Strategic Plan Outline
1.0 THE COMPANY
1.1 Company & Mission
The first step in strategic planning is to develop a concise a mission statement for your company. Your mission statement should not be limited to what your company is doing today, but should also include a vision of where the company is going in the future. It must also be based on the utilization of what Peter Drucker calls your company’s “knowledge excellencies”. Your mission statement should reflect the following:
1. The vision of the CEO of your company
2. Your company’s unique strengths and expertise
3. Your company’s corporate culture
4. Your company’s unique selling proposition
5. The type of product(s) and/or service(s) provided by your Company
1.2 History & Personnel
For the benefit of investors, bankers and newer associates, you should provide a concise overview of the history of your company. Describe the founding purpose and all key milestones and achievements, including dates. Provide growth trends and historical financial statements. Identify key suppliers and any strategic partners. Also provide brief biographies of all managers and key employees.
1.3 Situational Analysis
A written analysis will help you to clarify your company’s situation and develop appropriate strategies. A good method is a “SWOT” analysis to identify your company’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Strengths and weaknesses are internal factors. Opportunities and threats are external factors. Obviously, we have more control over internal factors than external factors. Yet we must be aware of the external factors in order to develop effective strategies. Strengths can usually be translated into opportunities. Opportunities to eliminate or counter weaknesses also exist. Weaknesses and threats can sometimes be turned into opportunities. Each item listed should be explained in writing for the benefit of all interested parties. Your SWOT analysis should be tailored to your unique situation.
1.4 SWOT Analysis
Identify all internal Strengths and Weaknesses and all external Opportunities and Threats.
1.5 Market Research
Effective planning requires detailed information about your prospective clients, the competition, the industry, and the environment. Without good information, you are “shooting in the dark”. By knowing your market, you will be able to create marketing programs that produce results. You need at least the following information:
1. Demographic profiles and statistics on your existing and prospective clients
2. Your existing and prospective clients’ needs and wants,
3. Identities of your competitors, knowledge of their strengths, weaknesses, and strategies,
4. Economic, political, regulatory and technology factors affecting the tax industry.
1.6 Marketing Goals
Once you’ve completed your SWOT analysis and researched the competition and your target clients, your opportunities should be clear and you can then determine the goals you wish to pursue. Your goals should be stated in measurable terms so you will be able to determine the degree to which they are achieved. Goals should also be prioritized and categorized as short-term and long-term objectives.
2.0 SERVICE-PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
2.1 Trade Names
If you operate under a trade name (a name other than your own legal name), you should consider the laws regarding trademarks and service marks. Many entrepreneurs have spent a great deal of time and money creating awareness of a trade name only to learn too late that someone else has the prior legal right to use that name. You can hire a service to conduct a search to be sure the name you are considering is not already being used. A trademark service or a trademark and patent attorney can assist with your application to your country’s patent office
2.2 Services & Products
What will you offer? If you will be offering products, how will your supply chain map out? Can you trust you suppliers? Have you built good relationships with them?
2.3 Delivery Systems and Capacity
Well conceived and fully developed operating systems are essential to deliver competitive products and services. Such systems include policy & procedure manuals, operating software, computer networking systems and management information systems, all employing state-of-the-art technology.
Delivery capability should also be described in detail. Who will manage and administer the business and what are their qualifications and credentials? How many people will be needed to perform the day-to-day operating tasks; what qualifications will be required? And how will these people be recruited? Facilities and equipment (including offices, work stations, work processing and administration areas) must also be described. Finally, equipment (computers, furnishings, fixtures, signs, etc.) should be discussed.
Pricing is a very crucial decision which will greatly affect your business success. Ultimately, your prospective customer will decide if your price is fair based on his perceived value of your products and services relative to all available options. You should determine which competitors provide services comparable to yours and find out what they charge. Your prices don’t have to be cheaper than every competitor, but you must be competitive and deliver greater value. Ideally, you will set your prices at the level that will yield the highest possible gross profit. That is the price at which you will realize the largest amount of money after paying wages and other variable costs. Because demand for your services will go down as your price increases above a certain (unknown) level, a lower price might generate a higher gross profit.
2.4 Suppliers of Critical Elements
You should also identify your anticipated supply vendors, software & system licensors, service suppliers, government agencies, etc. who will be needed to support your business.
3.0 MARKETING PLAN
3.1 Marketing Strategies & Tactics
To develop a good strategic plan it is important for you to clearly distinguish between strategies and tactics. A strategy is a broad method of attaining or helping to achieve a goal. For example, if one of your goals is to attain a 50% share of your local market, a strategy of would be an advertising campaign, and tactics would be to use network TV, direct mail, etc. Another strategy would be to expand geographically, and tactics could include opening additional offices, and providing your services through alternative distribution channels such as lease departments in retail stores.
