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One of the many bloggers that I follow is John Jantsch, whose Duct Tape Marketing often provides helpful insights on marketing for the small business community.  He holds this spot-on perspective about strategic planning and small business – saying “…small business owners would love to have a three-year and five-year plan, but the reality is we often have a one-week plan and it’s a rough draft.”

So true.

And it can be difficult to land on a planning model that recognizes that unwavering reality.

Consequently most of the popular strategic planning models  – which have their origins in large corporate environments and business schools – rarely adapt well to the needs of the small and family business community. 

All too often those ‘charty’ and ambitious collections of ideas end up spending the year in the Dropbox and not on the streets with the owners and their teams.

The result is not so much a waist of the planning time.  (I would argue there is inherent value in the exercise of planning in itself as a learning activity.)  But the biggest detractor is the lack of follow-through on what could be the most significant business opportunities of the year.

A 7-Step Sequence

The following Small Business Strategic Planning Model is one helpful approach to the small business dilemma.  It contains seven critical elements in a sequence – offering a step-by-step way to see both the forest and the tree’s.  It calls for both a strategy system and an activity system in recognition that a strategic plan alone will not produce results.

Screenshot 2015-08-14 05.33.13

One Crucial Connector

Moreover, I have learned that even the best of plans can grow dormant if there is no way to connect the strategic plan with the activity system in trying to develop the business amidst daily demands.

The crucial connector between the two is a region of thought and action that I call the breakthrough zone.  I call it that because it is this zone that separates the makers from the breakers.  The doers from the mere dreamers.  And the achievers from the talkers.

This breakthrough zone breaks down the one year plan into a set of 90 day objectives and two week activity campaigns in service to those objectives.

Set-Up and Follow-Up

One of the most critical parts of creating an actionable strategic plan is the set-up and the follow-up.  A good way to execute this process is through a deliberate set-up and follow-up schedule that surrounds the actual planning day(s). 

By stretching the planning exercise over multiple conversations, you reinforce a learning and validation process across multiple creative periods.  This allows for your plan to incubate and cure, making it more pragmatic and powerful as you unpack it for implementation.

Planning ActivityTiming
Private Owners Session (1-2 hrs)4 Weeks Prior to Off-Site
SWOT Analysis w/Team (via email/online)3 Weeks prior to Off-Site
Pro-forma (Budget) Review2 Weeks prior to Off-Site
Agenda Review1 Week prior to Off-Site
Planning Session with Team1 Day or 2 Half-Days Off-Site
Post-Session Review of Action/Open Items1 Week after Off-Site
One Month Follow-up with Owners (1-2 hrs)4 Weeks after Off-Site
90 Day Check-In and Follow-up with Team12 Weeks after Off-Site

Regardless of the model your business may use, the essential principle here is that just as important as the systems for creating strategic plans, is a system for making them actionable, day in and day out.

If you would like a one page guide to actionable strategic planning, shoot an email to

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