Strategies for Forming a Long-Term Business Plan

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations of your company and lose sight of what you want it to be in the future. These methods can help.
Strategies for Forming a Long-Term Business Plan
Anja Smith

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Does your plumbing business need a BHAG? No, a BHAG is not a fancy new piece of plumbing equipment. It stands for: Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

This is an exercise that assumes you want your plumbing company to continue to succeed in this complicated economy. For many of us who want to see this industry grow, goals are about more than simply “staying in business.” You want to thrive. You want to be the best and biggest — the gold standard in your community. That’s a fantastic aspiration, but it isn’t a very unique or well-defined goal.

What does it actually take to get your business to the next level? Is it enough to just keep doing your best every day and know that you are going to keep up and grow as you are able? Of course not, because “seeing what happens” is not a strategy.

Strategy should be a regular part of your business planning. Just like you plan the job schedule, plan time to do your invoicing, and plan time to spend with your family, business planning and strategy should be a conscious act that happens on a regular basis.

I like to take strategy planning off site. Getting away from the office, your home, or the job site eliminates distractions. Anyone with ownership stake, or who has a say in the trajectory of the business, should be invited. That might be only you or it might include your management team. If you are worried that there may be too many voices in the room, consider hiring a facilitator for the occasion.

During this off-site strategy session you might consider using some tried-and-true exercises that are widely available on the internet and from business coaches in your area. Think of these as tools for the job. Here are some of my favorites:

BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)

Popularized by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their business strategy book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, the BHAG has been a favorite of business professionals ever since. The idea is to look past the short- or medium-term tactical goal like, “Increase sales by 10 percent.” Instead a BHAG is a vision for how your company will look in 10, 20, or even 50 years. This goal is more about the legacy you hope to create. One that is well-aligned with your values and mission.

The BHAG works by pushing you far into the future, forcing you to think big. It makes you ask yourself, “What if?” Then, if the vision rings true, you can start reverse engineering what those medium-term tactical goals need to be in order to get there. It’s a good way to back into your short-term goals that make sure you keep the long-term in mind.

If you want to give the BHAG a try for your next planning session, do an internet search for “BHAG PDF.”

The Airport Test

This thought experiment is a twist on the ever-famous “Where do you picture yourself in five years?” It might be a better fit for smaller, fast-growing businesses that haven’t yet solidified their company culture. It’s also a great way of approaching the more day-to-day faculties of your business.

The “test” works like this: Imagine you are sitting in an airport five years from now when you run into an old business associate. You are excited to see this old pal and overwhelmed at the unexpected reunion. After a firm handshake, the associate asks you with all sincerity, “How is business? What do you guys have going on?” How do you respond?

The idea is to give as detailed and complete an answer as possible, describing exactly what you’d want to be able to brag to this associate about. This is a great visioning exercise for getting yourself excited about what is to come and how you are going to fulfill that dream.

SWOT Analysis

If you’ve never heard of a SWOT analysis, it stands for: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Best done on a whiteboard or easel pad, draw four quadrants and label each. (You can also do an online search for “SWOT PDF.”) Now, considering the current state of your business, fill in each quadrant with hard truth. This is a great place to get a dose of reality, but it’s also a great way to form a plan for how to take advantage of those opportunities, capitalize on those strengths, shore up those weaknesses, and eliminate those threats. This is a must-do exercise for any planning session. Don’t skip it.

Final Word

If you enjoy these exercises for your business, they are really just the tip of the iceberg. Business coaches, business books, and consultants all have a toolbox — just as effective and varied as the ones your plumbers carry. A little research or talking with a professional can help you find better ways of structuring your conversations so that your strategy retreats are worth the important time you are taking away from your business.

Remember, there is a difference between spit-balling and planning. Gather your tools before you sit down to the job of planning so that you build the future you want for your business.

About the author: Anja Smith is managing partner for All Clear Plumbing in Greenville, South Carolina. She can be reached at


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