Planning Your Work Instead of Planning to Flail: The Value of Strategic Planning

Author: Bryan Hanson

Although there is overlap between a strategic plan and a business plan, in most cases, business plans are completed when someone is opening a new business, often a private practice and the originator of a substantial loan requires a formal, written plan. In contrast, a strategic plan is more likely to be competed annually in a clinic, private practice, or other audiology-related business. As a consultant, working in industry as well as with start-up companies, I’ve been involved in creating and executing dozens of strategic plans. This article summarizes a few practical tips on developing a strategic plan for any clinical audiologist with novice business training.

Like the more elaborate and formal business plan, a strategic plan has two distinct phases: 1.) creating the plan and 2.) executing or working the plan. Since execution can only really happen in the real world, this article is confined to discussing the nuts and bolts of creating the plan. It is surprising to me how many seasoned, reputable audiologists fail to rely on a strategic plan when starting a new program, division, or revenue stream within their existing clinic. A thoughtful, concise, and comprehensive strategic plan, based on a few data-driven assumptions, doesn’t have to take days of work. In fact, by following the template outlined in this article, an audiologist can create a plan, with input from other staff, with just a few hours of work spread over a few weeks.

Rather than leave results and outcomes of any new initiative within your clinic up to chance, creating and executing a strategic plan provides direction and focus. It gives you and your team a coherent path into the future. A well-constructed plan allows you to anticipate obstacles and make adjustments to overcome them. Plus, if you work in a corporate system, such as a multi-specialty clinic or medical center, there is a reasonable chance that someone in the C-suite is going to ask you for a strategic plan before they agree to fund any new capital expenditure. It is even more likely that department heads with a corporate structure will ask clinical staff to create, present, and then execute a strategic plan on an annual basis.
What is a strategic plan?
Unlike the formal and often more elaborate business plan, a strategic plan is used to “think through,” “whiteboard,” or model the details of implementing a new potential revenue stream, program or department within an existing practice. A strategic plan is a systematic way to look into the future using the best available data. It is a blueprint or proposal in which specific action items are purposefully employed over a discrete time frame to achieve a set of goals or objectives. In many cases these goals or objectives have a financial component, (ie. to improve profitability or drive down costs). In other cases, goals and objectives could be tied to quality improvements or other hard-to-define variables.

An effective strategic plan is valuable because it helps plot a course of action to ensure certain goals or objectives are attained within a reasonable timeframe. Additionally, strategic planning is important because it gives staff, other key stakeholders — even customers, clear direction. A coherent plan helps all vested parties see the “big picture” and actively participate in the business.
What do you want or need to accomplish over the next year?
It all starts with a basic question: What does your team want or need to accomplish over the next year? Of course, the response to that question takes many forms, but in most cases the answer to this question is to improve some facet of productivity. That is, improve an existing aspect of your business or add a new wrinkle to the business that generates additional revenue. Some examples of this include adding balance testing, tinnitus management services, or building out a tele-audiology branch of your existing clinic to better meet the needs of older adults in a post-pandemic world. It’s really up to you and your team to come up with the most compelling question (and answer) that spurs action around creating a strategic plan. One final consideration about answering this question: You might believe you can ignore or escape having to answer this question, but every business exists on shifting ground. Market forces, shifts in the economy, disruptive technology, and changes to the management of your clinic are some of the most common reasons that warrant a new or revised strategic plan about every year. Rather than wait for the sand to shift under your feet, it is always best to be proactive and anticipate these changes.

