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Business Strategy: A Complete Guide

If you’re not planning strategically as an organization yet but would like to, this guide is for you—it has all the information you need to get started.


Does your organization have a fully developed strategy that defines where the company is headed over the next three to five years? Or is it instead guided by a patchwork of annual departmental business strategies that are inexorably tied to the budget? If you’re in the latter camp, you’re not alone. Lots of organizations have annual business plans but no overall strategic plan; however, the lack of an overall strategy ultimately limits their progress.

If you’re part of a leadership team that doesn’t yet plan strategically but aspires to, this guide was created for you.

In the sections below you’ll find a trove of information and resources on strategic planning and execution. You’ll also see how using software like ClearPoint can help you turn your business plans into a well-formed strategic plan.

If you have any questions about business strategy after reading, please reach out to us here at ClearPoint. We’re dedicated to making strategy execution simple, straightforward, and—most importantly—successful.

Important Strategy Definitions: What is a business plan vs. a strategic plan?

If you want to up your strategy game, it’s important to understand what your organization is doing now vs. what you want to be doing—in other words, understanding the difference between having a business plan vs. a strategic plan.

If your work revolves around a set of short-term objectives, you may be using what we refer to as an annual business plan:

A business plan is a yearlong plan of action for a specific department or business unit, outlining a specific subset of goals and activities.

A strategic plan (sometimes called a corporate strategy) is different:

A strategic plan identifies a broad set of objectives an organization will strive to achieve over the course of the next three to five years. It should be accompanied by a slate of departmental business plans that will bring it to fruition.

Most organizations have an annual business plan but not every organization has a strategic plan. Ideally, a business plan should be formed around the corporate strategy, and the activities it includes would be in support of broader, high-level organizational goals.

Business plans are beneficial in that they allow you to link work activities to your budget; they also give all departments a purpose. However, annual plans, if used as a standalone strategy mechanism, tend to be more budget-focused than strategy-focused, so they often repeat the same activities year after year. Both annual plans and strategic plans are necessary in order to make meaningful forward progress; the key is to link them together.

Both annual plans and strategic plans are necessary in order to make meaningful forward progress; the key is to link them together. Click To Tweet

To get an even better overview of the levels of strategy and how they should be used together, read the following:

Business vs. Corporate Strategy: What’s The Difference?

Breaking Down The Three Levels Of Strategy In Any Business

Strategic Planning Best Practices

Creating a solid business strategy happens in three parts: 1) understanding where you stand strategically as an organization right now; 2) deciding where you want to be in the future; and 3) determining how you’ll get there. Briefly, here are a few best practices to help you through the processes of fleshing out your organizational objectives and developing a plan for every department to make them happen:

1) Make sure you get the right people involved. Aside from the strategic planner, you need a cross-functional team that involves members of the board along with representatives from your critical functions. This varied input will be necessary to accurately identify strengths/weaknesses and priority issues as well as possible courses of action.

2) Align every division and department around the strategic plan. Once you’ve come up with a set of objectives, make sure your entire organization is working together to achieve them. The activities contained in your annual business plans should support the larger business strategy either directly or indirectly.

3) Communicate your strategy frequently. Don’t stop talking about your strategy after the initial launch. Keep up the level of enthusiasm—and keep your strategy top of mind—by discussing progress with employees and other stakeholders continuously.

4) Put a reliable, solid tracking system in place. Lots of organizations are unexpectedly overwhelmed by strategy reporting. Done manually in Excel, it’s an incredibly time-consuming task that drags down everyone involved, often leading to errors, delays, and workarounds. You can avoid making the same mistake—and produce much more helpful reports, to boot!—by using ClearPoint. Keep reading to learn why it’s a necessity.

For more information on how to develop your strategy effectively, read:

4 Best Business Strategies For Company Growth

Strategic Planning: The Ultimate Guide To Preparing, Creating, & Deploying Your Strategy

What Is A Cascading Strategy? 3 Critical Steps To Take For Strategic Alignment

How To Effectively Communicate Your Strategic Plan To Employees

Tracking Progress On Your Business Strategy

Tracking progress is a fundamental part of strategy execution—if things aren’t headed in the right direction, you need to know so you can course-correct as soon as possible. Unfortunately, organizations tend to devote too little attention to tracking and reporting. Without a strong and reliable system in place, you’ll struggle to report consistently over time; you also won’t get the kind of performance reports that are most helpful for strategic decision-making.

Even annual business plans would be better managed with strategy reporting software like ClearPoint—it helps you stay focused on the big picture while still managing all the small operational pieces that bring your goals to fruition.

Here are just a few reasons why ClearPoint is more helpful for strategy reporting (at every level) than traditional reporting tools:

  • It gives you a place to house all your strategy-related information for easy viewing and historical reference.
  • It allows you to align objectives, measures (KPIs), and initiatives (projects) across divisions and departments, and create reports to showcase alignment.
  • It has the capability to produce a variety of report types, highlighting as little or as much information as each audience needs for decision-making.
  • It makes reporting virtually effortless thanks to automation features.

Using ClearPoint to manage your annual business plans is an excellent entry point for more ambitious strategic planning: You’ll gradually create goals that will stretch out over more than one year, begin to coordinate departmental activities, and start focusing internal meetings around performance reporting. And the best part: You’ll already have a top-notch system in place to support the organization’s more advanced planning efforts going forward.

To learn more about strategic tracking and reporting, read:

Business Strategy Software: ClearPoint

How Do You Write A Business Strategy Report?

Strategy Reporting: The Ultimate Guide

See how ClearPoint can help you set and reach long-term goals.

Are you part of a team that would like to start planning more strategically for your organization’s future? If so, we’d love to introduce you to ClearPoint! Book a demo today to see the software in action.

Business Strategy: A Complete Guide