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When you started your business, you probably put some work into a business plan. If you then looked for financing, you probably updated it at that point. Since then, your business plan has likely been ignored in favor of shorter, more agile strategic plans.
The reality is that any plans you make become outdated as soon as you write them, and yet, the process of revising your business and strategic plan is important to your business’ growth. Many entrepreneurs stop writing plans when they start operations, while others put it on the list of good intentions, but never quite get around to a revision.
Summer is often a good time to address your business plan. Many startups keep a slower pace this time of year, especially relative to the press of the holiday season and the end of the calendar year. In many parts of the country, the pace of life is different in summer, too – enough to give you a little more time or perspective to apply to your organization.
Start with the basics
Plans can be as simple or complex as you want them to be, but even a simple scan of the environment using a basic SWOT (a list of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis can help you figure out what you should and should not be doing to take your business a step beyond where it is now.
In fact, the secret of many management theorists is that they use SWOT by other names, thinking of opportunities as “jobs to be done” or threats as factors creating a “red ocean” (so-called because it is bloody from competitors fighting for market share).
Then, you can start thinking of ideas to grow that play to your company’s strategic advantage (aka, strengths) and either improve on or minimize its weaknesses (aka, challenges).
Reading up on strategy
For a major multinational organization, strategic planning involves not only new ideas, but also figuring out how to make them work across a range of business units and regions. The task is easier, but no less important, for a small business.
Learning about the approaches of large companies can help you develop new insights for your own small business. There are two great resources, beloved of the biggest companies and accessible to you: the Harvard Business Review and the McKinsey Quarterly. Both allow free access to content, and the articles can give you ideas for solving particular problems or for developing your company’s strategy.
There’s one caveat, though: many articles about strategy seem to work backward. That is, the researcher finds a company that is doing well, and then assigns reasons for that success that may not be true, or may not be sustainable. You’ll have to find your own way.
Who gets involved?
If your startup is large enough to have managers, you need to pull them into the process because they will be responsible for execution. Hold a meeting, talk about what you want to do and ask for input about the current climate and what the business could do next. Be careful with a group, though. Group strategies are often bland lists of buzzwords that everyone can support, but no one really understands. They aren’t really plans. As the company founder, you need to make a decision after you consider everyone’s perspectives. It may help to bring in an outside facilitator or to hold the meeting off site.
In fact, the involvement of fewer people means that smaller companies have an advantage in strategic planning. Many C-suite executives of large companies are removed from what’s happening on the ground. They don’t interact with customers and they may not even know how the company’s products work. The layers of management may cushion them from hearing important (but not necessarily good) news about what’s happening.
The end of the process is simple: you will have a plan that lists where your business will go and how you will get there. If you can’t identify the next steps, then you need to go back, do some more market research and talk to a few more customers and employees.
Sure, the plan will be laughably outdated at the end of the year, but your year-end will be more successful if you work on a strategy now than if you put it off.