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While we all know it is important to plan for the future, very few businesses actually do. Instead of citing the benefits of business planning and strategic planning, which we’ve all heard, here is a list of warning signs that indicate whether or not your business has a clear focus and if you are ready to be strategic this year.

If someone asked where your business would be in 2007, you would have to think about it. If you asked your partners or management team the same question, you would get different answers. And you would not know what you are doing in 2006 to make 2007 a reality.

Your company will not hit its revenue goals this year. While there can be many reasons for the shortfall, you are not sure how to grow the top line. Maybe it is time to apply the 80/20 rule. Do you know what 20 percent of your customers contribute the 80 percent of your revenue?

There are inconsistencies in your brochure, website, sales collateral, etc. You can’t understand the content. More importantly, neither can anyone else. You find you have to explain your business to a potential client. You are telling different stories about how you provide value.

You’re ignoring your competition. You don’t know who your number one competitor is and what they are doing, who their clients are, what products they offer, their pricing, or key message points. When your customers ask you to explain why your company is different, you don’t have a good response.

Everything on your “to do” list is a priority. You don’t know where your time is best spent.

Friends and colleagues can’t refer you because they aren’t sure exactly what value your business provides and to whom.  They often ask, “What is it you do again?”

When you’re presented with a business opportunity, you are unsure how to evaluate if it is something your company should pursue. In fact, you normally pursue all opportunities just in case you might miss the big one.  

You enjoy what you do, but you are not passionate about your business. You’d quit everything and follow that passion tomorrow if you could.

Your business development consists largely of attending networking events, but you spend most of your time talking to people you know.  And you rely solely on word-of-mouth for new customers.

You don’t know why your customers buy from you. The majority continue to do business with your company, but you’re not sure what keeps them coming back. You’ve never really asked.

You find your clients contracting with other companies for services you provide. When asked, they say they didn’t know you offered those services. 

When you ask your employees what success looks like, they don’t have a consistent answer. And your incentive plan does not synch up with performance expectations.

You complain when your customers call because you just don’t have time to talk to them. And you notice your staff complaining too.

You don’t do market research or solicit customer feedback because you know your market. You’ve been in the industry for years and you know customers’ need and wants.  

You determine your pricing by looking at your competitor’s prices and discounting slightly. All your prices are based on your competitors’ offerings. 

You can’t articulate what your company does best, but it is a good point of discussion at the Christmas cocktail party.

When asked why you are in business, your only response is profit.

Sound familiar? Maybe it’s time to get serious about your business and get focused. Having a strategic plan and, therefore a succinct strategy, brings clarity and focus to your organization. It ensures your time, resources, and actions are not wasted. If every part of your organization is not pointed in the same direction, you’ll end up going in circles – frustrating yourself and your employees. Why not get strategic and make this year your most successful year?

This Management article was written by Erica Olsen on 5/10/2005

Erica Olsen is the founder and Vice President of MyStrategicPlan, a business development firm that that specializes in helping companies develop and organize their corporate strategy to accelerate growth. With MyStrategicPlan, entrepreneurs can build their strategic plan and execute their growth strategies through a cost-effective, do-it-yourself solution. Our clients use the web-based system to build and manage their plans quickly and efficiently. Result: Entrepreneurs who reach their vision of success.