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How to create a strategic plan for your business

One of my favorite podcasts is NPR's How I Built This. Guy Raz takes founders through their stories, from idea to sale (or the current day). It's a fascinating combination of story and business insight that I can binge on for hours and never get bored. And one of the main things he draws out is their “Why.”

Sometimes it starts as a simple solution to their own personal problems, like Away luggage; other times it's a global movement from the outset, like Toms. But every time, from that “Why,” a business grows.

What is your business's “Why”? Maybe paying the rent came to mind, or working from the sofa, or maybe it was to retire as a partner. I want to encourage you to stop here, take a deep breath and ask yourself (without wondering how): “What would I like to achieve in ten years?”

I love the Bill Gates quote,”We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” 

So dream big, because this “Why” starts your strategic plan and guides all of your other plans, actions and results from here on out.

What is a strategic plan?

A strategic plan is a big picture view of why the business exists—whether it be a problem it wants to solve, a result it wants to achieve, or a societal change it wants to facilitate.

The strategic plan is the north star for a business, making sure that as it goes about the day-to-day, it stays on track, moving closer to that big mission or vision.

A strategic plan is a long-term plan, usually ranging from two to ten years, as the ambitions outcome should require time to achieve it.

What’s included in a strategic plan?

A solid strategic plan includes:

A vision statement 

This explains where the business wants to go and why. It's short and punchy, like a tag line.

A mission statement 

This explains what you do, who you do it for, how you will work toward the vision, and why you are unique.

Core values

These are the guiding principles of the company and the baseline for any decision making in future. These govern how you interact internally and with the outside world.

Remember, this is meant to be a high-level guide for the business going forward. It's about the result and the “Why,” not the “How.”

Who owns the strategic plan?

In the corporate world, the strategic plan would be designed by committee, but in the smaller, more agile entrepreneurial space, the strategic plan is the CEO's territory. It is visionary work.

This is not to say that you can’t seek input from your team, but ultimately, it is your business and you are being looked to for direction in this moment. 

Your strategic plan documents the vision for your business that all the other plans strive to meet.

Using a strategic plan

Once the strategic plan is drafted, there are a few things that need to happen.

Employees need to buy into the big idea. They do not need to know the “How,” but they must be able to see and feel that big vision you have in order to become a part of it.

Core values need to be familiar to everyone in your team, so that they have a standard for what is and what is not acceptable. This will ensure that the team is equipped to make decisions without you, based on whether it moves you toward the goal and is in line with your values.

You could also use this as a manifesto on your website, as a rallying cry to your tribe, or a powerful introduction to your new clients or potential clients. This only works, though, if the vision, mission or core values you are sharing affect THEM on their journies. Ask yourself, “Am I sharing for self or service?” If not keep them as an internal driver for your team instead.

While this deep work can feel daunting, as the visionary of the company it is your most important responsibility. Without it, the business may be moving forward, but in the completely wrong direction. To remove this overwhelming, I’ve built a detailed workbook to help you brainstorm and choose each element of your plan.