3.2 Client Segmentation
View your clients and prospects not as a single group, but as several client segments and use different marketing strategies and tactics for each. Segments can be narrowed further to specific client niches, such as doctors, police officers, clergy, teachers, etc. Many smaller firms compete effectively with national firms by meeting the specific needs of one or more client niches.
To compete effectively with national giants in a mature industry, you must position your firm as being unique and different. If you try to be a clone, you will either fail or realize mediocre success. You can compete to some extent by having lower prices. That may work for low-income buyers since price-sensitivity is higher and loyalty is lower at those levels. However, customers with more complex needs are not going to choose you because of price alone. You must differentiate and add value in other ways. Your plan should describe all of the factors that make your firm different and better than the competition.
3.4 Bootstrap Marketing
Most small businesses lack adequate capital and human resources to support a professional “textbook” marketing campaign. The only answer is to do more with less by employing creative marketing strategies and tactics. This doesn’t mean that you must compromise your image. In fact, you can create the image of a major player on a shoestring budget through innovation and resourcefulness.
Often, both mass-market and targeted advertising can be used complementarily and effectively. Mass-marketing can be used to create awareness and name recognition among all potential customers. Targeted advertising can be used to sell to specific market niches. To be effective, your advertising message must be based on sound marketing principles and must reach your target audience with adequate frequency to “sink in”. The advertising acronym “AIDA” stands for Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action, which are the stages a prospective customer goes through in making a purchase decision. Repetition is essential for advertising to work.
3.5 Test Marketing
Experimenting with new advertising and promotional methods is a good idea as long as you can test the water before making a major financial commitment. The only way to find out if something is as good as it seems is to test it on a limited basis. If the advertising generates more than it costs, you should consider buying more of it. If not, either drop it, or try another variation of your test. A failure doesn’t always prove that the medium is faulty; it could mean that your message was flawed.
4.0 FINANCIAL PLAN
4.1 Financial Management
Capital requirements must be determined and anticipated sources of funds identified. The first step is to define, in detail, the financial assumptions upon which your projected figures for revenue and expenses are based. Based on these assumptions, pro forma financial statements (Profit & Loss statements and balance sheets) should be prepared for three to five years, and a monthly cash flow budget, including sources and uses of cash, should be prepared for at least one year.
Financial Controls should be defined, which should include the analysis of:
1. Variances from budgeted to actual results,
2. Financial statement (critical ratios), and
3. Financial reviews and audits.
4.2 Risk Factors & Contingencies
Potential causes of revenue shortfall or operating obstacles should be identified. Risk factors might include such things as: negative legislation, economic recession, competition, technology, and adverse publicity. Contingency plans to counter or reduce damages from each of these potential risk factors should be described.
5.0 ACTION (OPERATIONS) PLAN
5.1 Short-term Plan
While you are developing your strategic plan, you must still run your business and generate revenue and profits to survive. Therefore, you should simultaneously develop and implement a short-term (6-18 month) action plan. You should prioritize the opportunities identified through your SWOT analysis and decide, given available resources, which goals can realistically be accomplished during the current and subsequent year. However, unless essential for survival, you should not pursue short-term goals that are incompatible with your long-range strategies.
The biggest mistake entrepreneurs make in strategic business planning is to fail to implement their plans. If the plan is well conceived, it should be put into action. To insure that this happens, an action plan must be developed. Time frames should be established to implement each element of the strategic business plan. This “activity timetable” and the monthly cash flow budget constitute the implementation tools that must be properly used to insure success. Remember the sage advice of the old adage: “plan your work and work your plan”.
6.0 ASSESSMENT & REVIEW
6.1 Tracking Systems
Systems should be developed to monitor the success of the plan and determine if modifications are necessary. Such systems include methods of measuring and evaluating results and obtaining feedback from clients and employees. Too often marketing campaigns are blindly repeated year-after-year without any idea as to whether or not they have worked. Don’t fall into that trap. Set up a procedure to track the sources of all new clients and to learn the reasons prior clients don’t return. Your associates should be provided with incentives to be concerned about the growth of your practice. You should also conduct surveys of your clients and prospective clients to determine whether their needs and wants are being satisfied.
6.2 Analysis of Results
Evaluation of financial results might include a break-even analysis of each campaign. A market share analysis (before and after) would serve to document marketing success. Client satisfaction surveys will help in evaluating the quality of products and services. Input from associates, perhaps through an advisory board, could provide valuable insight to help improve quality and efficiency.
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