“Strategic” is one of those words that has become increasingly popular in the business vernacular. I wonder, though, if most of us know what it truly means, or if it’s nearing status as one of those throwaway words or phrases such as “engagement” or “high quality.”

It’s not just enough to use “strategic” as a modifier coupled with otherwise bland terms such as “planning” or “marketing” or “management.” Simply saying something is strategic doesn’t make it so. Being strategic requires more than just lip service. It requires a certain mindset to go beyond simply doing and executing to doing and executing with a long-term plan that’s been carefully crafted to define your approach, methodology, and actions for achieving a particular goal.

Strategies vs. Hunches

If you’re in business, you’ve probably done some level of planning or marketing. If your business has experienced success, you’ve probably also given your planning and/or marketing some strategic thought as well, whether you did so consciously or not, but it’s just as likely that much of your planning or marketing activities have been based on hunches, informed guesses, and doing what felt right at the moment.

Can this type of approach sustain you for the long-term? Will what’s worked before, always work? What happens when market conditions change and competition gets fierce?

Business environments are dynamic. They never stand still. New competitors are always emerging, along with new trends, new technologies, and new/better ways or working. Employing a strategic mindset when planning your business and marketing activities offers insight into not only what works, but how it works, why, and if it’s likely to keep working the same way or morph into something different. Further, being strategic not only positions you well for the present, but also prepares you well for the future.

Good Strategies Start With Questions

Here are some of the questions you should be asking of yourself and your company when beginning any strategic process:

  • What’s worked/not worked in the past? What’s working/not working now?
  • If I keep doing what I’m doing, where will this lead me?
  • What is my vision of what I want to achieve? Do I have a goal in mind?
  • What does success look like for me 6 months from now, 1 year, 2 years, 5 years?
  • What can I realistically achieve in the near-term, mid-term, long-term?
  • What must I do to achieve my goals versus what can I let go of?
  • Who must I get buy-in from to achieve these goals? Who are my key constituencies/stakeholders, and what pain points of theirs must I address to get their buy-in?
  • What are my action steps? What results/milestones do I need to achieve and when in order to achieve my goals?
  • What resources do I have now to implement these actions? What additional resources might I need?
  • How will I know I’m being successful? How will I measure my progress?
  • Who is responsible for executing this strategy? Is this person on my team now, or do I need to find him/her?
  • Is there room for refinement and fine-tuning if things don’t go as anticipated?
  • Are key players engaged in the process and enthused? How will I keep them engaged and enthused?

This is not an exhaustive list. Specialty areas such as “strategic marketing” versus “human capital strategies” versus “fundraising strategies” will, by their very nature, require questions particular to that specific focus—but you get the idea. Generally, business success requires taking actions based on thoughtful planning with an eye toward the big picture, not just actions based on hunches and gut feeling, or mindless repetition of what’s worked in the past hoping that it will continue to work for you in the future.

You Can Begin Now

So, are you being strategic? Do you have a strategy for your business, your career, your life? If so, more power to you. If not, fear not—you can begin to think more strategically.

  • Start thinking more critically about your goals and objectives. Ask questions, look at things from all sides, and identify the root causes of issues.
  • Don’t just let things come to you or at you. Anticipate trends, the results of your actions, and what your competitors are up to. Be proactive versus reactive.
  • Analyze internally and externally. What are you/your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOTs)? Now shine the flashlight ahead. What are you competitor’s SWOTs?

Once you start to gather data and articulate answers, you can begin to identify and execute the actions necessary to get you/your company where you want to be when you want to be there. Now that’s being strategic!

Paul June is King Monkey of BARREL O’MONKEYZ, a San Diego-based strategic marketing agency specializing in Sports and Active Lifestyle markets. We serve as a seasoned, outsourced marketing team for companies looking to ramp up sales and launch new products. Our barrel is full of talent and creative arms ready to prove we don’t just monkey around!