Six Tips for Improving Your Strategic Action Planning Success

If you own or lead a successful company, here are six tips for improving your strategic action planning success. Most successful CEOs and business owners agree that having an effective strategic planning process is a major contributor to success, if not the driver of scale and sustainability barring acts of God.

It’s also true that great strategic plans happen with careful consideration. The strategic planning process serves as an essential stepping-stone for your company, allowing you to set priorities, make important decisions regarding investment, and chart long-term plans for growth. Unfortunately, the strategic planning process can quickly devolve into too many actions, too little follow-up, overcomplicated budgets or verbose analyses and presentations – they may have the right jargon, but they lack a plan of action that your company can set in motion. For many companies, strategic plans become little more than wall decorations for the corporate office, or, worse, documents that get lost in the company cloud.

If your company is preparing to delve into strategic planning this season, take a hard look at your current process and whether you’re guilty of the bad habits common in planning for the future. Then, take actionable steps to improve your strategic action planning by following these tips.

Tip #1: Focus on the Issues

This seems like an obvious tip, but the process of creating strategic plans has become so data-driven and formulaic that the root of strategic planning – anticipating the company’s biggest challenges and highlighting trends that will prove integral to the company’s success – has devolved from its original purpose. Financial forecasting and budgets have effectively replaced critical thinking. To bring quality back to the strategic planning process, complement the data and financial information (undoubtedly important aspects of the process) with a focus on the issues.

At the onset, take some time to identify the issue that will have an impact on your future business performance – a so-called SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Rather than throwing numbers on the table, frame your strategic planning sessions in a way that facilitates discussions about the key issues your company faces. Follow those issues with specific actions that align with the direction your company wants to take. By complementing your objective data with open-ended discussion points, your resulting plan will be much more comprehensive.

Tip #2: Define Your Strategic Plan from the Outside

One of the biggest mistakes that companies make when developing their strategic plans is by starting from the inside and working their way out. However, when you start addressing the problem internally, you may only see the closest “symptoms” that are indicative of a larger issue that you need to resolve. On the other hand, by looking at changes in the external environment, you can begin to create the foundation for a successful strategic planning session.

Tip #3: Test What You Know

A strategic plan will, by definition, involve making hypotheses that your company outcomes (increased revenue or a higher return on investment, for example) will rely on taking pre-determined actions. However, one of the biggest mistakes that companies make is supporting hypotheses with secondary research or assumptions.

When creating your overarching strategy, rely on the information you know – such as field tests – to drive your plan forward. When you have proprietary information from which to work from, the C-suite will be more willing to commit resources and time to the initiatives that drive business success. Some companies refer to these field tests as “scouting missions.” By including short, specific “experiments” as part of your strategic plan, your company will be better aligned to fulfill the objectives of the plan for meaningful business growth.

Tip #4: Opt for Clear, Meaningful Language

Anyone who has sat in a strategic planning session is familiar with the jargon and fluffy language that the process can entail. Too often, companies fall into the trap of providing a lot of words without meaningful impact. For example, phrases like “leverage,” “synergy,” “world-class,” and “harvesting efficiency” all communicate one thing: that the team does not have a clear idea what it takes to create a meaningful roadmap to change. Opt for clear language that communicates what it takes to succeed – without obfuscating phrases or jargon.

Tip #5: Avoid Using Templates

Another common appearance in the planning room is the template. When templates function at their best, they encourage strategic planning teams to consider topics such as external markets, performance gaps, and direct competition, while comparing data for each. On the other hand, the nature of using a template – with its rigid, formulaic structure – keeps teams from thinking about innovative ways for growing the business. When the strategic planning team completes the same template each year, it often leads to formulaic responses without addressing the real, dynamic issues that a growing business encounters.

Choosing an open-ended format can take the hum-drum out of your strategic planning and encourage teams to think critically while developing meaningful growth plans. For example, a narrative structure gives your team more room to develop innovative growth strategies that develop into action.

