During the annual strategic planning process, a small-business owner’s goal is to identify the strategies that give his company the greatest chance of success, as measured by revenue growth and meeting the challenges presented by the business environment, including competitors. He must choose from among alternative strategies. To make these choices, he gathers and analyzes information about the business environment and selects the best future course for his company. Strategic planning is a creative process. He wants to identify strategies that are innovative and one step ahead of the strategies competitors are implementing.

Study Competitors’ Strategies

Take a look at the strategies your competitors are using and how successful they have been. In every industry and market niche, there are companies that are winners -- and an important reason is the success of their marketing strategies. For example, a business owner who sees that the strongest competitors emphasize social media to generate customer leads should determine whether her own social media strategy is effective. She may have to change the methods she uses, such as developing and promoting a blog to establish herself as an industry expert in the eyes of customer prospects.

Evaluate Strategic Success

Developing a new marketing plan requires evaluating what strategies worked well in the previous year’s plan. The business owner can discard strategies that did not work well or retool them. For example, if your Internet advertising campaign was not effective, you could shift these dollars to print advertising instead. Or you could change the keywords used in the ads to better reach the company’s target customers.

Consider Available Resources

A small business’s marketing budget is limited, and it is critical that every strategy implemented has the potential to generate greater revenues than the year before. When preparing a strategic plan, look at the previous year’s marketing expenditures -- and marketing staff levels -- to whether you can afford to increase them and by how much. Identifying alternative plans involves making difficult choices about what the company can afford to do. It is likely you will identify more strategies with great potential than you have the resources to implement.

Strategic and Tactical Experimentation

Part of the growth process for a small business is the evolution of the company’s marketing strategy. The company’s target markets, distribution channels and marketing message all change over time. Keeping the company growing at a fast pace requires strategic experimentation -- trying different strategies and action plans than the company used in the past. Not all of these experiments will be successful. You limit the risk associated with new strategies by implementing them cautiously. For example, a strategy to market in three additional states could be implemented one state at a time, and one city at a time in each state. If the initial market expansion efforts pay off, you can accelerate the timetable.

Set Growth Objectives

The long-term vision you have for your company shapes the strategic plan alternatives you consider. If you believe it is imperative to grow rapidly and capture market dominance before competitors are able to, the strategies you consider may be different than an owner who seeks steady but slower growth. In the first case, you may have to implement a large-scale advertising campaign, which may require obtaining additional capital to implement. The slower-growth path could emphasize building the business through word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied customers, while paying for the marketing program with internally generated cash.