The key objective of this any strategic planning process is to gain a greater understanding of why you do what you do and how you want the future to look.

Each phase will accumulate your thoughts and ideas, rationalise what they mean to you and help you create your plan for the future.

Simplicity is key. To aid the process we have broken the whole 6-step process down:

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Step 1: Start with Why

What drives your business? Your purpose.

Let’s get the obvious myth out of the way first. Business is not all about profit. Profit is what gives you more choice.

Now that we have that out of the way we can get into the fluffy stuff. Simon Sinek famously said that we should ‘Start With Why’ and I tend to agree.

Having been in business for over 10 years, I look back at the really tough times, and I know why they were tough. A lack of purpose.

The never-ending treadmill of making salaries, constant growth, etc, etc… can get real boring real quick. Let alone the impact on other parts of your life.

You don’t have to be saving humanity or the earth necessarily, but to have meaning behind your actions only makes sense. We must allow ourselves to enjoy the process, feel good about what we do, and ultimately be fulfilled by the process as much as the outcomes.

So let’s start by asking the most important question… why are you in business? 

What does success look like for you?

Have you ever been asked that question? Read it again. The question isn’t are you successful? But what does it look like for you?

Each of us ultimately wants a range of things from our lives and businesses, but they will fall into a few catch-all statements:

  1. Being healthy
  2. Happy family
  3. More freedom
  4. Feeling fulfilled

We can argue beyond that, but as humans, we are all fairly close in what actually makes us tick. Once again the money element comes from a combination of the four.

Equally some of the richest people in the world are the least happy and some of the poorest, are the happiest.

I know in the past I have fallen into the trap of wanting what others have, but that is a path to disappointment. If you are building a business of any size it is likely to be there to achieve a goal that means something to you.

We need to know what that is because that is what keeps you focused in the darkest moments.

Where do values fit in your strategy?

We all live our lives through a set of values, but it’s the ones that affect how we treat others that matter.

6 Steps of the Strategic Planning Process

Yet another cliché is the use of values within a business or organisation. A poster on a wall, printed on a key ring and usually consist of honestyintegrity, and customer service.

Kind of a cop-out really. The first two should be a given and the third really comes with the territory.

True values will drive the positive or negative behaviour of a person or group. It is a tool for accountability in every situation.

For example, let me share ours:

Make it happen – As you will see from the structure of this course.

Grow together – This is based on a true focus on the team and our long-term relationships with our clients and community.

Ditch the baggage – Growth mindset over fixed mindset… what got us here won’t get us where we want to go.

So, are you using your values to be better or paying lip service to a corporate process?

Step 2: Determine your target market

What market pain will you solve?

All good businesses provide some kind of solution.

In the most basic terms, your business will be built on the thing you want to solve. Do you want to make the best muffins in the world, do you want to develop technology that makes clean water, or do you want to help people with their marketing?

Whatever it is you do, you are solving something the other party can’t or won’t do themselves.

Some of the best ideas are not bleeding edge, they are very very simple and practical.

Think about HelloFresh. What are they selling? Food, food in a box, meals? Nope, they are selling time. Time, that you can use to do other things.

And that’s the other thing to think about. What business are you actually in?

They are in the time business but you would think food. Gym owners are not in the fitness business they are in the confidence business.

Who is your core customer?

When you challenge the thing you do and connect it with the problem you WANT to solve you have the foundation of a business.

Please never say everyone is your customer.

It is something that has been uttered to me in the past. But when you look in-depth at who you want to serve with your product or service, being focused on the right customer will always prevail.

Think about it, does your 8-year-old daughter have the same needs as your 80-year-old grandmother? No.

Their needs are different, they communicate in different ways with different comprehension. Their ability to consume your product will depend on their circumstances and needs.

For example, they could both consume McDonald’s, a Happy meal for your daughter, and a cheeseburger for you’re dear old gran.

But what if gran has wheat allergies? In theory, she can eat a cheeseburger but does McDonald’s offer a gluten-free version?

If you can visualise your core customer in human terms you can match their needs and your solution.

This is about the following:

  • Where are they – online and offline?
  • When might they need/consume your products/services?
  • What means do they have to pay?
  • How often?
  • Their influences
  • Your competitions offering to them.

