When you start out in business, ‘setting strategy’ is hardly the first thing that comes to mind. You have a product or a service that you can sell, and you focus all your time and energies on getting that out the door.
But what happens when time goes by, and you’re either moving forward faster than you ever thought possible – or you’re starting to slow down, and you wonder what happened to all your expectations?
Setting direction – or reviewing strategy – for your business is not a matter of getting a long complicated report with fancy graphs. It means understanding where you want to get to – and then identifying what needs to happen in order to make it there. That sounds simple enough, but strategic planning goes much deeper than simply picking what sounds good. It means you come up with a variety of options (some of which you’re not even sure would work), and then you evaluate them based on what fits your needs best.
Here’s an example. A person who has skills in graphic design starts designing a few logos. Then moves on to corporate branding, and developing websites. Pretty soon, the business is making several million in sales, there are now four people working full time as well as a host of freelancers who assist on particular projects, and life looks good. And then production starts to slip a bit, and there are some customer complaints, and before you know it the business is at a crossroads. There are so many options. Join with another company. Hire more employees. Sell the business. Open an office in a foreign country. Focus the marketing on a niche area. Opportunities abound – and so do potential threats.
That’s exactly the time to step back and look critically at the business. And what we suggest is not simply choosing the idea that sounds the most exciting – but going through a clear process to find what the best way forward actually is.
Here are a few things you could consider:
– Identify what your ‘evaluation criteria’ are. How will you know what the best idea is?
- Consider things such as your own personal goals, family needs, financial issues, business growth opportunities, time investment required.
- Write down your agreed-upon criteria.
– Hold a brainstorming session to come up with any and every idea you can. Invite the team along, or hold multiple sessions with different groups of people. Include family and friends, strategic partners.
- Remember, brainstorming sessions should be no longer than 45 minutes at a time.
- Use props. Magazines, newspapers, articles, even children’s toys. Anything to get the brain going.
- Reject nothing. This is brainstorming, not evaluation.
- Write everything down.
– Review your brainstormed ideas in light of your evaluation criteria. How does each idea stack up?
We’ve helped businesses go through this process hundreds of times, because we stand in an objective place. It’s a critical step, and one you can’t afford not to get right.
We’ll be discussing strategic planning in our upcoming Business Builder webinar. If you have time, please join us!