As a business owner or manager, there are basically two ways in which you can spend your time. The first is working within the business. This includes every level of operations, from customer service to sales to production to accounting. The second option is strategic thinking--high level analysis, thought, and planning. Examples of strategic thinking include creating a business development plan or developing new systems of production and fulfillment.
Strategic thinking is working on your business--planning, strategizing, analyzing the market, adjusting course, etc. Working within your business is essentially keeping the systems running.
For a business to be successful, both levels of engagement are vital. Without a skilled team to operate the business, nothing happens. And without high-level planning, the business has no direction or strategic purpose.
Unfortunately, most small business owners spend virtually all of their time operating their business, and no time thinking strategically about it. It’s not hard to understand why--as a one-man shop (or even as the leader of a small team), there’s always something demanding attention. Upset customers, employees calling in sick, suppliers showing up late… it’s one thing after the next.
But the net result is a business that is floating aimlessly through the marketplace, going wherever the current may take it. In order to build an exceptional business, you must devote the necessary time to strategic planning. That can be a challenge--but here are three solutions that may help:
1) Prioritize your planning time as if it were a client. If a client or a customer needed to sit down with you for 30 minutes this week, I guarantee that you’d find a way to make it happen. Schedule time each week (30 minutes, an hour, whatever you think is necessary) for strategic planning and treat it like a client engagement.
2) Find an accountability partner. Ideally, this would be a fellow business owner--but a friend or family member can work. Tell the individual that you recognize the need for strategic planning, and ask them to check in on you each week to make sure that you’re spending the necessary time. Accountability can make all of the difference for an exercise like this!
3) End each strategic session with an action list. If you can’t translate your strategic thinking into action, there’s no point. Identify 1-3 action items that will help you accomplish your big-picture objectives. Get specific--include a timeline and identify which employees are responsible for each element. Creating an action list is the bridge between planning and operations--and it’s 100% necessary.
As a small business owner, it’s easy to overlook the importance of strategic thinking. But if you wish to create a healthy, sustainable business, it’s vital that you spend time planning on a regular basis. These tips will help you make time--so put them into effect starting today. You can’t afford not to!
[Image: Flickr user Illumnaut]