These are all questions that allow you to build out the ‘persona’ or ‘personas’ that create your core customer.

What is your target market?

Your target market is the specific group of people at which your product or service is aimed.

A target market can be composed of a broad group, such as women in the UK, or it can be quite narrow, such as working, time-poor, parents in Victoria. The group you choose will depend on the particular consumer needs your product is addressing.

To pinpoint your target market, you’ll need to start by analysing data about your customers and competitors. Here’s how to do it:

How to determine your target market

  1. Analyse your existing customers
  2. Know your product’s benefits
  3. Investigate your competitors
  4. Segment your audience
  5. Refine your research

You can use tools such as a Google Keyword Tool to see what your audience might be searching for in certain places and at what times throughout the calendar year.

Step 3: Identify your “secret sauce”

Identify your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats.

SWOT analysis is a strategic planning technique used to help you identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to business competition or project planning. While a little old school, it is a very simple process that you and your team can use to check in on the current status and focus on where you need to go.

This technique, which operates by ‘peeling back layers of the company’ is designed for use in the preliminary stages of decision-making processes and can be used as a tool for evaluation of the strategic position of your business.

It is intended to specify the objectives of the business venture or project and identify the internal and external factors that are favourable and unfavourable to achieving those objectives.

Ask as many questions as possible without ego to generate meaningful information for each category to make the tool useful and identify your competitive advantage.

Remember, dig deep and be open, there are always nuggets of gold hidden within your business.

  • Strengths: characteristics of the business or project that give it an advantage over others.
  • Weaknesses: characteristics that place the business or project at a disadvantage relative to others.
  • Opportunities: elements in the environment that the business or project could exploit to its advantage.
  • Threats: elements in the environment that could cause trouble for the business or project.

What is your secret sauce?

It used to be called your USP, but we call it your ‘Secret Sauce’ but in reality, there are few businesses that have one single thing that stands them apart.

Like a good meal, it’s the recipe and the way it is put together that makes the magic.

We believe that every business has 3-5 elements that make, them. It might be simple things like the way you look after your customers, your charging process, unique features of a product… but it’s the way they come together that can set you apart.

Rather than looking for one thing… think of your offering as a recipe and how you make it taste amazing for your customers.

Where do you sit in the mind of the customer?

Brand positioning is defined as the conceptual place you want to own in the target consumer’s mind — the benefits you want them to think of when they think of your brand. This is the space where they will choose you over a competitor, even when there may be a difference in price.

An effective brand positioning strategy will maximise customer relevancy and competitive distinctiveness, in maximising brand value.

Key objectives of brand positioning include relevance, differentiation, and credibility/attainability, as described here:

  • Relevance is priority #1. Customers must find the brand appealing. If not, the brand won’t make it into the consideration set, regardless of how differentiated or credible it is.
  • Differentiation is critical and the key driver of positioning success. The brand must be unique vs. competitive offerings. Your ‘Secret Sauce’.
  • Credible and attainable is the final measure. If you cannot credibly provide the offering, the customer is left with an empty promise.

The Parking Lot

The parking lot is where we want you to explore all of the learning so far.

Strike out the things that you don’t want to pursue, explore in more detail the ones that will have the most impact, and that you can see a way of delivering in the next 90 days.

You might not have all the answers, but knowing what not to do is just as important as agreeing on what to do!

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Step 4: Find your strategic opportunities

6 Steps of the Strategic Planning Process

What are your strategic opportunities?

Now we have done some serious digging and understanding around what will have the biggest impact in the short term to meet our goals, it’s time to reduce the focus right down to the key things that are going to make the most difference.

Say you have 20 ideas, in reality, we can’t and shouldn’t be trying to do all of them, not even half.

The more focused and effective we are the more likely we are going to be able to stay the course and deliver the result we want.

So let’s create a refined shortlist. And be tough! We are not looking for business as usual. Let’s really move the needle.

What to action and what to ignore.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. The focus of any good strategy is learning what not to do as well as what to do.

Decide your strategic moves.

Time to take action!

