Paul L. Wilson

An Entrepreneur’s 1-Page Strategy That’ll Actually Help Your Business Win

As an entrepreneur, you have a lot to do—A LOT!

At the same time, you have limited resources to get those things done.

Reid Hoffman, the founder of Linkedin, paints your entrepreneurial journey this way:

I’ve often said that starting a company is like jumping off a cliff and assembling a plane on the way down.

You don’t usually have the luxury of spending months, or even weeks, building a complex and detailed strategy. Spending that amount of time enhances the chances of your metaphorical plane crashing before it’s even built.

Yet, you also know you need a strategy to beat your competition.

So what do most entrepreneurs do — a quick Google search in hopes of finding an easy answer.

When they do, they’re flooded with results about complex plans, KPIs, mission and vision statements, objectives, etc.

And— we’re back to having solutions that will crash your plane because they’re too time-consuming, complicated, and confusing.

A business strategy should show you how to service the market better than your competitors.

It’s that simple. Yet, businesses rarely make it that simple.

Oversimplifying Your Strategy

On the flip side, you can make your strategy too simple.

I show the below slide to my Small Business Management students and ask them to identify which statements are strategies.

Strategy Quiz

It’s a trick question. None of these options are strategies. They’re objectives, goals, and strategic positions, but not strategies.

This semester, I had several students challenge me on #4 and #5. They wanted to better understand why I didn’t consider these strategies. I put the question to the class, and several students responded with the term “plan” in their answers.

You cannot have a strategy without a plan. However, as an entrepreneur, you walk a careful line. On one side, you can have a shallow plan that provides little value, and on the other side, you can go deep down the rabbit hole and have a 100-page strategic plan that spells out every possible detail.

Both can spell doom for your up-and-coming start-up.

So, where’s the common ground?

The Bridge Between Simplicity & Complexity

A while back, I stumbled across Jerry Silfwer (aka Doctor Spin) and his approach in getting started with an effective business strategy. It was modest but elegant and perfect for those of us building our planes in a free-fall environment.

As I read through his 1-Page Strategy, I realized that he provided that bridge for entrepreneurs to build a quick but valuable strategy AND, in the same breath, set the entrepreneur up to begin formulating a strategic plan.

Initially, I coined Jerry’s approach as the CAGPRA Strategy, which stands for Current Analysis, Guiding Principle, Relevant Actions. However, I realized that what Jerry has done was help center all the analyses, values, principles, and actions into a basic framework. So, I rebranded his approach to building a strategy as Centering.

I’ve added some thoughts of Jerry’s in the next section, mingled with my modifications. Hopefully, you’ll see the power of what he has done in helping you be strategic in building your plane.

Centering — Your 1-Page Strategy 

Most businesses have competitors. A strategy should tell you how to face these competitors in the marketplace and come out on top. Easy, right?

To put it as clearly as possible:

“A STRATEGY IS HOW YOU WIN AT SOMETHING. NOTHING MORE, NOTHING LESS. OTHERWISE, YOUR STRATEGY IS WORTHLESS.”
~JERRY SILFWER

How to win is what any strategy should tell you.

The why, where, when, how, and what are important questions to answer, sure, but you can save them for when it’s time to create an actual plan. Yes, lots of people tend to talk about strategies when they mean plans — and vice versa.

How to Write a 1-Page Strategy

My inspiration for writing no-fluff strategies comes from the classic Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt. This is how I set up strategies that fit on one page — using the classic battle between David and Goliath as an analogy:

1. Current Analysis

  • With his immense stature and brute strength, Goliath is the Philistine’s undisputed challenger; he does not fear a small Israelite boy.
  • David can’t beat Goliath using his size or raw strength, but he has an advantage in speed as well as accuracy from a distance.

2. Guiding Principle

  • David shouldn’t engage in close combat but rather use tools that will allow him to strike from a distance.

3. Relevant Actions

  • David shouldn’t use any heavy armor because that would slow him down.
  • David should use a slingshot, a weapon he is familiar with and can be used to strike from a distance.
  • David should leverage the element of surprise and don’t advertise his advantage beforehand.

If you write 1-2 clear sentences per bullet, your strategy should fit nicely on one page. Please note: This is not a strategic plan — this comes later based on your strategy.

 

As you can see, Jerry nicely provides a simple strategy (let’s see how often I can say “simple strategy” in this post 😆 ), which gives guidance and clarity. Centering sets you up for future small, but important, steps in fleshing out your plan.

But first, let’s apply this structure to a fictional business.

Let’s say you want to start a cookie business, but you’re a poor college student.

A Cookie Business Strategy

1. Current Analysis

  • You have minimal funds and can’t provide much value to the community located close to your university. Yet, you have direct and easy access to a large audience of students who prefer cheap treats.
  • Your competitors are well established in the surrounding community and have strong brand names. They are unaware of the many student activities happening on campus

2. Guiding Principle

  • You should make conserving your limited funds a priority.
  • Your full attention should be on the pulse of student activities.

3. Relevant Actions

  • You shouldn’t focus on expensive branding or community outreach.
  • You should concentrate on keeping your costs low in order to keep your prices down.
  • Identify and work closely with all activity groups and organizations on campus.

It’s that easy, and if it takes you a long time to do, you’re doing it wrong. Therefore, set aside your lunch hour or your Netflix binge time and center your efforts.

There’s more you can do (and need to do) as you build your competitive advantage. However, this will get you focused and hopefully help you avoid crashing your airplane. It should also help you create a business machine that can soar above your competition.