• Phyllis Harbinger

Strategic Planning 101

I remember the first time I took part in a Strategic Planning session. It was with ASID back in 2006. I had never before engaged in this type of work and I had no idea what would be asked of me. We had an expert facilitator in our colleague Judy Girod, FASID, who guided us to make concrete decisions and ultimately helped us complete the Plan.

Over the years, I have both participated in and facilitated strategic planning sessions and there really is no simple methodology to anticipate how long it will take to create a plan like this for a small business. Each of us has a very different business model, number of employees, budget for running the firm, and aspirations for growing the business. The most important element is not to hurry through the process. Just like design, this is a process and needs to be done carefully, critically and with an eye toward future goals. A good solid plan can truly help set you up for future success.

So, how do you start the process for your firm? Your first action item is to cull information – data research and fact finding. You will need to do what my Dad did in his first career – your own marketing research – by interviewing both your employees and vendors/colleagues outside of your firm who will provide a knowledge base different from yours which will help you learn as much as you can to prepare for the process.

Key subject areas are:

What is working

Where do you need to improve

What are the potential road blocks

What are the predictions for the future economic climate

Once you have that information you will need to create a budget and other documents that will detail and identify your goals and the means by which you will accomplish those goals (via actions/programs/events/marketing, etc.).

This is going to take time and you will also need to set aside resources to fund the endeavor.

You’ll need the full cooperation of your employees and anyone else involved. If you don’t have enough time, you risk rushing and not creating an effective strategic plan—or worse, not finishing it. You do not want to spend too much time in creating the Strategic Plan as you may begin to overthink, over process and never finish. A strategic plan should be nimble and flexible and as I coached my Presidents when I was Chair of the ASID Chapter Support Team – a Strategic Plan is a living/organic document that addresses your business goals and you can expect changes to occur after you complete it. A good strategic plan will allow you to project two to five years down the road but should be revisited yearly to see if you are on target for hitting intermediary goals and if any of your focus has shifted, you can make changes.

Look to the Outside for Help

If you have never participated in Strategic Planning, you may want to consider bringing in a professional to guide you through the process. While you still want to author the plan, they can contribute insight and experience to the process so that the final document is more complete and holistic. Someone outside your industry may be a perfect fit, providing insight that would not be in your scope of knowledge. I prefer to have both a consultant from the industry and an outside expert to weigh in and give me a better picture of where I need to focus my efforts and strategies. They also can reign you in if your goals are too ambitious.

While hiring a consultant may not be in your budget, there are many non-profit organizations that can help. I have relied on SCORE in the past, which is a great organization that uses retired professionals to mentor others. It gives former business executives a chance to use their skillsets and help those new to certain processes and analytics.

I would also surf LinkedIn and most importantly, ask your friends and colleagues for references. That is always a great way to find the right consultant.

In the Age of Technology - you may also find a great App or other software program that can help you tackle this process. Khorus and Cascade are two apps that may help. They also provide tracking tools once the plan is complete. While these Apps have a cost factor, it is relatively low and will help you to stay on course. They can encourage you to build a great strategic plan and attain your goals more easily and efficiently.

So let’s get started! Assemble your team, meet regularly with outside influencers and give yourself 3-6 weeks to write the plan. Then begin implementation and watch your aspirations and goals become reality!

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