Strategy: Is Your Goal a Place or a Direction?

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Strategy

Strategy

You started out putting together something that you could call a Business Plan, right? If you had some help, or needed one to present to the bank or some investors, it was probably pretty detailed and held most everything you hoped to accomplish and how you would get there, all in one hefty document.

Then you launched your business, and got down to the day-to-day of keeping things going and growing.
The months and years flew by. Some products and services took off, and others flopped. You made adjustments, and kept at it. You marketed to your select audience the best you knew how, taking advantage of every free or low-cost method you could find so you could keep costs down. Your strategy, such as it was, was “Keep Things Going!” It worked for awhile…

Now it’s been several months or probably years. You’re working like crazy, but the return has slowed. Even if you’re getting new customers, you’re not getting as many return customers. Your products and services have changed a bit (or a lot..), but not much of the other pieces of the business framework has. You’re still not as profitable as you need to be to REALLY be making a living. You keep looking for things you can alter a bit or tweak to squeeze out more, but you’re running out of options.

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Draw the Line from Problem to Strategy and Back

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Problem to Strategy

Problem to Strategy

I wrote an article awhile back called Reaction is Not Solution. In it I wrote about how you can discover a problem and are then presented with a couple of different paths to solve it. Unfortunately, the culture in many businesses is to not even bring a problem to the surface unless you have a solution ready to share. In that article I go over why that’s probably not a great idea.

While it was more about decision-making and problem-solving, I never addressed strategy and planning in that article. Admittedly I am in a different position now as an entrepreneur, and it can seem to others that I can afford the “luxury” of working on mapping strategy and plans to a problem, spending the time needed to research and virtually test possible scenarios before heading in a single direction. I’d like to say that (a) that always happens, (b) it always works, and (c) I always have time to do it. None of those is true. So, the only difference between my current state and that of when I worked in corporate is that now my own business needs drive my discipline to the process, as opposed to the requirements laid on me by my manager. The latter is annoying, but the former will raise the hairs on the back of your head, believe me.

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What’s The Truth About Your Big Bang Theory?

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Big Bang Theory

Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory.

No, not the TV show or the Universe Origin theory. I mean what’s your plan (personal and business) for when something catastrophic takes place? Not only that, but, as anyone who has lived in the world of business for a while knows, there is likely some distance between “theory” and “reality.” That’s the problem…

Many businesses have a disaster plan. Call it crisis management, emergency management planning, or what you will, if you have spent time identifying likely disaster scenarios, you have invested in creating plans for them that will mean less disruption to you and your business. There are an enormous amount of resources available for the Small Business Administration here, which are helpful in the process. However, it is impossible to plan for Every Single Crisis you could confront. Not only that, but the test of a plan is how it works when the event takes place, and this is where a lot of businesses fall down. Business catastrophes are many times predicated on natural disasters of some sort. That is well and good. There are other disasters, aside from death (dying is a real problem, obviously, but not the focus of this article….), that take place. Many of these are personal, and can have a huge impact on your business, especially if you are a solo-preneur.

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Can You Attack the Same Problems with Novel Perspectives?

Strategizing

Strategizing

A hundred people at an event heard the word “Strategy” as part of a presentation I gave recently. Likely there were at least a hundred different interpretations and mental pictures that lit up for the attendees, some very related and others quite different from the others. Each was a product of their experience, education, beliefs and prejudices. This fact gets to the heart of effective, and ineffective, communication….always a challenge, but a well known one. As Valeria Maltoni has written, “There is more to semantics than meets the eye.”

Just like having a solid business plan, having a marketing strategy that supports and advances that plan is crucial to success. Many programs, classes, books, and online tools (along with tips and suggestions of varying degrees of helpfulness….) may help you assemble a business plan that will pass muster and get you going. To many entrepreneurs and business owners, though, marketing strategy embodies a different kind of geography in their thoughts and can have too many connotations to list. Nonetheless, here are two thoughts you need to consider, regardless of your particular definition:

  • Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare. – Japanese Proverb
  • However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.  – Attributed to Winston Churchill
What does a strategy get you? It can establish a specific direction, a foundational launch pad, for your business, focus your resources, generate a plan that is both effective and agile, and give you a reliable way to “gut check” your direction and efforts over time. Most business owners I have met are world-class technicians, but struggle with strategy. Even those who have had some education and experience in that area can suffer from being too close to their particular industry and business, thereby missing the “We don’t know what we don’t know” gaps in what they put together. What they need to do is get some expert help putting together (or reworking…) their marketing strategy….bring someone on board to view these problems in new and novel ways.

