Strategic Planning Part 1
Regardless if you are starting a new business, you have been up and running for a while, or you are supporting an established organization, strategic planning is an important part of running your business. As a consultant and educator, I am often asked what exactly should a strategic plan include. While elements vary, there are core considerations every plan should have. When I work with others, strategic planning starts with developing a purpose statement and pitch. After that, it’s a process of adding in elements focused on providing a roadmap for execution. Strategic planning is one of my favorite things to do so I thought it would be fun to put together the process I help others go through when I help them. It’s not always the same for everyone so I focused on 7 key elements I often use that are included in plans I have built in the past. Because this would be a long post if I included all of these elements, I will break them up into a 7-part series so that when finished, fans of Satisfactionist will have a complete guide to use in building your own plan.
As you work your way through this series remember that this is a framework rather than a how to guide. I would consider it like a compass, it will point you in the right direction but it will not have the precision of a GPS. For that it is advised to hire an expert who can help guide you through the process. Bringing in an expert helps not only because they have experience but also because they are able to challenge ideas and bring out the best from those working to develop a plan. Something else to remember is that your strategic plan is a very organic document. It will iterate and evolve as the environmental forces that push and pull against your business are realized. As Michael Porter explains, the five forces that push and pull on business are (1) competitive rivalry; (2) supplier power; (3) buyer power; (4) threat of substitution; and (5) threat of new entry.
Your Strategic Plan
As you sit down with your leadership team to work on your strategic plan keep in mind that this is an exercise that will not be accomplished in a few hours. If it is, it’s likely something is being overlooked and you may find yourself dealing with similar struggles as you have in the past. This is not to say that a strategic plan will solve all your problems either. Your strategic planning is somewhat like managing the financials of your business. You would never balance your books once and walk away thinking all is well because things were good the last time you looked. The same is true with a strategic plan. You build it, review it, measure your progress against your goals, and revise as needed to remain on track. In this 7-part series we will start off by exploring why anyone should care that your organization exists. We will then explore your purpose and help determine the "why" and "so what" of your pitch. In following series, we will also examine:
- What you offer those you serve
- Your target market and competition
- Forecasting and raising revenue
- Sales and marketing
- Your team and strategic partnerships
- Your valuation
I love working with clients who are passionate about what they do and are driven by their desire to achieve milestones they have set for themselves. These folks are often more connected with their purpose as a business and are driven by taking the risks necessary to make what they do work. When asked about why they do what they do, they beam with excitement and speak about it like a proud parent. This is often a great starting point for digging deeper, doing some soul searching, and going beyond the passion to focus on the purpose of their existence. Not to sound like some mystic figure on the top of a misty mountain but asking clients to do some soul searching and inward reflection is important to connecting with why you do what you do. No one will ever be able to articulate your passion better than you or give it the kind of life you can. If all you’re doing is showing up and going through the motions then chances are you will never be able to convince anyone else why they should care. If you don’t care, why should anyone else. Seriously, what makes you so special? What makes what you are doing any better than any other person doing something similar than or exactly what you do? It’s not what you do, it’s how you feel about doing what you do. Have you ever seen someone who loves what they do no matter what? They live it, breath it, and preach it every day. They have drive and as I like to say, they live the brand. Their commitment is infectious and they get others interested and or excited about what they are doing because they are the resident expert in that thing. No matter the obstacle or number of rejections, they push past them all because they choose to say yes where others are doubtful or say no. We care because they do.
What’s Your Purpose?
With a focus on why you care about what you do, you start your strategic plan with a purpose statement. Your purpose statement starts with writing something as simple as, “The purpose of (insert company name) is to…”. Many people will tell you that your business must solve a problem. While I respect that point of view, I feel people are often much better at identifying problems than solving them. For me, its more about purpose. When your purpose is in focus, you understand how your business makes something more efficient, saves money, or improves quality for those you serve. You understand that what you are doing for your customers has value to them. In my experience, most people calculate value as either a savings of dollars or time. Arguably there is a third component that relates to emotion and touches upon the experience your customers have but that too just ties back to dollars and time. If you can’t convince your customer they have the dollars and or the time to invest in an experience then it becomes very difficult to make a case for them to invest in an experience. It’s also important that the value proposition comes from the customers point of view rather than your own. Too often business owners will want to put their own stamp on the value they deliver to their customers by inferring what they believe the value to be. By taking time to invest in listening to the voice of your customers, you will find they are often better articulating the value you bring than you are. As the saying goes, God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. We should be listening twice as much as we are talking. As you work to create your purpose, focus on putting it all into a statement that is about as long as a tweet. It’s difficult and takes time but a well-crafted purpose statement will embody all that you do in a very brief and succinct statement using focused words that are purposeful rather than verbose.
Why and So What
A few years ago, I was listening to a talk about the process Pixar uses for storytelling. It was a simple framework but from it I realized it could work just as well in writing the pitch that follows a purpose statement. The Pixar framework for story telling is: Once upon a time there was _____. Every day _____. One day _____. Because of that _____. Because of that _____. Until finally _____. What I love about this storytelling framework is that it provides the ability to tell a story and make a point in such a way that it resonates with those reading or listening to it. It also helps to answer the why, who cares, and so what questions that will often pop into a person’s head as they hear you pitch your business. When you meet someone new who asks about your company, you should have your pitch chambered and ready to go. Your pitch is the quick 2 minute or less story about your company, what you do, and why it matters. While you may never want to start out by saying "Once upon a time_____", I have found that modifying Pixar’s storytelling framework can put it into an engaging business pitch. Following your purpose statement, you can complete your pitch by revising the storytelling framework as follows. Currently _____ (Once upon a time…); Regularly we find _____(Every day); Recently _____(One day); As a result _____(Because of that); Furthermore _____(Because of that); This is why _____(Until finally).
What I love about this approach is that it transforms your pitch into a story that makes it easier to tell and helps to grab a person’s attention. It is often remarked that people who invest in a company do so because of the leader rather than the product. As a leader, if you can succinctly explain why you care, what your purpose is, and address the so what, you will find you are much further along than many others.
Ben Olmos is an expert in sales and marketing operations with more than 20 years of experience working with global brands in the consumer packaged goods industry. Ben also has over 10 years of experience as faculty and academic leadership in higher education having taught more than 40 courses in Business Administration. As founder of Satisfactionist Consulting, Ben is focused on helping organizations improve their trust, communications, processes, and routines for better efficiency, revenues, and profitability. Ben is also host of The Satisfactionist Podcast, a podcast available on iTunes, GooglePlay, and Stitcher Radio that focuses on telling the stories of regular people doing amazing work. For more insights like these and to get notified when new episodes of The Satisfactionist Podcast are available, visit and like us Satisfactionist on Facebook. For more behind the scenes insights on the things that keep us busy, subscribe to Satisfactionsit Insights and be the first to hear about the work we are doing and get behind the scenes insights from friends of Satisfactionist.