On this page:
- What is a Strategic Plan?
- How do Strategic Plans Differ from a Business Plan?
- What are the Key Elements of a Strategic Plan?
- How to Write Each Section of Your Strategic Plan
- How to Measure the Success of Your Strategic Plan
- Other Helpful Business Plan Articles & Templates
Over the past 20+ years, Growthink has developed strategic plans for thousands of companies, small business owners, and entrepreneurs. Many of them have gone on to reach incredible success. Below you will find our thinking on the strategic planning process, how to measure progress, and how to create a great plan for your company.
What is a Strategic Plan?
A strategic plan is a process, most often undertaken by organizations, governments, and businesses to define the organization’s strategy. In simple terms, strategy is a course of action or thought-out method used in achieving an objective or set of objectives. It may also be referred to as a strategic document or strategic outlook.
This type of plan includes the organization’s mission and vision – describing where it is going – as well as its core values, concepts, strategies for achieving the objectives, and plans for evaluating progress towards those objectives. It may also include a supporting action plan that prioritizes critical tasks needed to implement the strategy successfully.
In most cases, strategic planning is a continuous process that helps an organization be successful now and beyond. Planning isn’t just about deciding what to do—it’s also about identifying what not to do so resources can be focused on implementing high-priority initiatives. Consider strategic planning a toolbox full of options from which you select the right tools for your job at hand.
How do Strategic Plans Differ from a Business Plan?
A strategic plan has goals, strategic initiatives (the ways in which you’re going to pursue your goals), and action plans (a list of the specific activities that support each strategic initiative). A business plan typically includes some or all of these components but there are important differences between strategic planning and business planning.
Both types of plans can be created for established businesses as well as any new business ventures.
One way to think about it is that strategic plans address the entire year, providing “big picture” thinking while business plans focus more on the details of day-to-day operations.
Strategic planning also tends to look 3–5 years ahead whereas a small business might find it difficult to forecast that far into the future.
Strategic plans typically look at things like management structure, company growth, strategic alliances or mergers, and strategic positioning in the market.
A strategic plan is useful for organizations contemplating major changes while a small business owner can use strategic planning techniques when making decisions around which new strategic initiatives to pursue.
Business plans are written to present a realistic assessment and roadmap of how well your company could perform within 3–5 years when you take into account factors such as the market demand for your product or service, how much it will cost to produce your product or provide your service, how much it costs to acquire customers, potential risks in starting up your small business, where you will get money if needed and what would need to happen for this plan to become reality.
A business plan is written with the intention of letting outsiders, such as banks or angel investors, see how well your business could perform financially within 3–5 years.
Both types of planning are well worth your time and effort to ensure the prosperity of your business.
What are the Key Elements of a Strategic Plan?
Organizations undertake strategic planning to define their priorities and align their team in pursuit of those priorities. Strategic planning is a crucial tool that can refocus a business’ energies to where they will be best spent.
In spite of the great importance and scope, many times it is ignored or quickly completed each year with no strategic focus. Or it is created, but results are not measured against it. The end result is neither strategic nor even a plan.
Successful companies, on the other hand, have and continue to make use of strategic planning to consistently stay on top of their game. You can too. Below, we offer a comprehensive strategic plan template and examples that can easily be used to initiate and establish effective strategic planning in your organization. The template discusses the 13 elements you must include in more detail below:
- Executive Summary
- Elevator Pitch
- Mission Statement
- SWOT Analysis
- Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
- Target Market Analysis
- Industry Analysis
- Competitor Analysis
- Marketing Plan
- Human Resources Plan
- Operations Plan
- Financial Projections
How to Write Each Section of Your Strategic Plan
Ensure your plan begins with a summary that succinctly captures the gist of the plan and its key takeaways. Needless to say, you will be able to construct a summary only after the other elements of your plan have been completed.
Including a summary is important because it allows you to quickly and effectively present your plan to key stakeholders. It is crucial that you are able to disseminate the plan throughout your organization as its success hinges on everybody’s buy-in and support.
