By Corpwrite Strategy’s Luke Maddison.

Like most people, I hate Xmas shopping. I always leave it too late, being busy with work or life in general, so I get caught up in the last minute maddening rush. Crowds of people making it hard to move. Horrible traffic full of drivers who forget their basic driving skills at this time of the year. Ambling groups of shoppers wander aimlessly and stop to chat in the middle of the walkway. But more than that, what annoys me most is…I never seem to have a plan

When I shop the rest of the year, I’m like a Navy SEAL team: I spend the least amount of time in the shopping centre as possible, I know exactly what I’m after and just like a surgical strike, I’m in and out in a flash before the parking ticket software has a chance to realise I’m there and charge me. But at Xmas I seem to lose that ability, trapped in the cycle of “I don’t know what to buy people”. What I’m basically saying is…I never have a strategy! I wander around the shops directionless, hoping that something will jump out at and say “buy me, I’m perfect”! The result: I’m stuck in the hell that is known as last minute Xmas shopping.

This is exactly the situation faced by many businesses we work with: they have an idea of what they want to do but struggle to translate it into a simple, well thought out strategic plan that maps a clear path to achieving their goals. We hear every excuse imaginable: “We’re too busy”, “I don’t know where to start”, “I’ll do it later”, “strategy is a load of rubbish, we just need to get on with it” etc. There are a million excuses to choose from.

So what’s the main reason people don’t have a strategy: I’ve found many people are scared of committing something to paper. They’re not sure exactly what a strategy is nor how to go about creating one. In reality, many businesses simply overthink they whole thing. Having a strategy isn’t something you need to over-complicate, it really should be a basic layout with what you want achieve, for example, in the next calendar year.

Here are three basic rules to stick to when thinking about you strategy for 2016:

  1. Do some research: Make sure your plan is fact-based. Take some time to understand what’s already happened and what’s likely to happen next year. You might call this ‘State of the Nation’.
  • What was our previous year’s performance (numbers, goals, targets) and did we hit or miss our budget?
  • What worked well and what didn’t?
  • What’s happening in the market and what’s our view on the likely market situation in the next year?

It’s important to be honest and understand where you’re coming from; it’ll help you shape the next year’s plan. Make sure you know the key numbers across your business, particularly revenue, gross profit (GP), and operating profit (OP).

  1. Keep it simple: set yourself a strategy that’s clear, easily understood, and most importantly achievable. You can always include some stretch goals, but being achievable is key to it all: don’t put so much in you plan that when you go to execute it you feel daunted and overstretched before you begin. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set lofty goals, in fact quite the opposite: it’s more that the ones that you set, while pushing you to the limit, are still achievable by you and/or your team.
  2. Don’t be too rigid: Things will change throughout the year, so be prepared to tweak and change your strategy as the year progresses. In my experience, keep the big ticket items running for the length of the plan e.g. “we want to grow our presence in the XYZ market”, but make sure the tactical components that you wish to deliver on are firmed up for the first 3-6 months only. That way you can trial and test marketing and sales activities and make course corrections if necessary.

Most of all: have a crack at it! And if it all feels too hard, don’t be afraid to reach out to an expert to help. As for Xmas shopping, I think I’ll shift my entire strategy to online next year…or even better, I might outsource the whole thing!