Strategic planning: Getting back to why you started your business in the first place

You may not be a photographer, but I bet that when you started your business, you imagined your life would be like the chart on the left. But now it has gotten to look more and more like the one on the right. In fact, many of you are looking wistfully at the chart on the right and thinking, “When was the last time I spent 12% of my day doing the thing that I love doing, the thing got me into this business in the first place?”

Seth Godin had a different reaction. He pointed out that you have a choice. Many of us are “do-it-yourselfers” who do our own bookkeeping, advertising, social media, etc., and as a result, become the chart on the right.  But, we could trade money for time and get back toward the chart on the left (and, handing these tasks off to experts can only improve our companies anyway).

Jim Collins carries three stopwatches in his pocket. He tracks how he spends his time each day and compares it to his ideal day (50% creative, 30% teaching, 20% everything else). He has made a decision in advance about what is most important for him to focus on, and he has designed a mechanism to align his actions with his decision. He spends every day until noon cut off from all distractions — no phone, no Internet — so that he can focus on his creative work.

This is what strategic planning is.

Strategic planning is when you take the time to have a point of view about what is going on in the world. Then you prioritize, given that point of view, what you need to accomplish to achieve success. Then you create a plan to make it happen. And when you measure your progress regularly, you’ll see it happen.

Strategic planning is deciding that your genius, your gift to the world, isn’t going to be fully realized at 12% of your time each day. So, you need to unload some of the crap that you’ve taken on to let that genius really shine. And since your creative genius is so valuable, you’re going to raise your prices so you can pay for the help you need.

Strategic planning is optimizing the one or two outcomes that matter most, and letting the hundreds of other outcomes land where they will.

There’s an old cliche that “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” But in the hyper-connected world of change that we live in, I think that needs to be revised. Failing to plan, is failing to focus — and without focus you will be tossed about by the winds accomplishing nothing.

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