Learn how to write a strategic plan for your personal business or career occupation. A strategic plan can provide professional direction and help you reach goals more effectively
Planning for the future is an important part of any business venture. A strategic plan can help a company set short-term and long-term goals and outline steps to reach each one.
Let’s say someone starts an office cleaning business with accounts at twenty local companies. At first the owner can handle all the accounts with the help of two employees, but within five years he hopes to expand the business by a hundred percent and two additional staff. In ten years’ time the owner would like to have eighty accounts and six full-time employees to handle them while he maintains office records and solicits new business. Now he has a “plan” of expansion rather than a “dream” of growth, since his goals are described in tangible terms. These can be typed into a spreadsheet or another form as headings. Below each will appear the means of meeting that goal, called “objectives.”
The specific processes that will lead to a certain goal should be somewhat detailed. For example, in the above five- and ten-year plans, objectives might include the following:
- Exceptional customer service.
- Client referral “rewards” system.
- Recruit testimonials and favorable quotes.
- Increase the advertising budget.
Now the plan is becoming more concrete, yet it is still unclear how each of these objectives will be fulfilled. It’s time to add “action steps” to the next part of the plan.
The actions to be taken to meet desired objectives should be clear, specific, and measurable. Here is an example:
- Exceptional customer service.
- Return all telephone calls within 24 hours.
- Maintain a Web site and check e-mail daily.
- Treat every customer with courtesy and respect, even those that are irritable or unreasonable.
After completing goals, objectives, and action steps for your strategic plan, set it aside for a few days. When you return to it with a “fresh eye,” you will have a better idea of where revision may be needed.
Like other business documents, a strategic plan is a “living document.” In other words, even though it describes a valid plan for growing and improving a business, it may need to be revisited from time to time so you can make updates, changes, or deletions. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- If the plan is for a company that employs more than one person, get feedback from all staff for a broader perspective of company needs and desirable directions. Getting other’s suggestions also promotes a sense of “buy-in” that will encourage everyone to work to meet the goals outlined in the plan.
- Don’t revise too often, or staff may stop taking the plan seriously if they feel “it’s just going to get changed again anyway.” Give your plan time to work, usually a couple of years, making minor adjustments only as needed. Save major overhauls for company-wide retreats or sessions where everyone can work together.
- Use simple terms. Fancy or vague words can confuse employees and make it hard for them to understand and follow the plan. Instead of “organizational directives,” for example, say something like “company policies” instead.
- Report progress toward the plan’s goals. When the company reaches 25% or 50% of its goals, mention it in the newsletter, board meeting, or other communicational method to motivate staff to continue following the plan.
- If obstacles pop up and you need to revise an action step, remind staff that the goal is still the same to avoid confusing or discouraging them.
A strategic plan offers a written map for future success. Research shows that companies with strategic plans generally are more successful than those without them. Don’t wait to put your company’s goals in writing so that everyone can pull together to make them happen.