Small-business owners who want to have a lasting, successful, growing business need to develop a strategic plan. Strategic plans focus on a future vision for the company that looks at how to position and manage the business for long-term growth.
It can be difficult for small-business owners to do long-term strategic planning when they are focused on accomplishing the critical daily tasks that keep their doors open or coping with unexpected events that immediately threaten the business.
In addition, they often assume this type of planning only applies to large corporations, when in reality strategic planning can greatly benefit small businesses.
Strategic planning allows small-business owners to take a proactive approach to their business rather than just react to outside events. This creates controlled growth that leads to desired results rather than haphazard growth that leads to customer dissatisfaction and cash-flow emergencies.
A major concern small-business owners have about strategic planning is the amount of time it requires. But in the long run, strategic planning actually saves the small-business owner time and other resources by improving efficiency, organization and direction.
Small-business owners find that the strategic planning process helps them ground their decisions in realistic analysis versus pie-in-the-sky ideas. While creative ideas should be encouraged and welcomed, those ideas must be put to paper and carefully questioned. Sound strategic planning makes sure those questions are asked and answered.
Planning also helps the small-business owner put systems in place that assure more consistent quality for the customer and more consistent financial results for the company. These systems give owners more freedom to delegate tasks and focus their efforts on growth.
Strategic planning requires that small-business owners first realistically examine where their business is now and then develop a vision for where they want the business to be in the future.
Small-business owners must take time to dig deep and define the identity of the business and the benefits offered to customers. They must take into consideration what is happening in the overall industry and how the company compares to industry standards and the competition.
Strengths and weaknesses of the business should be analyzed to understand any potential competitive edge and barriers to success. Outside threats should be identified so they can be dealt with, and opportunities for growth must be recognized.
The business should be examined in terms of management, product/service, marketing, human resources and financial performance. Critical areas in which the business must perform in order to achieve success should be determined.
Once the plan is implemented, those critical areas should be measured and monitored to see how the plan is working. Strategic plans are not set in stone. Rather, they should be regularly reviewed and revised to reflect changes in the environment and changes in desired results.
Remember that strategic planning is not thinking about the future of your business, it is about identifying and doing what needs to be done so your business continues to have a future.
The University of Georgia Small Business Development Center in Savannah assists small-business owners with growing their businesses.
The upcoming FastTrac® GrowthVenture™ program beginning in September in Savannah offers an intensive series of classes designed to help entrepreneurs develop strategic plans for growth. For information, go to www.georgiasbdc.org/growthventure.
Connie Edwards is a business consultant with the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center. Contact her at 912-651-3200.