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Business Strategy

A Failproof, 3-Step Strategic Planning Process for Your Business

Want to stop spinning your wheels?

Need to get clear on your business strategy so you’ll stop getting trapped in “analysis paralysis”?

If you’re tired of getting stuck because you keep doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, you need a tried-and-true strategic planning process that’ll take the guesswork out of it all.

In this post, I’m going to give you just that. When you’re finished reading, you’ll have a process that’ll help you make great business decisions in 2021, 2022, and beyond.

But first, we need to bust a few myths:

  • Strategic planning is not something you do on January 1st, then forget about the rest of the year
  • Strategic planning is not some boring mission statement reserved for corporate boardrooms
  • Strategic planning is not the sole domain of experts and high-priced consultants

Strategic planning is the process of creating the business you see in your mind’s eye. It’s the process of bringing that vision to life from vision and inspiration to clients and revenue.

And it’s something you can do right now, today.

Here’s how…

Step 1: Complete a Business & Marketing Strategic Plan (in Just 2 Hours)

Many years ago, I received an email that changed the course of my business.

I’ll get to what was IN that email in just a sec, but first you gotta understand where I was (mentally) when it arrived.

There I was, spending the holidays at my mom’s beach house in the gulf of Thailand.

Picture it…

  • Just steps from the beach in a sleepy fishing village…
  • Amazing food on the doorstep…
  • Morning runs and afternoon naps…

But yet, in the midst of all this, there was something gnawing away at me that I didn’t want to admit. The truth was: I didn’t know what I was doing or where I was going.

If I had to pin a feeling to it, I’d say I was feeling “stuck.”

But, as they say, “wherever you go, there you are.”

A couple months earlier, I had left my job for no other reason than I needed to leave my job.

But I didn’t quite have the clarity or confidence about who I was and what I was capable of. Much less a plan for moving forward.

And then that email came…

At first glance, it was nothing extraordinary — just another newsletter from just another internet marketer. We get so many of them, but for some reason I took notice of THIS one.

The email was from Don Crowther and it contained a 2-page strategic plan template. At the time, I didn’t really know what that meant, but it seemed like something I should do — especially since Don promised it would only take a couple hours of my time and would do more for my business than any other activity.

He wasn’t bluffing…

Those couple hours that I spent creating a business and marketing strategic plan became the seed that flowered into everything good that I’ve done since.

Simply spending a couple hours going through this strategic planning process helped me get the internal clarity and motivation I need to make that quantum leap in my business.

Now, I follow Don’s example and repeat this process every holiday.

Here’s how it works:

1. Using Don’s template (which you can download for free here), take stock of where you are now.

This includes the big picture feeling you have about your current situation, including assets and limitations, and specific indicators such as:

  • Gross income and net profit
  • Size of your mailing list and social media following
  • Number of unique visitors to your site each month and conversion metrics
  • Number of products and services you have on the market and the number of clients you serve

As an example, here’s a big picture feeling statement I wrote several years ago:

I have a fabulous business and stand-out brand with solid traffic, subscribers, and followers. Through my 2 products and full range of services, I have a sales funnel that brings in consistent revenue and allows me to work with a talented team of contractors. While the business is successful overall, I feel like I’m the bottleneck that’s limiting our growth. I’m just starting to create the systems that will leverage my time and scale the business, allowing me to serve more people and make a bigger difference while enjoying myself more.

2. Next, detail out where you want to be by the end of the year.

Again, this includes the big picture vision as well specific, measurable objectives that will let you know you’ve made it.

Here’s what I wrote back in 2013 (don’t worry — whether it’s 2013 or 2021, the process is the same):

Live Your Message has name recognition among both my ideal clients and my peers. I have expanded my team and created the systems and processes we need to bring high-quality done-for-you services to hundreds of people a year, while keeping a 50% profit margin. These systems enable me to concentrate my time on the marketing, product creation, speaking, training and partnering initiatives that will allow us to explode our following and impact tens of thousands of new people each year. I am living half-time in the U.S. and half-time abroad. I have achieved a work-life balance that enables me to sustain daily high-performance while nourishing my body, mind and relationships.

