There is so much advice on the web about creating strategy. Lots of frameworks, lots of fill-in-the-blank plans and LOTS of generic advice that you write down but never really know how to implement.
I hate it.
So in this post I’m not going to give you a dashboard to work through or some one-page cheat sheet. That’s not to say that I’ll never do that or that it’s not helpful to have guides but today is all about getting to real progress quickly. This post is going to teach you the three most important things to think about when you are crafting your business strategy or you are trying to make decisions about what you’re going to do to get your business growing.
1. Focus on an identity. You need to get crystal clear on who you are, who you serve and why it’s important. When you focus on your identity it takes the pressure off of just focusing on generic growth targets and ideas.
Here’s real life, when you focus on generic growth you are inclined to do all the growth oriented things everyone else is doing. Which eventually just turns into stuff that looks like work. That means you’re thinking about making things more cheaply, trying to chase more of your market or even thinking about your next product/service offering based on the ebbs and flows of your competitors actions and consumers changing tastes. All that stuff takes time, energy and money that could be better spent by better honing in on who you are, why you are valuable and doing the work that only your business can.
When you focus on your identity all kinds of fun things fall into place. First, you better align yourself and your actions with your value proposition. This is a big deal because it re-enforces everything from how you make decisions in your business to how you deliver value to everyone outside of your business. Next everyone that interacts with you, buys from you or is in your audience better understands what you’re great at and why that sets you apart - in business-speak it’s your clear system of capabilities.
Lastly, focusing on your identity allows your audience or customers the chance to really fall in love with who you and your business are. It better allows you to create and foster an authentic relationship with them. You need that trust because it’s in that relationship and your differentiation that will keep people around and hungry for the work that only you and your business can do.
2. Strategy needs to be everyday. Strategic plans can sometimes be these big silly, overly complicated documents that you write and then instantly deviate from because it’s focusing on what you think you’re idea of your business is versus what you’re actually doing every day. Setting goals, figuring out what’s important to measure and having benchmarks are all great things - just make sure they reflect the work you are actually doing. When you’re building a strategy for everyday you don’t want to focus all of your energy on the big pie-in-the-sky stuff, you want to focus on what little things. Get really clear and focus on a small number of things that you do well and work on getting even better at them. (These are those pesky capabilities again.) Those activities is the heart of the work that you’re doing that ultimately reflects your values and reinforces your value proposition. You want to outline in detail the stuff you’re great at so that your employees or even virtual assistants can without any question replicate the experience you’re working to create for your customers.
If you’re not growing or don’t have any virtual assistants that’s ok too. You still want to do this stuff because it will help keep you focused and accountable to the work that matters as you’re growing your business. It’s definitely not a secret that there can be lots of distractions at any given moment in your business. As your business grows or iterates there will be lots of small changes so you want to make sure that you are keeping an eye on the stuff you’re trying so that you can pinpoint the stuff that works and continue to develop that.
3. Cutting costs helps you grow stronger. I know, sounds a little cliche but hear me out. Businesses that do the best jobs at closing the gap between what they planned to do and what they are really doing are businesses that have a near superhuman stranglehold on their expenses. I’m not going to tell you that you’re never going to spend money as you’re trying to grow your business.
That’s just downright misleading.
What I am trying to tell you is that the businesses that do the best are making sure that every dollar they spend is being spent to support what they are great at and as little as possible on everything else. When you’re looking at your business you need to be thinking of every expense as an investment, not just numbers in a checking account or in a report that Freshbooks (or Quickbooks) generates every month. You need to think in terms of opportunity costs and be constantly measuring what you’re spending money on and how that’s going to add value to your business.
Coffee meetings and business cards shouldn’t be necessary evils that are just rationalized expenses. You want to make sure, guarding money just like you should be guarding your time, that if you are allocating a resource or handing out a business card that it’s going to a person to which you can provide a ton of value.
That’s it! Those three things will help you create a strategy that actually works for you. Why?
1. When you don’t commit to an identity, your identity, you run the risk of washing yourself and your business out. You’ll scatter who you are and what you do so thinly that your audience won’t have anything compelling enough to hold on to and eventually engage with.
2. When you don’t make your strategy an everyday thing you run the risk of doing the same stuff that you’ve been doing all along. How can you affect change if you can’t distill what you want out of your business in a way that you can take action and implement daily? Answer: You can’t! You don’t want to be the business that promises lots of things and struggles to deliver or worse never actually grows into the vision you had for it when you started.
3. When you don’t keep an eye on your spending, more specifically spending on the stuff that really matters you run the risk of self-stunting your growth. Money is easy to lose sight of because it’s easy to fall into the “I’m a habitual consumer trap” or the “if I had this one extra resource I’d be successful trap”. Be mindful and cut costs to grow stronger.
Building your strategy for your business is going to be a process. There’s going to be happy tears, sad tears and lots of anxious tears. That’s ok! When you’re following the advice of your favorite growth hacking guru or in my case I like to follow lots of different economists I want you to just remember these three things along the way. They will help ground you and help you build something that works with and for you.