A business plan is a written document that describes in detail how a business – usually a startup – defines its objectives and how it is to go about achieving its goals. A business plan lays out a written roadmap for the firm from marketing, financial, and operational standpoints.
Business plans are important documents used to attract investment before a company has established a proven track record. They are also a good way for companies to keep themselves on target going forward.
Although they're especially useful for new businesses, every company should have a business plan. Ideally, the plan is reviewed and updated periodically to see if goals have been met or have changed and evolved. Sometimes, a new business plan is created for an established business that has decided to move in a new direction.
🔎 KEY TAKEAWAYS
A business plan is a written document describing a company's core business activities, objectives, and how it plans to achieve its goals.
Startup companies use business plans to get off the ground and attract outside investors.
Businesses may come up with a lengthier traditional business plan or a shorter lean startup business plan.
Good business plans should include an executive summary, products and services, marketing strategy and analysis, financial planning, and a budget.
The Business Model Canvas
The business model canvas is a strategic management tool that lets you visualize and assess your business idea or concept. It’s a one-page document containing nine boxes that represent different fundamental elements of a business. The business model canvas beats the traditional business plan that spans across several pages, by offering a much easier way to understand the different core elements of a business.
The right side of the canvas focuses on the customer or the market (external factors that are not under your control) while the left side of the canvas focuses on the business (internal factors that are mostly under your control). In the middle, you get the value propositions that represent the exchange of value between your business and your customers. (source)
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You should understand that the business plan is the very first step to go through. Once you have your business plan ready, you should think strategically in order to fulfill your business potential. Strategic planning is a continuous activity you should take into serious account, as well. Let's now see what Harvard Business School says about that.
Strategic planning is the ongoing organizational process of using available knowledge to document a business's intended direction. This process is used to prioritize efforts, effectively allocate resources, align shareholders and employees on the organization’s goals, and ensure those goals are backed by data and sound reasoning.
It’s important to highlight that strategic planning is an ongoing process—not a one-time meeting. In the online course Disruptive Strategy, Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen notes that in a study of HBS graduates who started businesses, 93 percent of those with successful strategies evolved and pivoted away from their original strategic plans.
“Most people think of strategy as an event, but that’s not the way the world works,” Christensen says. “When we run into unanticipated opportunities and threats, we have to respond. Sometimes we respond successfully; sometimes we don’t. But most strategies develop through this process. More often than not, the strategy that leads to success emerges through a process that’s at work 24/7 in almost every industry.”
Strategic planning requires time, effort, and continual reassessment. Given the proper attention, it can set your business on the right track. Here are three benefits of strategic planning.
1. Create One, Forward-Focused Vision
Strategy touches every employee and serves as an actionable way to reach your company’s goals.
One significant benefit of strategic planning is that it creates a single, forward-focused vision that can align your company and its shareholders. By making everyone aware of your company’s goals, how and why those goals were chosen, and what they can do to help reach them, you can create an increased sense of responsibility throughout your organization.
This can also have trickle-down effects. For instance, if a manager isn’t clear on your organization’s strategy or the reasoning used to craft it, they could make decisions on a team level that counteract its efforts. With one vision to unite around, everyone at your organization can act with a broader strategy in mind.
2. Draw Attention to Biases and Flaws in Reasoning
The decisions you make come with inherent bias. Taking part in the strategic planning process forces you to examine and explain why you’re making each decision and back it up with data, projections, or case studies, thus combatting your cognitive biases.
A few examples of cognitive biases are:
The recency effect: The tendency to select the option presented most recently because it’s fresh in your mind
Occam’s razor bias: The tendency to assume the most obvious decision to be the best decision
Inertia bias: The tendency to select options that allow you to think, feel, and act in familiar ways
One cognitive bias that may be more difficult to catch in the act is confirmation bias. When seeking to validate a particular viewpoint, it's the tendency to only pay attention to information that supports that viewpoint.
If you’re crafting a strategic plan for your organization and know which strategy you prefer, enlist others with differing views and opinions to help look for information that either proves or disproves the idea.
