Most people are familiar with a personal process, typically unfolding at the beginning of the year. With good intentions for the coming months, it’s common for individuals to reflect on the past, and then set goals for the year ahead. In some cases, it’s a very formal undertaking, resulting in highly specific objectives and timetables for achieving them. For others, looking ahead is a more casual affair, yielding general ideas for a better year.
Beyond these individual efforts, setting the stage for better tomorrows, entrepreneurs engage in the same behavior, devising annual strategies for their small business endeavors. A recently published Inc. article, written by Heidi Zak, emphasizes the importance of setting commercial strategies, highlighting a few important reasons to prioritize business planning during Q1.
Align Goals for Effective Execution
Flying by the seat of your pants is a risky approach, managing your personal affairs, but it can be downright dangerous for the financial health of your small business. As you contemplate strategies for improving your life this year, your small business demands an even higher level of attention. Brainstorming, prioritizing, resetting objectives, strategizing, and streamlining are all part of the business building process, which ultimately aligns your goals for effective execution.
Small business operations are most efficient and effective when everyone is working toward the same objectives. Leaving team members in the dark about your organization’s high-level, big picture goals may create gaps in your operational flow, interfering with your ability to achieve objectives in a timely manner. On the other hand, setting annual strategies and sharing the full story with key personnel puts everyone on the same page and helps each employee understand his or her place in the larger scheme of things.
While strategizing annual business objectives, it pays to keep a few things in mind. Heidi Zak suggests:
- Consider the fact that easily achieved, high-impact strategies are low-hanging fruit, so you’d have already devoted resources in that direction, if basic moves held all the answers.
- Limit the number of strategies you roll-out during Q1 to between three and five new ideas.
- Focus on big, hard to accomplish goals, rather than setting simple objectives. Challenging team members with substantial strategies keeps your staff occupied, pursuing activities with significant upside potential.
- Leave strategies vague when they’re initially proposed, for example, expanding business internationally. And then plan to allocate ample time and resources toward accomplishing sweeping strategic plans.
Leave Room for Strategy Shifts
The road to business success isn’t always linear, so you should be prepared to adapt when conditions change. Expecting to check-off all of your annual strategic objectives like items on a grocery list oversimplifies the strategic planning process. Instead of evaluating your success as a direct function of fulfilling each goal, build-in flexibility, so you can seamlessly respond to unexpected developments and continue moving in a positive direction.
Delayed achievements and midstream strategy shifts don’t necessarily constitute failures. On the contrary, flexibility speaks to solid annual business planning, which is by nature subject to outside influences and other forces, altering your best approach.
Adopt an Incremental Approach
Achieving sweeping strategic planning objectives is best accomplished when your annual commercial goals are broken into smaller segments. Approaching your big-picture goals with milestones in mind helps keep you focused on the endgame, while still logging minor victories on the way to fulfilling your high-level objectives.
One process recommended by the Inc. article author suggests checking-in on your progress at least every six months. Starting with a few strategic objectives, set at the beginning of the year, revisiting the planning process six-months into the year provides an opportunity to assess and adjust small business objectives. Specifically, leadership can evaluate progress, using these metrics:
- Objectives that have been completed
- Work in progress
- Strategic tasks yet to be started
Learn From the Past Then Plan for the Future
Understanding what your business has already experienced facilitates prudent planning for the future. Before establishing firm goals this year, answer a few questions about your prior-year performance. Were you successful, addressing your top strategic priorities? Did you overshoot expectations, setting the bar too high for your employees? Or did last year’s strategic objectives fail to adequately challenge team members, resulting in lackluster progress, moving your business forward?
Answers to these and other important questions provide a baseline you can build upon, crafting goals and setting small business strategies for 2019. As you distill the past and look toward your entrepreneurial future, ask tough questions in these areas, and then use your answers to formulate strategic plans for the coming year.
- Customer care performance
- Small business technology
- Commercial financing
- Capital spending
- Growth and expansion
Setting personal goals isn’t the only planning process underway at the beginning of each year; your small business also demands strategic attention. A recent Inc. article outlined a few things to consider when laying-out professional goals for 2019. Among them, articulating precise objectives, remaining flexible, and learning from the past all come together, reinforcing your annual strategic plan.