How to Stay Focused and Get Results (Faster) with a One Page Strategic Plan

Do you ever feel like you have too many projects on your plate and you’re trying to do too many things at one time? Does a sense of overwhelm or a lack of focus end up actually lowering your productivity?

If so, you are definitely going to find today’s post helpful.

One of the things that I love about running the Bright Ideas umbrella of companies is the freedom that I have to take my business in virtually any direction that I like.

One of the things that I find most challenging about running the Bright Ideas umbrella of companies is that I have the freedom to take my business in virtually any direction that I like.

Can you see the problem?

With so many different opportunities to pursue at any give point, I often find it quite a challenge to choose which one to focus on at any one time. Whenever I find myself in this situation, which has been far more often that I’d like, I find that my stress goes up and my productivity goes down.

The Negative Side Effect of Having Too Many Choices

Too many choices can be paralyzing. (image source:

Too many choices can be paralyzing.
(image source:

According to research from several universities, humans ability to to weigh choices is remarkably advantageous; however, it can also come with some serious liabilities. When faced with too many choices, most of us find it extremely difficult to stay focused enough to complete important projects, handle routine tasks, or even take our prescriptions.

These findings appear in the April issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which is published by the American Psychological Association.

Kathleen D. Vohs, PhD, the study’s lead author and a member of the University of Minnesota’s marketing department, concluded that making choices apparently depletes a precious resource within the human mind. “Maintaining one’s focus while trying to solve problems or completing an unpleasant task was much harder for those who had made choices compared to those who had not,” says Vohs. “This pattern was found in the laboratory, classroom and shopping mall. Having to make the choice was the key. It did not matter if the researchers told them to make choices, or if it was a spontaneously made choice, or if making the choice had consequences or not.” (Read more at:

In other words, the more choices we have to make on the fly, the worse off we are.

Reducing the Number of Choices with a Strategic Plan

Even though I built (and sold) a multi-million dollar company that was ranked as one of Canada’s PROFIT 100 fastest growing companies for two years in a row, I’ve never really considered strategy to be my forte.

Profit 100

I’ve known how to grow businesses, but I haven’t always been the best with strategy.

Instead, I would attribute much of my success to my ability to compartmentalize my “fear of failure” in such a way as to allow me to take a “ready, fire, aim” approach to my business endeavors.

While my “ready, fire, aim” approach has served me reasonably well over the years, more recently, I have come to realize that taking some time to create a strategy, while seemingly unproductive in the moment (“what work am I getting done here?”), is actually highly beneficial in terms of its ability to help me stay focused and reduce my stress.

For large companies with a board of directors and a complete management team, developing a strategic plan is pretty common. However, for the vast majority of small business owners like myself (and most of my readers), I am willing to bet that taking a day per quarter to create a strategic plan for the next 90 days is rarely, if ever, attempted.

With that in mind, I thought it would be very helpful to many of my readers if I was to delve into how we spent the yesterday coming up with our Q4, 2013 strategic plan, and to provide an example of our simple strategic plan.

How to Develop a One-Page Strategic Plan

As your company grows and you add staff, ensuring that everyone remains on the same page will become increasingly challenging. Over time, different members of your team will have different ideas about who your company is, what products or services it provides, and how it provides them.

If you don’t yet have a team, you are unlikely to ever grow to the point where you need a team, unless you have a clear focus on what you are trying to accomplish.

Like most things in my life, if strategic planning is going to work for me, I must make a routine of it. To do that, the very first thing that my team and I did was to schedule a full day once per quarter in our calendars.

I realize that this isn’t the most profound of ideas; however, I’m willing to bet that if you don’t take the time to schedule your meetings in advance, they aren’t likely to actually happen.

Once we had our date(s) selected, the next thing we needed to figure out was a framework for creating a strategic plan that didn’t end up being just another useless piece of paper that was stuck on the wall.

To do this, we turned to the book, “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits” by Verne Harnish. In this book, there is an entire chapter devoted to mastering the one-page strategic plan.

According to the book, to remain competitive, any organization needs three things:

  • framework that identifies and supports your corporate strategy
  • a common language in which to express that strategy, and,
  • a well-developed habit of using this framework and language to continually evaluate your strategic progress.

Most importantly, to make this useful for us, the process had to be relatively simple. According to Verne, the strategic framework that works best for emerging companies is called the Planning Pyramid.


The beauty of this pyramid is that it graphically conveys to everyone on your team how all the various vision pieces – values, purpose, targets, goals, actions, schedules, and accountabilities – align, establishing a common strategic language that is easy to use and helping to eliminate confusion.

If you’d like to follow Verne’s exact process, you can download everything you need from

How We Made It Even Easier

As my team and I started to go through the plan, step by step, we realized there was a lot of repetition in the gazelle’s planning document. Perhaps it wasn’t really designed for a team of less than 5 people, or perhaps my brain just works differently than Verne’s?

