Plan the Work. Work the Plan. The Plan Will Work

Author: Justin Gilbert, senior director, channel marketing, Zix AppRiver

Strategic planning is helpful for all businesses, at all stages.  Unfortunately, many companies do not see the value in creating a strategic five-year plan before it is too late for them to course correct.  More than 80% of new companies will fail before they reach their fifth year. That’s a daunting figure, and when faced with the numbers, it takes a certain type of person to risk it all in the pursuit of entrepreneurial success. 

Creating a five-year plan can keep a busy entrepreneur on track in the startup years when everything seems like it’s the most important thing – but if everything is important, nothing is important.  Your plan separates the emergent from the important so that you can prioritize the things that most require your attention and still have some time left over to enjoy your life.

If you’ve already passed your five-year “business anniversary,” congratulations!  You’re in an elite club now, and if you’ve never created a plan for your business, now would be a great time to create your strategic plan for the next five years as new challenges will present daily as your MSP grows.

Why Five Years?

Most strategic planning systems including Traction (The Entrepreneurs Operating System/EOS), StratOp (Patterson Center), and Gazelles (Verne Harnish, One Page Plan) start with a large vision for your business.  They all include creating a large multi-year goal for your business.  

Your vision can be monetary gain, but ultimately a vision shows your team where the company is heading. Employees often help craft this vision. Allowing them to do so helps you grow your managed services business with the buy-in of the people you will rely on to help you achieve success.  Is “making the CEO another 500K for his retirement fund” a vision that will resonate with employees or a plan they will be inspired to help you achieve?  Probably not.  

A five-year plan should show your employees how working with you will help them achieve their own versions of success. Sharing your plan will help you attract the employees and clients that will be the best fits for your business – they share your vision!

Five-year plans provide the framework for your success, but need to be broken down into smaller, more manageable annual targets and revisited regularly to ensure they are realistic and achievable based on changing market conditions.  For example, many companies had to adapt their plans when Covid-19 forced business closures.  It wasn’t a condition that companies anticipated, so it wasn’t considered in the crafting of their strategic plans.    

The market can change quickly; your five-year plan should include SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) contingency planning, scenarios like: 

  • What happens if a large competitor comes in to the market offering lower rates?  
  • Are you at risk for weather-related disaster that limits your ability to support your customers or creates a need for each of your customers to require your services at the same time?  
  • Are you going to make a large investment in marketing?  Invest in a strategic partnership with a new vendor?  

In the same way that you help your clients create disaster recovery plans for their businesses, strategic planning can help you create your own “just in case” plans for continued success in any condition.

Annual Goals

Once you’ve created your five-year strategic plan, that plan needs to be broken down into annual benchmarks that clearly demonstrate whether you are on track to meet your five-year goal.  These goals are both financial and operational.  If your plan includes adding 1MM in ARR over five years, your one-year goals should each get you closer to that plan. Will you add 200K in ARR every year, or will you alternate between growth years and process years to create a more stable business?  Are you accounting for client attrition in your planning?  Annual plans focus on the business, not on the individuals contributing to the success of the plan.

Quarterly “Rocks”

Your annual plan is then broken out into specific quarterly achievements that each individual contributor is responsible for meeting.  These may be financial targets, or the completion of important projects.  For example, a quarterly rock for your marketing team may be bringing in a specific number of leads, launching a new website or finding a marketing partner.  Your operations team may need to add a new technical asset or evaluate and implement a new software solution.  These items are prioritized by importance.

Monthly, Weekly, and Daily Meeting Cadences

Now that you have your five-year plan, your annual goals, and your quarterly task list, create moments of accountability for yourself and your team.  Regular meetings keep everyone moving forward in the same direction and allow leadership to quickly identify when things are going “off the rails.”

You can create a strategic plan with no outside help, or there are many people in the MSP community who can help you create and implement your plan.  If you’ve put off planning for years, you may be well served by hiring a professional implementation specialist who is certified in the strategic planning methodology that most appeals to you and your team.  

There are also several resources available to Zix | AppRiver partners, like business reviews, marketing consultations, Microsoft consultations and an ongoing Masterclass series focused on aspects to help grow your business.


This guest blog is courtesy of Zix|AppRiver, and authored by Justin Gilbert, senior director, channel marketing. Read more Zix|AppRiver guest blogs here. Regularly contributed guest blogs are part of ChannelE2E’s sponsorship program.

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