How To Build A Strategic Action Plan For Your Small Business

Yes, it’s that time for a strategic action plan!

I’m amazed at just how quickly each year seems to slip by. In a blink of an eye, not only will we be in a new year, but we will also be at the start of a new decade. Can you believe it? 2020 is here.

This brings me to my three favorite things… strategy, planning, and execution. (Yes, that’s the project manager side of me.)

As a small business owner, I hope these are your favorite things as well. Perhaps after reading this article, they will be.

Why A Strategic Action Plan?

Most business consultants and coaches typically talk in terms of strategic plans, which is the long-term plan you produce to achieve a required objective for your business. While this is absolutely essential, I personally like to expand this concept and shift the perspective to a strategic action plan, which has a long-term big-picture focus, combined with a short-term detail plan that you can and will effectively execute.

The strategic action plan is a document you create based on the specific goals and objectives you want to achieve, the strategy you will implement to achieve that goal and the tactical actions you will take to complete the mission.

So, what is the best way to begin creating your strategic action plan?

Well, here’s a process I’ve used with all kinds of clients, which has led to some truly stellar – and profitable – results.

Take A Look Back In Order To Plan Forward

Each year around this time I urge clients to take some time and review the plan they had for their business from the prior year so that they can compare it to what really happened in their business (i.e., planned vs. actual). (Note: this assumes there was a plan in place.)

The insights from this exercise are always eye-opening and will add tremendous value to your strategic action plan.

Believe it or not many people forget what they committed to for the year. Typically, they know how much they want to make in sales and profit projections, but more often than not, most small business owners don’t pay close enough attention to the other issues that plague their business and drain their cash flow.

Things like:

  • Eliminating customers who cost you money rather than make you money
  • Identifying the cause of high employee turnover
  • Doing the same manual work instead of putting in systems and automation to save time

You know, all the things that make it possible for a small business to grow and prosper year after year.

If you haven’t done so recently, now is a great time to review this year’s results, and plan for the coming year. Take a look at how you are doing compared to how you hoped you would do.

Clarity is everything when it comes to success.

Learn what you can from whatever has happened over this past year. This is something many of us simply don’t do.

For example, make this year the year you act on the knowledge that it takes three months to effectively train a new employee, not the four weeks you generally plan for. You’d be surprised at how many small business owners repeat variations of the same mistakes over and over again.

Deliberately capturing the lessons of the past year and thinking about how to use that new knowledge can provide major opportunities to eliminate costs and boost profits in your business.

Gather The Facts About Your Business

To understand where you are going or where you need to go in 2020, you must know where you are right now at the end of 2019. Therefore, you must review past performance and current situations before you start looking ahead.

Take an honest look at the performance of the previous year. Review the previous output or the present state and condition of your business. Take the time to really study each area of the business. You want to determine what worked well, what didn’t work so well, what was missing, and what opportunities lay ahead.

There is an abundance of tools and techniques to assist you in this process, including my favorite, the powerful SWOT Analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunity, and threats). Conduct the SWOT across multiple dimensions:

  • Character
  • Capabilities
  • Company
  • Cashflow, etc.

Spend quality time looking at the problems that repeatedly show up and the specific projects that continually go undone. These are where the real possibility of catapulting in your business may come to fruition.

When I spent a portion of my career as a project management consultant, one of the things I worked with my teams on was fixing the problems that kept showing up and hindering the project. We had to intentionally work on finding and fixing the real problems and bringing them to a state of completion, otherwise, we would always be in a start-and-stop or fire-fighting mode, which would impact our timeline, budget, and end-results.

What Do You Really Want To Accomplish?

As a small business owner, you don’t have an unlimited amount of time. That’s why it’s essential to figure out what’s really important to you and your business. Ask yourself… “what do I really want to accomplish this coming year?” or “what do I really need to accomplish this in 2020?”

I typically frame this question to my clients like this…

“What is the one thing you must accomplish by the end of the year so that you know without a doubt that your business is growing and growing in the right direction?”

Keep in mind that the keywords here are “what is the one thing.” Not the five things, but what is the one thing that must happen for you to be fully satisfied that your business is growing. This question helps you stay laser-focused on “the thing” and eliminates the overwhelm and the distractions that come with trying to do too many things all at the same time.

When you answer this question, it does help to think about things like money, revenue, profits, cashflow, but also consider this question in relation to other non-monetary details as well. In other words, see if you can answer this question in terms of incomeinfluence, and impact.

Think about what new products or services you’d like to introduce, what systems, processes, and structures do you need to put in place, what markets you’d like to branch into, how you’d like to improve your relations with customers, how many new distributors you’d like to add, how you will make things better for your employees, partners, even your community, and of course, what lifestyle and “work- style” changes you’d like to create for yourself as the business owner.

