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[Podcast] 6 Steps to Successful Strategic Planning & Long-Term Growth

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This article is taken from the Build Your Queue podcast below, Season 3 Episode 25 with Marcus Shaw, Executive Director for The Company Lab startup accelerator.

Long-term planning can be one of the hardest parts of being an entrepreneur, because so often the strategic part of the job can be overshadowed by the operational part. You’re so busy putting out the day-to-day fires at your growing business, you don’t take the time to think about long-term planning or growth.

You probably think of managing people and developing your product first, but predicting how the market is going to move and how your company will adjust is just as important. So before you can create a strategic plan that accounts for those things, you’ll need to figure out:

  • How can you anticipate an industry's behavior?
  • How do you find and develop talent that aids long-term planning?
  • Should your planning process be reactive or proactive?
  • How far ahead should you plan?
  • How can partnerships fall into your strategic planning?
  • What can you do to ensure your goals are attainable?

We’ll help you answer these questions and learn how to successfully create strategic plans that lead to long-term growth. Keep reading, or listen to the full audio in the player above.

1. How can you anticipate an industry's behavior?

If you want your business to be successful, you have to anticipate and account for any changes that occur in your industry.

Why?

At some point, the thing your team excels at may suddenly have a decreasing marginal impact on the business, or your consumers’ preferences will change. You need to have a sense of curiosity and anticipation for the other things going on in your industry to be ready to pivot to the next tactic or product that will keep revenue flowing.

Coca-Cola, for example, had to pivot to different beverages recently when their market became more interested in healthier drink options. Coca-Cola knew they were good at marketing and distribution, so when the core market of their primary beverage started to roll over, they pivoted to creating other types of healthier drinks.

Your own company needs to be aware of your strengths, like Coca-Cola, so you can be prepared for potential next opportunities when you need to pivot.

It’s less about knowing exactly what the market will do next, and more about knowing your strengths so you’re prepared to make a next move.

So ask yourself:

  • What are your strengths and how are they profitable?
  • How do you make your strengths stronger and mitigate the risks that can bring out your weaknesses?
  • Should you aim to make yourself stronger, or focus on guarding your weaknesses?

Sometimes weaknesses exist because you haven't explored them enough. Putting feelers (like strategy officers) out into the market can help you further understand what assets you have and how they can be leveraged to drive profitability in market shares and other businesses.

We’ll talk more about dedicating resources to learning where your market is going next.

PC: Sure Dividend

2. How do you find and develop talent that aids long-term planning?

Oftentimes it falls at the helm of the CEO to consider the strategic direction of a company, but as you grow you’ll want to augment that strategic thinking with other experts (like strategy or marketing officers).

So how do you pick talent for those positions?

Think about your team the same way you would think about your product. What are the traits that you need to include to ensure there aren't any gaps in how it functions?

Start with personalities and mindsets you don’t already have.

It’s a problem if everyone from your business looks the same, is from the same town, and has the same interests, because that means no one will ever disagree. It’s good to have differing perspectives, or cognitive diversity, so your team doesn’t fall into the same pattern and never try anything new.

For example, there needs to be an equal mix of those who prefer to play high risk vs. those who prefer to play it safe in their planning. Teams who are cognitively diverse like this have been found to perform better on tasks than teams that share the same perspective.

The most valuable team you can create is the one that levels the field for potential outcomes and ideas.

PC: Harvard Business Review

3. Should your planning process be reactive or proactive?

Whether your strategic planning should be reactive or proactive depends on your existing assets and team.

If you have a ton of assets, own a significant market share, and can transition when new opportunities come up (like Coca-Cola), you have more room to be reactive.

But if you're a budding startup or small business, you need to be a little more strategic because unexpected market shifts can rock you.

Your goal is to never be fully enchanted by the thing you’ve always done well, and to instead always think about pushing the envelope. Your team will follow your lead and stay focused on thinking ahead if you encourage them by:

  • Creating open, collaborative spaces in the office
  • Allowing for breaks and exercise during the workday
  • Encourage risk-taking and not dwelling on mistakes
  • Removing red-tape so new projects are easy to start

Some of the new ideas your team puts out will work and some won’t. This proactive energy needs to exist regardless if you’re going to stay proactive.

4. How far ahead should your plans be?

Typically a strategic plan is seen as something you build, get a feel for, then put away. Instead, strategic planning should be a constant process that serves as a reference for how you actively approach issues in the market.

Always continue evolving your strategic plan, because the first version of it will most likely be outdated in 18 months. In high volatility businesses, like technology and healthcare, it may be even sooner.

The input from the day you wrote it vs. the inputs you’re getting now will all need to be a part of your process. This input could be from company leadership, customers, market analysts or all of the above, but the key is to account for the fact that those things change with time.

The most important thing a business leader can do is revisit their strategic plan frequently whenever they’re trying to make a decision. It’s a living breathing reference, not something that sits on a shelf.

PC: The Hartford

5. How can sales and partnerships fall into your strategic planning?

Partnerships are the epitome of strategic planning. You’re bringing companies together for a mutual benefit and giving each other opportunities to collaborate.

Partners can also be valuable advisors. They’re someone who you’ve already developed trust with, they know about your business, and they have the outside perspective to see opportunities where your business can be successful.

An ideal partner for your business will:

  • Serve the same customers you do
  • Offer a solution to something you need help with (and vice versa)
  • Have a similar culture

At the end of the day, your brand benefits from having someone stick by your side and bringing forth ideas they know are worth pursuing.

6. What can you do to ensure your goals are attainable?

Creating realistic goals will always be a learning process for your business’s individual needs, but you can start by:

Putting deeper thought into the goals you set based on the goals you’ve already met
Having a framework that allows for pivoting as you learn things from the market

You want goals that aren’t defined by success or failure, but rather new opportunities or directions.

For example, if your goal is to sell 20,000 units of a certain beverage, but you realize the market doesn't like it as you're in production, how quickly can you reconcile that disconnect? Do you take that inventory and try to sell it in another market, or do you scrap it and learn what the market does like?

The most important thing you can do for your business is ask questions like these, so your goals can account for those possible pivots. So instead of being finite, your goals should be more fluid like:

"I want this product to make [amount] with in least two different demographics, so I know I’m not limited to just one type of customer."

Or.

"I want to finish this integration by [date], so I can start marketing to [industry] in addition to the ones I’m already marketing to."

Your goals are best positioned when they are informed by your business’s and your market’s potential.

How can you continue building on what you already have?

If you’re not thinking about what’s happening in the world and discerning why it’s important to your business, you’re not being the best leader you can be. Keep an eye on:

  • Changes in the market
  • Changes in consumer behavior
  • How your current employees need to develop to meet those changing demands

Growth planning is not a task on your to-do list, it’s retraining yourself to keep your mind searching for ongoing opportunities. Pay attention to any changes, stay data-driven, and be curious.

Related: [Podcast] 4 Steps to Creating a Profitable Demand Generation Strategy