Tip #6: Ask Probing Questions

Another downside of the template is that it can discourage probing discussions or provocative questions; though this is a common mistake that businesses make even in the absence of one. For example, it makes sense that all strategic planning decisions should be data-driven; but certain aspects of the process can also constrain or stilt the conversation. For example, team members may falter when faced with a rigid structure or dense company data, necessitating a moderator who can ask the tough questions. Open-ended, probing discussion points will help enrich thinking and help participants break from the rote mentality. For example:

Tackling the most common mistakes inherent in strategic planning requires revisiting the fundamentals of the process. Take a step back from the formulaic negotiations that result in stolid, rote responses and uninspired roadmaps. Encourage meaningful discussion by asking provocative questions and breaking free of templates, but still use objective data and form a hypothesis based on actual business experience, not secondary sources.

Frame your discussion by taking a holistic view of the issues your company faces, both externally and internally. Use your insights to create a flexible charter that maps out your business goals and objectives. By following these steps, you can effectively improve your strategic planning sessions and create a document that leads to meaningful change, not just a C-suite wall decoration.

Got a question or constructive comment? Thanks for contributing to the community by adding your comment or question below.

Sources:

https://hbr.org/2013/10/four-tips-for-better-strategic-planning
https://strategymanage.com/resources/strategic-planning-basics/
https://www.bdc.ca/en/articles-tools/business-strategy-planning/define-strategy/pages/7-steps-create-action-plan-business-strategy.aspx
https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/how-to-improve-strategic-planning

How to Find Freedom and Make A Great Living Working As A Freelancer

What if you could find freedom defined as control of your time and income whereby you make a "great living" for your standard of living by working as a freelancer? This article is for Baby Boomers or anyone who wants to have control of their time and money.

Full Disclosure: You can make zero, zippo, or nothing being a freelancer. There is no guarantee you can make anything because I don't know you or your capabilities. My goal in using $50,000 or any other number is to offer a real example based on real-world experience hiring hundreds of freelancers while owning a digital marketing agency, and by being one for many years.

What Do Freelancers Do?

Freelancers perform a wide variety of functions. Common freelancing “gigs” include projects to program code, design and program websites, write and edit copy, manage email marketing, generate sales or customer service calls, or coach and train employees and small business owners as several examples.

Considering the global shortage of skilled workers is upon us it’s pretty easy to find all the freelance work you want. I freelance as much as I like depending on what else I have going on in my life. You get to choose how much you want to work based on your lifestyle goals and need for income.

Freedom. Imagine that!

Freelancers charge an hourly rate or fee for a project. Most freelancer workers complete the project, then get paid. But higher-end business coaches and consultants often capture retainers and ongoing fees. You can win your own clients and invoice directly, or work through some of the online freelancer companies who charge you or the client a fee for each transaction.

Freelancers work “virtually” from wherever you want. Not only will you have complete control of your time, but you’ll have unlimited creative freedom and income potential.

How Much Are You Worth As A Freelancer?

How much are your time and talents worth? The more specialized your talent, the more you can earn. I’m familiar with the market for freelance labor because I've hired hundreds over the years. The best thing for you to do is conduct your own research for your skill set. Check out what other professionals are charging. Start with several of the biggest online communities for freelancers like Upwork, Freelancer.com, and Thumbtack.

If you’re a writer and you want to be a ghostwriter or copywriter for a blog, check out the many listings of freelancers in the major freelance communities online. Research the profiles, jobs and see what the marketplace can teach you. Study the competition and customers by signing up and being consistent with your follow up and research.

Starting Up A Freelancer Business

Startup costs for launching a freelance business are relatively low. Here’s a partial list of things you need beyond a deep desire to make money working as a freelancer.

Upwork reports that the majority of workers in America will be part of the “gig economy.” Age is meaningless in the freelance world. More than half of the existing freelancers are millennials. I’m a Baby Boomer and there's massive room for more of us.

Meet Sally, A Top-Notch Freelancer

The best way for me to help is you is to give you a real-life example. In this case, Sally, as we’ll call her, makes almost double the $50,000 I suggest in my title.  If you have a marketable skill, discipline, the ability to get customer, you can be like Sally.

