Yes, I am of the school of thought that believes (knows) that developing a well-thought strategy is not the product of a divisive process that wastes time and money and that ends up in a binder on a shelf or archived on the server. To the contrary, it can enable alignment, unification and focus of all stakeholders, optimized performance and financial results. In other words, success.
If I am going to generate any productive thought about “strategy,” I need to specifically define what I mean to give us a chance. For our purposes, let’s describe strategy as:
- A single Objective that is necessary to achieve and most indicative of “success,” and will direct, guide, and drive the business for the next several years. (Many other key performance indicators or measures of success will exist, but be supportive of and subordinate to this one strategic objective.)
- A Scope that includes the offer, the target market or customer, competitive market, and geographic market or locations.
- The Value Proposition (this could be a Unique Value Proposition depending on the offer and market).
- The Competitive Advantage (combination of unique or protected assets, people, or processes that cannot be imitated or infringed upon by competitors for at least a measurable period of time.)
There are many alternatives or similar definitions for business strategy, but effective definitions seem to have these components in common. Developing each of the components, and a succinct verbal account of it (a strategy statement) are challenging projects themselves, but quite necessary and advantageous to operate an optimized business.
It is my experienced observation that most small professional or creative services firms don’t have a strategy as we’ve defined and described it, or don’t have a complete or current strategy, or they have not and cannot communicate it effectively to those stakeholders they need to make it successful. And if they do, the may have come to realize that it is very difficult to create a unique or differentiated Scope, Value Proposition or Competitive Advantage. And if this is true, the result is that the offer is a commodity, difficult for clients to distinguish, difficult to generate customer loyalty, and exposed to constant price pressure.
If your business has been dealing with (aka suffering from) those conditions, perhaps it is time to revisit (or visit for the first time) your strategy. For professional and creative service firms, often the best they can do is:
- Develop a distinct, as opposed to differentiated, Value Proposition that can be substantiated by client testimonial and case studies. This is a value proposition that while not differentiated, is clearly understood, genuine, and clearly substantiated and demonstrated by case studies and client testimonials.
- Determine if there is a narrower offer or area of specialization (perhaps based on unique subject matter expertise or ability), or a narrower target market that perceives more unique (and hopefully irreplaceable) value for your offer.
Developing a strategy, plans to achieve it, and comparing your current state can be a revealing, insightful, powerfully productive initiative. If you have not done this before, or have concerns about how to execute, manage, or facilitate this process effectively, seek out qualified help. It is investment well worth undertaking.