An elevator pitch refers to a brief but memorable description of what your company does. At its core, every plan is reviewing, and if need be, re-defining a business’ core purpose. So, at the end of a strategic planning meeting, a catchy elevator pitch should be created that should reflect the key findings of the new plan. This will ensure that all your employees are on the same page when it comes to the main impetus of your business. They will be able to articulate the same at investor meetings, networking events, or even in a casual chat at a get-together. Presenting a clear and consistent vision is instrumental in getting the right people interested and opening up new opportunities.
Since an elevator pitch is a short yet striking description of your company, it also helps motivate employees causing them to work hard and take pride in their organization. Such fostering of a positive culture will attract impassioned people to your organization as well. For example, Microsoft in its founding days worked with the following pitch:
“A computer on every desk and in every home.”
Such inspirational statements are the direct result of strategic planning efforts and have wide-ranging benefits for a business.
A business mission statement describes the most vital objectives of an organization. It acts as a guidepost for all organizational deliberations and decisions along with being a visionary declaration to potential investors, collaborators, partners, and customers. Consider the multinational tech giant Philips and their mission statement which goes as follows:
“Phillips’ mission is to improve people’s lives through meaningful innovation.”
Your plan should include a similarly inspirational mission statement so that business efforts are geared towards that one end goal.
SWOT analysis stands for evaluating an organization’s strengths and weaknesses along with its external opportunities and threats. This is a holistic way to try and understand the inner workings and outer environmental factors that drive an organization. It is essential to a good strategic plan. A well-researched and thorough SWOT analysis will ensure that your plan is capable of harnessing your business’ strengths to exploit different opportunities while subverting threats along the way. Furthermore, it will also take care of any blind spots you might have had regarding your organization’s weaknesses and risks.
To create a plan that is truly strategic you need to spend a good amount of time conducting a SWOT analysis and thinking deeply about each of its individual elements.
Successful companies set ambitious yet achievable goals for themselves and strategic planning helps large and small businesses do precisely that. First, you need to discuss and come up with long-term goals for your company, like what would you like your organization to have achieved in the next five years? Then focus on the coming months, what milestones you would want to achieve in the very next year? Setting both long- and short-term goals is essential to a company’s success.
Depending on your objectives you can even narrow your company’s goals down to quarterly, monthly, or even weekly goals. Clearly laying out a business’ goals ensures that people expend their energies towards things that actually matter.
While creating goals keep the following things in mind:
Do Not Go Very Broad
Avoid goals that are sweeping. For example, business objectives like ‘being successful’ or ‘being profitable’ are too broad to be useful. This can instead be reframed as “increasing sales by 20% in the next quarter” for instance. Strategize for goals that are easy to understand and act upon. This will also make it easy to evaluate performances later on and find out how well or poorly the business did. Effective goals are goals that can be measured. Strive for these.
While setting goals it is easy to get carried away. Setting overly ambitious or practically unattainable goals will cause a significant drop in organizational morale as people get frustrated or even burnt out in pursuing such goals. Instead, set goals that are ambitious but within grasp.
Set Time-Bound Goals
Your plan must include goals with realistic deadlines. Time-specific goals allow employees to plan their amazing work more effectively, making it more likely that the goals will be met.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
KPIs allow you to track your progress in your quest towards achieving your end goals. Examples of common KPIs include measures like profit margins, total sales, and client retention rates among others. Strategic planning requires certain KPIs to be set beforehand so that performance of different business units can be recorded and evaluated later.
Figure out what the business needs from every stakeholder in order to improve performance and create separate KPIs accordingly. For example, KPIs for the marketing department will be different from those set for the human resources department and so on.
Target Market Analysis
Here, you must identify who your target customers are and document their needs. Your plan must be directed completely towards them. Core business endeavors like product development and marketing can only be successful when you keep your target market’s demographics and needs aligned.
