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. After all, 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!
As a smart business owner, you know you should not implement every recommendation you read about. Instead, you go about doing what you are doing right now. You do some due diligence and build up your business IQ and your professional toolbox by studying your industry’s best practices and business principles from thought leaders like Benjamin Graham, Michael Porter, James Collins, Jerry Porras, Simon Sinek, W. Chan Kim & Renee Mauborgne, Bernhard Schroeder, and Michael Gerber (these are my favorites). 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 you should implement. Which actions should you take first? What new technologies should you leverage? Which contractor should you hire to fix your problem? How do you choose one direction over another? The best answer to these questions is different for each of us, not only because each business is 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 that we plan to turn into a priority…someday. Some of us value the flexibility to move to another country when we feel like it. 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! We all want something different. This is why it is essential for business owners like you to take some time to look introspectively and figure out your own personal values, your priorities, and what you want in your life to look like in the future. There is no point in owning a business that does not help you achieve your personal goals. This is why strategic planning for your business must start with you – the business owner.
I hope, for your sake, that it does not take an existential crisis before you start asking big, challenging, introspective questions to discover who you are and what you want in life. For me, it took leaving from the Canadian Armed Forces after 15 years of service, moving to a new city, and having a baby. It took a few months of coming to grips with no longer being known as Karl, the helicopter pilot; but now Karl, the stay-at-home-Dad. Although that time at home with my son was a great opportunity and something I feel lucky to experience, I was anxious to take that next step towards something new. I spent hours researching business opportunities and career options. There were SO MANY CHOICES, and I didn’t know where to start. It took pursuing an MBA before I began to articulate what I valued and what I wanted in life. Once I wrote down a detailed description of what I wanted my life to look like 5, 10, and 20 years from now, I was able to evaluate my options going forward more clearly. When you can look at every possible future action as either one that takes you towards or away from your goals, it makes choosing what action to take easy. If the action takes you towards your vision, then do it. If the action takes 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:
But now comes the tricky part; choosing which of the many tools and ideas you should implement. Which actions should you take first? What new technologies should you leverage? Which contractor should you hire to fix your problem? How do you choose one direction over another? The best answer to these questions is different for each of us, not only because each business is unique, but because YOU are unique.
Core Values. What values/beliefs/rules do you live by?
Vision. What do you want your life to look and feel like in 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 a good idea 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. If you are married, ask for your spouse’s input into your vision and priorities. If you have a business partner ask them what you are good at.
Your values, vision, priorities, and strengths are what make you unique from everyone else in the world. The tricky part is turning these aspects into the foundation for your personal and professional lives and living by them. Your values become how you conduct yourself on a daily basis. If you decide one of your core values is integrity, then you should 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 goals for each priority and leverage your strengths to achieve them. Write these things down! Write down who you are, where you want to go, and how you will leverage your strengths to get you there. This is the essence of strategic planning. Strategy is big picture planning and a long-term commitment. It’s the alignment of hundreds of big and small choices and actions that drive you towards your goals.
Strategic planning may seem like a lot to take on right now, which is why I do what I do for a living – I help business owners like you align your business with your life. So if you need a hand, let me know – sometimes all it takes is a push in the right direction.