Strategic Management For Your Small Business

As a small business owner, the things you want to achieve with your business are not always written down. Advisors will say "you need a business plan", bank managers will insist on one before approving that vital loan you need to fund your expansion. Whether or not you codify what you want for your business, you should have an understanding of what strategic management is all about so you can drive your business forward, ensuring you can achieve/maintain sustainable competitive advantage.

Strategic management in business boils down to 3 simple questions:

1. Where are we now?

2. Where do we want to be?

3. How are we going to get there?

Where are we now?

The first question looks at the situation the business is in, this situational analysis can take many forms but as a general guide think about doing SWOT and PEST analyses of your current position. Don't be frightened by these acronyms, they are really easy to grasp and can provide surprising insights into your business and develop your thinking. You could brainstrom these with other members of your team, or your family/friends if you are a lone wolf.

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Strengths and weaknesses are internal aspects of your business: What are you good at? What makes you better than your competitors? What don't you do so well? Where could you improve? Opportunities and threats are generally external, so what opportunities are there in the marketplace? Threats could be from new competitors entering your market.

Next, it is vital that you look to the wider external environment, there are many acronyms for this type of analysis (STEP, PEST, STEEPLE, STEEPLED to name a few) but they all amount to pretty much the same thing: Political/Legal, Economic, Social and Technological factors. I won't go into great detail about these as they are self explanatory, for example, the advent of the internet (Technological) has and continues to impact massively on how businesses operate. Analysis of the wider environment can help you to spot opportunities for growth or highlight the need for change.

Where do we want to be?

So you've analysed where you are now, the process in itself will usually throw up some interesting suggestions, next you need to think about where you would like to be. The answer to this question forms the basis of your strategic business objectives, they can be wide ranging and don't necessarily just have to be turnover focused. In a large organisation there will be corporate objectives that underpin the overall direction of the business, these then cascade down throughout the different departments who will each have there own set of objectives, ensuring a coordinated and synchronous approach to getting the business where it wants to be. In a small business you may just have a handful of goals but try to think outside the box here, as the saying goes, "turnover is vanity, profit is sanity, cash is reality". Don't chase turnover increases just for the sake of it, your underlying profitability is what really matters, and your objectives need to be realistic and achievable (more about that next).

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