The strategic plan you develop is really “the how” of the answer to the original question, what do you want or need to accomplish over the next year? Everyone’s strategic plan will be different depending on their unique business needs and goals, but most plans include eight sections. These eight sections are summarized below. Refer to the descriptions of each section as you chart out your own strategic plan. Before reviewing the eight sections, it is vital to do a little pre-work. If you know what your marketplace values from your services, what the competition might be offering that is similar to your offering and the basic demographics of your core customer base, your pre-work is already done. If you don’t have any idea about these three key variables, you’ll need to do some pre-work prior to creating your strategic plan.
Pre-Work is Essential
Any effective strategic plan starts with quality data. The better the data, the more precise and actionable the plan. The challenge in many cases, however, is that smaller businesses simply do not have the means to capture a lot of data. The lack of perfect data must never be the enemy of decent or good enough data. In many cases, a few simple Google searches, combined with some insights from a few trusted industry experts is probably enough to get what’s needed to formulate a data-driven strategic plan. In addition to previous financial statements (e.g., profit & loss statement) that describe how the existing practice has performed in the past, there are a few other items you are likely to need.
  • Demographic information of the target audience(s) in your area including median age and income
  • Services that might be valued by individuals in your area who have hearing loss or other hearing and/or balance difficulties
  • Services your staff has a strong desire or skill level to provide
  • Gaps in the marketplace relative to what competitors in your area are offering
Once you have posed the question, found the answer, and done some pre-work, the process of creating a strategic plan can begin. You might want to consider getting your team involved in this process of gathering data as part of your pre-work. Now let’s take a look at the eight critical sections of any strategic plan.
Section 1: The Executive Summary
The point of this section is to succinctly outline your plan for the business and its direction. It should be written in a way that enables employees and other interested parties to quickly grasp the concepts, even if they don’t understand the industry. If you are writing a strategic plan for people that already keenly know your business, it is possible to skip the executive summary.

Tips for the Executive Summary:
  • Complete this section last. You will be able to call out ideas and information highlighted in other sections.
  • Don’t go into details or give numbers, unless they are big, round, conceptual numbers. Just focus on the big picture.
Section 2: Mission Statement
Your mission statement is your team or practice manifesto. It is what you intend to bring to the world. A mission statement is aspirational and defines what you want your team to be known for, who you are, and why you do what you do. Usually, the mission statement is succinct and direct.

Tips for the Mission Statement:
  • Don’t overthink it. For many business owners this is the hardest section to write. Just start by writing freely about your own goals and where you want the company to be in five or ten years. Oftentimes, mission statements take a long time to create because there are several players involved in its creation.
  • Have a look at mission statements on other company websites to get an idea of how others articulate the essence of their business. Think of the mission statement as the document that drives all your decisions, either within your entire company or your department. A good mission statement reflects your core personal values and those of the people on your team.
Section 3: SWOT Analysis
SWOT analysis is a specialized analytical technique that focuses on looking at Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats within your business, profession, and industry. This is the section that will help you determine the strategies you’re going to use to take your business in the direction you want it to go and identify and overcome the barriers that might stand in your way. A SWOT analysis requires good self-awareness and the ability to honestly evaluate your core abilities as a business and how they differ from the competition.
Figure 1. SWOT Analysis

Tips for SWOT Analysis:
  • Remember that strengths and weaknesses are internal to your organization and opportunities and threats are external.
  • Know the local competitors.
  • Use data from business reports, investor’s analysist reports to help build a good SWOT. Figure out if your market is growing or shrinking, and what you can expect demand for your product/service to be over the life of your team, department, or division.
  • The key to a useful SWOT analysis is to use to take corresponding action. For example, by focusing on the strengths of your staff, you may want to consider adding a new service in a clinical area where there is a high level of expertise and interest among staff.
Section 4: Goals with an Action Plan
Your SWOT analysis should help identify a big idea (or a few big ideas), such as expanding your practice, better meeting the needs of existing customers, and developing new services to meet an unmet need of the market.

In this section you will turn these big ideas into tangible goals to move the practice forward. Just like treatment goals, strategic goals should be measurable and time bound. Your goals represent the desired results that you hope to achieve in your strategic plan. Actions are the activities and steps that must be taken to accomplish the goals.

