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BROWNLEE: The case for strategic planning

I love the saying “failing to plan is planning to fail.” I think most would agree that it’s true, but as a small business owner, do you actually have a plan?

Many of you started with a business plan to explain the viability and need for your business and to possibly secure funding. That’s a critical foundation for any new business, but it doesn’t necessarily establish a long-term direction and goals for your business.

A strategic plan is a tool that can be used as a GPS system for the success of your business. Where are you going? How long will it take to get there? What specific “turns” must be made along the way to reach your destination?

But don’t spend valuable time and resources creating a complex plan just to say you have one. A good strategic plan should be clear and concise. Specific goals to be achieved within a specific time frame through specific actions.

Much like a business plan, a strategic plan starts with your company purpose, vision or mission statement. Before you begin writing the plan, perform a situation analysis. That is a fancy phrase for looking at your company’s current position and asking key questions.

Asking and answering where are we now, where do we want to be, who are our competitors, what is the future of our industry and how do we properly position ourselves will get you off to a great start.

One of my favorite tools that I frequently share with clients is the SWOT Analysis. It is very simple and stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Strengths and weaknesses are internal. What do you do best? What is your competitive advantage? Be honest about your weaknesses. Every business has them and acknowledging them allows for improvement. Opportunities and threats are external. Look at the market, competitors, emerging trends and economic conditions.

Once you have established goals and directions you can craft strategies to get you there. Everyone in your organization should be involved in the strategic planning process. You may be surprised at the insight that employees can offer, and implementation of the plan will require their time and commitment as well as your own.

The plan should also set deadlines as to when your objectives are to be accomplished. Are you planning for a specific problem that needs to be corrected within the next three to six months or are you planning a growth strategy for the next three to five years?

I like strategic plans that focus on a key objective. They are easier to define and implement than tackling an overall strategy. Some key objectives might be: controlling costs, product or service development, personnel training, process improvement, identifying new market opportunities, increasing margins and determining if there is a need for additional resources such as funding.

The most important part of your plan will be follow-through. If a strategy is not producing the intended result it must be evaluated and adapted. Lastly, monitor your progress by establishing benchmarks and checkpoints. Strategic planning should be an ongoing process throughout the life of your business.

If you need assistance with strategic planning, we can help. If you would like to receive the SWOT Analysis Template, please send me an email.

 

Becky Brownlee is a business consultant with The University of Georgia SBDC at Georgia Southern University and can be reached at rbrownlee@georgiasbdc.org.

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