If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. ~Benjamin Franklin
Five white water rafting companies sit within about a 25-kilometre radius of one another – as the crow flies – on the banks of the Ottawa River. As someone who found herself somewhere between Pembroke and Foresters Falls for the better part of 18 months, I often wondered how they managed to stay in business. Consider: (a) All five companies run the same stretch of river more or less and (b) White water rafting has seen a bit of a decline in participation in the last decade or more as far as adventure tourism is concerned. Yet all five companies are doing fine for themselves. Enter the strategic plan.
There are five excellent reasons to go through a strategic planning process for your organization, to review the plan regularly, and to stick with it:
1. Define your purpose, your reason for being. You know you can’t be everything to everyone. Spend the time to hone in on what your strengths are, what your customers need from you, and marry the two. Your clients, suppliers, employees, and community where you do business can provide great insight into what your strengths are and what they want and need from you. Don’t be afraid to ask in addition to brainstorming your own ideas. Distill all of the information you collect into a few simple sentences that are easy to communicate about why you are in business.
2. Establish goals for your business. Goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. With your purpose defined and serving as the lens through which you view your business, you can select a handful of well-thought-out goals that are again, easy to communicate to your team.
3. Identify the baseline from which to measure progress. Now that you have your purpose and SMART goals identified, you have a solid foundation from which to start ‘M’easuring. Measuring progress provides a frame of reference for everything from your budget and financials to your development plans for your staff. It shines a floodlight on business activities or practices that aren’t doing so well. You can eliminate them and focus your energies on those that are doing well. It allows you to identify and celebrate wins with your team.
4. Stand out from your competition. Understanding what you do well helps you identify your strategy to differentiate yourself from the businesses offering similar products or services. It defines your marketing and your policies and procedures. It directs your financial resources. All of this reflects in your business’s outward persona – how the public and your customers perceive you versus your competitors.
5. Know which fork to take in the river. Decision making becomes simpler when your focus is dialed in on achieving your goals. All major problem solving can be viewed through that lens of your purpose and framed by your goals.
Whether you enlist outside help or run through this process internally, you as a business owner should go through a strategic planning process once a year and then review the plan with your team periodically to ensure you are still on track. In future articles, we will dive deep into key sections of the strategic plan.
Up for discussion: Share your strategic planning stories (e.g. how often, what worked well, what didn’t work so well, etc.).