You are going to be tempted to skip this episode because it sounds boring. While strategy may sound like big company stuff, planning is the foundation great businesses are built. I am going to present the simplest, fastest and most entertaining method I have come across. I don’t exaggerate when I say that this is the most important episode in the whole series. Without a “why”, your business will likely fall into chaos if you don’t do something like what I present here.
Starting with your why will help to narrow down the driving force behind the business. It’s important to articulate why you exist, who you serve, and why you serve them. As you start and grow, you won’t have the freedom that larger businesses have to dabble in many different why’s, and it’s imperative that you stay focused on the clients that you want to serve, and what you want to offer them.
This laser focus can only be achieved one way, with a strong, well thought out strategy, but don’t stress too much about it - this strategy doesn’t need to be super complicated. You might be envisioning an offsite meeting at a cabin in Lake Tahoe with the executive team, spending hours diving into spreadsheets to create your vision... it really doesn’t need to look like that.
You can do it by yourself, or with a friend, and really should only take an afternoon (at the longest) to come up with a strategy. What should this plan look like? Let’s dig into it.
Your Mission To Action Plan
Below, I will outline your one page mission to action plan. Starting off as big as you can in your mission, and then start to dig into the small moves that need to happen (your action items) that will help to achieve delivering on your mission within a set out timeline.
This is not a theoretical document, it’s an action document.
Creating this document will give you two things:
- it gives you the plan itself, which allows you to set your intentions and create your plan for the future of the business.
- it gives you a rhythm of checking in on it and actioning it (a cadence of revisiting and actioning the plan).
A Living Document
The plan itself, is the mission, the big picture, what you are trying to achieve, and why you exist. At Avalon our mission is “to help your small business thrive.” Quick, simple and to the point. At our core, we are small business owners, trying to help small business owners succeed.
This seemingly simple statement did take us 5 to 10 iterations over a 6 year span to solidify, but hey, we got there eventually! Adjusting as you go is necessary, especially in the beginning. When you’re starting out, you may have great intentions about where you want your business to go, but as you grow, being able to pivot based on what’s best for you, and the business is what is going to help you succeed long term.
Here’s a little blast from the past to our first ever action plan from way back in 2015 in the early days of Avalon:
Vision, Mission & Values
We hear a lot about these three buzz words, especially in big businesses. In small businesses, pinpointing exactly what these mean to you is even more important - as you are the guiding compass of your business, and these can help keep you on course as you grow, and as challenges come your way. Let’s break them down!
This will be something that will help you stay focused, and help you with decision making when opportunities arise. This statement should be very specific, inspirational, and also attainable. If your mission is to become Amazon, maybe rethink that statement (for now at least). One of the best examples of a mission statement comes from TedXm theirs is “Spread Ideas”. Simple, to the point, and exactly what they do. What will yours be?
It is one of the most powerful tools to keep you on track. When faced with a new opportunity, you should be able to quickly point to your mission and understand whether it will help you achieve your mission or not.
Visions are tricky. When creating a vision, it has to be lofty enough to inspire and excite you to work for it, but can’t be completely unachievable. I like to think of the vision as an ideal future state i.e. what would this company look like if I took all my desires to their conclusion.
The key elements of a vision are:
- Choose a vision that inspires you and stick with it. Why did you start the business in the first place?
- Evaluate the vision periodically - does it still inspire and resonate with you?
- Don’t get too hung up on practicalities. In many ways, the vision is an unachievable goal and may include opposing desires that need to be balanced.
How long should it be? After trying for years to come up with a snappy one-liner for our vision, we’ve come to the conclusion that this ‘vision’ doesn’t need to be a specific sentence, it can be longer and more fleshed out.
Your vision is more about you (the company) and what it is setting out to achieve, and what it looks like. Build it wide, and you can bring it in and define it when it makes sense to do so. What are you internally? What are you known for? What do you want to be known for? These are some great questions to start with to narrow down what your vision is.
To give you an example, at Avalon, ours is:
Our Vision for Avalon is to be the place where Canadian Small Business Owners connect with the amazing Bookkeeping, Payroll and Accounting (ABP) Professionals whose passion it is to serve them. We will be known throughout Canada as the preferred service provider for owner-managed small businesses and the preferred employer for ABP professionals.
We believe that small businesses are the backbone of our communities and are uniquely positioned to make our world a more livable, connected place. With more financial stability and knowledge, more small business owners will build sustainable businesses and see their visions come to life.
