No Time For Planning? Then Don't Expect Your Business to Grow.
We’ve all heard the saying “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” Or how about “Failing to plan, is planning to fail”. Most of us recognize the importance of having a plan to achieve success. Whether it’s professional, financial or personal, it’s rare that we achieve goals by accident but rather through planning and hard work. Yet, as we find ourselves almost to the end of another year, far too many people haven’t started planning for next year. This includes myself, a marketing planning and strategy expert. Of course, I have tons of ideas in my head in addition to my long-term business strategy. But, I’ve only just started thinking about next year because like so many business owners, I simply don’t have time. But I know the difference a strong plan makes so instead of a marathon planning session, I’m breaking the process into steps to think, plan and grow my business.
Step 1 - Think about the Big Picture
Start with defining your vision. You probably did this initially as part of your business plan but what does it look today? What’s most important to you now and where do you see yourself in both the short and longer term? After identifying your goals, do a SWOT analysis for a more realistic understanding of your current situation. Basically, you need to assess the internal areas by strengths and weaknesses; along with the external environment in terms of your opportunities and threats. Don’t just state the obvious but rather spend some time delving into areas where you excel and where you fall short. Define what makes your company unique, understand how your customers view you and take a closer look at your competition. These aspects are important to clearly understand where you are, set a path for where you’re going and the roadblocks that may deter you along the way.
Step 2 – Define Your Objectives
Once you have a clear vision and understand your benefits and challenges you need to determine your objectives. Sometimes the line gets blurred between objectives and goals. Keep in mind that the objectives are the steps or actions you’ll take towards meeting those goals. It’s the “how”. While your objectives can be directional, expand them to be measurable and timely. Instead of just stating what you want to do, specify by how much and when. Instead of 20% sales growth, state how you’ll do it: identify and talk with 8 new consultants each month or update 25% of the CRM database quarterly. Not only is it more actionable to quantify exactly what you’re going to do, it also adds a level of accountability.
Step 3 - Break It Down into Tactics
Too many times, people jump to step 3 when planning. Success doesn’t typically come from the latest initiative you read online or learned at a conference. Yes, there are so many things to choose from but with limited budgets and resources it’s critically important to identify and focus on what’s most effective for your business rather than what’s worked for someone else.
Brainstorm all your ideas towards reaching your objectives. Group these initiatives into reoccurring themes and then take a closer look at each idea. How will you accomplish them? Can you enhance the idea from good to great? Are there limitations that will prevent you from implementing? What about other areas that may side track you prior to launching these ideas? Spend a little time picking apart your tactics in order to build them up. The strongest ideas will rise to the top and less effective will get knocked off the list. Be sure to include your key performance indicators and budget implications as a subset of each tactic. Outlining your expected costs and results prior to committing helps determine if the idea is worth the time, money and resources.
Step 4 – Create a Road Map
Now it’s time to pull it together and create your purposeful plan. The timing of many initiatives will be dictated by the calendar or specific events. Look to plug in the other initiatives that complement and round out your year. Taking a quarterly approach enables many people to more effectively achieve objectives and reach goals. Each quarter provides about 12 weeks of time to focus on specific initiatives that can be a bridge to your big-picture vision.
While there’s no standard format for your plan, many find a one-page summary document to be an ideal road map. Include all the details, background, budget information, etc. in a separate supporting document for future reference.
Step 5 - Measure Success and Challenges
Many business owners find themselves with limited time for analysis or spend too much time pouring over all the metrics. It’s important to dedicate at least a few minutes every week, month and quarter to review key performance indicators. Focus on those metrics only so you don’t end up over analyzing. Also, be sure to review customer feedback, unforeseen developments and note external factors and competitive activity.
Avoid the tendency to delay analysis until the end of the year. Reviewing results, especially for online campaigns that are still in progress provides flexibility to address issues immediately.
Get Started Today
Having a strategic plan doesn’t have to be an overwhelming process. If you frequently block your calendar for dedicated time to think, revisit, analyze and improve, you’ll eventually find the process that works for you. And if your simply too busy, then partner with a planning expert. If your goal is significant change that truly impacts business growth, then you need continual forward thinking, flexibility and planning or it simply won’t happen. As a business owner, you alone control your destiny so take the time to create a plan that grows your business today.
Diana is a content marketing strategist and virtual marketing director specialized in financial services. She has 20 years of marketing expertise, including campaigns for top brands such as Johnson’s Baby and Band-Aid.