Sally is a virtual marketing assistant with a reputation for being an experienced professional. She’s the perfect assistant who charges small business owners to manage social media, blog, email marketing and more.

Sally has been a freelancer for about five years and charges $75 an hour. If that seems like a lot of money, it's not for someone with Sally's skills, especially if you only need her part-time. I hired her full-time for my last project.

One of the things most important to Sally is not her hourly rate or income. It’s the freedom to do what she loves most - travel around the world. Sally was in Costa Rica for two weeks while working on a project for me. The only limit on what you can make is time. You can't make time, but you can set your pricing and manage it with discipline.

How much are freedom of time, less stress, and high quality of life worth beyond cold, hard cash? Being rich isn’t only about money.

Work As Much As You Want

Sally makes far more than $50,000 because she is talented and works hard, no B.S. She wins customers by networking in her hometown and online as well as referrals. Let’s say Sally works 30 hours a week at $75 per hour. This means she “grosses” or earns $2,250, before fees or taxes. On the most intense work weeks, she might work 50 hours. That’ means Sally makes $3,750 in one week. That’s a $15,000 month.

Freelance work isn’t for everyone. It’s also possible to make much less than $50,000. The key to this is you must develop and maintain a marketable skill. The top-earning freelancers I know are creative and disciplined. They know to network, sell and find customers and take great care of them. Simple, not easy, but it’s like everything else; the cream rises to the top.

Living the freelance life is for anyone who seeks more income, control of time and the ability to exercise your creative gifts. The income is a true bonus for doing what we love from the comfort of home or maybe a beach.

If freelance work looks good to you and you’d like to learn more, register now for my online program, The Freelancer’s Guide to Early Retirement - How to Make $50,000 A Year or More Being A Freelancer.

$50,000 reasons why millions of Americans will learn to love freelancing even more.

RetireOnPurpose.com Pexels
Freelancers on a retirement break? Image - Pexels.com

Dave and Sally are talking to their financial advisor about retirement planning. They ask, "Steve, how much money do we need to have invested with you to make $50,000 a year?"

Steve looks down at his to find out and says, "Let me crunch a few numbers here."

Dave and Sally are both in their late fifties, the last of their three kids are almost through college, they downsized once and dumped the big house, big yard, big pool and all the other big bills and headaches that went with it. Today they're curious to know Steve's number for retirement savings. They've known Steve since college and he seems like a pretty successful investment advisor. So they wait for the news.

Steve turns around in his chair with a freshly-printed page including a nice color chart and says, "Okay, here's the good news. The stock market has been strong for a long time now and if you take out 5% of one million dollars you'd have your $50,000. Taking out only 3% a year means you'll need closer to $2 million saved up. The bad news is you only have $100,000 saved today and you don't save enough."

"Not bad," said Dave as he looked at his best friend and wife, Sally, "We've only got $1,900,000 to go and we spend too much of what we make today." Perfect. Now what?"

If you've ever not made enough to cover your bills every month you know the agony of living like that. It's the same for any of us especially as we get older and face the reality of retirement. What's the solution? One of the solutions is learning how to freelance young in life. But you have to believe it's never too late to learn new skills.

What's easier if you could only choose one path given you are in the same boat as Dave and Sally?

  1. Saving another $1,900,000 starting at 58, wait to retire and be happy with their lifestyle living off their nest egg?
  2. Learn to freelance, supplement or replace their current job incomes while stressing a lot less about the whole retirement thing?

This article is for anyone interested in learning about the freedom and challenges of learning to earn anything working as a freelancer or independent contractor. However, what you'll learn in this article can be extremely useful for the millions of Baby Boomers (1946-1964) who can't afford to retire, and they're worried about being able to save or invest enough before they start enjoying life.

Consider this article a primer for option #2 - how to freelance your way through life especially if you believe retirement as a concept is dead and replaced by this amazing thing called living and working as a freelancer for as long as you live. Age is a state of mind and it doesn't matter how old you are because anyone can learn to be a top-earning freelancer. Freelancing is big business and big bucks. It's not about being a multi-millionaire and killing yourself in the process.