All of the books, articles, templates and other information inputs we encounter bang on about the importance of goals. When I initially think of goals, especially in the U.S., I am presented with the mental picture of a football goal post. This implies that once I Hit The Goal, I’m done. Of course, many of the resources I mentioned earlier encourage you set new goals, circling back and starting the circle of attainment over again. That just feels kind of jerky to me. In her article “On Strategizing” Maltoni quotes Scott Adams on why a system is more useful than goals:

“For our purposes, let’s agree that goals are a reach-it-and-be-done situation, whereas a system is something you do on a regular basis with a reasonable expectation that doing so will get you to a better place in your life. Systems have no deadlines, and on any given day you probably can’t tell if they’re moving you in the right direction. My proposition is that if you study people who succeed, you will see that most of them follow systems, not goals.”

I tell my clients that, once they build and initialize their strategy, implementation becomes a “horse they cannot get off of.” The majority of them are not happy with that message. As a business owner, if they’re involved in a project, they want it to be a project….that is, it is this lump of work that they (or the hired expert…) can complete and get off of my desk, so they can move onto the next project and get back to selling their products and services. When reminded of the importance of working ON the business as well as working IN the business, and how it strengthens the business, the strategizing process and system look much more valuable and key to growth. The dynamics of every business now require a consistent process and may require much more frequent course corrections than in the past (or in the past as we perceived it…). A sustainable business depends on making dynamic choices. Regular, if not constant, co-ordination of the current state of things with what is on hand to work them out is the new norm….fixed objectives are not viable because of the more frequent and unknowable disruptions our society and world endure daily.

So, the novel view: A Strategy feels like a “One-And-Done” item which, sadly and frequently, ends up in a filing cabinet. Strategizing is an action word. It’s something you do with some kind of frequency because of the need for it in your business. Again, many business owners are not expert strategizers, and that’s OK. As I mentioned, they are world-class technicians for their business’ focus. Do some research, get some recommendations, and start up a valuable relationship with an expert strategizer for your business.

What could be more valuable than establishing your business system of growth and success, and not just “hit the sales goal for this quarter”?

How Much Do You Compromise Your Planning?

Compromising position

If you don’t see it, it’s still there….

Planning is not something that comes naturally to a lot of small-to-medium business (SMB) owners.

Oh, we’re pretty good at planning out our day’s work, maybe setting up appointments and some are even pretty good at prioritization and time management. When we started out, we might have even gotten some help, or at least a copy of a template and some instructions for someplace, and created an time that we pronounced as our “business plan”. We promptly placed it in a folder, slapped it into a drawer of some kind, and proceeded to find some customers and get some work so we could get the revenue going. Besides, the primary we founded this business was so we could do something that we’re REALLY GOOD at and enjoyed doing. “As long as I’ve got a good pipeline of customers, I’m good!” has been the thought from the beginning. And that’s NOT entirely wrong…..but…..

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What Is The Secret Truth About Your Marketing Plan?

Digital Marketing Strategy

So you have a strategy for your digital marketing?

Working with the swirling realities of digital and social media marketing can feel like trying to quietly tread water in a really nasty river rapids that never ends….and then there are the rocks to avoid. As a business owner it’s hard enough. As a marketing professional, it is mind-numbing at times….still, that’s part of what I do and I confess to a kind of the same excitement as that metaphoric water-treader.

I have recently started working with a client who floored me by having something I have not seen in a long time at similarly-sized businesses: an actual Marketing Plan.
Really.
The business owner pulled it up on her laptop and I wanted to hug her…

This isn’t to say that other business owners haven’t spent time thinking about their marketing, but this owner had taken the next step and mapped it out for the next year….and even looked beyond. I identified a number places in the plan where I can add tremendous value (hence our starting to work together…), and we began to discuss the goals, measures and value we can bring to the business. I am totally psyched to begin this project!

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FOCUS: CAN’T SEE IT? YOU REALLY NEED HELP!

You are Very, Very Good at what you do!
That’s one of the reasons you started your business. You’re good at it and you love to do it. So, becoming your own boss seemed like the way to focus in on this passion and expertise, and deliver the benefits to others who are willing to pay you for it. Seems simple, right?

You read a few books, talked to some other friends and maybe even a few other business owners….even took a class or seminar. They shared their experiences and support for this move in your professional life and told you, “GO FOR IT!” You did some research and maybe even made your proof-of-concept available to some people, getting feedback and valuable input. None of this was easy, and you discovered a few things that set you back a bit and maybe even discouraged you, but you are determined….no turning back!

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