“Strategic Planning, Step by Step” by @Rena_Tom

Guest post by Rena Tom

Becky Murphy

Big picture planning or proper business planning I think is probably the biggest challenge for me - to the point that I never seem to get very far with it before I give up and get back to other work!

I'm fine with planning smaller projects, etc. but getting a handle on the big (BIG!) picture and planning strategically for my business in terms of where I want/need to go I find really difficult.

- Simone Walsh, commenting on my previous post

In my previous post, I asked you to tell me about the most challenging part of your business. Some responded that it was marketing and others said it was financial and legal concerns, but Simone's comment about big picture planning encompasses almost every issue you brought up, so I'm going to start there.

What is strategic planning?

Big picture planning is also known as strategic planning. Some of you started your business on a whim and have seen it grow tremendously, but you never circled back to work on your strategic plan. Or, you may have done plenty of research before starting, but have not revisited your plan for a while. It can seem like a daunting and lengthy exercise when there are orders to ship, people to email and dinner to get onto the table, but it is really essential to have in place if you are at a point where hard decisions must be made and you are feeling a little lost.

Think of a strategic plan as a roadmap to help guide you when there are too many distractions, opportunities, and unexpected problems keeping you from moving forward. Or, consider it preventative medicine that will help you avoid costly and time-consuming crisis management later on down the line.

Strategic planning differs from tactical or operational planning, which we are more familiar with. It's concerned with long-term goals (2-5 years out) while tactical planning is concerned with the next 18 months, roughly, and operational planning is for your day-to-day activities. It can also feel a bit grand to makers just starting out - but a good plan should address growth (or non-growth) of your business, too.

How do I make a strategic plan?

Your strategic plan consists of Vision, Mission, Goals, Strategies and Tasks or Actions.

Start things off with an ambitious vision statement and a clear mission statement. You should be able to refer back to these statements for every business decision - print them out and pin them on the wall above your workspace. It's also a good exercise for your About or Profile page.

For the vision statement, consider what does your business ideally looks like. It's a high-level look at what kind of impact you intend your business to make in the community. The mission statement differs in that it has more specifics and measurable goals attached to it. You can think of the vision as answering Why and the mission answering Who, What, and How (and sometimes When). If you'd like more detail, there are great resources and examples online like this article from MindTools and this one from Inc.

Next, carve out some goals for yourself. Write down a big list of everything you want to accomplish with your business. The list could address production capacity, marketing efforts, or growing your customer base, or be financial in nature. Try to sort out which items are really strategies (which fall underneath a particular goal), or things you want to do that aren't goals at all, but are actually tasks. For example, a main goal might be "double income by next year”, with a strategy to "diversify revenue streams" and tasks like "open a pop-up shop" and "hire a sales rep".

If you find you have too many goals, you may have an unrealistic view of the future and be prone to freezing up, decision-wise. A very simple way to prioritize or eliminate goals is to use a Goals Grid. This was created by a business consultant named Frederick Nickols and looks like this:
For each goal, ask the two questions in the table. The benchmark of course is your vision and mission statement. You will quickly discover goals which you have already met (hurray!), which ones you really want, which ones are not actually important to your business, and which ones could be detrimental to fulfilling your mission (involving too much time, money or risk).

At this point, you've narrowed down your giant list to a few key goals that you want to accomplish over the next few years. Go ahead and put in real numbers and dates next to these goals so you can measure how well you are doing. You are now at the part you are probably more used to - create strategies to address the goals, then write down action plans for each strategy. There will be some back and forth here -  you should prioritize strategies based on the rate of return and adherence to the mission, and to do so, look at the actions, or tasks, you must undertake. Compare the risk and benefits of completing each task at the current point in time.

Now what?

It's time to execute! Put your action items in your calendar and attack them one at a time. You should have no doubt why you are doing something now because you have considered all the repercussions beforehand. If a new opportunity comes up, you can hold it up to your plan and see if it moves any part forward. If a hard decision needs to be made, do the same to see where a certain decision impacts your plan the least.

It's important to revisit your plan periodically. Circumstances change, goals change, and YOU change. The plan is not set in stone – but you should keep it up to date at least for your own peace of mind.

How many of you have a strategic plan in place? How has it helped your business at a critical juncture?


Rena Tom is a retail strategist for creative business owners. She previously owned Rare Device, a boutique and art gallery with locations in New York and San Francisco that was renowned for its carefully edited collection of design objects, books, housewares and accessories, and for supporting small, innovative designers and artists whose work was not easily found in stores. Rena blogs about personal projects as well as retail trends and small business tips at renatom.net. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and baby boy in an apartment filled with too many laptops, Sprecher root beer, half-finished craft projects and overdue library books.

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