Your first year as a startup can set the course for the ultimate failure or success of your business. This one year mark looms large as a major milestone for success, but the first year of operations is just that, your first year. While the ultimate goals for startup owners will look different, everyone will agree that they want their business to succeed.
Many startups struggle to see beyond this first year, let alone five or ten years into the future.
This may be because your business is operating in a fast paced market that is constantly changing and evolving, like tech. It can be difficult to build and implement a strategy when you are unable to accurately predict the scope and shape of your market in the coming months. Or, the path through their first year is littered with hurdles and obstacles that make it difficult to see beyond the next immediate struggle. But this cannot excuse the fact that too many startups lack strategy and struggle to maintain their vision throughout the day to day intricacies of running a business.
Strategy, requires you to move ahead of your baselines, vision and mission, into the space of tangible goals. Your mission is the “what and why” of your startup and your vision is “where you want to go”. Your strategy takes the ideal of your vision and cements the processes necessary to actually get you where you want to go in tangible and deliverable ways. A successful strategy will take your macro vision and anchor it to the tangible micro level of consistent implementation.
The strategic planning for your business will look very different than in any other startup; though there are some key features all will share. In order to build a strategy, you will need to have a clearly defined vision for your future. Again, your vision for the first year of operations will most likely look very different than your vision for the next decade. Your vision must be clearly defined and include measures for your success.
Every measure that you set should directly reference some facet of your vision and build upon measures that have been completed previously. If team members are operating on parallel tracks, leaders should make their teams aware of how team progress measures influence the success of other teams. When employees see your strategic vision as a system of interconnected parts, they are more likely to understand their role within the system more thoroughly.
So how can you and your team maintain a “big picture” strategy while operating on a day-to-day basis?
Step 1. Build a team that buys into the vision.
As your business builds out and expands you’ll need to hire outside of your initial circle and bring new members into the fray. Incorporate your vision into your hiring process as you interview and select candidates who bring value to your team. Identify key features of your vision that require complementary skills sets, and identify candidates that fit these needs.
For example, if your strategic vision incorporates digital marketing targeting millennials, look for candidates that are marketing experts in catering towards this demographic. The initial hires that expand your business beyond your core team of partners and investors are critical to your success and to strategic implementation.
Step 2. Explain, explain, and explain again.
In order to accomplish a strategy, everyone has to be aware of what it is. This sounds obvious, but you need to be consistently communicating and reaffirming your vision to your team. People are more likely to execute a strategy, even if they disagree with some aspect of it, if they understand it.
Communicate your vision through multiple channels and across every level of your team. Do not rely on a general assumption that your team members subscribe to your vision just because they are employed by your startup.
Step 3. What’s in it for me?
At the end of the day, our motivations are self-interested. Employees are reluctant to stay at a startup where they see no future for themselves, investors want to maximize their ROIs, and leaders want to see their visions made into realities. Your strategy for future success needs to address the concerns of each level of your team and foster a sense of accessibility. Team members need to take your vision and make it their own to implement it on a day-to-day basis.
Step 4. Set and meet tangible milestones throughout the year.
Implementation of your strategy requires a detailed action plan that sets milestones to measure growth and success. Milestones should act like checkpoints that monitor your progress for the specific goals that your strategy entails. While setting company-wide daily milestones is unrealistic, short-term milestones should be communicated across teams.
As you meet each milestone, communicate these successes to your employees and celebrate meaningful progress. When employees can see that strategic plans are being carried out in deliverable ways, like meeting a percentage growth rate, their buy into the original vision is reconfirmed.
Step 5. Be adaptive to change.
Even the best-laid plans will need to be revised over time. As your business grows you will encounter challenges and hurdles along the way. Your long-term strategy needs to be flexible enough to work around immediate challenges without sacrificing the big picture goals. A new competitor, changes in the market, changing consumer needs, and external powers may force you to make significant changes to your strategic vision. Embrace change and be honest with your team about alterations to the original plan.
As you develop your strategic plan for success, balancing short-term progress measures with long term goals will help you to maintain your vision on a day to day basis. It is easy for a startup to become overly focused on survival, rather than building a strategy that targets goals beyond those needed to maintain operations. As you build and implement your strategy for success, consistently return back to your vision and its measures. Communicating your vision and your measures for success to your team and keeping them abreast with any changes will help to focus your business on future success.