Although short-term, medium-term and long-term planning in businesses address different time frames, they should be cut from the same cloth. The more closely you align your short, medium and long-term goals, the more effectively you will be able to make plans that sync your immediate objectives with your big picture vision.
Short-term planning in business generally focuses on a three-to-six-month time frame, especially in reference to revenue and profitability. Short-term objectives are geared towards short-term needs such as improving cash flow or launching a new product. This short-term perspective is especially useful for satisfying investors who want to see results or improving your company's bottom line so you can secure additional financing for longer-term goals. Whatever your short-term goals, make sure they serve your longer-term vision. Your new product launch should be consistent with your overall brand and with the line of products you're building over time. Your strategies to improve cash flow should bring in additional revenue in ways that don't compromise your values or distract you from your overall mission.
Medium-term planning is often overlooked in discussions of strategic objectives, but it is important because it brings together the clarity of shorter-term goals with the depth of longer-term planning. A short-term goal may be based on an immediate need and a long-term goal may be so broad that it is difficult to create measurable milestones. But a medium-term goal is close enough for you to project a specific targeted outcome, while also being distant enough to be meaningful for your longer-term vision. Medium-term planning generally covers a period of about three years. It may include plans to open a new store or enter a new market. It is a long enough time frame for you to see if you're achieving real results, yet it's a short enough period for you to pivot and change direction if your initial strategy isn't successful.
Long-term planning is rooted in your company's identity and purpose. It may have elements of specificity such as a goal to open a certain number of new stores over the next ten years. However, it is impossible to predict market conditions and current events over such an extended time frame. Because of this difficulty, even specific long-term plans are mainly concrete ways to express a larger vision such as eventually supplying work shoes to your entire region. Take your long-term planning very seriously, but adjust it over time as your medium-term situation unfolds.
Devra Gartenstein founded her first food business in 1987. In 2013 she transformed her most recent venture, a farmers market concession and catering company, into a worker-owned cooperative. She does one-on-one mentoring and consulting focused on entrepreneurship and practical business skills.