Sometimes I think I was born a strategist. Puzzles and logic & mystery games were commonplace in my childhood home. Remember, Clue, the board game?
My father, a computer programmer, taught me basic code before I was in double digits. My mother mapped out daily errands, and everything else in her life, for maximum efficiency. So, I come by my penchant for strategic thinking quite naturally, as they say.
I like the process of patiently examining the scattered pieces of a situation and bringing order and resolve to it. Crazy? Maybe. But it’s an invaluable skill in both my personal life and as an entrepreneur.
In a small business, there are about a gazillion moving parts that must coordinate to bring things together and move the business forward. That cannot happen without strategy and planning. (One my other passions.)
Now I am not talking about planning as in a Business Plan. Believe it or not, there is still some debate out there as to whether a small business, not seeking outside funding, needs a formal Business Plan.
For many lifestyle and creative business owners, who grapple with the high-level business jargon and the rigid structure of a traditional Business Plan, it can be a relief to know that business can be done without it. Many small business owners do get formulate one. Then promptly file it away, rarely referring to it again.
While a Business Plan may be optional, strategic thinking and planning are not.
Strategic thinking and planning yield to the fast-paced, evolving nature of a small business. It’s fluid and living. It can be easily shifted to respond to new information and trends.
Here is the process that I take to help me map out my strategy and prioritize for the new year. I use this both in my business and my personal life.
BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND
I begin by identifying my goals and clarifying what I want for this year. I ask, “Where do I want to be at the end of 2018? …at the end of each quarter or trimester of the year? What does winning look like in December 2018?” I verify that my answers align with my overall vision of the woman I want to be and the business I want to grow. My desired outcomes become like a magnet; they draw me toward the goal and draw out of me the dexterity to execute.
I list sub-goals in the form of a checklist. “Read this book” or “listen to that podcast” or “watch this webinar” are the types of items on the list.
In my personal life, I have a goal to live a progressively healthier lifestyle by the end of 2018. Busyness and other circumstances have crowded out some of my good habits. I’m reviving them and adding new ones this year. My personal checklist has items like “walk daily”, “run four 5 to 10Ks”, “eat more greens”, etc.
ANALYZE THE SITUATION
Next, I ask, “Where am I now?” I sift through my toolbox. “What are my internal strengths and weaknesses? What are my external opportunities and threats?”
I go through the four questions, Dave Ramsey dubs the Four Insights: “What’s working? What’s broken? What’s missing? What’s confusing?” I attempt to list five or more items for each. Just brainstorming without filtering. Then I circle about three that are important from each category.
Ultimately, I select one. That one item becomes my Strategic Priority for a select time frame, such as a month or quarter.
At this point, I develop at least three action items per priority. I employ my tools that I have identified earlier.
For example, one of my internal strengths is that I am a morning person. For me, it means I can accomplish a great deal from 4-7AM when I begin making breakfast for my family. I can use that time for self-care, personal development, or business operations.
Knowing the morning is my best time, I do not plan to do my creative or strategic thinking work in the afternoon. Awareness of what’s in my toolbox informs my action plan.
I add deadlines to my action plan to hold myself accountable. And where I am unsure of how to execute a task, I schedule time for L&D (learning and development). I remind myself to be patient with my learning curve.
PUT REVIEW ON REPEAT
I set regular dates to tackle the action items for my one priority. I try to work on an action item to completion. No more than about 30 minutes each session. This helps me to maintain momentum and progress. It also ensures that I make timely adjustments to the plan as needed.
I’m still figuring out the exact right frequency of my review…daily is overwhelming but monthly is too long to wait. I have started this year with the plan to do weekly reviews. I think this will help keep me on track while giving enough time in between to move the ball at a steady clip. I’ll keep you posted on how well it works. ;-)
I recognize that this outlined process comes rather easily for me due to my proclivity for the tactical. However, this framework can work for anyone. You can be successful this year. You can set goals and strategic priorities that move you forward in your life, and not abandon them come February. This structure has the potential to keep both your (and my) personal and business development on a growth track.
So…let’s do this!
Here’s to a Strategic New Year!
Until next time...