Your plan is worthless if it tries to win over every customer segment in your target market. It will most probably end up attracting none. Instead, a strategic plan must pinpoint the target customers whose conversion and retention will provide the business with the highest return on its expenditures.
Your analysis provides an overview of your industry as well as defines the opportunities highlighted in the SWOT analysis earlier.
You should discuss the market size and key trends, including if it is declining or growing. You must also identify your current position and desired position in the marketplace.
Competitor analysis is another crucial strategic tool that helps you analyze your competitors to better understand their workings and the position in which you operate. It is essential to keep a close eye on competition so you can learn from their strengths and exploit their weaknesses.
Competitor analysis coupled with a broad industry analysis also forces you to think about other organizations that might turn into your competitors if industry trends change or markets mutate.
Most importantly, in this section figure out the best positioning of your company in the competitive mix. Importantly, figure out your current competitive strengths that you can exploit, or competitive strengths you need to gain in the coming period and how you will go about achieving them.
Although a marketing plan is a full-fledged plan in its own right, here you can summarize and add the keys to your plan. This way any stakeholder reading the strategic plan will also be informed of how the organization intends to attract its target customer base, retain its existing clients, and convert new clients. So, include a brief summation of all the findings and objectives of your marketing plans.
Human Resources Plan
In this section of your strategy plan, you must analyze your human capital to see if you have the right employees in the right places and an amazing work environment to execute the end goals established earlier. You will need a capable team at the helm of each department to make the most of your opportunities and strengths.
If you feel you need to hire more employees or people with certain specific competencies then this is the place where you and your team should deliberate and document your human resources requirements. For instance, if your strategic plan includes diversifying into a new space, then it would be pertinent to start creating detailed job descriptions and interviewing people to execute this initiative. This way you will not impede your diversification plans due to a hiring crunch or having the wrong team trying to execute critical tasks.
Your operations plan describes the nitty-gritty of exactly how your organization will go about realizing its goals.
Here you must narrow down the overarching strategic aim of the business into smaller tactical goals to be executed by specific departments and/or teams. In this section, you will detail each of these goals along with the action plan for achieving them. We suggest using Gantt charts to map out the way your departments will attain key goals over time.
Finally, we come to the last part of a strategic plan: the financial projections. In this section, you will attach some hard numbers to the projects you have decided to undertake in the course of developing your plan.
Creating financial forecasts allows you to estimate the potential results of different strategies and analyze which might have the best impact on your business. Even when they are based on estimates, projections are able to reflect business realities pretty accurately provided your assumptions are realistic.
Importantly, use your projections as KPIs to judge your performance as you execute your strategic plan.
How to Measure the Success of Your Strategic Plan
Strategic plans can help you achieve financial and strategic goals over the short-term, mid-term, and long-term. The more specific your strategic goals are, the more likely they are to be achieved. So it’s important to set clear targets for each strategy in your plan and measure your progress over time. Some of the key metrics to track include:
These indicators measure how effectively a strategic goal is being executed on an ongoing basis. These types of metrics can be applied at both the business level (e.g., what percentage of orders are filled within 24 hours) or at the corporate level (how much inventory is carried per square foot).
Focusing on milestones in terms of achieving financial targets allows strategic goals to be quantified and measured. Some of the most common financial indicators applied within strategic plans include sales volume, sales growth rate, market share, number of new products launched, operating margins, and return on invested capital.
Finally, strategic plan metrics should inform how strategic investments will enable an organization to achieve its future business vision. A business vision is typically expressed as an aspirational strategic statement that captures where you want to go (i.e., your strategic direction) over the next five to ten years. Impact metrics can help evaluate if potential strategic investments are likely to deliver on that goal or not.
Establish a clear path and put your company in the right direction by including each of the elements outlined above in your new strategic plan. Then, at the end of each month review your actual performance against your goals and projections in your plan. If you are on target, continue as planned. If not, consider adjusting your strategy or your plan. Business owners who constantly monitor their performance and adjust their plans reach their milestones and achieve the long-term success they desire.
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