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A 12-Month Strategic Plan in One Hour

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As you prepare your business for the next year, how do you make sure it isn't a rerun of the past year? Even if this year was a great one for you, there's no reason to do things the same way, and you'll probably want to take your small business in some new directions. Maybe you'll fix some nagging problems, or finally seize on an opportunity that's been there for a while but you haven't gotten around to tackling.

The only thing separating you and your business from some fantastic outcomes is an hour and a sheet of paper. It is amazing how good things can happen in a business when you write them down. Most people don't like to write, especially lengthy documents. If you can manage one page, here's a framework for coming up with a strategic plan in five simple steps. And if you're worried this will take you a week, don't: Set the timer for one hour and it'll be done.

  1. Congratulate Yourself. Please start the 2010 preparation process by reaching behind your shoulder and patting yourself on the back for making it through 2009. It wasn't easy. Despite the recession, there are no doubt some good things that happened in your business and for you personally. Being self-flaggelating Americans, we often overlook what went right and barely ever take the time to celebrate our victories. So take yourself and a friend, or perhaps your staff, out to dinner and celebrate the Top 10 Things that Went Right with My Business in 2009. (Not included in the one hour strategic plan.)

  2. Get in Touch with What Went Right. As you reflect back on your business in 2009, what were the biggest successes? How many new accounts did you open? How did your employees do in terms of taking responsibility and stepping up? How successful were you in outsourcing non-essential work to save time and money? What else did you do that was really smart? Write it all down.

  3. Be Honest About What Went Wrong. While you did many things right, you could have done some things better. What were they? Did you lose customers because of service lapses or to a competitor? Did some customers become less excited about your products? Were you a bit lax on your CRM system, your email marketing program and other aspects of customer contact? Were some of your processes and procedures showing signs of wear and tear? It's okay, all of that is fixable -- once you admit that they need repair.

  4. What Are Your Biggest Opportunities for 2010? If you have 100 customers, and you look at the distribution of sales from high to low among that group, what would your business look like if you got the top 15 customers to double their business with you? How hard would it be to do that? What would you need to do to make it happen? Is there any reason you wouldn't take steps to do it? If you have 100 customers, can you identify another 100 that you don't have and would like to enlist this year? Of those, which are the 20 that will be the most important and lead the others toward you? What other actions can you take that will have the most dramatic impact on your results for 2010?
  5. Set Quarter-by-Quarter Goals. Now that you know what went right and wrong in the last year, where your biggest upside is in the next 12 months, and the action items you need to do to make them happen, you have only one step left: put a time dimension on your plans. You know where you want to be by this time next year, so now, back into it. What do you need to do in the first 90 days to make sure you achieve you goals in one year? The second 90 days? The third 90 days? The fourth 90 days? A simple two-column table with "Goals" and "Actions" is all you need to have a roadmap.

You're now ready for the next 12 months with a great strategy. Keep it tacked to your bulletin board all year. Time for another pat on the back.

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