Compared to big businesses, it's easy to think that you're at a disadvantage when it comes to strategic planning.
Big corporations can pour huge amounts of money, technology and personnel into formulating plans to profit from the shifting dynamics of a marketplace. It's a pricey crystal ball that, let's face it, doesn't always offer a true picture of where the business climate is headed.
How is a small business expected to compete?
When it comes to developing a business strategy, all it takes is a common sense approach, not bells and whistles. And before you venture any further, quit believing that your size is a disadvantage. The small and nimble can often pounce on opportunities long before big lumbering companies even spot them.
Here are some tips to help fire up those strategic-thinking neurons and pave the way for small business success.
How to Build a Business Strategy
Step 1: Ditch the Strategic Plan
Heresy! Not quite, but don't take this as an excuse to throw caution to the wind.
You still want to have a good grasp of your business, the market in which it operates and what the landscape looks like. Having goals doesn't hurt either. But don't plan exhaustively or needlessly. You could be doing more harm than good.
Kaihan Krippendorff, a business author and innovation expert, advises that you use your company's small and nimble nature to your advantage. Instead of endless meetings to draw up a strategic plan, huddle together regularly to address challenges, explore options and seize opportunities to out-maneuver bigger, slower rivals.
Step 2: Question Everything
Some business tenets are immutable, but in today's economic climate, the status quo doesn't stay that way for very long.
Just look at the disruptive influences of the Internet, mobility and social media. In less than a generation, corporate empires have risen and fallen on their ability not only to adjust -- another tip, stay tuned -- but to reevaluate their long-held beliefs on how to conduct business.
Be unafraid to question assumptions, whether about your industry, consumers or the market at large. Krippendorff suggests that when your idea or innovation is about to crumble under the weight of reality, ask "Why not?"
Write down the reasons why you believe that an idea won't work, test those assumptions and start brainstorming ways to bring it to fruition. Don't let a dusty old business textbook dictate your business strategy in the here and now.
Step 3: Concentrate on Outcomes
If you're too busy just putting one foot in front of the other, you may miss some big opportunities. Instead of remaining glued to a strategy that you think is right, look up on occasion and scan the horizon.
Have your milestones shifted? Can you even see them any longer?
Joe Fuster, senior vice president of global sales for SAP Cloud, recently offered some great advice on small business sales success. One recurring theme is to keep an eye on the desired outcome of a project or venture. Whether you want to design an amazing product or delight your customers, plan from your outcomes not toward.
This shift in perspective can reveal new, uncharted territories that your old rulebook or well-worn map to success hasn't covered.
Step 4: Adjust Constantly
One sure way of always trailing the pack is to keep rewriting the rule book. Or worse, keep scrapping it.
Prepare to adjust your strategy when a course correction is required. In fact, you should be unafraid -- eager even -- to explore different, sometimes unconventional ways of growing your business. Building a strategy, at least for small businesses, it not a game of connecting the dots to some far-off goal.
As many small business owners will tell you, those dots -- whether finicky customers or market opportunities that never materialize -- can and will shift constantly, and thwart your every effort to wrangle them.
Learn to love change, and you'll be rewarded by moving quickly and decisively while others play catch-up or follow the market off a cliff.
Step 5: Make a Decision
Don't get paralyzed by second-guessing and indecision. Running a small business is not for the timid, why shrink away now?
Decision Strategies International founder, Paul J. H. Schoemaker, suggests that when it comes time to implement a strategy, push ahead. For starters, make sure that the decision gets to the crux of the matter.
Also, don't try to attain perfection. Shoot for "balance speed, rigor, quality and agility" instead. And finally, even if not everyone agrees or you don't have all the information -- you rarely ever will -- take a stand.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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