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A Basic 10-Step Strategic Planning Process for Small Businesses who want to Succeed

Written by Ellen Didier August 27, 2013

A Basic 10-Step Strategic Planning Process for Small Businesses who want to Succeed

Strategic planning doesn’t have to take a ton of time or resources. Too often, small business owners put off strategic planning until they have more time to dedicate to it and the results are often that business stagnates and the company doesn’t keep improving or growing. Our team at Red Sage follows this basic 10-step process once a year, which has helped us stay strong as a company and keeps our focus on activities and goals that will help us continue to grow and improve. Here’s how we do it:

  1. Gather your team
    We shut down our company for a half day retreat and gather together. We each take turns leading different areas of the discussion so we all feel ownership in the process and outcomes. Pizza or snacks are definitely helpful at this stage.

  2. Do SWOT Analysis
    We plaster the walls with big 3M sticky note poster paper and write down our Strengths and Weaknesses as a company. Then we look outside at the business environment and write down any Opportunities or Threats. It is amazing how just this exercise lays out the structure of what we need to work on for the next year.

  3. Look at competitors
    We don’t always do this in the half day company retreat, but we definitely spend time each year (and throughout the year) looking at our competitors’ websites and social media. We do ask some questions about competitors during our retreat: Where are you seeing our competitors? Where are they challenging us? Any new ones we need to watch out for? We refine our SWOT notes as we talk about competitors.

  4. Look at markets
    We ask how different customer segments are changing. Are our services still meeting needs? Are we getting asked to add any services – or is there any opportunity to do so – in order to help our customers more? Are we communicating regularly with each of our customer segments? Are there any market specific opportunities or threats? We refine our SWOT notes as we talk about different markets.

  5. Ask your employees
    We ask our employees what would help with efficiency? Where are our processes breaking down? What are the top issues you keep running into? What do you think we need to do to get to the next level? We also ask what would make their jobs easier? It always amazes me when the requests are simple – such as floor lamps or an additional monitor at their workstation. Sometimes the smallest things employees want are easily provided and keep morale high.

  6. Ask your customers
    It is helpful to ask a few key customers what you can do to serve them better. Just a few phone calls or meetings will yield incredibly valuable insight into service delivery issues, communication, or even potential new products or services. This can be done before or after the meeting – or get in the habit of doing this throughout the year as you spend time with your customers.

  7. Identify your Big Rocks.
    Dr. Stephen Covey introduced the Big Rocks concept to the world to explain the importance of focusing on the big things first before spending all of your time chasing and taking care of the little things. This concept is absolutely true in business where I see Big Rocks as the things you can do to take your business to the next level. If you don’t take the time to (a) NAME the big rocks, and (b) FOCUS on the big rocks, you will continuously get sidetracked into putting out the daily fires and dealing with the daily tasks before you wake up one day and see that your business has fallen behind. So, once you have gone through Steps 1 through 6 above, it is time to pick 3 – 5 of the ideas expressed somewhere on the notes around that room that you will focus on this year in order to make the most positive impact on your business. See the FranklinCovey video about the Big Rock theory here.

  8. List tasks for each Big Rock.
    Now to develop your action plan. Take each of the Big Rocks you have identified for the year and have your team brainstorm tasks to accomplish each. One goal at Red Sage a few years back was to improve project management. Our tasks included researching and choosing project management software, setting up the software, identifying all the steps required for different types of projects we handle, etc. etc. Once the tasks are outlined for each big rock, write down due dates and assign who will be responsible for each.

  9. Report progress regularly.
    Decide if you should meet weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly to report progress in order to ensure your plan is being carried out. The leader at the company needs to make these meetings sacred and hold team members accountable for delivering on the assigned tasks.

  10. REPEAT the process once a year.
    That’s it. The tools needed for this process include snacks/drinks for the retreat, big sticky notes for the session, and one Word or Excel document that lists the big rocks and tasks that will be worked on for the year.


infographic strategicplanning

Download the Red Sage 10-Step Strategic Planning Cheat Sheet here.


About the Author

Ellen Didier

Ellen Didier

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