Many are familiar with the timeless proverb, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." It's such a popular idea that it seems obvious when you think about it. Yet, there are many deeper questions beyond this simple adage that many entrepreneurs either ignore, or simply don't think to ask in the first place.
How detailed should a plan be?
How much time and energy does one need to commit to planning before implementation?
If failing to plan leads to failure, does simply planning guarantee success?
Who should be involved in the planning process?
There are plenty more questions pertinent to successful planning, and it would seem that the planning process itself needs to be planned. Well, it sort of does! That's why it's important to understand what a strategy is, and how it differs from a plan. Whilst the difference may very often be semantic, and the words are often interchangeable, the difference occurs in our psychology more than in a dictionary.
A plan is a series of steps leading to the achievement of a goal. Usually quite stringent, specific, and technical in nature. It usually implies a series of actions executed in a systematic and linear way.
A strategy on the other hand is a much more sophisticated web of influencing factors, which implies a variety of considerations allowing for effective responses to those unique factors.
A broad strategy could involve a few different plans of action, but it doesn't just dictate steps. It determines motivations, behaviours, responses, and the questions that regularly need to be asked to ensure the plans (tactics) are actually working.
This is precisely why many entrepreneurs launch into a business with great enthusiasm, but find themselves lost at sea a short while later, being overwhelmed with the need to put out spot-fires, or to constantly be on the hunt for the next customer to stay afloat.
Planning a thoughtful strategy doesn't need to be an arduous and draining task, nor do you need to be an expert to make a good start. What you need above all else is vision and foresight, and some very good questions. The following questions should get you off to a good start in planning and developing a thoughtful marketing strategy, which will form a strong foundation for sustainable and perpetual success.
What problems am I solving and for whom?
What other options already exist to deal with that problem?
Why will your best customers or clients come to you?
What are the 5 most important outcomes you can promise for your customers or clients?
The following questions will help you get started in developing an overall business strategy, particularly if you're just starting out an entrepreneurial venture.
What are my main motivations for doing what I want to do?
What will my success look like in 2 years time?
What will my success look like in 5 years time?
What resources will I need over the next 2 years to ensure survival and growth?
What legacy am I building with my enterprise?
There are many free resources readily available online, as well as many books available in book stores and at your local library, on business and marketing strategy.
The real challenge is to be completely honest and open with yourself, and with your team members, when formulating a strategy, and making sure you're asking questions that are specifically relevant to your own enterprise and business goals.