Strategic planning is a process that you as a business owner may use to evaluate your business and the environment in which you operate. Ultimately, a strategic plan informs operational decisions that help the firm reach its goals and potential.
If you haven’t recently revisited your business’ strategic plan or haven’t developed a plan altogether, then consider these nine factors as a guide for updating or devising a plan that ensures your business is well-positioned for operating profitably and competitively in 2015 and beyond.
- Articulate a vision and a mission. The vision describes what the business would like to be in the long-term. It’s an aspirational statement. The mission shares the business’ purpose for operating.
- Identify your stakeholders. Stakeholders are groups that your business serves or groups that influence your business. Stakeholders may include management, shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, government entities and the community at large. Your strategic plan should consider each group that is relevant to your operation; the role that each group will have in affecting your business; and the opportunities that your business may have to engage, influence or serve these groups to ensure that the business succeeds.
- Scan your internal environment. Understanding your internal environment involves realistically identifying your business’ strengths and weaknesses. Internal factors that may be strengths or weaknesses include finances, human resources, machinery and equipment, culture and operational protocols.
- Assess your external environment. In the external environment, identify opportunities and threats. These may be related to political, economic and demographic factors that are outside of your control but still affect the business.
- Combine the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) assessment into a single analysis. The SWOT analysis fuels goal-setting and positioning your business for success. The SWOT analysis should help you to consider leveraging your strengths, prioritizing weaknesses to realign, targeting the strongest opportunities as possible growth areas and developing a strategy for monitoring and addressing important threats.
- Define your competitive advantage. Find the unique position that your business can occupy relative to its competitors and given its strengths and weaknesses and the surrounding environment’s opportunities and threats.
- Make SMART goals. When using your assessment to form business goals, formulate goals that are specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and have a time element. For example, “Increase soybean protein content by 1 percentage point per year from 32 percent protein in 2015 to 35 percent protein in 2018” would be a stronger goal than “Grow soybeans that buyers demand.”
- Account for your personal and business goals. Personal goals represent the individual objectives of management, staff and others involved in the business. Such goals may include earning money, contributing to the community, developing professional skills, having time available to spend with family or advancing a given industry. When setting business goals, ensure that business goal achievement will enable the people involved in your business to realize their personal goals.
- Determine action steps. These action steps or strategies shouldbring you closer to achieving the goals that you set, fulfilling your business’ purpose and satisfying your business’ long-term aspirations.