A strategic planning consultant helps business owners to identify the best longer-term growth opportunities and create an action plan for implementing the business strategy to achieve the goals.
Why Is Strategic Planning Important?
Strategic planning is about being pro-active and taking the initiative in the marketplace, rather than being reactive to external events.
Without a strategic plan, your firm is like a ship without a rudder. Subject to the currents and the wind, you have no idea where you’ll end up. Always reactive to the marketplace and competitors. Frantically chasing any potential customer, but without knowing if they are the right fit for your firm.
Strategic planning deals with making smart decisions about the longer-term future of the business. In essence, it’s about what the business is going to do to be successful and why those activities and not others. Strategy is about focus. Figuring out what not to do can prove to be more important than deciding what the firm will be concentrating on.
Developing a sound business strategy forces you to make tough decisions about which markets to serve, which products and services to offer, and how to differentiate from the competition. In addition, you need to think about developing new products and services, entering new growth markets, exiting unprofitable markets, merging with another firm, buying another firm, and reinventing the business model, just to name a few.
Why You Need A Strategy Consultant
More often than not, smaller firms lack the knowledge and expertise to conduct strategic planning inhouse.
Planning sessions led by an executive usually fail to produce breakthrough results. Old topics get rehashed, the status quo does not get challenged, and sensitive questions are avoided.
The result: little to no changes to the existing direction of the business. You likely end up with basically the same ‘strategy’ as before. Or, no strategy at all.
Working with a strategy consultant ensures a better outcome: a well-crafted and competitive strategic plan.
What Does A Strategic Planning Consultant Do?
Advising on Business Strategy
The main reason for working with a strategic planning consultant is to bring in an experienced advisor to help the business owner identify new opportunities for growing the company. The consultant offers advice on the best strategy to pursue these opportunities.
It takes a sound understanding of the firm’s capabilities, resources, market conditions, customer needs, competitors, and important trends to develop a smart business strategy.
Working together, the strategy consultant and management create a strategic plan for the firm to achieve its growth goals.
As an “outsider”, a strategic planning consultant offers an objective, fresh perspective, not influenced by corporate culture, groupthink, or “not-invented-here”.
This objective perspective enables the consultant to create clarity, present new ideas, and make suggestions and recommendations to help management see the business in a new light.
Sharing strategic planning experience
Developing a sound business strategy for the longer-term, usually two to three years, requires a data-driven process that supports smart, confident decision making.
The strategy consultant has experience in strategic planning and knows what questions to ask for drilling down to the core issues the firm is facing.
Working with a strategic planning consultant allows smaller firms that are perhaps new to strategic planning to learn more about the process and become familiar with the methods and tools themselves. As a result, management will start to think more strategically and adopt a new mindset. This has benefits far beyond the initial strategic planning project.
On subsequent strategic planning efforts, management will already understand the process, reducing the need for an external consultant. At the least, if a strategy consultant is brought in, the planning sessions will move faster and with greater focus. The result is a more effective process for updating the firm’s strategic plan.
Providing planning methods and tools
A strategic planning consultant makes available methods and tools that streamline the process of creating a breakthrough business strategy. The planning methodology provides the structure for gathering market intelligence, conducting strategic discussions, identifying and evaluating options, and sound decision making.
The result of the comprehensive planning process is a strategic plan that is well-thought-out and more robust than an off the cuff strategic “idea” produced by a less structured approach.
Assessing capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses
To learn about the state of the business and its competitive position, a strategy consultant needs to conduct an objective, thorough assessment of the firm. Good or bad, they should always call it as they see it.
A candid assessment of the business identifies the strengths and weaknesses and sheds light on opportunities that could be explored.
An experienced strategy consultant preserves and builds on the company’s strengths and capabilities. These are the key to a firm’s competitive advantage – the basis of business strategy.
Asking probing questions
Getting to the root causes of the challenges a company is facing and understanding the true state of the business requires asking probing questions.
While it’s important to be sensitive to corporate culture and to have a professional “bedside manner”, a good strategy consultant should not avoid bringing up sensitive topics.
Strategic planning is about setting a new direction. This requires questioning the status quo. If difficult topics are avoided, the whole effort of developing a business strategy becomes futile. The strategy consultant was brought in to help develop solutions and create a strategic plan to grow the firm, not to rubber-stamp the present situation and leave things the way they are.
Conducting research and analysis
Creating a business strategy is a data-driven process. A strategy consultant assists management with collecting market intelligence, carrying out research and conducting analysis on markets, customers, competitors, and industry trends. This provides the insight that’s critical to identifying and evaluating the best opportunities for growth.
In addition, the consultant can also support the planning team by creating forecasts, financial models, and conducting “what-if” scenario analysis.
Providing ideas and recommendations
As an “outsider looking-in”, the strategic planning consultant brings a fresh perspective as well as experience gained from working with other clients.
Based on that experience the consultant makes suggestions and provides recommendations. Also, the consultant can challenge management to think outside the box and explore avenues for growth they might not have considered otherwise. This can trigger ideas leading to breakthroughs in strategic thinking.
Facilitating the strategic planning sessions
As the meeting facilitator, the strategy consultant makes sure that planning sessions stay on track by:
- Coaching, advising, and guiding the planning team through all stages of the process.
- Keeping everyone focused and actively involved.
- Making sure no one dominates the discussions.
- Maintaining the meeting agenda and managing the project calendar.
- Keeping track of all discussions, brainstorming sessions, and decisions.
Developing the strategic plan
The tangible deliverable of strategic planning is a well-thought-out business strategy, documented in a strategic plan. The strategic plan contains all the decisions made over the course of the planning process and their rationale. In essence, the strategic action plan is the playbook for implementing the strategy.
The strategy consultant works with management on clearly formulating the business strategy that came out of the planning process. In addition, the consultant makes sure that business goals, strategies, tasks, budgets, and timelines for the strategy implementation are properly defined and documented in the strategic plan.
The strategic plan clearly spells out what the firm is going to do to achieve the strategic objectives as well as the tasks and responsibilities for key individuals and departments.
Supporting the strategic plan implementation
Without acting on the agreed-upon strategic decisions, the entire strategic planning effort will have been futile. It’s the implementation where the rubber hits the road. Unfortunately, research shows that many strategic initiatives flounder due to poor implementation.
By being involved in the execution of the strategic plan the strategy consultant can help keep everyone accountable and on task. And, by being in the loop, the consultant can continue to advise management about whether the business strategy is working and if any course corrections are needed.
Hopefully, this post shed some light on how a strategic planning consultant can help a small firm develop and implement a smart strategy to beat the competition.