Benjamin Franklin once said that “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Strategic planning is vital if we want to meet the goals we set both in our professional and personal lives.
How many times did you set a professional goal at the beginning of the year with a blind hope of achieving it, or agree to run a race only to struggle through training and the actual event? Being able to set and implement a strategy not only gives us fulfillment when the goal is reached, but also allows us to enjoy the journey.
The strategic planning process always begins with a goal. What is it you are trying to accomplish? Goals can be broad (“I want to improve the visibility of my organization.”) or they can be more specific (“I want to generate this exact amount of new business.”). Ultimately, the more specific your goal, the easier it will be for you to follow the next steps and achieve the desired results.
Your goal should be supported by a set of detailed steps required to achieve success. To lay out these critical steps, it is important to assess where you are today in relation to where you want to be. This will also help you set a realistic timeframe during which your strategic plan can be achieved. There is often more than one way you can design the steps needed to attain your goal, so be sure to tailor them around your strengths. If your steps involve communication, are you stronger at communicating through oral presentation or writing? Also, determine what resources you can leverage to help with carrying out your action plan. We often make a process more difficult on ourselves by failing to use the resources at our disposal.
Draw up an action plan
Once you have set your goal and determined what you need to achieve it, it’s time to implement an action plan. Which activities should be completed daily, weekly or monthly, and what reminders can you put in place to ensure they are executed? How will you monitor progress to ensure you are on track? A detailed plan of action will not only allow you to better track and measure results, but also serves as a motivational tool as small wins are achieved on the path to the overarching goal.
The final and often most overlooked step is to track your results and pivot when necessary. The strategic planning process should not be static; rather, it should allow for reassessment and should shift according to early results or experiences. If you determine that a plan of action is not helping you meet your objective, try to uncover why, and update your action plan with alternatives.
The only way you will be able to make this determination, however, is to track your results. It is important to track frequently and periodically compare the results to your stated goal. The more information you track during the process, the easier it will be to see whether your critical steps are helping you reach your goal. To help yourself along the way, create benchmarks on set dates and check your progress against those benchmarks. Depending on how long you gave yourself to reach your goal, set the dates so that you have time to adjust your critical steps if necessary. Create online calendar reminders to stay on top of those dates.
Keep a written record
Now that you’ve set a goal and established a clear action plan as well as a method to track progress, your next step is to write it all down. No matter how motivated you may be to achieve your goals, the best way to ensure they happen is to document them in writing. Methods of documenting the information can vary from using a notebook to maintaining a spreadsheet.
Now that we have outlined what a strategic planning process would look like, let’s take a professional example through the process:
Secure $1 million in revenue from new business during the upcoming year.
Start with assessing your current situation. What has been your track record of bringing in new business over the past few years? How have you generated business in the past? Do you have a stable set of referral sources or have you made direct connections at local or national networking events? Are you focusing on a specific industry or is your practice more general? How much of your new business comes from existing clients?
When assessing your strengths and weaknesses, determine if you feel comfortable participating at conferences as a speaker or moderator, or are you better suited to providing written content to showcase your expertise?
Finally, what resources do you have at your disposal? Does your firm offer services that can be cross-sold to your existing clients?
After you complete the analysis, it is time to set specific steps you need to take to achieve your goal:
- Attend one national industry conference in the coming year.
- Join a local industry or networking organization chapter and plan to attend regular meetings.
- Participate in a local or national event as a speaker or moderator.
- Set up meetings with existing referral sources a month in advance.
- Introduce a coworker from a different practice to a client who might benefit from his services.
Now that you’ve set specific steps to meet your goal, you need to establish a supporting plan of action:
- Once you are registered for the conference, try to get a list of attendees for the event. Review the list to identify prospects you may want to meet. Be proactive and try to set up meetings for the conference with prospects or existing contacts.
- If half of your business comes from new networking contacts, determine the frequency with which you will need to attend any local industry or networking group events.
- See if your company is sponsoring any local industry or national events and try to get a speaking or moderating role. Larger conventions or organizations have programmatic subcommittees, and joining one could lead to additional exposure.
- Start a spreadsheet or use a database to track all of your contacts and their areas of business. Organize your contacts by the strength of the referral source and schedule meetings with them accordingly.
- Plan to take clients out to lunch and bring a co-worker or referral source who might be able to offer additional benefits. The client may appreciate you thinking outside the box, and the referral source will appreciate the introduction.
After detailing a plan of action, plan to monitor your progress so that you will be able to adjust throughout the process:
- Keep detailed notes on the conferences and events that you attend. This should include tracking the new business that came from attending conferences or events.
- Track referral contacts that you are providing leads to and see if it is being reciprocated. Even if you are not receiving new business directly from a contact, are they introducing you to other sources?
- Track the percentage of new business that is coming from existing clients and see whether that is a result of other services provided inside your firm.
Ultimately, applying a strategic planning process should allow you to have greater focus and achieve better results.
Mark S. Carrow, CPA, MS, and Michael Zyborowicz, CPA, are members of Citrin Cooperman’s Philadelphia office, which provides tax services, business consulting advice, valuation services and merger and acquisition guidance. www.citrincooperman.com. Contact Mr. Carrow at email@example.com and Mr. Zyborowicz at firstname.lastname@example.org.