I was on a road trip recently, taking my daughter to Nashville for her freshman year of college. Since I wasn’t driving, I had the chance to spend some time contemplating journeys – in life and in business – blogging along the way.
One of the first things I did when planning our trip was whip out my iPhone to look up directions. I knew in general where we were going and how to get there, but I liked the comfort of having a road map from my home near Atlanta to downtown Nashville. Having a visual reference would help us stay on track.
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
– Lewis Carroll
Business is a lot like a road trip. It can be spontaneous, (“I have a great idea, let’s go!”) or carefully considered well in advance. Either way, you have a better chance of reaching your destination if you know where you are going.
You could set a basic goal, like “I want to increase revenues by 28% this year,” and you may have a good idea how to do it. It probably involves selling more, building repeat business and referrals, maybe launching some new, high margin products.
But what happens when you have to stop along the way? Do you take a bathroom break and end up at the outlet mall across the road? Do your plans for a product launch get side-tracked by technical issues that prevent you from hitting your sales targets?
Having a formal plan or road map can help you stay the course. Like the lines on the highway, a strategic plan can be the guide you need to achieve your business goals. If you don’t have a plan, or need to update one, here are a few tips to create one that works:
Choose your Destination
Be realistic. With some focus and hard work, what can your business achieve? Make this your baseline goal. If you want, add a conservative target (“I know we can at least do ____”) as well as an aggressive or stretch goal, the “if we knock it out of the park” scenario. These goals establish the boundary conditions for your plan.
- Make your goals specific and measurable. Increasing customer satisfaction is nice, but achieving a 25% referral rate or having 80% of your customers come back is even better.
- Think high and low. What’s the best and worst you can do? Could you double your business by adding two new major accounts? What if a key employee defects for the competition, taking trade secrets with her?
Pick the Best Route
Are you taking country roads to enjoy the ride, or do you need the express lane on the interstate? The “best route” is not always the shortest. What’s best depends on your unique business needs. Determining how fast you need to act in order to reach your goals will help you make key business decisions. Knowing how you plan to reach your goal will shape choices about investments, staffing and other resources.
- The shortest distance….If time is money, then inventory turns, aging of receivables or agile development may be important focus areas.
- When quality counts, time to market may be less important than getting it right. Set your plans accordingly.
- Do you need to make stops along the way? Incorporate essential way points for your team to rest and refuel, or executive team visits with experts and advisors.
Before any road trip, you should gas up, put air in your tires and check your fluid levels, right? (Ok, maybe you don’t do that for every trip, but it’s a good idea, isn’t it?) Prepare well for your journey to business success by taking stock of your current situation and making necessary adjustments, or at least planning for contingencies.
- Who’s along for the ride? Do you have the right staff? If not, how and when will you build out your team. Do you need to pick someone up along the way (like a key new employee)?
- Have you packed everything you need? From basics (forgot your toothbrush?) like office supplies and equipment to more specialized resources, discovering too late that you don’t have the right resources can be a real pain.
- Who you gonna call? When I get a flat tire I call AAA. Do you need roadside assistance for your business? Think ahead about which trusted advisers, associates or mentor you can call on if needed.
Hit the Road
When all the preliminary planning is done, the real fun begins. Be ready for some surprises along the way (“Look, a fireworks stand!”) and don’t be afraid to embrace opportunities that pop up. Maybe those fresh peaches or hot boiled peanuts are just the boost your business needs.
As your journey progresses. remember your destination and the rewards that await when you get there (like a hot shower and fresh biscuits, maybe?). Happy traveling!
Image by Emlyn Stokes via Flickr.