I’ve broken away for probably one week only from the theme of how a consultant helps your business. This is a twist on that theme, but from a different angle. Over the past couple of weeks a recurring theme I’ve seen is focusing on strategic thinking. It’s an area I spend some considerable time on but the past few weeks especially so!

So what is “Strategic Thinking?”

Think of is as thinking long term, staying on plan. Often the key to whether you are thinking strategically is simply are you assessing long term impact from your decisions or simply reacting and doing what seems best in the moment? Are you taking actions in line with your core values and services or are your actions reflecting the needs of the moment?

Let’s look at an example. I’ll use a professional photography business in this instance. A photographer has built an excellent reputation for still life shots. Scenery, nature, products etc. This is both a personal decision – it is what they enjoy, and a strategic one. It is less seasonal than event photography for example, and less susceptible to competition from videography. But  business slows, there is a forward order book but there is a gap that needs covering. (See Cash is King article – link at base of article) Comparing tactical thinking to strategic should they:

a) Start advertising from scratch an event (eg. Wedding) service in addition to existing services and bookings. There is defiantly a market there and an opportunity to do a small number of quick jobs and fill the cashflow hole.

or

b) Create two workshops. The first teaching interested public flower photography in conjunction with a florist, and the second teaching business owners how to get the best from product photography using basic equipment and no studio. (While also showing the advantage of using a professional when you can).

The former may appear lower risk and lower cost, but remember the photographer doesn’t like this. It is a competitive market with prices being driven down and many weddings are videoed. Also they don’t have a reputation for doing this, it’s not what they have spent years marketing. No doubt they could do it, but will it add long term to their business?

I would argue A is tactical. It fills a gap. solves a short term problem, but given the lack of enjoyment in an industry that needs creative juices to be flowing and enthusiasm to be over flowing I’d argue the lower cost lower risk is probably not worth it.

B however builds on reputation. Now not only is the photographer known for their previous work, they’re now building a reputation as an authority on the subject. They’ve build relationships with businesses and end users that may just into repeat business. It’s reputation enhancing. And it solves the short term problem of cashflow.

So why is it important?

Using the above examples both A and B will have taken time and money to structure and market properly. In the case of A this will have produced a short term win potentially, but not enhanced the business at all. Worse (and this is the piece often overlooked by businesses) the time swallowed by a has absolutely no longer term benefit on the business. In fact, maybe worse, the very image of advertising an event service could detract from the well established professional reputation as a life photographer. Potential clients may be put off by the apparent dilution of specialisms. The time invested certainly has not had any long term benefit on the business.

Whereas I have argued above B has done the opposite. It is reputation enhancing. It has positioned the photographer as an authority as well as service provider. It did this while also solving the revenue gap expressed at the beginning of the article. It has added a new sustainable revenue stream to the small business and introduced new partnerships and clients.

Seems important now right?

So is it always possible?

100% yes. Simple answer. Reality can bite though in delivery. There are times when you as a business owner cannot deliver what you would like to. Sticking with the above example you may get to a point where your business needs to do A. But thinking strategically is always possible. you can simply acknowledge what you’re having to do isn’t the best for your business but after thought you realise its the only option you have.

In those instances you make the most of what you need to do. You may market the event photography under a different name, only use one social media channel to market to limit brand dilution. You may outsource the marketing, or event the delivery to minimise the time you spend on it yourself and keep you focussed.

But the short answer is yes. It’s is always possible.

Steering clear of the photography example above (which is a real scenario by the way, hopefully the photographer in question will read this) I see many examples of not thinking strategically where it need not be the case and it’s a key strength of mine to bring business owners back on track. Sometimes its maximising the benefit from a tactical move, sometimes its avoiding the tactical and keeping focused on the long term that is important, Working for several years in brand and category management in both a growing and contracting market kept me razor sharp on thinking strategically with brands and companies alike and that’s a major skill I can bring to the table in your business regardless of size and sector.

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Cash is King – Here