It’s the beginning of the calendar year, which means it’s a great time to look at your plan for the year. Even if your fiscal year is already going, if you didn’t look at that plan before, do it now. What’s that? You don’t have a strategic plan. Well, what are you waiting for? Someone else to tell you what to do? Are you hoping things will just come to you with no assembly needed? If you figure out how to do that and it works wonders for you, let me know. Because you are a special snowflake that needs studying.
OK, now for the rest of us that have to work for a living. It makes sense to know what you are working for, in what direction, and how you know when you get there. How do you know all of that? Your strategic plan, of course! It guides you to know where to put your efforts, when to say yes to things, and when to say no. It helps you decide where money should and should not be spent. So do I have you convinced? Yes, but you aren’t sure where to begin. Fear not and read on.
The first thing I like to do is a SWOT analysis. I plot out a table like so:
There is no magic to the format. If you like lists more than tables, do that. You do you. It is a tool, not a mandate. The important thing is to start filling it in – whatever form “it” takes. What are the strengths of the business? Maybe it is breadth of knowledge, maybe it is a laser-like focus and expertise on a specialty. Whatever it is, own it. Same with the rest of them. Strengths and weaknesses tend to look internally to the business. Opportunities and threats tend to look externally to your industry, community, and/or customers. But, again, don’t be tethered to it. If something internal feels like an opportunity or a threat, put it there. You will then address it accordingly in your plan.
Often, I find that one field is a little easier to fill out than the others. That’s fine to a point. It doesn’t have to be perfectly balanced. But don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Like many things, it is the thinking about it that is important. Usually a strength has a correlating weakness. A jack of all trades may be a master of none, and a master of one thing may struggle outside of that expertise.
Same is true with opportunities and threats. My favorite thing to do is to look at the threats and try to create some opportunities. On the flip side, if you see an opportunity, do others see the same one? Is there a related threat with that? So take the time and fill out the quadrants robustly.
This can be boring or scary. What if all you see are weaknesses and threats?! That’s the time to take a break. Let your mind wander and get a fresh cup of caffeine. Then come back to it. Maybe even the next day or so. And reconsider. Nothing should be blank. If it is, you aren’t’ paying attention and looking closely enough at your business and your industry.
No one is grading you on this so think big (take over the world!) and small (we get invoices out slowly). Then prioritize. What is a big deal? What will give you the most bang for your buck if you tackle it? What can you address? What do you need help too address?
Just mark those for now. Those will be what you base your strategic plan on, but don’t jump ahead. This is actually an important part. It is easy to get excited and jump from an opportunity into action steps. But that’s running headlong towards a shiny thing before you even put on your shoes. Resist. You’ll get there soon. But for this week, focus on your SWOT.
We’ll talk about the plan next week.
P.S. We have a strategic planning workshop coming up Jan. 23. Go to our events page to sign up if you want to join me for some in person guidance.