October 31, 2014

Invest in Your Success: Strategic Planning for Small Business

strategic planning

Running a small business can be chaotic. It’s easy to get sucked into the day-to-day operations required to keep things running smoothly and profitably. By taking the time to invest in a strategic planning process, you’re saying, “I am ready to take this business to the next stage of success.”

I’d like to share the best practices I’ve used to grow Infusionsoft from a start-up with a handful of employees to a thriving, venture-backed organization with 450 employees. They are rooted in the philosophies of experts like Jim Collins, Verne Harnish and Tyler Norton and vetted over 10 years of real-world application. I believe in this process and its power to help small businesses achieve success, and I know it can help you too. So let’s get started.

Strategic Planning for Small Business

1. Articulate Your Vision—Your Purpose, Mission & Core Values

Creating, articulating and sticking to your vision is the single most important job you have as a leader. A clear vision is needed to guide and influence your strategic planning process. Have you ever asked yourself, “What is the purpose of my business?” If not, sit down right now and figure it out. Our purpose at Infusionsoft is quite simply, “To help small businesses succeed.”

Once you’ve clearly articulated why your business exists, it’s time to identify the concrete “what” behind it—the three to five-year Mission you’re embarking on. Your Mission should be bold, inspirational and compelling and just gutsy enough to give you butterflies in your stomach. Think of President Kennedy’s Mission to put a man on the moon and return him safely home within a decade. Our Mission is, “To create and dominate the market of all-in-one sales and marketing software for small businesses, with 100,000 customers worldwide.”

With your Purpose and Mission in place, the last piece you need is Core Values. This is the “how” of your business. Core Values should articulate what is already true about your business and culture, not describe how you want it to be:

  • How do you go about your work?
  • What do you value in yourself and your employees?
  • What characteristics do you want your customers to experience?

These are your Core Values.

Once you have your Purpose, Mission and Core Values in place, it’s your job to hire, train and also fire employees that don’t align to it. It sounds like extra work, but you’ll actually discover that finding good people is much easier when you’ve clearly articulated your Vision. At Infusionsoft, we’ve found that our Purpose, Mission and Core Values attract the right candidates and repel the wrong ones.

2. Understand How Strategy Drives the Plan

When you take the time to define the why, what and how of your business, you’re ready to identify strategies to achieve your Mission. To determine what those strategies should be, examine the company strengths that you can employ to achieve a strong return on your investments. Look for resources and capabilities you can leverage for maximum gain. To develop a competitive advantage that is sustainable, I recommend focusing on no more than three to five core strengths.

I firmly believe that strategy is an exercise in saying “no.” Focus is an incredible thing. Just think about the power that’s achieved when you focus a magnifying glass on a very small area. By focusing your resources on a few core areas, you maximize your chances of success.

Remember: Identify three to five strategies that are borne out of your greatest strengths, all highly focused on achieving your Mission.

3. Link Your Vision to the Annual and Quarterly Priorities

It can sometimes be a challenge to bridge the gap between your long-term vision and the daily operations. The structure we use to bridge this gap is called our “Strategy Planning Methodology.” It breaks down our current Mission into the annual and quarterly priorities we need to complete in order to achieve our Mission. The work of the quarterly priorities then gets broken down into SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound) objectives that are owned by employees and have deliverables.

Here’s a closer look at the structure of our Strategy Planning Methodology:

  • Mission: This is typically achievable in three to five years. It should be bold and exciting.
  • Strengths to Leverage: Three to five key strengths you will need to use to achieve your Mission.
  • Strengths to Develop: Three to five strengths you will need to develop to achieve your Mission.
  • Annual Priorities: Three to five priorities you will focus on this year to leverage your current strengths or develop new strengths to get closer to reaching your Mission. It important to remember that the annual priorities must: Support the current mission, be set annually by the leaders and not become individualized by department or employee.
  • Quarterly Priorities or Tactical Operating Priorities: Three to five priorities that support the annual priorities.
  • SMART Objectives: Projects and/or tasks that are required to accomplish the quarterly priorities.

Using this Strategy Planning Methodology makes it possible to connect your Mission to the annual, quarterly and even daily operations of the business.

4. Establish A Rhythm for Success

Strategic planning isn’t a one-time event. Once you’ve laid out your strategy, it’s crucial to stay focused over the long-term. I’ve found that it’s vital to schedule a steady rhythm of productive meetings—annually, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily. During these meetings, evaluate the plan, what’s working and what needs to be adjusted. You may be tempted to skip these meetings, but don’t do it. You’ll waste a lot more time throughout the week, month and quarter if you’re not clear on your goals. Make this investment in regular meetings and you’ll get the best thing to help you succeed—confidence.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve always believed in measuring performance to help people and companies make steady progress toward their goals. One of my favorite quotes is:

Where performance is measured, performance improves. Where performance is reported, performance improves dramatically. Where performance is reported publicly, performance improves exponentially.

At the end of every quarter, each department goes through what we call a SWOT + exercise. During this time we do a SWOT analysis where we analyze our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. We take it a step further by evaluating the accomplishments, lessons learned and strategic issues from the quarter. (How do we achieve X outcome, given Y situation?)

By doing this, we are able to make informed decisions about what the next quarterly priorities should be.

Effective strategic planning is the linchpin for your long-term business success. Grounded in your Purpose, Mission and Core Values, a solid strategy can help you develop a plan of action and maximize your likelihood of success in achieving your vision.

Business Strategy Concept Photo via Shutterstock

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Clate Mask


Clate Mask Clate Mask is Co-Founder and CEO of Infusionsoft, a fast-growth software company that helps small businesses convert more leads, save time and manage more with less with its web-based software. He also is co-author of the New York Times best-seller Conquer the Chaos: How to Grow a Successful Small Business Without Going Crazy.

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