Combating biases in strategic decision-making requires effort and dedication from your entire team, and it can make your organization’s strategy that much stronger.
3. Track Progress Based on Strategic Goals
Having a strategic plan in place can enable you to track progress toward goals. When each department and team understands your company’s larger strategy, their progress can directly impact its success, creating a top-down approach to tracking key performance indicators (KPIs).
By planning your company’s strategy and defining its goals, KPIs can be determined at the organizational level. These goals can then be extended to business units, departments, teams, and individuals. This ensures that every level of your organization is aligned and can positively impact your business’s KPIs and performance.
It’s important to remember that even though your strategy might be far-reaching and structured, it must remain agile. As Christensen asserts in Disruptive Strategy, a business’s strategy needs to evolve with the challenges and opportunities it encounters. Be prepared to pivot your KPIs as goals shift and communicate the reasons for change to your organization.
Characteristics of strategic goals
To craft a strategic plan for your organization, you first need to determine the goals you’re trying to reach. Strategic goals are an organization’s measurable objectives that are indicative of its long-term vision. Here are four characteristics of strategic goals to keep in mind when setting them for your organization.
The starting point for crafting strategic goals is asking yourself what your company’s purpose and values are. What are you striving for, and why is it important to set these objectives? Let the answers to these questions guide the development of your organization’s strategic goals.
“You don’t have to leave your values at the door when you come to work,” says HBS Professor Rebecca Henderson in the online course Sustainable Business Strategy.
Henderson, whose work focuses on reimagining capitalism for a just and sustainable world, also explains that leading with purpose can drive business performance.
“Adopting a purpose will not hurt your performance if you do it authentically and well,” Henderson says in a lecture streamed via Facebook Live. “If you’re able to link your purpose to the strategic vision of the company in a way that really gets people aligned and facing in the right direction, then you have the possibility of outperforming your competitors.”
2. Long-Term and Forward-Focused
While strategic goals are the long-term objectives of your organization, operational goals are the daily milestones that need to be reached to achieve them. When setting strategic goals, think of your company’s values and long-term vision, and ensure you’re not confusing strategic and operational goals.
For instance, your organization’s goal could be to create a new marketing strategy; however, this is an operational goal in service of a long-term vision. The strategic goal, in this case, could be breaking into a new market segment, to which the creation of a new marketing strategy would contribute.
Keep a forward-focused vision to ensure you’re setting challenging objectives that can have a lasting impact on your organization.
Strong strategic goals are not only long-term and forward-focused—they’re actionable. If there aren’t operational goals that your team can complete to reach the strategic goal, your organization is better off spending time and resources elsewhere.
When formulating strategic goals, think about the operational goals that fall under them. Are they actionable steps your team can take to achieve your organization’s objective? If so, the goal could be a worthwhile endeavor for your business.
When crafting strategic goals, it’s important to define how progress and success will be measured. For instance, the goal “become a household name” is valid but vague. Consider the intended timeframe to reach this goal and how you’ll operationally define “a household name.” The method of obtaining data must also be taken into account.
An appropriate revision to the original goal could be: “Increase brand recognition by 80 percent among surveyed Americans by 2030.” By setting a more specific goal, you can better equip your organization to reach it and ensure that employees and shareholders have a clear definition of success and how it will be measured.
If you’re asking yourself, “Should I go to business school?” consider the personal and professional goals you hope to achieve and what you’re willing to do to get there. Whether through an online business course or an MBA program, here’s a look at six compelling reasons why you should develop your business skills and expand your knowledge base.
As your company starts to grow in scope and size, it also grows in complexity—which can be hard for any founder to navigate. Yet it’s likely that the scaling challenges your company is facing aren’t unique to you and your business.
By understanding what the common scaling challenges are, you can start to recognize patterns and avoid the issues most founders face as they grow their startup.
Now you should know more about Business Planning and Strategy
Remember that great teams make great businesses.
Growing crops is actually very similar to growing a business, if you try and do all the needed processes on your own, without help and a clear roadmap it is very likely that your business will not grow as expected.