By Corpwrite Strategy’s Jeremy Plint.
After being in corporate roles for many years a good friend and I started a small marketing consultancy. The transition has required a lot of adjustments on my part but maybe the hardest is deciding the best use of my time. There's always a something else to be done and everything is important. It’s reinforced for me the need to have a strategy in place: one that sets the direction and priorities for the business and gives us clarity when decisions need to be made.
Sure, this is still a problem in corporates as well but with smaller businesses it’s even more important to have a clear plan and direction. Why? In a small business, you're actually in the business getting stuff done - meeting clients, working projects, building pipeline, paying bills, sending invoices doing BAS etc. In a large corporate a lot of that stuff tends to get done by others who support the business. There's so many things in a small business that distract you from moving forward so it's even more important you have a plan that defines the direction and key activities your valuable time should be focused on.
And yet, like a dentist appointment or a skin cancer check-up, we tend to de-prioritise spending time on building or reviewing our business strategy. There's many reasons for this but here's a few I’ve heard:
The dark art of strategy
Despite some who tend to over complicate the subject, building your strategy doesn’t need to be difficult. A great way to start this process is to focus on your medium/long term goal for the business and then create a picture in your mind of what success looks like after you've achieved it. How big is the business now? Who are your customers? Has your business diversified? Stuff like that. Next, you need to take an unbiased look at your product or service and particularly the benefit you deliver to your customers, versus your competitors. Why would someone choose you over other alternatives? That's where you can start creating real value. It's often beneficial to bring someone in with a fresh perspective to help with this part. Now you've got a goal, a product and a proposition, you can start to build out a program of activities and tactics that will get you there. Don't forget to build in a good measurement process that's easy to monitor. Of course there's a lot more to it than this short summary but remember, a basic plan is better than no plan.
Hugging and chanting not required
You can't afford any passengers in small/medium business. So whilst you don't need to go on a retreat together you do need to clearly articulate the business strategy so everyone can get emotionally invested in its success. Strategic alignment between all the moving parts of your business is critical and everyone needs a shared vision of why the business does what it does.
I don't have time for that crap…oh wait!
I completely understand the sentiment (In fact I've used it myself). You may not see the value of a clear strategy until you need it the most. Operating without a basic plan catches out so many businesses. They often waste energy on too many tactical changes without a goal in mind, and when fundamental market conditions change they’re ill-equipped to meet the challenge. A good plan involves critically analysing your market and building a few "what if" scenarios to identify future challenges and opportunities you might encounter. Investing in the process is part of future-proofing your business.
So dedicate the time to build your business strategy plan. It’s a living document and once you’ve laid it out it’s easy to revisit and adjust when required. It really doesn’t need to be overly complicated, even a simple plan is better than none at all. Don’t be afraid to have a go and consider seeking help from a strategy expert. It just maybe the catalyst that sets you up for a successful year.
Luke Maddison and Jeremy Plint founded Corpwrite Strategy after many years in marketing roles with brands such as Canon, CCH, Ricoh and Garuda Indonesia.