Dear fellow business owner,
I get it. Your personal and professional lives are not what you would like them to be. Even taking the time to pull yourself away from whatever it was you were doing before reading this article was a challenge in and of itself. Afterall, you have priorities that require your attention. Things need fixing. Fires need to be put out. And yet, you found the time to read an article on business strategy because you believe there are always ways to do business better. Good job! Researching is tough, especially if you have kids.
You are a smart business owner. You know to not implement every recommendation you read. You have decided to first build up your business IQ and your professional toolbox by studying industry best practices and business principles from thought leaders (Benjamin Graham, Michael Porter, James Collins, Jerry Porras, Simon Sinek, W. Chan Kim & Renee Mauborgne, Bernhard Schroeder, and Michael Gerber, to name a few). You listen to lectures on YouTube from business professors, talk to other business owners, read blogs, and seek out every credible and legitimate source of wisdom you can.
But now comes the tricky part; choosing which of the many tools and ideas should you implement. What actions should you take? What new technology should you leverage? Which contractor should you hire? How do you choose one directioName Goes Heren over another? The best answer to these questions is different for each of us, not only because each business is unique (or is trying to be unique), but because you are unique.
“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do”
– Michael Porter
We all have different things that we actively prioritize in our lives and other things we want to make a priority. Some of us value the flexibility to move to another country at a moment’s notice. Some of us want to spend more time with family and friends. Some of us want to retire at the age of 45, while others want to work until they are 80! This is why it is essential for business owners like you to take some time to look introspectively and figure out your personal values, priorities, and what you want in life long term. There is no point in owning a business that does not help you achieve your personal goals. This is why strategic planning must start with you.
I hope, for your sake, that it does not take an existential crisis before you start asking those big, challenging questions of who you are and what you want. For me, it took releasing from the Canadian Armed Forces after 15 years of service, moving to a new city, and having a baby. After a few weeks of coming to grips with my new identity as a stay-at-home-Dad, I started to write out the details of what a successful life looks like to me. Once I created a vivid description of what I wanted my life to look like 5, 10, and 20 years from now, it put everything going on in my life in perspective of my vision. Every choice then becomes easier to evaluate. If the action is taking you towards your vision, then do it. If the action is taking you away from your vision, then don’t do it. Evaluating what you want and need in life is the first critical step to strategic planning. Here are some questions to help you take that first step:
Core Values: what values/beliefs/rules do you live by?
Vision: what do you want your life to look and feel like in 3, 5, 10, and 20 years from now?
Priorities: what aspects of your life you must focus on to achieve your vision?
Strengths: what strengths can you leverage to help you fulfill your vision?
Answering these questions is not easy. It is always beneficial to get different perspectives to help you define yourself, especially when it comes to evaluating your strengths and weaknesses. After all, we all have our biases. Turn to those people who know you best. Pro tip: if you are married, make sure to ask for your spouse’s input into your vision and priorities.
Your values, vision, priorities and strengths are what make you unique from everyone else in the world. The trick is turning them into a foundation for your life and ensuring they guide each choice you make. Your values become how you conduct yourself on a daily basis. If you decide one of your core values is integrity, then you will go above and beyond to ensure that every action you take on a daily basis is honest, ethical, legal, and morally correct. If you make choices based on your values, your values become a part of your personal brand. Not how you see yourself, but how others see you. It takes years to build up a respectable reputation and only one wrong move to ruin one.
Once you discover who you are and what you want to accomplish, articulate 1-3 goals for each priority and leverage your strengths to achieve them. You are striving to know who you are, where you want to go, and how you will leverage your unique abilities to get you there. This is the essence of strategic planning. Strategy is big picture, slow moving, and long term. The next step is to design your business in order for it to help you fulfill your vision.