After all the thinking now it is time to commit to what will make it happen.

Reduce all those great ideas into the TOP 4 that will make a difference. You need to challenge them at every step. Make sure that you are not doing what’s easy just to get a result.

In one of our own planning sessions, we couldn’t find a fourth action that was going to make a massive difference, so we stuck with three.

On another of our businesses, we stuck with 1 THING for our 30-day plan to make sure we could deliver on it.

There will be plenty of day-to-day things that you have to deliver. But think of these as the special projects, the things that need that a little extra, but will have the most impact.

See how disciplined you can be, do less, to create more.

Step 5: Create a framework for accountability

Change of status – what is the result you are looking for?

Right back at the start, we looked at the purpose of both your business and therefore your strategic focus.

Now we want to challenge the future state that you are working towards. Think and feel into the future of what it will be like.

It could be financial freedom, operating in different countries, more time with family or simply selling your business.

We are coming full circle to remind ourselves why we are going to put the work in.

Because a new strategy isn’t going to be easy. Tough decisions will need to be made and not all will be popular.

Embedding your energy and focus into something that you find meaningful, will help you endure whatever needs to be done.

Who and what? A strategy needs accountability.

Your business is very simple. A group of people working together for an outcome.

Another reason strategy fails is the lack of accountability and the wrong people doing the wrong things.

A strong strategy isn’t the full responsibility of the leader. In fact, the leader should be curating the process with a group of people taking on responsibility for delivering the outcomes.

This is where we need to be laser-focused on the Why, the What, and the How. 

If you want others to help, they need to know what you are trying to achieve and how they can be part of the process and the outcome.

What does success look like? Your key numbers.

How do we measure success and more importantly progress?

Remember if you are clear on your outcomes you will create awareness around how and what got you there for future goals.

Don’t over analyse otherwise you won’t have time to do the doing. We tend to focus on some really focused criteria to understand our strategic success. For example in our e-commerce business these are critical to us:

  1. Returning Customer Rate – the higher over 30% the better. Happy customers you see, plus they cost less to support future sales with.
  2. Conversion Rate (at Checkout) – it’s easy to get traffic, but we want the right traffic. The higher the conversion rate, the more focused your message and marketing can get.
  3. Cost Per Acquisition – we know exactly how much we are willing to spend to get the first sale and we focus on keeping that low, but relevant as we know our profit is in the 2, 3, and 4th sales and so on.

They will be different for different strategies. But these three give us massive insight into the way our customer service, digital marketing, and channel strategies are working.

Step 6: Develop your 4 core objectives and measurable results

We choose to focus on no more than 4 core objectives with a maximum of 3-5 key results that will help us drive the delivery of the core objective.

The key actions that you will take, when, and who will deliver them to move you closer to your goal. The results may be delivered over days, weeks or months, or even years. They must be a catalyst that keeps you on track towards success.

Thinking about your future

We started by thinking short-term, but now we need to start to embrace the longer-term goals. The short-term planning should be steps toward a bigger outcome.

Keep it simple, aspirational, and slightly out of reach so you have to work for it. We recommend making plans that plan for progress over 30, and 90 days, then 12 months, 3 and 5 years.

The long-term future may not be 100% clear, must it must be clear enough so you have a feel for what it can look like. The goal is not to have all of the answers, but enough to keep you focused.

Where the rubber hits the road

This part is all about momentum. Any long-term plan starts with the first 30 days, in fact, it starts with the first day. What is the series of actions you are going to take to create the momentum you need?

One day at a time! 

The secret of success.

There IS no secret. Your strategic plan may get you through 1 year or 20 years. But the thing we can guarantee what will make a difference; is your focus, energy, timing, and actions. As a business leader, what underpins that whole skillset is the ability to stay the course, and resilience.

You will stare defeat in the face, it’s how you deal with it that will dictate your future successes.

In summary:

So many strategic planning processes fail because they are too complicated. This 6 step process is focused on creating purposeful and targeted outcomes that you and your team can follow and take action on.

If it’s too complex, unfulfilling and in the wrong direction, failure is guaranteed.

Keep your strategy simple and your purpose top of mind and they will guide you to any goal you set yourself.

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