Small business strategy: 5 essential enablers (they’re not what you expect)

by | 16 Mar, 2018 | Growth, Strategy

Small business strategy can be such a dirty term... Why? Because it is misunderstood or misapplied. An effective plan starts with these unexpected enablers.

Reading Time: 7 mins

Strategy provides a clear pathway for your business to achieve its goals. But it is not a magic wand.

All too often businesses create a strategy document. Then seem surprised when it doesn’t work.

Seleqtive Digital have defined 5 enablers for your business to get the direction it needs. Use them to make and manage a strategy that delivers on your goals.

1. Understand Strategy

For many, strategy has a bad name. Too often it used to make something sound important or justify expenditure. Hello corporate retreat!

It is important to dispel the myths with a clear message that strategy is different for every business.

Myth 1: It is a well bound document

We can already picture the product sitting on the bookshelf. Inspirational posters with vision, mission and values are around the office. But nobody is quite sure about the exact content of the document…

This all too common scenario is the outcome of applying the template rather than considering the need. Michael Porter or Igor Ansoff shaped the modern approach to strategy. Their theories have a place, but not in the same way for every business.

Strategy’s purpose is to provide direction for the future and a method for how to get there. A document that no-one can explain fails that fundamental test.

Myth 2: Modern marketers don’t do strategy

You may have heard some modern marketers say they don’t do strategy. Instead they try new tactics in the constant search for growth. Myth 2 is an extension of myth 1.

Do modern marketers have direction for the future? Yep, that continual drive for growth.

Do they use a method to get there? Of course, a process that trials, evaluates and adapts tactics.

Henry Mintzberg provides an alternative that may appeal to some businesses. He proposed that in a dynamic world, strategy can be realised rather than intended. It emerges over time as intentions interacts with a changing reality.

Strategy takes many forms. Any successful business that has direction but claims not to use strategy, is taking a limited perception of it.

Knowledge Power-up! Check out:

What is strategy and does it matter? by Richard Whittington

Myth 3: We have lots of strategies

The outcome of strategy is 100 percent clarity on the direction of your business. This is for all stakeholders in all areas of the business.

If there are many strategies then what is the higher thing that provides unity of direction? Strategy is the one plan selected out of all plans. It provides singular direction. Everything else – plans, programs, projects, initiatives and campaigns are aligned to that strategy.

Running many different strategies risks either:

  • a misunderstanding of strategy and its purpose; or
  • a lack of unity.

Unashamed Richard Branson quote

Thanks to Richard for the simple articulation of your strategy:

“Our strategy has been to screw business as usual. To look at what it is our customer wants, and what it is the industry needs, and to go in and exceed their expectations. And we’ve been successful not by wasting time scrutinising our competitors but by looking at ourselves from the point of view of our customers do and seeking feedback through listening.”

Clear direction of what to do and how to do it. In a simple paragraph, easy to understand for every employee. Now that is strategy!

2. Self Awareness

At the start of a session with a client, we will usually ask two questions:

  1. How much can you influence your environment?
  2. How much can you influence your own business?

The initial answer to Q1 is usually “not much” and Q2 “a lot”. But by the end of the session, we usually reach a different conclusion.

Most small to medium businesses think that their influence on the market is limited. But right now people are using digital marketing every day to make a global impact.

Alternatively, locally focused businesses also have the ability to connect and influence the market. Influence extends for the entire buyer journey including the often forgotten ‘delight’.

The thrust of this awareness is a classic Seth Godin quote:

“Would they miss you if you were gone?”

Q1 is all about understanding the opportunity presented and your aspirations. If the customer would not miss you, then it’s a perfect opportunity to reassess the direction of the business.

Q2 strikes at insights into strengths and weaknesses. Too many leaders think that when they say something it gets done on time, within budget, to the expected standard. Even in performing teams, changes can be affected by stakeholder engagement or existing needs.

Awareness is both relative and dynamic. But a good measure is how much you need to adapt your plan as it develops.

Self awareness drives both aspiration for what you want and reality for what is possible.

3. Defined Process

Having a guiding process with a clear outcome is critical. But that is no revelation. In fact many a strategy has been derailed by the obsession with methodology.

Process should suit the capabilities of the business and the strategy to be developed. But the real insight here is that the process needs to cover both making and managing strategy.

The immediate disadvantage of a well bound document is maintaining it. A strategy that is not current is not credible. Consciously or subconsciously it will be discarded. So don’t make the format constrain the process.

There are plenty of methodologies and templates out there. But you need a clear vision for the entire strategy lifecycle. Key questions to be answered are:

  • How will we know the strategy is working?
  • How will we know the environment has changed?
  • How will we adapt to change?
  • How will we communicate insights, decisions and outcomes?

Want more information? Check out:

How to develop a successful marketing strategy

4. Stakeholder Communication

I can already hear you say, this is an obvious one! But this enabler is applied with a far too limited scope. Stakeholder communication never stops.

Making strategy

It begins with the initial working group. An executive retreat may be a great idea for getting some space. But business leaders are immediately isolated from the team that is a source of their success.

Early team engagement avoids needing to sell it to them later. This does not mean you need everyone in the room. But design a communications environment that gets the right information at the right time. A robust strategy with team buy-in is way better than big bang delivery.

Managing strategy

Whilst we all want to be agile, a strategy session is just a snapshot at any given time. The environment will change. Maybe even while you are in a room making strategy.

Knowing the rationale allows the team to identify early when there is a change in the environment. Understanding the options enables a quicker decision cycle to adapt.

Between business leaders, communication on strategy progress is as important as normal business activities. Needing conferences for strategy communication is a key indicator of a lack of agility.

Collaborative communication across the business ensures strategy planned is strategy executed.

5. Know Tactics

Tactics achieve objectives. Objectives contribute to the business goal. Strategy without an understanding of tactics is direction without knowing how to get there. A plan unravels when the team realise the leaders don’t know what it takes to implement it.

We are not saying the tactics need to be defined at the outset. Nor that the strategist needs to be able perform the tactic. Quite the opposite. But aspiration needs to be grounded in what is both possible and suitable for the business.

Return on Investment (ROI) should always be the validation for your strategy. So likely tactics need to be understood to make an assessment.

Even using an adaptive growth cycle, there will be tactics that you will include and exclude. Your brand, objectives, capabilities and tactical options all combine to define what you will and won’t do.

Aaron Patzer best summed it when describing the in-scope tactics for mint.com:

“Whatever we can do, basically, for cheap or for free “

The more you know tactics, the more you can envision how your strategy will unfold.

Conclusion

5 enablers for strategy to achieve its intended purpose. No more than 2 words each. Use them to create the plan that works for your business:

  1. Understand Strategy
  2. Self Awareness
  3. Defined Process
  4. Stakeholder Communication
  5. Know Tactics

You want growth. So don’t skip out on the thing that provides direction and defines how to get there.

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