Small Business Trends

Start, Stop, Continue: 5 Action Items for Creating a Business Strategy Plan

By | 9 min read | Published

Learn what you should start, stop, and continue doing when crafting a business strategy.

Whether you run a small family-owned bakery or an IT startup and want to become the next Google or Amazon, you need to develop a business strategy plan.

Without a business strategy, you’ll find yourself at a loss sooner or later. Should you hire for a given role or not? Which product or service should you develop next? Where will you find the funding for an expansion?

Your business strategy makes answering these questions easier, but it isn’t enough to simply have one. For any business strategy to work, it needs to be actionable, based on factual data and research, and SMART.

Let’s take a look at five action items that you should either start, stop, or continue doing to help you develop a business strategy plan tailored to your unique business needs.

1

Start defining your targets and goals

Your first action should be defining your business goals and the targets you want to hit over time, both in the near future and long term.

Vague and unmeasurable goals can cause everything from misaligned marketing and sales strategies to hiring the wrong people for the wrong roles, and a range of other pitfalls. In the long term, these issues can hinder the growth of your business.

A great way to set concrete goals you are likely to achieve is by making them SMART, an acronym that describes what your business goals should look like:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-based

Clear and well-defined goals that can be measured against specific criteria are the cornerstone of any business strategy. Your goals must also be possible to achieve, and align with your company’s mission or be relevant to your company’s purpose. You also need to clearly define a timeline for the achievement of each goal.

An example of a SMART goal is: “My company will sell X products within Y months.” This goal is clearly defined (“sell x products”), time-based (“Y months”), and measurable (the metric is the number of products sold within a given time period).

Whether it is achievable or not will depend on the value of X and Y compared to your business’s previous performance. For example, if your bakery sold 50,000 cupcakes in 2020, an unachievable goal is increasing to one million cupcakes sold the following year.

You should then break down your goals into milestones. If the timeline for achieving a goal is, say, one year, you can set monthly targets. This allows you to track your progress and adjust your strategy if necessary.

the SMART goal framework explained
SMART goal framework (Source)
2

Start making decisions based on facts and figures

For your decisions to have the highest possible chance of success, they need to be based on data. Guesswork simply won’t cut it in a competitive marketplace.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into how metrics can help you set realistic goals and be used to inform every business decision you make.

Start by conducting a SWOT analysis to determine the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats your business might encounter. Then, use your findings to determine what you can improve on and select your key performance indicators (KPIs).

The exact data you need to collect will, of course, depend on the nature of your business. Five common KPIs are:

  • Revenue growth
  • Revenue per client
  • Profit margin
  • Client retention rate
  • Customer satisfaction

To determine the values you should be aiming for, look at historical data for your company and your competitors. For example, if your revenue has increased 5% annually for the past three years, you could aim for a 7% increase and implement strategies to achieve this.

When evaluating your goals against your competitors, consider the age, size, and revenue of each competing business. Try to find competitors that are of similar size and age to your own company as your benchmarks.

Once you’ve set your goals, you need to keep track of your progress. Base every decision on this data, from your marketing and R&D budget to the colors used on your product’s packaging.

Your KPIs are a good indicator of what your business needs to improve to reach your goals. If something isn’t working, try implementing changes and see how your KPIs respond.

There is a wide range of strategic planning tools that can help with this task, and help you avoid the laborious process of manually collecting and interpreting large quantities of data.

A SWOT analysis looks at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats
A SWOT analysis looks at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (Source)
3

Stop comparing your business to others

Benchmarking is a crucial step in developing your business strategy. If you have no idea what your competitors are doing or what products they’re offering, you will have a difficult time carving out space for yourself in the marketplace.

However, the habit of stalking your competition can hinder your company’s progress. Every business is unique, and trying to replicate others often means taking your eyes off the ball for your business, which can lead to disaster.