3. Once you’ve done these first two items, you’ll be able to clearly see the gap between where you are and where you want to go AND specific actions you can take to close that gap.

I recommend brainstorming 6-12 actions or initiatives. For example:

To grow my email list from 3500 to 12K by the end of the year, I know I need to participate in at least one major list-building initiative each quarter. I also know that I can increase conversions on my website by split-testing opt-in gifts and copy, as well as adding pop-up opt-in boxes on my blog that offer different gifts based on the subject of the blog post. Finally, I can lengthen and improve my initial autoresponder sequences to deepen my relationship with new subscribers and segment my list to keep engagement and retention high.

4. Once you’ve identified 6-12 actions you can take to “close the gap” between where you are and where you want to go, it’s time to map these out onto a 12-month calendar.

In other words…

When specifically will you create each product, run each promotion, and take each action?

Don’t worry, in a moment I’ll give you a process for organizing and prioritizing these actions based on your core values and what you want to achieve in your business.

This will help you put first things first and focus on the actions that have the most ROI.

5. Finally, and this one’s not on Don’s template, I wrap a marketing and promotion calendar around my actions and priorities.

This takes the guesswork out of blogging and emailing my list by showing me exactly what to write about when so that I’m always building interest in my core initiatives and upcoming promotions. It also allows me to evaluate new opportunities and know when I can say yes to promoting new partners or taking on a new client and when to say no. We’ll talk about the calendar in more detail later.

That wasn’t so hard, right? On to the next step…

Step 2: How to Make Great Business Decisions (a “Failproof” Decision Making Model)

Several years ago, I sat down with a friend/client to figure out my biggest business opportunities and priorities for the coming year. He led me through a process that absolutely blew my mind.

With just a few questions and a spreadsheet (which I’ll give you in a moment), it’s like the priorities were yanked right out of me in a way I just wasn’t seeing before.

In less than an hour, I had crystal clarity on what I should be focusing on for the entire year.

Suddenly, I could see exactly where and HOW to focus my time to triple my income, build my list, and grow my authority. It was like my year (and my business) suddenly made total sense to me.

If you’re anything like me — with a million ideas and opportunities flying through your head at any moment — this was nothing short of miraculous.

And the most amazing part of it was that my friend’s business decision making model used a simple Excel spreadsheet!

I’ve never put “spreadsheets” and “inspiration” in the same sentence before and it feels a little funny, but he’s designed a template that kind of acts like a weegee board — you ask a question and it guides you to the answer.

But instead of relying on some dispossessed ghost with a death wish, it uses YOU — your core values and what you want to achieve in your business — as a way to filter and rank the opportunities you have in front of you.

I promise you haven’t seen this process before unless you’re some super systems guru (aka geek) like my buddy Mynders Glover.

Mynders manages product launches for the big boys and you’d fall over if you ever see one of his mindmaps — talk about organized!

He’s essentially designed a spreadsheet template that takes the guesswork out of defining your priorities and making decisions so you have more to go on than the feelings of the moment.

Here’s how it works:

1. Click here to download Mynder’s “Opportunity Filter” business decision making model and the sample template.

This is the same template I filled out to determine my top business priorities.

2. Choose 5-7 evaluation criteria that you’d like to use to gauge your business opportunities.

These can include core values, profitability, impact, and short-term and long-term goals. Place them at the top of each column of the blank template where it says “Evaluation Criteria #1” etc.

If you look at my sample template, you’ll see that the criteria I use are:

  • Life/Work Balance and Personal Freedom
  • Internal: Personal Satisfaction (business as an expression of who I am and what I care about)
  • External: Making a big impact on my following and positioning my brand
  • Revenue/Profitability
  • Build My List
  • Develop Partnerships and Future Opportunities

3. Identify 5 or more opportunities in your business that you want to prioritize.

These can include both processes and initiatives. Processes include things like getting your business systems up and running or implementing a social media marketing plan. Initiatives include big projects such as events or product launches.