For each of the goals you are about to set, make sure you know why you want to set them and make sure your reasons strongly support you as the business owner. Too, come from your heart and set goals that will inspire you and your team to get out of bed every morning to achieve them.

Develop a Vision Statement

If you can see your vision you can achieve your vision. Your vision statement should describe the future direction of the business and the future goals you have for the next 1 to 3 years. If you can stretch your vision out even further then do so. For some folk, 1 to 3 years is as far as they can see.

Your vision is a declaration that describes the purpose and values of your business. What do you see for yourself and the business? You should develop both the vision and the statement to successfully create your strategic action plan. Be creative and make sure it fits you.

Develop a Mission Statement

Like the vision statement, your mission statement defines what you do to realize the vision for your business and even how you will navigate the business based on the vision. It also outlines the primary objectives of your business, which ultimately helps you to keep the focus on what needs to be done in the short term to realize the long-term vision.

So, what mission do you have for your business in this upcoming decade? Don’t be afraid to change it if your current mission has run its course or just doesn’t serve you anymore.

success concept or mindmap on a napkin with cup of coffee

Identify Strategic Goals and Objectives

At this stage, the aim is to develop a set of high-level goals and objectives for all areas of your business. They need to serve the growth of the business, highlight the priorities, and inform the plans that will ensure the delivery of the vision and mission.

Brainstorm to come up with a list of options. From there you can condense your list to align with your highest priority. Remember the “one thing”?

Also, try to incorporate any identified strengths and weaknesses into your objectives and position them against any opportunities or threats (SWOT). For this to be worthwhile, your objectives must be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-related).

Create Tactical Action Plans

Now it’s time to figure out how you are going to reach the goals you have identified.

How can you achieve the “must achieve” goal you just set? Do you know how? Will that plan work?

You may have to work backward using the Merlin Principle. This is the process of standing in the future place of where you want to be and seeing what you have achieved, and then working backward to the present moment watching everything that was done to get you there.

Use this process to reverse engineer your action plans.

Here’s a quick overview of the process I use to coach my clients:

  • Visualize your goals and targets as already met.
  • Looking back from the future to the present, ask yourself… what were the key actions I took in order to make progress?
  • What were the milestones I achieved along the way?
  • What was the final step you achieved before completing the goal?
  • And what was the step before that? And before that? …all the way to the present day.
  • What resources are helping you?
  • How are you feeling along the way?

Check for feasibility and reasonableness. This is no time to use hype or exaggeration. We are talking about doing what it really will take to make great things happen.

Now, convert your goals and objectives into more detailed short-term action plans.

The way I do this with clients is by using my F.A.S.T. 90-Day Sprint method. (F.A.S.T. stands for Focus. Accountability. Structure. Timelines.)

Each sprint centers on achieving distinct milestones, which support the targeted objective.

Take my word on this. It is easier to stay committed and focused in a short period of time rather than scrambling and getting overwhelmed when you are faced with all the work it will take to achieve your goal.

These tactical plans are short steps towards executing your strategy. Use them to concentrate on measurable results and communicate to every stakeholder what they need to do and by when.

Apply Performance Management

Remember that what gets measured gets managed. It is vital to measure and manage your performance as you execute your strategic action plan (planned vs. actual). Continually review all objectives and action plans on an ongoing basis throughout the year to make sure that you are on track and that you stay on track to achieve that overall goal.

In fact, creating, managing and reviewing your strategic action plan also requires that you capture the relevant information so you can make course corrections as needed, plan and re-plan with intention and purpose so you stay on top of any changes, prioritize and re-prioritize so that you maintain clarity and stay focused until you have achieved the outcome.

It’s A Wrap

Believe me, this works!

Do this for each of your “must achieve” business goals. If you follow these steps then you will have your strategic action plan locked and loaded.

Run this play and you can almost guarantee a breakthrough year in 2020!

For greater assurance on achieving your goal, consider coupling your strategic action plan with some form of accountability (i.e., a coach) to make sure what you say you are going to do gets done.

Now go and create a profitable 2020.

Chareen is the Principle Consultant at ChareenGoodman.com the Small Business Enterprise Arm of Elevate Worldwide Corporation. As a management consultant, business coach, and project management professional, Chareen offers strategic, unbiased and objective advisory services that assist growth-oriented small businesses in improving productivity and overall performance. She works with business owners whose desire is to get to the next level as well as those simply needing to get back on track. When it comes to solutions, Chareen doesn’t offer a one-size-fits-all package to her clients. Instead, she meets you at your point of need, develops solutions to fit your business and stands by you throughout each stage of implementation.

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