) to put together, and then not much would come out of it in the end. It wouldn’t be an actionable strategy. People would go back to doing what they used to do, and at most there might be a couple of new things implemented. But for the most part, nothing would really change.
Now that I’ve started my own business and I get to work with entrepreneurs and small business owners, I see, well, the same! And so I’ve been really interested in finding out why some strategy work just hasn’t made a positive impact on the people who requested it. Here’s what I’ve found. It’s really just ONE thing. Your strategy has to be implementable. Otherwise, it really will be a waste of time and effort and won’t change anything in your business. And, most importantly, after deciding on your strategy, you absolutely should put together a strategic plan that has an outcome that is actionable – something that you can pick up and easily start working towards implementing. This is so key.
So how, then, does something as “theoretical” (as one creative entrepreneur called it) as a strategy become something that you can see and touch and action?
The key is to break the strategic plan down into smaller and smaller items, until you have a strategic plan of bite-sized chunks. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s start at the top.
Step 1 – Decide on your strategy
If you haven’t read “What is Strategy”, do that first (it’ll open in a new tab) and then come back here. The first thing you need to do is decide what makes you different, and use that as the anchor in crafting out your vision, mission and values, your long-term goals, how you’ll compete and who your competitors are, and of course, who your customers are. Those are the basics.
Step 2 – Group your strategy into pillars
Now that you know where you want to go, and you can explain who you are and why you’re different, you can start building some strategic pillars. This is a typical list that you can apply across any business:
Under each of these pillars, begin writing down some action items – things you need to do to get to the goals you set out in Step 1.
For example, let’s say you run a small Digital Marketing agency. One of your goals might be to make $500,000 in revenue across all your products and services. You currently offer two things – project-based digital marketing services and an online digital marketing course. You split your revenue across the two and decide your targets will be 80% ($400,000) from project-based digital marketing services and 20% ($100,000) from the online digital marketing course.
You decide to use the pillars suggested above (Sales, Marketing, Products/Services, Financials, People and Operations). Under Sales, you set a few goals:
- 50% of project-based services to come from small/medium businesses
- 50% of project-based services to come from large corporations
- 75% of online digital marketing course to come from large corporations
You’re doing well. This is a great start. You’ll do the same for all your pillars, breaking down each one into no more than 10-12 goals. Now let’s move on to step 3.
Step 3 – Break each goal within each pillar into bite-sized actions
This is the part that really makes a difference. When working on your strategic plan, you need to get to, well, a plan! I like to create pages for each of the pillars, and then break those pillars down into the goals, which I then break down into action items. Let’s continue the example above to see what this would look like.
Using the first goal under Sales, “50% of project-based services to come from small/medium businesses”, you can break this down into industries, or even specific businesses you’d like to target. Let’s do the latter. When you make this list, bear in mind that not every one will end up generating revenue, so you’ve got to make a big enough list to hit your target.
- Organization: F&B Business #1
- Organization: Health, Beauty & Fitness Business #2
- Organization: Travel and Lodging Business #3
- Organization: F&B Business #2
- Organization: F&B Business #3
Now that you have an idea of exactly who you’d like to target to reach your goal for small/medium businesses, we’ll begin to break this down into actionable steps. Let’s do this for the first business on the list – “Organization: F&B Business #1”.
- Follow on instagram
- Comment & like posts at least 2x week
- Collate ideas of how F&B Business #1 can benefit from digital marketing services
- Reach out to Sarah who used to work at F&B Business #1 and ask if she can arrange an introduction
- Meet with representative of F&B Business #1 and demonstrate how you can help increase their sales at a low cost
- Follow up after the meeting
Your list can stop there for now, and you can add more action items if F&B Business #1 decides to sign you on.
The idea is to have a strategic plan that is broken down into action items that are easy to do and do not cause overwhelm – because we’ve all been in a position where there’s so much to do that we just don’t know where to start. This strategic plan makes it easy to know where you should be putting your effort and energy.
How your strategic plan positively impacts your strategy
You created your strategic plan by breaking down your strategy, so naturally you’d expect that the achievement of the action items in your strategic plan will lead to the achievement of your strategy – and you’re right, it should! A little caveat here that if all your leads turn you down, or you can’t get your product to work properly, etc., achievement of the strategy will be unlikely. But assuming you have a good product/service and that the outcomes of the action items are (mostly) positive, you’ll be able to easily complete the goals within the pillars, which will then lead to achievement of the long-term strategy.
Strategic Planning Action Time
If you haven’t spent time building your strategy and strategic plan, you should really consider taking some time out of your schedule, perhaps a couple of days, or a whole week, and working through it. By doing this, you’ll make sure that you and your team spend your time on activities that contribute to your strategic objectives, and essentially, that you don’t waste your time on activities that won’t get you to where you want to go.
What has your biggest challenge with creating an actionable strategy been? Have you had any great or bad experiences with this? Post your comments and any questions below, and if you can help anyone else out, don’t hesitate to do so! As always, if you’ve found this article useful, share it with someone who’ll benefit from it as well!