Remember that from the outside, you can’t really know what your competitors are doing. You can use metrics to gauge their success and set your own goals, you can explore their website and social media profiles to get an understanding of their marketing strategy, and you can test their products and services. However, these indicators can’t show their processes, strategies, or how they come up with ideas.

Your competitors’ resources, R&D, HR, sales, and staff expertise all differ from yours. Their processes and strategies are based on their own goals and biases, and while it’s tempting to adjust to mirror others’ apparent successes, pause and ask yourself whether you’re willing to gamble your time and resources on untested ideas. If you are, it’s usually safer to take a risk with your own ideas rather than someone else’s.

Your business strategy should be your own, in line with your vision, brand, budget, product, marketing, and all other aspects that make your business unique. Your customers will recognize the originality of your brand and respect you for it.

4

Continue developing your brand’s vision

Companies that have a clear vision are often the ones that succeed. The sooner you define your vision, the sooner you will be able to start working toward it.

Your company’s vision is the signpost that shows employees, customers, and yourself where your business is headed and what it wants to become.

Unlike your strategy (which shows you how to get to where you want to be), the vision describes the destination itself and includes the values your company promotes.

Here are a few examples of vision statements from successful enterprises:

  • IKEA: “Create better everyday lives for as many people as possible.”
  • Amazon: “To be the world’s most customer-centric company.”
  • Google: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
  • Sony: “To be the most comprehensive entertainment company in the world.”

Your company’s vision statement needs to be informed by what you are already successful at. Examine where your company is now, and where you want to be in the future.

Make sure all of your employees are aware of why the company exists. Employees who don’t consider their company’s vision to be meaningful are less likely to care about the company’s future. As a result, they will be less engaged, less committed, and—ultimately—less productive.

Be sure to regularly review your vision statement. Outside influences such as inventions, marketplace shifts, or global pandemics can impact the timeline of your vision. They could accelerate your progress toward achieving your vision or stop you in your tracks.

Your vision needs to be a picture of the future, informed by the present. If present conditions change dramatically, review your vision to keep it relevant and attainable.

5

Continue thinking about the human factor

Whatever your staffing needs may be, it’s essential to outline your hiring, delegating, and general operational strategies as soon as possible. Even if your company has only one employee at the moment, an HR strategy will ensure you choose and retain the right candidates in the future.

Ideally, you want to hire for fit over experience. A candidate hired for fit is one who will fit into your company’s culture and is more likely to stay longer and be satisfied with the workplace in general.

That isn’t saying you should dismiss a candidate’s experience, merely that you should establish a baseline in terms of experience and make your final decision based on how well they would work in your team.

Your HR strategy should also include an internal communications strategy and an employee engagement strategy. Both can make a huge difference in how daily tasks are handled and help you avoid the pitfalls of poor workplace communication.

Reward employee performance and organize periodic team-building events to promote solidarity within your company. This can help decrease turnover rates, which means saving money on the training and hiring process.

Having a tight-knit team of dedicated, engaged workers is a sure way of increasing productivity across your entire business.

Key takeaways

A good business strategy plans for the long term but is flexible enough to move with the times and combat the unforeseeable. Here are the essential points you need to remember when developing your business strategy:

  • SMART goals: Set goals that are concrete, quantifiable, attainable, relevant, and broken down into milestones.
  • Metrics, metrics, and more metrics: Track your progress regularly and use this data to inform every business decision you make.
  • Don’t be a copycat: Your business strategy needs to be your own. What works for your competitors won’t always work for you.
  • Periodically review your company’s vision: As the marketplace changes, so should your business. If your vision statement no longer describes your company’s direction, review it and adapt to new circumstances.
  • Your employees are people, too: Unless you run a one-person operation, it’s likely that other people contribute to your company’s success. Develop a strategy to keep your employees happy and productive.

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About the Author

Samantha Clark - Guest Contributor

Samantha Clark - Guest Contributor

Samantha is a Warrington College of Business graduate and she works for the professional accounting firm, ThePayStubs. She handles all client relations with top-tier partners and found her passion in writing articles on various finance and business-related topics.

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