There’s not a simple answer when it comes to figuring out how long it takes to create a strategic plan for your small business. It differs from business to business and from project to project. It could take some business owners a few weeks. For others, it could take a few months.

Whether it takes three weeks or three months, it’s important to remember not to rush through the process. That’s because a strategic plan—that is both well thought through and well written—can help you prepare for the future and set your business up for success.

Here are some tips to help you get started on creating your business’s strategic plan.

Strategic Planning Process

The strategic planning process involves discussions to gather information, as well as extensive fact-finding:

  • You’ll speak with employees and people outside of your business.
  • You’ll hear from your employees, vendors, and other external stakeholders.
  • You’ll hear what’s working, what needs improvement, and what potential challenges you may face in the future.
  • You’ll also conduct market research to learn more about the industry.
  • You’ll consult with outside parties to help you learn as much as you can.
  • You’ll create budgets and other actionable documents.

Developing a strategic plan is going to take time and resources. You’ll need the full cooperation of your employees and anyone else involved. If you don’t have enough time, you risk rushing and not creating an effective strategic plan—or worse, not finishing it.

How Long Should I Take on Strategic Planning?

There is such a thing as spending too much time creating the document, or becoming a victim of analysis paralysis. When you spend too much time strategic planning, you can overthink it. It’s important to remember that, in the end, it’s just a plan. It’s a document that shows you and your team’s best estimate on how to achieve your business goals.

The only way you’ll know if your strategic plan is working is by putting it to work. Remember, the strategic plan is a fluid document. You can make changes to the document as needed or desired. The goals and objectives you decide on aren’t set in stone. You can change them as you run your business and as situations change.

You also should take time to review your strategic plan. Reviewing your plan gives you a good opportunity to make adjustments. How long you go before reviewing the plan is dependent on the business. A good rule of thumb is to review your strategic plan at least once a year.

Look to the Outside for Help

An outside consultant can be helpful, whether you’re new or experienced with strategic planning. A consultant can help you through the process and may see things from a different perspective. They don’t have to write the actual plan for your business, but their input can lead to a more robust document.

It’s not unusual if you’re often off in your own world as a business owner. You’re focused on your employees and growing your business. A consultant can apply what he or she knows about the industry to your business’s strategic plan. In simpler terms, they can give you fresh ideas.

Consultants also aren’t your employees, so they bring an outside perspective. They tend to have no reservations about expressing their thoughts. If one of your ideas or goals seems a bit too ambitious or unrealistic, a good consultant can help rein you in.

So how do you find a consultant? Nonprofit organizations in your area may provide services to small businesses. SCORE is a nonprofit organization helping small businesses in the U.S. grow and achieve their goals. You may be able to find a mentor who is a former business executive to help you develop your business’s strategic plan.

Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) offer free face-to-face business consulting. The topics vary and include business planning, accessing capital, marketing, and more. The organization has nearly 1,000 centers around the country where businesses can receive consulting or training at a low cost. Find your closest SBDC.

You also may be able to find a consultant by talking with your friends and colleagues. They may have worked with a consultant or a firm and can provide you first-hand experience. Consider reaching out to people you know personally and professionally. If you’re a part of an association, there may be consultant recommendations available there.

Don’t forget the internet. You can do a search for consultants in your area or even use professional sites, such as LinkedIn. To help with your search, try finding people with business planning or business strategy experience. Or search for professional organizations that provide consultants, like AMMR Association Management Consultants and MGT Consulting Group.

If your business has the resources, you may want to consider hiring a strategic planning consulting firm. The cost varies, but don’t be surprised if it costs tens of thousands of dollars. Don’t let the cost deter you, though. There are many benefits to hiring a strategic planning consultant. And most of the options above are either free or low cost for small business owners.

Use Tech to Your Advantage

Technology also can help you with putting together your strategic plan. Apps and software made specifically for creating a strategic plan help keep you organized—and keep you from overburdening your favorite spreadsheet program. Even after creating your plan, they also make it easier to track progress toward business goals.

Apps like Khorus and Cascade aim to make it easier for teams to accomplish the goals in their strategic plans. Khorus claims to help teams achieve 80% of business objectives by focusing on team strategy. The platform gives you the predicted outcome of your business goals. So if you’re wondering if your team is going to meet its goals or objectives, Khorus can help show your progress. If you have fewer than 25 employees, you can use the limited-feature Khorus Lite for free. For 25 to 1,000 employees, the full-service Khorus software currently costs $15 per user per month.

Cascade allows your team to build a plan and easily collaborate. In addition to strategic planning and goal management, the Cascade platform aids in risk management by informing you of your business’s risks and issues. Pricing for Cascade currently starts at $29 per user per month. This plan allows your business to create three strategic plans. Higher priced subscriptions allow you to create an unlimited number of strategic plans.

Before you get started with strategic planning, figure out what your business’s objectives are. Assemble a team and meet regularly to start the strategic planning process. And don’t be afraid to work with a consultant. A consultant can help bring outside ideas to the table and also lead the creation of an in-depth plan for your business.

While it’s important to spend time creating your plan, you don’t want to spend all of your time developing it. Remember that your strategic plan is a living document and will change as you run and grow your business.

Next Steps: You’re busy. We get it. So why not let us do some work for you? By signing up for the weekly Small Biz Ahead Newsletter, you’ll receive hand-picked articles, How-Tos and videos covering the latest in small biz tools and trends. We’ll do the research while you spend your time where it counts: managing and growing your business.

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