How to Create a Strategic Plan for Consultants

A direct marketing and advertising consultant offers thoughts on creating a strategic plan that differentiates a consultant from his or her competitors.

This article accompanies Corporate vs. Consulting

Tuesday, March 1, 2011
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As I lay in bed the other night reading for the second time a book by Verne Harnish (The Rockefeller Habits) it dawned on me that there are a lot of people who don't know what "strategy" really means.

I thought about all the consultants, freelancers and business owners that I've spoken with over the years and the ones who came to receive advice; few really understood the meaning of the word -- and even fewer were putting it into practice the right way.

To many, having a strategy is about having an overly complicated plan to grow their business.

A list or several steps they need to take to achieve their goal.

Frankly, as an idea that approach makes complete sense.

However, the problem is ... most plans miss a critical check to see whether they are actually strategic.

The firm Strategos says to have a real strategy it must " really matter to your existing and potential customers; and second, it differentiates you from your competition."

Now, let's dig a bit deeper into both of these points:

1. It matters to your existing and potential customers.

A) If your strategy and plans don't offer the value your customers are looking for, there really is no point. If someone needs chopsticks for their business and you're trying to sell them a better kind of fork, you're probably wasting your time. Make sure that your focus and offer is what your market wants and that it really matters to them.

B) If it doesn't, you'll need to refocus on a different market where you can sell your offering or go back to the drawing board or modify your current offering for a better fit.

C) How will you know? The best way to find out what matters to your customers is to ask them. Ask as many customers or potential customers as you can ... and then try to make the sale. In business, talk is cheap ... money speaks and you'll want to see people give you their hard-earned cash for what you're selling -- that's the ultimate validation.

2. It differentiates you from the competition.

This one sounds simple, but it can be quite hard.

A) You may think what you're doing is unique. But if it's not, you'll have a hard time convincing the market to buy from you.

B) While searching online and doing research from your home or office is a great way to get an initial look to see if what you're offering is unique, it's just a start. The best way to find out whether or not you have a real unique advantage over your competitors is to get out into the market and speak with the people who know the market better than you do. A potential client will tell you quickly if what you're showing them or saying to them sounds the same as another firm.

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C) And you'll know when you have a real differentiation strategy -- because the people you talk to will say things like: "Wow, that's really great" and "I've been wishing someone would do that." So, before you do anything else today, take a good look at your current strategy and business plans.

Do they pass the strategic test?

If they do, great job! If they don't, I hope this article gives you some ideas of how to correct the problem and helps you get back on course.

Michael Zipursky has been a direct marketing and advertising consultant to companies in more than 21 industries -- including some of the world's most recognized such as the Financial Times, Dow Jones, and Panasonic. Applying a scientific approach to marketing and through extensive testing, Mike works with his clients to increase their sales and improve customer loyalty. After co-founding a marketing and branding firm, Mike moved to Japan where he opened the company's Asia office. He later co-founded Ovida and currently serves as president of Relagy Marketing. This article originally appeared on his blog, Business Consulting Buzz. Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelZipursky

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