I don't hype income numbers and sell the pipedream of driving fancy cars or living on a yacht. I use $50,000 because it's a realistic income goal for anyone willing to work hard given skill or talent in demand to business owners or the consumer directly. It's also because of my direct experience that I choose this number. I've worked as a professional retirement planner and small business owner who's worked many freelancer hours since 2003 after selling the retirement planning business.

I know how to freelance and if you have a work ethic, a desire, and some marketable knowledge, you need to sell 500 hours at $100 an hour to make $50,000. How hard is that if you know you have 8,760 hours in a year? Anyone can learn to be a successful freelancer if they stick with marketing a useful talent or skill.

Your mindset matters! Your knowledge counts.

If you've never made $20 an hour doing anything and you think it's crazy anyone could earn $100 an hour, trust me, it happens all the time. The primary difference between making $300 an hour or $20 is confidence. There's also the amount of talent that leads to the value you provide people. Solve bigger problems, make bigger money in many cases.

Specialized talent in any field is priced at a premium for a reason. Confidence also comes from experience. So does wisdom, especially when you've been self-employed and freelanced as long as I. Give the concept of freelancing a chance, believe in yourself, and see how much you're worth in the freelancing world. Enjoy the journey.

Your mindset makes all the difference. If you know what you know can make you $50,000 a year, or you're willing to learn new skills like being a writer or editor, will you do the hard work to find your clients? Will you remain coachable and willing to invest in yourself?

There is massive demand for specialized knowledge including programming websites, designing websites or anything digitally, writing copy for magazines and blogs, contract sales, teaching, coaching, setting up specialized software solutions and many other "talents" and forms of knowledge can generate a sound hourly rate. As a starting point, check out hourly rates at Upwork as one example of a place freelancers can find tons of work.

Follows these steps to make $50,000 a year, or whatever you decide.

It's all in your head, heart and soul! You can choose your income level and learn to achieve the freelancer income of your dreams for as long as you like. Again, I use $50,000 a year because this is a very achievable number to set as a goal if you have valuable knowledge, talent, and skill to sell and deliver from the comfort of your home office like I've done since 2003.

As you go through this list please know there's a lot to learn when it comes to being in a small business of your own. That's what freelancing is. You're selling yourself and your knowledge, your value to the market of customers you choose. This list could never be complete so feel free to add a comment or send me a message if you have anything constructive to add to this article.

  1. The desire to learn new knowledge and skills for life, with cash flow and without.
  2. A dedicated journal or notebook for planning.
  3. A strategy and plan of action for success. See #2. Writing and journaling make a big difference in my direct experience.
  4. Be coachable and work on your mindset every minute. Raise the bar for yourself.
  5. Willingness to read, take notes, apply new knowledge. Never stop learning, reading, networking, or caring about making a difference.
  6. A strong self-image and belief system. This can always be enhanced.
  7. Discipline, "hunger," work ethic, reliability. Motivation is key.
  8. Confidence to price yourself right. This is where coaching comes in, or time and experience to learn the ropes on your own.
  9. General organizational, communication, sales, and business skills.
  10. Computer, internet, quiet place to work every day. Work time is pay time. Treat your workspace with respect.
  11. Credit or debit cards with available balances. You will need to pay for various software subscriptions such as hosting your website, taking online courses, adding CRM or marketing automation for email, etc.
  12. DBA or business name, a logo, maybe a business card. Keep it simple.
  13. Business, tax, legal, accounting professionals you can afford.
  14. Courage to be resilient when things don't go your way.
  15. A community of people to support you, maybe a coach or mentor.
  16. 50 clients who pay you $1,000 a year, or 100 clients who pay you $500 a year, etc.
  17. You need to learn to market, promote, network and sell You, Inc.

Freelancing gives you freedom.