We also believe that public accounting is due for an overhaul. ABP Professionals deserve a workplace that provides the tools, training, support and flexibility to do their best work, without the crazy hours that have plagued our industry.
Our vision inspires me to make sure all aspects of our business are aligned with helping small businesses and ensuring that our employees have the environment to do their best work. I am inspired to go outside my comfort zone to achieve these and bring Avalon to Small Business Owners and ABP Professionals who haven’t heard of us yet.
When I started Avalon, I was able to grow early by simply getting back to people and doing what I said I was going to do. Clients were delighted! What seemed like common sense to me turned out to be a rare attribute in our field. Reliability became Avalon’s first value.
It can be easy to overlook the things that you do well because they come naturally to you or seem obvious, but this is exactly where the gold is! If your mission and vision is what you want to achieve, your values are the manner in which you want to achieve them.
This doesn’t mean that you will be perfect. We let ourselves down on our values from time to time, but because we have a measuring stick to guide us, we know when we are offside. This makes all the difference! It helps us stick to what has gotten us here and helps us continue our success.
As you grow, and especially when you grow quickly, decisions that need to be made will arise that often go against your values. Coming back to your values during these hard moments can keep you on track. This will help ensure that you are continuing to do what you set out to do.
We could grow our firm quicker by allowing clients that don’t treat us well, or making our employees work too hard. But that goes against our values, so we have instead chosen to grow slower, with intention, and with our values in mind.
Big Hairy Audacious Goals
In 5 years as you get closer to your vision, you can get braver with your goals and think bigger. In your first year, your goal is probably to turn a profit, hire an employee, get your first client. From there, you can start thinking bigger - what are your Big Hairy Audacious Goals?
The best way to reach your goals is to break them down into manageable timelines. Making a million dollars seems daunting, but making your first sale or hiring your first employee seem slightly more in reach. Here’s how to go from “I want to be a million dollar company” to “I’m going to make my first sale.”
Step One: Break Down The Big Ones
Start with your biggest goals, the ones that seem wild and out of reach, and then break that down into one year goals. What do you need to do in the next year to move yourself towards that goal?
Step Two: Break Things Down Further
Next, find your priorities in 3 month sections. What project can you create that can be completed in the next 3 months? (You should only realistically have 2-3 of these projects in a 2-3 month period.)
There is no failing here, you don’t have to get this perfect, because anything that you do put there is helping you get closer to your goals. There is no such thing as the perfect silver bullet that will make everything easier, anything you do will move you forward. It could be “hire your first employee”, “hire a mentor”, “outline and implement version 1 of your sales funnel”.
Step Three: Get Specific
Once you have decided what your 2-3 projects are, get as specific as you can about what each project will entail. Here’s an example:
Project One: Hire an employee
- Write job description
- Post job
- Screen applicant
- Interview candidates
- Check references
- Offer job
- By week 12 you have your person hired!
That is how following action keeps you aligned with your mission. What first seemed like a daunting task is really just a collection of smaller, more manageable tasks. Keep it simple, keep it small, and success will come.
Step 4: Work the Plan
Now that you have done the smart work, you can jump into the tasks ahead of you in the knowledge that they are important. Stick to plan and you will see the results come.
Remember to reward yourself at each milestone. It can be easy to let them slip by and focus on your next project, but the projects never stop. Learning to celebrate our wins will keep us going!
Step 5: Repeat
Once you have completed your projects and rewarded yourself for a job well done, take a look at your 1 year goals again. What are the next projects that you can work on to get your closer to these goals. You don’t have to open the whole plan up again at this point - just create some new projects and task lists for the next phase.
Stand for Something
As a very confused man once said:
“If you don’t stand for anything, you don’t stand for anything” - George W Bush
I don’t think he meant to be so inspirational, but it’s true. You have to decide what you want, and make a plan to get there. When you’re creating your mission, vision, values and goals it is important to remember that your life goals are important too. As the owner, the business should compliment your life and plans. Remember, this is your life - you get to make this business serve you, so be intentional about what you want to build, what kind of time you want to commit to building it.
Once you have your WHY set in place, it’s time to get yourself set up for success. Building a business is hard work, and having the right mindset will set you apart and create opportunities for growth. From what books you read, how you care for your mental and physical health, how you speak to yourself, and how you speak to others can make or break you when it comes to the success of your business.