Objectives, strategies & tactics—which is which and why do you need all of them?
Note from Sarah: This article was originally sent via my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers receive essay style pieces like this before anyone else. Click here to subscribe!
One of the things that comes up a lot in strategy calls with consulting clients is my asking the question, "Where does [THING] fit into your overall plan?"
And because, as we all are, folks are busy, people often don't have an answer to that question. But what I'm really asking for is context. Context is crucial in maintaining forward momentum and not getting distracted by all the noise that's coming at us all the time. The best way to create context for any decision making in your business? Having a clear, written outline of your objectives, strategy and tactics. A whole lot of people start with the latter and leapfrog over the first two, and that's the fast track to spinning your wheels and making decisions that aren't in alignment with where you want to be.
I thought it would be helpful to create a simple cheat sheet for you to identify these elements for yourself. There are lots of variations in language with these steps, but this is what I use when working with clients, it's simple and to the point, which is why I like it!
Objectives: What's your desired end result? What are you hoping to achieve?
Here are some examples of objectives:
An accountant wants to be fully booked out with ongoing clients, rather than stressful one-off work during tax season.
A lawyer wants to support women-led startups because she sees they often are getting poor or no advice on crucial legal matters as they grow.
A copywriter wants to stop the endless revision cycle so she can have a better work-life balance while helping more people.
You get the picture, it's the vision for the end-point. Think of it like your mission.
Strategies: The big how. A lot of folks see strategies and objectives as interchangeable, but I do not. Strategy should come from research, analysis and clear focus on your objectives.
Here are some strategy examples from the above objectives. Some folks have multiple ones, but that depends on how complex your business or organization is. Start with one when you write this down, please.
The accountant learns all she can about the energy efficiency business and the assorted tax credits associated with that world and positions herself as the accountant for the energy efficiency industry.
The lawyer positions herself be the go-to for female-founded startups seeking advice on corporate legal matters.
The copywriter discovers through a Facebook group that one of the big challenges of website designers is getting quality sales page content from clients. She teaches herself to write for the design first, creating a unique position for her services as the expert in creating sales copy for existing website designs.
Tactics: What will you do to implement your strategy?
Continuing our examples:
The accountant offers consulting-style CFO services on a subscription basis to energy efficiency businesses (recurring revenue!) and brings attention to herself by writing a detailed weekly newsletter rounding up links of interest to that audience, growing her credibility.
The lawyer's first step is relationship-building. She commits several hours a week to finding quality connections in the founder space on LinkedIn, where her ideal audience hangs out; she answers questions and engages with them authentically, without selling, building a reputation in the space. She shares articles and tips related to the startup community and builds her credibility through her network on LinkedIn.
The copywriter creates a lead magnet with a cheat sheet of word counts for each section of an optimized sales pages so that designers have a starting point for content on client websites, she then offers an upsell of a one hour consulting session for designers to review their clients' sales page copy with her for quality. Her final step is a productized service (hey, we've got a consulting program about this) writing the first pass of copy for web designer partners that their clients can then revise based on their own tone and style, thus ending the endless revision process and freeing up her designer partners to launch websites more efficiently. She creates boilerplate scripts in the productized service that her designer partners can use to train and educate their clients about testing and tweaking copy.
I recommend sketching out your answers to these three steps in your plan on actual paper. For most people, this makes it more real, and helps you align steps you're considering with your bigger picture.
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