Place these opportunities into the rows labeled “Opportunity #1” etc.

4. Now for the fun part! It’s time to rank each opportunity by each evaluation criteria.

On a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being utter fulfillment and 1 being steer clear), how much does that opportunity allow you to fulfill that criteria?

5. Once you’ve ranked each opportunity, it’s time to add up the numbers in the total assessment column and see which ones come out the highest.

This is the part of the process that totally blew me away!

According to my own values and priorities, the Video Superhero Summit turned out to be the biggest opportunity in my business and it was something that was at the bottom of my list!

Once I realized this, I quickly swung into gear to get this new venture off the ground and have already gotten “yeses” from some big names!

6. In life, not all things are created equally. If some criteria are much more important to you than others, than feel free to weight each criteria.

This one is optional.

Weighting allows you to fine-tune the evaluation process to reflect what’s most important to you (and give a little help to your pet projects).

I recommend giving each criteria weighting a percentage of the whole so they add up to 100%.

Step 3: Create a Marketing Calendar

Photo by crownbindery

So, you’ve made it through Don’s strategic planning worksheet (step 1) and Mynders business decision-making model (step 2).

Now it’s time to put everything into a marketing calendar and launch some promotional initiatives.

Oh boy.

“Did you say calendar?”

Yes, but hear me out…

The thing is, the two most important factors in your business success are how you spend your time and where you direct your focus.

99% of business owners give away their time and focus to the squeaky wheel, the urgent but unimportant things that “have to get done” but don’t necessarily get you to where you want.

Marketing calendars let you take your year back and direct your energy on what matters to you.

This one exercise of creating a marketing and promotional calendar will make the difference between having a business stuck in neutral and driving your success forward.

And not only will having a marketing calendar allow you to consciously craft your year, but it will give you the “mental freedom” of knowing exactly what to write/say and when to write/say it.

No more staring at a blank sheet of paper!

Here’s how it works:

1. Identify the top 6-12 actions, priorities, or initiatives you want to take.

These are the things that will close the gap between where you currently are in your business and where you want to go by the end of the year.

2. Place your top priorities for the year into a 12-month calendar.

For example, if you plan on creating and releasing 2 products this year, what months will you release them? If you also want to launch 2 major list-building efforts such as telesummits or giveaways, when will they take place?

To keep it simple, you can use the calendar from the 2-page strategic planning template you downloaded earlier.

3. Once you know what you’re doing over the year, it’s easier to see the message, story and topic themes for each month.

Structuring your marketing around clear themes will allow you to:

  • Provide value around your key topics before and after you promote anything, so your target audience doesn’t feel like you’re just slamming them with sales pitches and promotions
  • Build interest and desire for each promotion by giving value around that specific topic in the days and weeks leading up to your promotion
  • Focus ALL your marketing efforts (from blogs to social media posts) strategically around topics related to your products and services
  • Give you crystal clarity on what to write about every time you sit down at your computer to craft an email or social media post

4. Add in major holidays and events that will make your marketing or promotion relevant to what’s going on in your client’s lives when they read your emails.

Photo by Jenn Vargas

Remember, the best marketing taps into the thoughts and conversations that your prospects are already having.

Here are a list of holidays to get your marketing calendar started:

JANUARY
  • New Years Day (popular topics: weight loss, resolutions, business/financial success, having a great life)
  • World Religion Day (popular topics: spirituality)
  • Martin Luther King Day
FEBRUARY
  • Groundhog Day
  • Super Bowl (popular topics: football, commercials, advertising)
  • Valentine’s Day (popular topics: love and relationships)
  • President’s Day
  • Mardi Gras
  • Black History Month
MARCH
  • First Day of Spring (popular topics: cleaning and organizing, fresh starts, new life)
  • St. Patrick’s Day (popular topics: green, parades, good cheer)
  • Women’s History Month
  • National Nutrition Month
APRIL
  • April Fool’s Day
  • Tax Day (popular topics: finance, government)
  • Easter
  • Earth Day (popular topics: environment, living green, recycling)
  • Jazz Appreciation Month
  • National Poetry Month
MAY
  • Cinco de Mayo
  • Mother’s Day (popular topics: family, moms, being a mom)
  • Memorial Day (popular topics: patriotic, veteran, military)
  • Lupus Awareness Month
  • ALS Awareness Month
JUNE
  • Father’s Day (popular topic: family, dads, being a dad)
  • First Day of Summer
  • LGBT Pride Month
JULY
  • Fourth of July (popular topics: freedom, barbeques)
  • Dance Appreciation Month
  • Eye Injury Prevention Month
AUGUST
  • Back to School (popular topics: education, summer vacation, feeling good)
  • National Immunization Awareness Month
  • Medic Alert Month
SEPTEMBER
  • Labor Day (popular topics: workers, American principles)
  • First Day of Fall
  • Patriot Day
  • National Yoga Month
OCTOBER
  • Columbus Day
  • Halloween (popular topics: costumes, makeup, candy, treats)
  • Breast Cancer Awareness Month
  • National Book Month
NOVEMBER
  • All Saints’ Day (popular topics: costumes, makeup)
  • Veterans’ Day (popular topics: soldier, military service, war)
  • Election Day
  • Thanksgiving (popular topics: gratitude, recipes, family)
  • Black Friday (popular topics: shopping, sales, deals)
DECEMBER
  • Christmas (popular topics: shopping, family, celebration, traditions)
  • Hanukkah (popular topics: shopping, family, celebration, traditions)
  • Kwanzaa
  • New Year’s Eve
  • National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month
  • Seasonal Depression Awareness Month

5. Find opportunities to promote other people’s products.

It goes without saying: If you want to grow your business and reach a bigger audience, you need partners.

That means that you also have to be willing to promote other people in turn. The trick is balancing your own promotions with partner promotions and giving value to your list, so you don’t burn out your audience.

I try to limit partner promotions to one a month and I turn down any partnership opportunities that will interfere with my internal promotions.

Over to You

Having a strategic planning process that includes a marketing and promotional calendar allows you to evaluate each opportunity that comes your way and say yes or no based on whether it fits into your overall priorities and action plan for the year.

It will take you out of reacting to opportunities and put you in the driver’s seat.

You have the opportunity to breakout this year and build a thriving business around your passions and expertise. The world needs what you have to offer.

So, leave a comment below letting me know how this is going to be your breakout year!

Love it? Hate it? Let me know...

  1. Charlie

    Do you have any recommendations for good marketing calendar templates?

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Can you be more specific about what you’re looking for Charlie?

      Reply ·
  2. Carla King

    I totally love this, Marisa. There are a lot of steps and they’re not all easy, right? It takes times and consideration. Research. Calendaring. These are all great foundational activities. And I appreciate the step-by-step and that you point to trusted resources – not trying to reinvent the wheel. Okay… down to work!

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Absolutely Carla. There is no easy way around this but there are clear steps… <3

      Reply ·
  3. Audrey

    Thanks for this clear, concise map for planning out a business. This is exactly the kind of thing I have needed to make a plan that will get me where I want to go and help me know which things to focus on.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Sure thing Audrey! Glad it’s the right thing at the right time for you…

      Reply ·
  4. kalpana

    Hi!
    i went through your mail
    Thanks. i will join you soon.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      See you soon!

      Reply ·
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About the Author Marisa Murgatroyd

Marisa is the founder of Live Your Message, where she turns entrepreneurs into Online Superheroes, and the creator of Start With You where she helps people just like you to discover the business they're meant to build, not just the business they can build. At 4’11 and a quarter, she’s called the shortest woman in marketing — and that doesn’t stop her from having huge ideas. She’s the “go to” brand builder for industry luminaries and heavyweights such as Justin Livingston, Callan Rush, Danny Iny, Alexis Neely and Susan Peirce Thompson. Marisa helps entrepreneurs create a business that is authentic and aligned with who they are, to empower them to turn up the dial on their “inner superhero”, so they can be the superhero to their tribe, as well as in their own lives.

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