That's all I'll share with you for now. Hopefully, you're inspired to learn more about freelancing if you're new to the concept. If you're already aware of freelancing and do so for a living, congratulations. You have a taste of the #1 thing I love about freelancing - freedom. I can work with whom I want, when I want, for as long as I want, and they can too. I keep it simple at this stage of my life. Call it experience. How much is that worth to know I don't have to sweat out thinking about traditional retirement because I learned to do what I love and make a great living.

There's a lot to know about being successful working as a freelancer. I plan to write a lot more about helping you learn the art of freelancing. Stay tuned for more here on my blog about my new online course to compliment the online coaching and workshops I do when I speak in the real world. (If you need a speaker please contact me!)

Now you know more about my $50,000 reasons to learn about freelancing whether you believe in the American retirement dream or not.

I always appreciate your comments here on the blog.

P.S. What do I do for a living? I sell SharpSpring marketing automation and creative marketing content and campaigns that generate high-ROI B2B sales results. Thanks for connecting me with anyone who needs help with making marketing work or cash flow.

Small Business Success

Can you handle the truth about small business success?

Welcome to my blog. I love to write, teach, speak and help small business owners build the business plan, wealth and life of their dreams.

The truth about small business success is IF you're an entrepreneur, there's no option but to succeed as an entrepreneur. What I mean by this is you are either in the game for life, or not.

Ever meet a small business owner who failed miserably and had no choice but to take a day job? Me too. It happens all the time because the small business failure rate is off-the-charts.

The truth about small business success is I've failed in the past. In fact, every day I'm in the game of improving marketing ROI, sales performance and conversion results, anything as it relates to increasing the odds of small business success, I live a game of failure.

What is the failure rate of the typical marketing campaign, if you had to pick a number? 97%? How about the close rate of your best sales people? Every business has these numbers in place to track and analyze for ROI optimization. But most small business owners are too busy working "in their business" to tackle all the ongoing sales, marketing, people and technology issues required to grow a successful business.

Okay, enough about failure. Let's talk about success.

Is it fair to say that every big company started out as a small company? If we agree so far, let's look at the long-term approach these companies share to get where they are: intense focus on sales, marketing, customer service, technology and all  other aspects of their vertical market.

Given this, what would happen to you, your employees and other stakeholders, if you decided to really commit to building a plan of action and never giving up on improving your sales, marketing and customer service results?

Could you commit to a serious, focused plan of action you and your people create and work on every day together? If so, keep coming back to my site, check out more of my articles, connect with me on social media or by email, leave questions or comments.

The growth of your small business, the creation of wealth you desire, the freedom of time, the power of your vision and purpose to succeed, all begins with making the decision to create the vision, commit to the plan and serve the customers you seek to help the most.

Got a question or comment? I always appreciate you connecting with me and sharing your thoughts here on my blog or on my social channels.

3 Steps For Business Success

How can you improve the odds for success and get what you really want for your small business?

What DO you want this year? More customers and revenue? Launch a new product or service? Or get leaner and improve your bottom line?

Here are a few, simple steps you can take to increase the likelihood you will hit your 2018 sales, business, and even personal goals?

  1. Decide what it is you seek to achieve? Be really clear. Be careful not to be too easily distracted. Focus on the power of one, major definite goal at a time, ideally. Write it down. Draw or cut out pictures. Keep this handy.
  2. Choose your strategy and start crafting your plan of action. If you need a formula for a powerful, integrated business, sales & marketing action plan, message me privately. My action planning system can save you buckets of time and money.
  3. See, feel, trust and believe in your heart that you will reach your intended goal or outcome. The bigger the goal, the more likely you're setting out on a massive #Quest to build your business, empower your people, and create some serious wealth.

It is absolutely crucial to visualize what you seek to achieve, literally. The greatest athletes and entertainers, even mere mortals like me, can leverage the power of visualization. Beyond the biology and depth of your belief in your vision, purpose and business goal, you must FEEL and TRUST that if you stick to your plan, you will get what you seek.

Take action, measure and learn from results, adapt, grow.

Got a question or comment to share here on my blog? Post away.

Or, connect for an ROI Strategy Session and discuss the #1 goal you have for your business.