We use strategies of some kind or another every day of our lives. Taking the family away on holiday? The kids are away at school, you and your spouse finish work on different dates and the grandparents who are coming with you live in a different city.
Getting it all together
Making sure everyone’s in the right place at the right time requires a set of objectives and a strategy just as much as the launch of a new shampoo on the global market.
In detail and execution, of course, there’s a world of difference but the basic principles are the same. Let’s follow them through, imagining that we’re running a successful SME and we’ve decided we need to grow.
Where are we now?
Though some strategists will argue that this is the second priority, we firmly believe your first move is to take stock of exactly where you stand. This applies to both your current situation as a business as well as the market environment in which you’re trading.
Address all these questions:
- What kind of business are you in? *
- Who are your competitors and what are they offering?
- Who are your customers?
- How do you rate your suppliers?
- What’s your rate of customer churn?
- How are you perceived in the market?
You and your management team can obviously handle the internal analysis, but as far as market perception is concerned, the best option is to conduct independent research through a professional practitioner.
At this early stage, you can complete the first two stages of a SWOT analysis: identify your strengths and weaknesses. As you’re planning a new strategy – based on your need for growth, the opportunities and threats can be evaluated later.
Where do we want to go?
The two early stages of your new strategy development are the most crucial. Business people, especially ambitious entrepreneurs, often have difficulty in being objective about where they stand, where want to go and how long it will take to get there. (Unless you’re selling top quality diamonds at a huge discount, growing your business will probably take longer than you think.)
So in these early stages, if budget permits, call in one or two independent advisers on a project basis to help you make sure your assessments are realistic. Find a marketing or business consultant, preferably one with checkable references, to guide you. It’s an early investment in your future that will pay dividends as your objectives are realized.
A strategy is like a detailed road map that leads you towards your objectives. But the objectives must be clear, understood by everyone, measurable and achievable. Sometimes it’s a fairly straightforward journey, but most often there will be twists and turns along the way.
What will we need?
In determining your company’s future course, think about the resources you’ll need: money, employees, commercial space, vehicles, distribution agreements and so on. It’s also a good time to complete your SWOT analysis. Consider the opportunities and threats that face you as you set out towards your first milestones.
Once you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, assign a timeline to each stage of the journey. This is vital because your strategy is going to be almost organic in nature. You’ll be reviewing, adjusting, recalibrating and assessing your progress from the moment you begin executing your plan.
Who, what, when and how much?
Now comes the tricky part. You will have carefully considered the human resources you’ll need to reach your goals and, as an SME, you’re unlikely to have the finances to hire a slew of new employees.
This means your key people are, for a while at least, going to be working a lot harder than before. It’s essential that they are fully committed to your new strategy and have a clear picture of the benefits to them in helping the business to move forward.
Assign tasks that match your employees’ skills and interests. Give them budgets and time targets and, if necessary, break down each of their responsibilities into smaller parts if that makes it easier to monitor their progress.
Have a review every week
Assemble the entire team and review each member’s performance. If problems have been encountered, these meetings are the ideal opportunity for you to give guidance and for other colleagues to offer help.Publicly praise those who are hitting their targets. Encourage anyone who’s lagging and find out why they’re not keeping to their timelines. There might be personal issues or they simply may not know the best way to manage their new roles.
These review meetings are excellent for re-energizing your team and keeping them focused while, of course, making sure their regular work isn’t suffering as a result of the extra load.
Where you can, use visual aids – posters, charts, whiteboards – to show how the company is doing. Display them where everyone can see the impact their efforts are having. Support these public notices with regular emails to everyone, reminding them how much you appreciate their new drive and enthusiasm.
A business strategy is essential for any organization but never forget that a great plan is only as good as the people who have to drive it. Consider them first.
* What kind of business are you in? Sometimes the answer isn’t as obvious as you might think. Look for the human truth behind your business.
- If you sell frozen food you’re in the business of providing healthy and convenient meals for busy families.
- If you sell cars, you’re in the business of safe, reliable transport solutions.