In startup lingo the term “strategy” is used a lot like butter: it makes anything sound better. Strategy is so overused it is hard to nail down a useful definition.
I think of strategy as the what-to-do and how-to-do to achieve your goals.
The trouble with many startup companies is that the strategy isn’t clear or thorough enough to guide the business. Once the business starts the leader is busy creating products, winning clients and rallying troops. Creating a winning strategy sounds like a lot of fluff when there is “real” work in front of you.
However, without a clear strategy even the solo-preneur can get tossed around and distracted from what leads to success. The strategy is what aligns all of the effort to achieve the desired outcomes.
Creating an effective strategy sounds hard, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s how you can create a winning strategy in 4 steps.
It sounds easy enough, but most people don’t do it. Start by writing down your strategy. Even if you are a team of One, you need to write down your strategy.
There are several benefits to having a written strategy. It will help you become clear on what it is you do and why you do it. It will help craft your 30 second elevator speech. Forcing yourself to write it down will help solidify it in your mind and prepare to execute against it.
This is where most companies have the biggest opportunity for improvement. The average strategy is too vague and uses squishy words. “We will be the best in class…” “Provide superior service…” “To be the [insert favorite business cliché here].”
A winning strategy is specific. If your strategy is to grow by 25 percent in the next 12 months, add specifics to it. How will you grow? How will you not grow? What niche and communication channels will you use? Which will you avoid? This document needs to communicate the what and the how.
Imagine you need to hand off this strategy to someone who did not help write it. Will it be clear to them?
The strategy should capitalize on what you already do well. Define the 3-6 things your company does and make sure the strategy aligns to those capabilities.
As an example, an event planner will be great with contract negotiation, schedule planning and coordinating minute details. Real estate, maintenance and transportation should not be included in the strategy. These are related services to event planning outside of his expertise.
I know of a CEO who reviews his strategy every week to make sure his actions are aligned. And then every quarter he gives himself permission to make minor adjustments and bring it to the team. Every year he pulls his team together and renews the strategy. This keeps it fresh and applicable.
For a startup it might be tempting to change your strategy too quickly. Give it time to work. If you have taken the time and diligent effort to craft a smart, specific and clear strategy then be patient and execute against it.
The final piece to a successful strategy is to remove distractions. The strategy determines what should and should not be done. Don’t allow you or your team to chase after the latest shiny object. If you’ve put in the time and effort to craft an effective strategy it will provide the proper filter by which to decide what to pursue and what to let pass by.
I challenge you to review your strategy. Determine if it is specific enough and thorough enough. And finally, do you have the courage to allow it to direct the actions you take? Let me know on Twitter!