To create a strategy just write down what you’re already doing.

It’s that simple.

Documenting decisions puts them out into the open. This will:

  • Clarify rationale (we’re spending time/money on X because it will result in Y)
  • Provoke questions and feedback
  • Allow others to decide if they want to join you, and how they’ll contribute
  • Provide a framework to tell your story — backed up with specific examples and numbers
  • Help you make better decisions
  • Create an organizational record

Go NOW and jot down your decisions. Your real decisions. Look at how you spend your day, how you spend your money, and who you’ve hired and what you have them doing. THIS IS YOUR STRATEGY.

Then you can come back and read the rest of this post.

….

You came back? Have your list? Great.

Now you can make it better.

There are a ton of planning guides out there. But “strategy” is still overwhelming for many small organizations. My intent here is to de-mystify and get you started. It’s good to iterate. Begin with the decisions you’ve already made, and start the process of making better ones.

This should work for any kind of change campaign: communication, outreach, internal launch, advocacy, social media, content, etc. The list goes on. (If you look at Outcome Mapping, a monitoring and evaluation methodology, you’ll recognize some of the same principles.)

Oh. And I keep editing this in order to make it simpler and better. So check back a lot :)

Making decisions about how to allocate limited resources

We all have constraints: limited time, not enough people, modest budgets. There’s a lot we could do — more than ever — but we have to make choices. Your strategy documents your resource allocation choices (your “big bets”), and how these choices fit together and move you toward your goal.

If you want to get all metaphorical you can think of a strategy as a story that maps out a journey. It starts with where you are and lays out where you want to go and how you’ll get there. It details the decisions — the path — that you’ll take. Most importantly, it gets everyone on the same page. Others can use it to come along for the ride.

A strategy has two three four five main parts: goals, resources, research, decisions, and project management.

1. Goals: Create a compelling vision

What are you working toward? Your goals describe what success looks like. Have some fun. Create a compelling vision of the future; aim to inspire and engage. (If you’re writing a communication strategy, your goals are for this specific project, not for your entire organization.)

Optionally, you can also include a few other chunks of information:

  • Context — Where are you now? What sparked the need to make choices?
  • Constraints — Any complications, sensitivities, or pain points?
  • Stakeholders — Who can effect you in some way? Who has power/influence? Who’s interested? What do you want from them and what do they want from you? [NOTE: There are a number of stakeholder mapping approaches, some group according to power and interest, others according to type. I’ll post more.]

2. Resources: What do you have to work with?

What resources do you have? List budget, people, partners — and anything else you can use for your campaign.

3. Research: Listen, listen, listen

I see people skip this step a lot. Please don’t. It’s the most important part. You’re going to have to make a lot of decisions — selecting target audiences, identifying influencers, framing messages, figuring out which media to use, designing a poster, etc. — and you’ll need good information to guide your choices.

Listen — really, really, really well. Otherwise your decisions will suck.

Maybe people avoid this because they think research is conducting a survey. But research is way more than that. And it’s way more fun:

4. Decisions: Your big bets

  • Targets — People or groups that you must MOVE TO ACTION in order for you to achieve your goal. List them and explain what you need them to do, and your overall approach for getting them to do it. BTW: The general public is not a target audience. Never. And the media is usually a tactic: you use them to reach a your target audience.
  • Objectives — Create Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound (SMART) objectives for each target. Often objectives start with words like “increase”, “decrease”, or “maintain”.
  • Tactics — List what you’ve decided to do, who will do it, when, and how much it will cost. This should align with your resources. This is the implementation part of your strategy — where you get things done. You can use a Google Docs spreadsheet or project management software, such as Basecamp, to keep your team on track.
  • Indicators — Stuff you’ll track or measure to see if you’re on the right track (monitoring), or to show others that you’ve succeeded (evaluation). Your indicators must align with the “measurable” part of your objectives.

TIP — When selecting targets, objectives, or tactics, use a series of “if-then” statements to test your rationale. This is your “Theory of Change”. For example: “If I put out a press release then the media will pick up my story and then ___insert audience___ will read my story and then they will ___insert action___, which will lead to  ___insert result___.” Not the best example, but you get the idea. 

5. Become a Project Management Ninja

Seriously. You’ve decided. Great! Now you’ve got to get it all done: on to managing people (herding cats), time, money, vendors, last-minute requests, and fires.

My quick advice: Get Basecamp. Decide with your team how you’re going to use it — the social/practices side of things. And stick with it. If that’s too big guns you can start with a Google spreadsheet. Whatever you need to stay organized.

Tools & templates make it easier

Tools and templates provide a framework for people to get together, think, and document decisions. I’ll gather some and update this post.

Do you have a favorite strategy template? What does it look like?

For advocacy, I like Spitfire Strategies Smart Chart. (They also make good guides. Check out The Activation Point.)