When you enter the business minefield known as entrepreneurship, your knowledge gap seems to grow wider and wider every day. As a sole founder, you are the chief strategist, executor, marketer and product developer for something that isn’t on anybody’s radar yet.
Sound daunting? It is.
However, with every challenge comes a solution -- an answer that warrants strategic and creative thinking to navigate the paths of obvious and obsolete. To think strategically, though, you must first know what a strategy is and isn’t. Here are five signs of a sound strategy:
1. Strategy is the map.
Many people confuse goals, strategies and tactics. A goal is an end-state, the “where” that offers a clear depiction of what success looks like. A strategy is the “how” and outlines how you get there. Tactics are the “what” -- they outline the behaviors you do every day to execute the strategy that puts you in a happy place (achieving your goal).
2. Strategy is clear.
If you really want to confuse people, ambiguous wording such as "best" or "leader" are the way to go. Strategies with vague language are about as helpful as burying your nose into a map of New York while you're in Chicago. Avoid uncertainty by breaking down what “best,” in this instance, means. Is it revenue? Volume? Customer satisfaction?
3. A strategy is not a plan.
This is another area of confusion because plans are more tactical in nature. For example, in the SEAL Teams we had a plan for every objective. Some were more detailed whereas others provided more, let's just say, “flexibility” (essentially, we didn't have one, but the absence of a plan was the plan). Strategy is broader in scope and provides a clear path toward realizing your goal.
Related: Does Your Startup Have a Strategy?
The strategy (if we continue with the military theme) was to occupy critical regions in theater that would help us realize our goal of defeating the enemy. As an entrepreneur your goal may be to have your new product installed in every household east of the Mississippi. Your strategy is to distribute it through brand-name retailers and the top three media channels. See how the strategy leads to the goal?
4. Strategy is known by all.
It’s not exactly ideal if only a handful of people can cite their organization’s strategy. If they aren’t sure what the strategy is then they can’t make decisions, which means somebody else has to, and this “somebody” is typically the same person for all decisions. That's not optimal.
Consider Southwest's goal of being a low-cost airline and the strategies it employs to get there: everything is minimized from gate turnaround time to a standardized fleet of 737s to no fees for checked bags. What this minimization strategy does is allow employees to make decisions on their own without having to ask for permission from their bosses. They already know that Southwest should offer lower costs, so every decision they make thereafter must support that goal.
5. Strategies change.
Just because a strategy exists doesn’t mean it always will. As changes in technology demand changes in how people and organizations work, the means by which we get “there” change too. When cloud storage entered the business sphere it shook up the traditional hardware-storage companies. Brand names that relied upon external hard drives for their value proposition had to create new opportunities, and with them, new strategies.
A clear strategy is important. Without direction it's easy to get lost or, at best, off track. Be strategic in realizing your goals but give yourself enough leeway to pivot when needed.