Tips for writing goals:
  • Make sure your goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reasonable and Timely.
  • First, set your long-term goals. These have a timeframe of a few months or more than a year, depending on the specifics of the situation.
  • Then, identify the steps that need to be taken to reach those goals. Drill down until each step can be identified as a short- or medium-term objective. Include these in the strategic plan.
  • Don’t feel as though you’re locked down to the plan or your goals. Things could change over the next several months, and your strategic plan will simply change too. But having a plan in place to start with, even if it isn’t the plan you finish with, is vital for your continued success.
  • In the goals section, you should also include data on your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). KPIs are the measurements that tell you where you stand relative to your goals. Tracking KPIs regularly will help you stay on course towards your goals, or let you know where to adjust the plan or tweak your processes.
Section 5: Financial Plan
The financial plan section is the place to outline the hard numbers. In a basic strategic plan, it is okay to keep the financial plan fairly simple. Focus on the expected costs and the projected revenue by doing a simple cost-benefit analysis. As Figure 2 shows, projected revenue should exceed expected costs.
Figure 2. Simple cost-benefit analysis
COSTS Benefits
Hire full time audiologist $90,000 Expected monthly revenue after 3 month ramp up: $7500
New equipment $15,000 Breakeven expected in 16 months

Tips for the Financial Plan:
  • Financial projections often include three scenarios: a conservative scenario, a likely scenario, and an aspirational scenario. Remember not to base your expectations on the latter.
  • Once you have the financial plan in place, you should track your progress month-to-month against your goals. Using software (such as job management software for professional services businesses) can help you get an accurate picture of how your business is doing and whether you need to move the guideposts.
Section 6: Target Customers and Industry Analysis
In this section, you take an in-depth look at the SWOT analysis and consider the current state of your profession, industry, and market, as well as the people (employees, colleagues, patients, publics).

Tips for the Profession/Industry & Customer analysis:
In this section you look more closely at your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses in the market (which represent opportunities and threats that can impact your ability to achieve your goals). Are you trying to tap into a potential market? Protect an existing market from shrinking? Those are two key considerations in this section.
Section 7: Marketing Plan
The marketing plan outlines how you intend to present your company to the local market and what your goals and projections are for increasing your customer base or reaching a higher level of profitability. The marketing plan should consider your products/services, pricing, channels for service and communication delivery (your practice, telehealth, your website etc.), and the messages, promotions, and branding that you will use.

Tips for the marketing plan:
  • First, define and outline your USP - Unique Selling Proposition. This is the “it” factor that sets your company, division or department apart from the rest. Your USP should be something that resonates strongly with customers, such as delivering quality, speed, or a unique product.
  • Next, think about positioning. How is your product or service positioned? Is it where you want it to be positioned? If not, what must be done to change it? Are you a premier brand or do you target cost-saving customers?
  • Think also about your different distribution channels and how the marketing for each channel may differ. For example, if you own a retail store, but you also sell online, how will you market those two different storefronts?
  • What kinds of offers and special deals are you going to provide? What marketing collateral do you have and what do you still need to create?
  • Outline both your above-the-line (mass advertising) and below-the-line (grassroots, point-of-sale) strategies.
Section 8: Conclusion
Wrap everything up at the end of the strategic plan with a concise conclusion and statement about your team’s bright future! Bring in data from the different sections together to focus attention on the important areas for growth and the areas you need to improve or develop.

Executing Your Plan:
Flail not! Start by building a blueprint for success with a strategic plan. Once it is created, however, the plan is essentially useless unless it is executed. Execution of the strategic plan relies on persistence and realism. Effective managers employ clear communication with individuals on the team, organized scheduled team meetings, and consistent dialogue devoted to meeting performance targets and goals.

Don’t forget to measure progress using KPIs and feedback from relevant audiences to move incrementally closer to successfully accomplishing your strategic plan within the designated timeframe.    
Bryan Hanson is a consultant for Jell-Tech Consulting LLC, Germantown, WI.