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As business advisors, our small business clients often depend on us for providing direction when they set out to review their strategic position as a competitive business. And they rely on us to guide their planning so that they may create clearly described paths for their businesses to grow.

The business I support in my role as a business advisor and “hope engineer” range in size and are from various industries. However, while the one is very different from the other and the uniqueness of their competitive value range widely, they all do strategic planning at one point or the other. And when they embark on strategic planning, they look to me to guide them in this process.

I’m not a big fan of any specific strategy approaches or planning tools as I find that a strong focus on a specific model often becomes a distraction to my clients — the objective becomes the mechanical completion of a planning framework, rather than creating new possibilities through sharing ideas and listening to the perspectives of others. It is more important for them to listen, develop ideas, and record where they see the business may go than to fixate on a tool or model.

My first task, when a client asks for help with strategic planning, is to ensure that the whole team of decision-makers from the business understand that they are simply setting out to plot a path from where they are now to where they want to be. 

The essence of strategic planning is putting aside the past, focussing on future possibilities, and describing how to get to the most desirable outcomes. I prefer creating some ground rules with the team from my client business, where we agree on putting the past behind us. Not that we are disregarding what is already being done! We must keep building on what the team is proud of from their past achievements. The past strengths of the business provide the “foundation”, but we are setting out to build a “new house”, so the focus is on what this “new house” will look like. This we may refer to as the “vision” of what we want to create.

Often we are confined by the realities of our small business clients not being able to invest much time away from the business operations, so we may be lucky to have a day of focussed attention by the key people from the business. At the start of a strategic planning session, I’m very aware that I must create the space for all the needed voices to be heard. For instance, if the owner-managers are very dominant, part of my job is to empower the junior managers to be heard; or if the planning is product-focussed, that the perspectives are heard of the staff working on the product, or those involved at the client interface.

Full participation by all the needed people allows the strategic planning process to be a powerful junction where ideas are shared and a common understanding of the best direction is created for the business. But, even when everyone participates, it can still go wrong if the ingredients of the strategic planning process are not appropriate for the business.

I must note that the selection of the planning ingredients is not only my task as a business advisor. The best way to describe this is to compare strategic planning to preparing a delicious dish. The leaders of the client business must determine what dish is to be made (or what the objective of the strategic planning process is), while my job as business advisors is to make sure the best ingredients are selected in the making of the dish (or how the elements of the planning process fit together to create the desired outcome).

Normally, I find that the strategic planning ingredients cover three basic steps, but the process must be adjustable to deliver on the needs of a specific client. In some cases, a more involved and longer process may be needed, while in other contexts it may be possible to use work already done to complete the strategic planning process in a few hours. 


UPCOMING WEBINAR

During the upcoming episode of the SEDA, IBASA & EPI Webinar Series, Terence Knott-Craig will delve deeper into the strategic planning choices available to business advisors who want to create good impact for their small business clients.

WHAT: CPD Webinar

TOPIC: Get results with your choice of strategic planning ingredients

WHEN: Thursday 24 February 2022

TIME: 11h30 to 13h00

WHERE: << BOOK YOUR PLACE HERE >>

While it is very important to document the outcomes of the strategic planning process, the key factor is the extent to which the process itself allows your small business client to create the desired outcomes. My aim is to leave my clients with a planning document that is practical for them to use, often including a simple tasks list, where activities are defined with deadlines and allocated resources. This planning document can be then a very suitable point of reference for ongoing support, following the strategic planning session.

When clients engage me as a business advisor or mentor, I become their soundboard. My job is to help the client to think deeper and deeper, rather than telling them what to do. This is true for a single-person business, as well as for larger businesses, where there are several decision-makers and people delivering the services or products. 

The strategic planning process you use with your client business is meant to help them think deeper about solutions and new possibilities, not to select the answers and solutions for them. 

When they own the plan, based on their own thinking, they are likely to implement it and make the envisioned future a reality!

 

  • By attending this episode of the SEDA, IBASA, and EPI Small Business Development Practitioner Webinar Series, you will earn credits to count towards your CPD requirements.
  • Terence Knott-Craig is Chairperson of the Institute of Business Advisors Southern Africa and he supports his small business clients as Transition Coach & Hope Engineer at The Springboard Academy.

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