“Strategy is a fancy word for coming up with a long-term plan and putting it into action.”
- Ellie Podot
Years ago when I was eagerly working my way up the corporate ladder and doing everything I could to rack up the skills and knowledge required for my next big promotion, I remember thinking, I’ll know that I’ve made it, when I can add strategy to my CV.
At the same time, I wondered what this term, strategy, seemingly reserved for senior managers, actually meant. When I finally arrived at a place where I was responsible for creating strategy, I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that it was nothing more mysterious than planning. What I witnessed even back then was a serious lack of what I call strategic thinking.
My sincere hope for you is for your business planning to go beyond simply setting some goals and hoping for the best.
American academic, Michael Porter (known for his theories on business strategy) said:
“Sound strategy starts with having the right goal.”
Therefore, one could argue (as I’m about to), that being more strategic comes from taking actions to ensure that we have the right goals in place. The following are five ways to help you do just that.
1. Start with the end in mind (create a vision)
In his highly acclaimed, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey encourages us to always begin any endeavour or project with the end in mind. This may sound obvious on first reading, but so many of us fall into the trap of working on our businesses in the short-term and operating in a reactive way to events and circumstances as they happen, rather than being strategic and proactive. Let’s be honest, how often have your work efforts been derailed by your changing mood, an unplanned event or even shiny object syndrome?
Covey argues that “if you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default. It’s about connecting again with your own uniqueness and then defining the personal, moral, and ethical guidelines within which you can most happily express and fulfill yourself. Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.”
In order to be more strategic (and intentional) in our work, therefore, we must have a clear vision of where we want to get to in our business, be that in 1, 3 or 10 years. To ensure that your daily, weekly, monthly and annual goals are strategically designed to get you where you want to go, you’ll want to create a clear vision for your business, so that as you set goals and take actions in your business, you can continually ask yourself this question: Will this task or goal bring me closer to or take me further away from my vision?
ACTION: Take some time to envision where you want to be at some point in the future. What does your business look and feel like? Can you imagine a typical working day? What are you doing and how are you feeling?
2. Deeply understand your why
Now that you have a clear vision of where you are trying to get to, you’re better able to start working backwards and setting goals that are more likely to get you there. The mistake that many people make, however, when setting goals is to start by trying to identify what they need or want to do or create. When we start with the what, we risk missing a vital and strategic step. We make the mistake of failing to consider our deepest why.
The reason why needs to be prioritised above the what is because when we focus on the what, we can easily find ourselves setting goals from a place of should. For example, I should make more videos because that’s what everyone says I should do. I should be posting on Social Media everyday because that’s what the advice out there tells us to do. I hate to break it to you but doing something simply because it’s what you think you should do is not a particularly strategic approach.
It’s also super important to know at a macro level why you are even in the business you’re in and then at the micro level, why you are choosing each and every task, goal and project in order to make that business a success. When we look first at why, it gives much needed meaning to our goals.
Let me give you a non-business related example. A woman looks in the mirror and decides to set a goal to lose 10kgs. She desperately wants to lose weight, so it seems like the logical step. However, she consistently fails to achieve this goal. Why? Because she is overlooking her deepest why. At the core of her desire to lose weight is the belief that when she does, she’ll finally be lovable. Not only does weight have absolutely nothing to do with lovability, trying to lose weight to get love is a bit like trying to cool down by blowing yourself with a hairdryer.
We do this all the time in business, set goals that have little to do with what we really want to achieve.
But that’s not all, focusing on your why also has an important impact on your sales. As Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why said:
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe”
When you have clarity on why you are doing what you are doing, not only do you feel more inspired to take the actions outlined in your plan, you are more likely to set goals that have meaning for you and you are also more likely to inspire your audience and potential clients to buy from you!
ACTION: Grab your journal and take some time to journal on your deepest why, consider why you do what you do, consider your current business goals and ask yourself why you’ve set each one and finally take a look at your website and check to see if you are communicating your deepest why effectively to your audience.
3. Identify how you want to feel
One of the first questions I like to ask myself when I sit down to work on my annual business plan is this: How do I want to feel in my business this year? Answering this question gives me important information about how I want to execute my business strategy for the forthcoming year.
If, for example, I want to feel ease, then I’m more likely to create a business plan that simplifies my work, rather than one that feels complicated or busy. If I want to feel connected in my business, then perhaps I’ll choose projects and actions that see me collaborating more.
Knowing how you want to feel gives you valuable information on what your goals and priorities might be. Identifying how you want to feel is something you can do as you start any new project, big or small. Once you know, you’ll be better able to choose a strategy to support those feelings.
ACTION: Grab your journal and take some time to journal on how you want to feel in your business this year.
4. Set Strategic Priorities
Once you have clarity on your end goal, your why behind the goal and you’ve identified how you want to feel as you work towards that goal, you’re now ready to set some strategic priorities for your business.
In my annual business plan, I like to set 3 strategic priorities that will move me closer to my business vision and that will help me to decipher and prioritise my business goals. The strategic priorities I identified a few years ago were as follows:
1. Grow my audience (because I believe that will lead to more sales which will support my desire to feel more prosperous and will allow me to build a team, which is a key part of my vision as it will allow me to spend more time with my family)
2. Passive income (because I want to have a business model that allows me to make money even when I’m away from my business, whether that’s going to the gym, travelling or having fun with my family).
3. Collaboration (because I want to feel more supported this year in my business and to feel more ease and connection and less like I’m doing everything on my own.)
I got to these strategic priorities by reviewing my business vision, tuning into my deepest why, and asking myself (and journalling on) how I wanted to feel in my business that year.
Once you have your strategic priorities, then and only then, can you think about what goals you’d like to set under each of them. Don’t be surprised to have goals come up that don’t fit under your strategic priorities, that’s the point. Strategic priorities help you decide what not to do as much as what to do, as Michael Porter also said:
“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”
ACTION: If you haven’t already, take some time now to consider which 3 strategic priorities you might have for your business next year.
5. Review your plan regularly
Creating a plan and attempting to stick to it is not enough to tick the strategic box around here. For a start, if you’ve ever created a business plan, you’ll know just how difficult it can be (ahem impossible) to follow it. Life inevitably gets in the way and as President Eisenhower so poignantly put it:
“I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
I know first hand how easy it can be to write a detailed and strategic plan, only to abandon it within a month, because the reality of what is happening in the day-to-day and what’s contained inside your beautifully written plan don’t match.
For me the key to effective planning is in your ability to review and adjust your plan accordingly. Your business plan should be a living breathing document that gets referred to and updated on a regular basis. Don’t abandon your planning efforts because you get off track, simply review and adjust to get back on track.
ACTION: Consider joining my next Business Planning Workshop, to register head here.