Mapping Out Your Firm’s Success

Planning long term while working short teerm requires an effective strategic plan

manual, replete with goals, deadlines and tactics. Some experts suggest, however, that a strategic plan can be shared with those having an impact on your business, such as customers and suppliers, and can be used to attract capital.

“Here’s the problem with planning,” says Gravely, who is 35. “We plan and don’t actually work by that plan. On Monday morning we don’t flip the plan open and say ‘What are we supposed to do today?’ Then the plan becomes almost obsolete, or almost an afterthought. We don’t take the plan far enough to translate it into day-to-day activities.”

So planning is the means by which the self-employed can balance the demands of working short term and planning long term. “If I have a long-term goal and I lose the short-term battle, at least I have the long-term goal to look to,” Gravely says.

Gravely cites the time and expense he and his employees put in acquiring their first office building. Key personnel spent about 40 days on the project-from finding the right property to securing financing. The deal fell through at the eleventh hour because of environmental concerns that the seller wasn’t willing to resolve. Staff morale bottomed, and in a single day Gravely went “from feeling very good to thinking about how I could rally our troops and improve everyone’s emotional state.”

Unfortunately, his staff fell into the trap of thinking and working in the short term-not exactly the way to smooth your entrepreneurial ride and improve your opportunity to persevere in business.

RECIPE FOR A SUCCESSFUL STRATEGIC PLAN
What are the contents of a long-term strategic plan? How do you go about putting one together?

As a business owner, the matter of getting your employees involved in the planning process may or may not be an issue. The point is if you have employees, include them in the process and solicit their input. Remember: planning requires creativity, so block out interruption-free time to brainstorm.

The Internet is an excellent source for information on strategic planning. Two helpful sites are the Edward Lowe Foundation http://edge.lowe.org/search.htm, an organization that supports small businesses by providing information, research and education, and the Small Business Administration (SBA) at www.sba.gov.

Before you begin the process of writing your plan, some experts suggest that you assess where your business is as it relates to external factors. Is your industry going through changes because of new legislation or technology? What trends are occurring nationally and regionally that will impact your business?

“Technology changes. The environment changes,” says Lumpkin. As competitors introduce new products into the marketplace, we evaluate our ability to maintain our market share and adjust our product or marketing strategy. You [have to] stay aware of what’s happening externally.”

This assessment should lead to a defining, or redefining of your mission statement-one that conveys the reason your business exists, the products and services it offers, the clients served, your marketing
territory and areas of specialization. For example, Alternate Access’ mission statement reads [something like]: “Alternate Access is a proactive, responsive solutions provider in integrated computer-based

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