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6 Steps to Help You Think More Strategically

Building a Business Strategy for 2019

Thinking strategically and building a business strategy is an important exercise for all businesses—large and small. Unfortunately, many small business owners aren’t sure where to start, how a more strategic approach will impact their business, or if it’s even worth the time away from the important work of meeting the day-to-day challenges a small business owner faces. At least, I felt that way about my first business. I was so bogged down with the day to day, I didn’t take any time to be strategic—and, looking back, I think it hurt my business.

I’m convinced that thinking strategically about your business is as much about the process as it is about having a fully baked business plan. In other words, I don’t think it’s something you do at the beginning of the year with the only goal being a well-crafted set of strategic objectives; but rather something you do on a regular basis.

With that said, what does “regular” mean?

Take Time to Think About Your Business

Several years ago I interviewed an author, for a podcast I was doing, who later became a good friend. When I met him, he had turned around eight struggling businesses and had written a book about it: Just Run It! Running an Exceptional Business is Easier than You Think. Dick Cross had a commonsense philosophy for running a business that really resonated with me. And, although he had been the CEO of eight larger companies, he wasn’t a tech CEO. The companies he turned around where traditional businesses like manufacturers or distributors making and selling products like batteries, bolts and nuts, or furniture. It didn’t take long to recognize how a small business owner could leverage his approach to build a successful small business.

He felt like the CEO, or in this case, the business owner had a very important role that couldn’t be ignored for a business to be successful. It’s more than being the primary salesperson, managing production, or building a thoughtful marketing plan. He argued that thinking about the business was an important part of that role and suggested that one uninterrupted hour each week to do nothing but think about your business was vital to success. He also felt like it was difficult to do.

An Hour a Week?

Since I met Dick, I’ve spoken to a lot of business owners about this idea who say, “I’m always thinking about my business.”

Having been a business owner a time or two, I admit, I felt like I was always thinking about my business too—it just wasn’t very productive. I was thinking about it while I was meeting with customers, answering the phone, doing the books, or otherwise working in the business. I wasn’t in an environment that would allow me to think about and capture new ideas, let alone think about the best way to execute on them.

Dick suggests that taking the time to “just think” is challenging because business leaders feel like they always need to be doing something, and don’t consider “thinking” as doing something. But it really is. What’s more, he would argue it’s the most important thing you can do. If you’d like to know more about how to get started, here are six things you can start doing this week:

  1. Don’t be afraid to take it slow: Although the objective is to take an hour a week, it might be hard to jump in with both feet this week. Start with 20 or 30 minutes of dedicated time to think about your business and build up to the hour. Once you start to feel differently about it, you’ll want to gradually increase the time you spend with this powerful exercise.
  2. Shut down your computer: Don’t catch up on email, review reports, or otherwise allow yourself to be distracted by the computer. Put your email notifications on do not disturb and put your computer to sleep.
  3. Turn off your cell phone: We live in an age when one of the single biggest distractions for all of us is the cell phone buzzing, chirping, or beeping at us to pick it up. I’ve watched couples in restaurants waiting for their meals without speaking a word because they’re both so engaged by the little screen they’re holding in their hands. I’ve also watched people in important business meetings get distracted by their cell phones that they miss important parts of the conversation. Just turn it off and put it in a drawer so it doesn’t take your mind away from thinking about your business.
  4. Shut the door to your office or find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed: If you’re noticing a theme here, the suggestions so far are definitely in the “do not disturb” category. The goal is to find a time where you can be uninterrupted and left alone to get into the zone. 30 to 60 minutes will feel like an eternity in the beginning, but it is well worth the effort.
  5. Put it on your calendar: Treat this time like you would any important meeting—even though it’s a meeting with yourself and your thoughts. In my experience, I realize that if I don’t schedule time for an exercise like this, it doesn’t happen.
  6. Capture your thoughts: It won’t take doing this too many times before you start to have some great ideas. We’ve all heard the saying, “A goal not written is a wish.” The same holds true for great ideas. If you don’t capture them, it will be really hard to execute on an idea you don’t remember. Write it down or record it on an audio recorder—just make sure you capture the idea.

Be prepared. You might get a few odd looks from your employees if they see you sitting at your desk “thinking,” but don’t let that dissuade you. The value of setting time aside to think strategically about your business every week can help you take your small business to the next level. If nothing else, it will help you keep that strategic plan top of mind for the next twelve months. Don’t forget, we tend to impact those things we spend regular time with; the same is true for your strategic plan.

Best wishes for a great 2019!