“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” –Sun Tzu
When the ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu wrote about winning first and then going to war, he meant the strategic planning that has to take place well before an army steps onto the field of battle. The Business Dictionary defines strategy this way: “A method or plan chosen to bring about a desired future, such as achievement of a goal or solution to a problem.” Almost all of us who embark on the adventure of a small business at some point envision a different future, and set out to make that real. In the world of business, strategy and success are inseparable.
Plan to adapt, adapt the plan
Sun Tzu also wrote: “He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent, and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain.” In business or warfare, the plan must be fluid, not rigid. Proformative says: “Adapting to change has always been a business constant. Today, as the pace of change accelerates, business decision-makers need to be more agile than ever to keep up with change and capitalize on it.” So what is this strategic plan that we follow closely, until conditions change?
Definition and steps
In a recent article, Forbes Contributor Aileron lays out Five Steps to a Strategic Plan: “A strategic plan looks at all the things your small business could do and narrows it down to the things it is actually good at doing. A strategic plan also helps business leaders determine where to spend time, human capital and money.” There are lots of different approaches – here are the Forbes/Aileron five steps:
- Determine where you are (this is harder than it looks)
- Identify what’s important. Focus on where you want to take your organization over time.
- Define what you must achieve
- Determine who is accountable
- Review. Review. Review.
Knowledge is power
Determining where you are and identifying what’s important require research. For example, SMB Group’s new “Routes to Market Survey” shows small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) of from 1-1000 employees regard attracting new customers, growing revenue and improving employee productivity to be among their top business challenges. If you have such data, these become important areas to focus on in your strategic plan. Each area of focus poses its own strategic and tactical challenges. For example, improving employee productivity often means moving from manual processes to automation, a challenge of acquiring technology. The Routes to Market survey identifies “Figuring out how different technology solutions can help my business” as one of the top four technology challenges SMBs say they face. (For example, the top four current and planned business solutions categories the survey respondents identified are: accounts payable, workforce and payroll management, accounting, financial and/or enterprise resource planning and expense management.) Knowing this would lead a strategic business to plan for acquiring advice and expertise in these technologies of financial automation. This kind of information helps you to build a map from where you are to where you want to go, and triggers the kinds of key questions you need to ask and answer in order to know you’re going in the right direction. You can revisit those questions as you review periodically so you don’t go off course.
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