Strategic Planning for Startup Businesses

Effective Strategic Planning Strategies for Startups

Quick—off the top of your head, name a half-dozen of the most successful startups from the last 30 years.

I’m guessing your mental list includes names like Uber (2009), Airbnb (2008), Etsy (2005), Facebook (2004), Grubhub (2004), and Tesla (2003).

If your memory goes back to the Clinton era, you might include a startup bookseller called Amazon. (Of course, that package on your porch is a handy reminder.) The world’s largest online retailer—$554 billion in revenue last year—was started out of Jeffrey Bezos’s garage with a loan from his parents in 1994.

Dozens of startups like Pinterest (2010) and DoorDash (2013) have become household names during the last three decades. But in that same time period, thousands of other startups crashed and burned.

What determined success or failure? Perhaps having—or not having—a comprehensive strategic plan made a critical difference.

What Is a Strategic Plan?

Strategic planning is used to set priorities, focus resources, and ensure staff and stakeholders are working toward common goals. It helps shape where an organization is going and the actions needed to get there.

You could say that strategic planning is the process of coming up with a clear pathway to reaching shared objectives. Surprisingly, most business startups try to launch and operate without a central plan.

This lack of strategic planning results in lost revenue, inefficiency, and operational confusion. With a cohesive business strategy in place, everybody’s focused on the same mission, values, and goals.

Why Is Strategic Planning Important for Startups?

Strategic planning is the single best tool for creating, articulating, and implementing your startup’s vision. It’s key to both crafting a vision and learning how to make it work.

Regarding vision, Jeff Bezos of Amazon says, “We are stubborn on vision. We are flexible on details…. We don’t give up on things easily.”

If you’re ready to be “stubborn on vision,” start by connecting with an experienced consultant, using the best process out there. Should you bring me on as a facilitator, I will engage the leaders of your startup in the dynamic team discovery process called the StratOp Process. This process:

  • Helps your organization know where it stands
  • Clarifies your vision—where your organization should go
  • Provides a customized plan on how to get there
  • Gives perspective on all your strategic, financial, and operational components

How to Start Strategic Planning for a Startup Business

Utilizing a unique template, the StratOp Process is a powerful and proven system designed to accelerate successful organizations. Founded by the preeminent business strategist Tom Paterson, The Paterson Center has 50 years of helping companies gain clarity, growth, and breakthrough.

The name “StratOp” blends the two words most vital to a successful planning process. “Strat” stands for strategic—the art of planning for tomorrow, today. “Op” stands for operational—the discipline of managing today, today. Weaved through both is the third component, the financial.

The StratOp Process brings all three elements together for your startup!

The Six Phases of Strategic Planning

I’ve had a long career in coaching and consulting many innovative, profitable startups. I’d be honored to personally facilitate the StratOp Process with your startup by guiding you across six vital phases:

  • Phase 1: Perspective – Where Are We Now? The StratOp Process begins with defining current realities. “Perspective before planning” is how successful startups make brilliant informed business decisions.
  • Phase 2: Core Plan – Where Are We Headed? Equipped with proper context, a team can now develop a living core strategic plan based on a set of shared fundamental beliefs upon which to develop this plan.
  • Phase 3: Action – What’s Important Now? Time to move on key issues as one cross-functional group. The team-developed core plan is the basis for creating a unified action plan aligned with the master plan.
  • Phase 4: Structure – What Form Best Facilitates the Plan? With the action plan in place, the facilitator ensures that organizational structure, culture, systems, processes, and staffing all support the plan.
  • Phase 5: Management – How Are We Doing? The StratOp Process provides systematic feedback to help manage plan implementation. Regular weekly, monthly, and quarterly reviews are instituted.
  • Phase 6: Renewal – What Needs to Change? Team leadership meets annually to review and renew the core strategic plan. Action items, opportunities, trends, objectives, and goals are all reset for the coming year.

To ensure success and sustainability, the StratOp Process is ongoing.

Using a Startup Strategic Plan Template

How does a startup beat the odds and win big? For me, introducing a startup to the StratOp Process is where the excitement kicks in.

To see why it’s so effective, check out this abbreviated overview of the template used in the StratOp Process.

These first four tools define the current reality: “Where are we now?”

  • The Thinking Wavelength: Understanding the team. The goal is to build camaraderie.
  • What Is Our Business: Understanding the company. The goal is to capture the full here-and-now profile.
  • The Four Helpful Lists: Drilling down to essentials. Goal is finding core issues that require attention and resources.
  • Patterns and Trends: Identifying external trends. Goal is to evaluate and adapt to the world around us.

The next five tools in the Template help us build a detailed plan of action: “Where are we headed?”

  • Our Vision: Defining the future state of the organization.
  • Opportunity Mapping: Identifying revenue channels
  • Primary Customer Life Cycle: Determining our target audience.
  • W.I.N. Wheel: Creating a list of 90-day initiatives.
  • Action Initiative Profiles: Initiative project plans with clarity and accountability.

Every startup needs someone to walk them through this template. If you contact me, I’ll happily explain it in more detail.

Tips for Strategic Planning Within a Small Organization

About 90% of startups will fail—and smaller startups have an even shorter lifespan than larger ones. The average failure rate for the first year is 10%. In years two through five, a whopping 70% of new businesses fail.

The reason? Very few small startups launch with a professional strategic plan. In my experience, successful entrepreneurs start with a solid plan and continuously adjust it as market conditions and customer feedback dictate.

A startup is never too small to have a professionally developed strategic plan—even if you’re the only employee.

Working with a Startup Company Strategic Planning Consultant

Would you attempt to fix your own computer? No way. You’d head for the experts. Likewise, building a strategic plan for a startup is not a DIY project. With something this important, your startup needs a professional to guide your efforts. Working with an experienced, certified consultant ensures having a fun, productive interaction—with solid, trackable results.

Let’s Get Started

From Apple to Zappos, every top brand began as a startup. To get yours on the fast track, you’ll need a strategic plan. Are you ready to step back from your day-to-day duties and see the big picture for your startup?

To discuss how my experience and objectivity can help you move forward, let’s connect for a relaxed, informal conversation.