Strategic Planning Made Easy

Good planning is crucial for the success of any business.  Operational plans for financing, marketing, staffing, technology and other functions provide a road map to help you determine what you need to do each step of the way in order to achieve your short- and long-range business goals.


Strategic planning differs from operational planning.  It focuses on understanding external forces that may impact your business now and in the future and then devising strategies for how to take advantage of developing opportunities or avoid encroachment on your market by others.


Some business strategists now argue that the world is changing too fast to make strategic planning worthwhile:  Plans are obsolete almost as soon as they are finalized.  While this may be true for large organizations and some sectors of the economy, in many cases the benefits outweigh the risks.  Moreover, strategic planning need not be an onerous, time-consuming process. 


The real value of strategic planning is not in developing a plan per se but in setting aside the time to do strategic thinking—stepping away from the day-to-day operations of your business to consider the larger picture.  Even if you do not create a formal plan, you may identify areas where you need to do further research or make changes to your business model or operations in order to stay competitive and profitable.


There are a number of approaches and models for doing strategic planning.  The main components, however, are more or less the same.


·      Vision /

Mission / Objectives – What drives the business?  What determines the projects you’ll take or the ones you’d like to get?  What do you want to be known for?  What do you value most and why?  Where do you want the business to be a year from now?  Three years from now?  What will success look like, and how will you know when you have achieved it?


·      Situational Analysis – How does your business currently stack up against the competition?  What trends, innovations or other developments are occurring in your industry or market that may impact your business in the near future?  Where do you see opportunities to grow or expand into new markets?  What do you do well and not so well?  What are you not thinking about that, if it happened, would cause your business to grow exponentially or make it disappear?


·      Strategy Formation – Based on your situational analysis and your vision for the business, what do you need to modify, increase, decrease or overcome in order to stay competitive, take advantage of new opportunities, evolve and make progress toward achieving your vision?


However formally or informally you choose to capture your strategic thinking, the challenge of strategic planning comes in the execution.  Change is difficult even in the best of circumstances.  Implementing change to address an uncertain future while keeping up the demands of business here and now requires focus and commitment.  Determine how you will make time to address your plan, and set up regular, periodic checkpoints during the year for reviewing, reevaluating and readjusting the plan. 


Depending on your business, you need not do full-scale strategic planning each year, but you should take time to revisit and refresh your situational analysis to avoid being blindsided by developments that you might otherwise not be aware of and to test the soundness of your operating assumptions.  Strategic planning won’t guarantee that you get the future you want, but it can prevent your being surprised by the one you get.