Starting your own business takes a certain degree of courage in any financial situation, and so as a small business owner you should be congratulated. However, that first spark of bravery will get you up and running, but continued success needs a strategy.
To ensure that you survive in the tricky SME arena, without becoming just another failure statistic, it’s not enough to just survive from day to day. You need to look up from the accounts, payroll and day-to-day tasks to focus on your goals for the future, to make sure that your business is not only still trading, but thriving, tomorrow, next month and next year.
To do that, you need a strategy. If you’re not familiar with business terms, this can sound like a daunting prospect but understanding what it is and what it’s for is actually quite a simple exercise. Although, that’s not to say mistakes can’t be made…
What Have You Done?
You started with the what (a business idea) but to successfully develop your business you need the how (a strategy). You probably have some idea of how, but it’s easy for new businesses to neglect the importance of a strategy or make simple mistakes that can mean it’s not effective.
Thankfully it’s never too late to get back on track with your strategy, with some careful consideration and time dedicated to getting it right.
The principles behind business strategy can be thought of using the following straight-forward guidelines, implemented with a little bit of common sense and an attitude that mistakes are there to be learned from.
Get on the Right Path
1. Get a strategy
Step one, perhaps obviously – but you’d be surprised! – is making sure you actually have a strategy and that it’s used. So many businesses see a strategy as a form that needs to be filled, a box that needs to be ticked, rather than an essential business process that is central to the growth and development of the business.
Whether it’s written down or just an oral idea, you need to have a clear idea of how you are going to develop and grow your business right from the start.
2. Make it clear
Don’t get bogged down in what you think a strategy should look like, or read like. The most important thing is that your strategy is understandable and usable, by you and everyone else that is invested in it.
It can be easy to hide behind vague language, thinking the details will work themselves out as you go along, but if you don’t have the answer now it’s unlikely it’ll suddenly come to you in the heat of the moment. The clearer and more specific your objectives and tactics are, the easier it will be to implement them. Makes sense, really!
3. Set achievable goals
Being clear and specific will help you and your team identify whether the goals you’ve set are achievable. Having ambition is important, and a certain degree of risk-taking is needed, but stretching yourself too far is just asking for trouble.
Think about the resources you have available to you and how much you can achieve with them. By setting goals that are realistic and achievable you’ll be setting yourself up for smaller, continued success, rather than one massive failure. It’s obvious which one is better for progress and morale.
4. Make it flexible
A strategy isn’t a rigid document that needs to be stuck to no matter what, but the best ones will naturally evolve and change with the business and the market-place. However, it’s certainly not going to do that on its own.
To get the most out of your strategy, it needs to be flexible and that means it needs to be revisited and revised regularly. Make sure regular strategic meetings are scheduled to give your team dedicated time to look at your successes and failures, your strengths and weaknesses. These lessons will allow you to adapt your strategy as needed. This also has the wonderful added benefit that you don’t have to get it exactly right the first time – because you most probably won’t.
5. Get everyone on board
As Donald Sull, Professor of Management Practice in Strategic and International Management says a “good enough strategy excellently implemented will trump a perfect strategy lukewarmly implemented nine times out of ten.”
Your strategy could be perfect for your business and the current environment but if your team isn’t motivated and excited to see it succeed, it’s unlikely to do as well as it should. Involvement in a strategy is key, from top-level management to front-line staff, so everyone knows where the business is heading and what their role is in making it a success.
Getting one thing right with your strategy will often show you where you are going wrong in other areas. For example, getting full staff involvement can help you see how the language isn’t clear enough, or by making sure it’s flexible and looking at past projects will show you how achievable your future goals are.
The principles behind business strategy aren’t rocket science. By spending the time to getting the how set down in the clearest terms possible and ensuring you have everyone’s support, you are well on your way to success.
Have you got a strategy you’re proud of? Do you agree with my principles behind business strategy? Let me know what you think.
James Duval is a business and technology blogger, IT manager and a small business enthusiast. He loves to see small businesses thrive and he’s always on the lookout for new ways to compete with the retail giants.
Image courtesy striatic