Updated: Feb 17
A strategic business plan is essential for any business. We explore what is a strategic business plan, why it’s important and how to write one, with an example document.
A strategic business plan is an essential tool for any business; no matter the size. And while you may think your one (wo)man band doesn’t quite fit the profile, the truth is that it’s even more important as a small business to prioritise your strategic business plan. After all, it provides a compass to guide you towards your business goals.
A strategic business plan provides a bespoke roadmap to drive you in the RIGHT direction for your business goals. It enables you to craft a business that is agile and with genuine potential to grow, while fulfilling your values and bringing you joy.
Without it, you’ll find yourself floundering; stuck in a never ending battle of haphazard decisions, uncomfortable adjustments and a total lack of direction. You’ll end up spending more energy on tasks that, really, are unlikely to bring you any sort of positive return.
As small business owners, we simply don’t have the time for that.
So, instead, why not focus your efforts, establish priorities and strengthen the way the cogs turn with a strategic business plan?
Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. I’ll guide you through the what, the why and the how of strategic business planning throughout the rest of this article.
Don’t forget, if you need a business partner to support you through every step of the process, you can get in touch to find out more about my 1:1 intensives.
What is a strategic business plan?
Business plan definition: a document that describes a business’s aims for the future and the ways in which the business hopes to achieve those aims. It's the what, why, how and who.
What does a strategic plan do?
A strategic plan plots out your long-term business goals, forming a reference to guide all of your daily decisions. It considers you and your unique business and marks out the opportunities and risks that could pave the way for your business growth.
This is gold for small businesses owners. If you’re a solopreneur, it can help you move from a team of one to one of many. Or perhaps expanding your team isn’t on your agenda. How about doubling your income? Tripling it? I’d bet you wouldn’t say no to the idea of working less hours, or shifting your business model so that you aren’t constantly trading time for money?
Teams can become more motivated and efficient with a strategic business plan behind them. Your marketing can move from ‘meh’ to marvellous. And you can get there without throwing your laptop out of the window and your coffee mug at the wall.
Because the great thing about strategic plans, is they make the whole process easier. Better yet, they get you excited about what your brilliant business has to offer, and the life you’re going to step into once you get there.
What is included in a strategic business plan?
First of all, take a deep breath and remind yourself: this does not need to be a battle.
Let’s face it... being a business owner is hard. You’re in and out, up and down, and everything in between (sometimes on a daily basis!). But honestly? I’m a strong believer that there are a ton of ways we can make it less stressful and more enjoyable.
So, take the pressure out of your strategic business plan. I like to break things down into five core sections.
Conduct a business review (this could be against your last reporting period, quarter or financial year) and highlight any of the lessons learnt; what went well? What could you do more of? What could you try differently?
Also spend time looking at your competitors and ideal clients for market research. Can you use your findings to drive your own marketing activity?
This is where you tap into the WHY of your business… Why will you deliver your product or service? Think about your motivators, values and drivers. These will come together to form your mission and vision - the elements of your business that will guide every single decision you make.
Once you know why you do what you do, you need to decide how you’re going to do it.
Your operations are made up of your systems, processes and property. These are the decisions that will ensure you can deliver your offering in a cost-effective, professional and efficient way. Aka - the timesavers of your business!
Your next step is to figure out who will deliver your offering. This could be through:
What works for one person won’t necessarily work for you; that’s why it’s crucial to base your choice alongside your entire strategic plan. Who can help you reach your ultimate business goals with the biggest impact and ease?
Finally, my favourite part - the ‘S’ word. At this stage we draw everything together into one giant pot of goodness. The actual strategy part of your plan will cover everything from your goals, to your products and services, pricing, financial forecasting, risks and opportunities, and marketing.
It’s the part where you bring all your hard work and planning to life!
Why use a strategic business plan
Because it’s a sure fire way to keep you focused, on track and consistently heading towards (your version of) success.
Your strategic business plan is the next level to a basic business plan. While a basic business plan covers the - as the name suggests! - basics, your strategic plan digs into the nitty gritty. It includes the ‘whys’, pushing you closer and closer to your dream business by looking at your ideal clients and the services they need.
If a basic business plan is a starting point, then a strategic business plan is a decision making framework. Its intention is to help you achieve continuous, sustainable growth and meet every single one of your goals. The perfect position, right?
But the thing I really love about strategic plans, is they are so easy to tweak and adapt - they grow with you. Once you’ve got your initial strategic plan in place, you’ll never have to give it a full overhaul. A shift here, an adjustment there; the time and headspace you’ll save is enormous. This also makes it far less complicated to spot bottlenecks and opportunities for growth. Plus, if investment is on your vision board, it’ll make your offer considerably more attractive to potential funders.
How to write a strategic business plan
Stop putting it off… Grab the bull by the horns… Bite the bullet… I could go on and on, but ultimately you just need to START.
Get cracking in whatever format works for you. That could be pen and paper, mind maps, Canva, Word, Milanote, Asana; it really doesn’t matter. The important thing is that it’s in a format that you (and your people, if applicable) can work from cohesively.
I’ve created my own framework for strategic business planning - the BOPS framework - in which I make sure I cover the following areas with my clients:
Business summary: include a description of your business, services and/or products, the finer details of roles you will outsource or resource, any business premises and whether you will work full or part-time.
Market research: Explore any of the opportunities you’ve identified and your epic idea for a product or service, backed by your competitor pricing structures, gaps in the market and trends you’ve observed and any lessons learned from your previous reporting period.
Your drivers: what are your values, vision and mission?
Products and services: Here you should go into the detail on each individual product or service. This is the time to calculate cost, retail price and profit margin.
Operations: What processes do you need to map, which systems will you use and where will your facilities be located (and at what cost)?
People: Your strategic business plan will likely have gaps that need to be filled in terms of delivery. Consider who you will bring onboard to support this, and whether they will be employed or outsourced. You’ll need role descriptions and possibly performance management guidelines.
Financial forecasting: This is SO much more than daydreaming about your first 10k month. The reality of financial forecasting isn’t as black and white, so be sure to note fixed costs and overheads, variable costs, projected income and projected profit.
Marketing plan: I cannot stress this enough… Do not just focus on one channel for your marketing! Where are your clients showing up (both on and offline)? That’s where you need to be.
Goals: Look at the year ahead and set SMART goals that both keep you on track and encourage you to strive for more (while enjoying the journey!).
SWOT analysis: Take an objective look at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that exist within and around your planned business. Look for ways to turn weaknesses into strengths, and threats into opportunities.
Strategic business plan checklist
Your strategic business plan should be simple and only feature the necessary information; try not to overload it with information that’s only going to overwhelm you.
To ensure the plan becomes a reality, I turn it into actions. For me, this looks like:
Turning my goals into milestones
My milestones into actions
Planning those actions into my diary
Tracking everything through Click-Up
Keen to see a strategic business plan checklist? I’ve created one for you to muster up some inspiration. It's a simple list, so if you need more detail then go for it. Take a look through the download link below!
Steph Sanderson is a business design consultant who helps service-based businesses to accelerate their growth in a sustainable way through pricing, customer experience, process planning, systems and strategic planning. She has over 15 years experience in the field, working as a business manager, global Change Manager and Implementation Specialist. Find out more.