Either way, after an hour or so, we realized that we wanted to simply the template to eliminate any duplication and possible areas of confusion.

The Bright Ideas One Page Strategic Plan

The one page template that we created was broken down into 3 main sections.

  1. Stuff That Shouldn’t Change (much)
  2. Annual Targets
  3. Quarterly Targets

Stuff That Shouldn’t Change (much)

We called the first section, “Stuff That Shouldn’t Change (much)”. Pretty spiffy, eh?

In this first section, we wrote down the following:

  • our core values and beliefs
  • our core competencies
  • our purpose
  • our sandbox
  • our brand promise

The reason that we called this section  “Stuff That Shouldn’t Change (much)” is because from quarter to quarter, as the name suggests, the items in this section aren’t likey to change.

Is this section important? You bet it is!

Core Values and Beliefs

First, whenever you are building a team, if you don’t have a very clear idea of who you are, then how on earth are you going to attract other like-minded people to your team? Do a little bit of reading up on the importance of corporate culture (think Zappos) and you’ll quickly realize that culture can and does play a massive role in the long-term success of your business.

The next four sections are as much for the internal team as they are for the world to see because attracting customers is just like attracting employees. If you don’t know exactly who you want to have around you, it’s pretty unlikely that you are ever going to get them, right?

Core Competencies

In our case, we wrote down content marketing and marketing automation so that everyone on our team clearly understands what we are all about. If you want to learn about outbound sales tactics, we aren’t your guys. However, if you want to discover how to attract interest to your company so that you can use marketing automation to nurture and convert those people into customers (with automated systems), then we are your guys, and if you ever want to work here, then you need to know what we are about.


What arena are you playing in? (image source:

What arena are you playing in?
(image source:

As the name suggests, the Sandbox is where you play. For us, we wrote, “to be the leading source of information and tools for marketing agencies with up to 25 employees”.

Notice that we limited our Sandbox to agencies with just 25 employees. Why? Because the tools that we have expertise in were designed for this size of company. With bigger companies, the best tools are different and we aren’t experts with them.


Brand Promise

In my opinion, the promise of your brand is really about setting expectations. If you can set and meet expectations, people will trust you and spread the word. In our case, we wrote, “we will help you to become lean and extremely profitable within 12 months”. While I’m sure we could tweak the statement to more clearly define “lean” or “extremely profitable”, the main point that we wanted to convey is the part about the “12 months”.

Transforming a business from average and barely profitable to lean and extremely profitable doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. However, if you have less than 25 employees, 12 months should be enough time to accomplish some pretty meaningful results.

Annual Targets

In this section, we listed only two things:

  1. Top priorities
  2. Financial goals

Top Priorities

The top priorities that we identified are as follows:

  • produce epic content
  • produce epic products
  • maximize conversions
  • maximize automation
  • maximize content promotion

While none of these items are a specific goal, we feel that if we make these our priorities that everything else will fall into place. As you’ll see when we get to the section on Quarterly Targets, we got a lot more specific with which activities we needed to focus on.

Financial Goals

Your financial goals are an important piece of your plan. (image source:

Your financial goals are an important piece of your plan.
(image source:

Here’s how we defined our goals:

  • deadline: 12 months out
  • revenue
  • net profit margin
  • profit
  • number of subscribers
  • cash in the bank

That was it for the annual targets. Keep it simple.

Quarterly Targets

Now that we have defined who we want to be when we grow up, it’s time to define the blocking and tackling that we are going to need to keep focused on over the next 90 days to make our game plan work.

For us, here’s what that looks like.

SWOT Analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats/Challenges

We chose to put this in the quarterly section because these things can change rather quickly from time to time and we wanted to ensure that we were continually reminded of what they were (or what we believed them to be).

Strengths: Track record and awards for past entrepreneurial achievements
Weaknesses: Constrained cash flow, focus (I have entrepreneurial ADD)
Opportunities: Sell more info products, software, memberships, SaaS subscriptions
Threats: Competition from other gurus/blogs

Top Priorities (same as annual)

The top priorities that we identified are as follows:

  • produce epic content
  • produce epic products
  • maximize conversions
  • maximize automation
  • maximize content promotion


To understand Rocks, think of filling up a mason jar with rocks, pebbles, sand, and water. If you want to really fill up the jar, you start with the biggest items first (rocks) and then add pebbles, sand, and finally water.

Obviously, if you didn’t put the rocks in first, you’d never get them all in, and, because they are the most important, you need to start with them.

For us, our rocks are:

  • publish my book
  • launch our SaaS app for marketing agencies (beta)
  • publish and promote 22 blog posts and 10 podcast episodes
  • deliver an epic talk to the San Diego chapter of the American Marketing Association on Nov 7th (hope to see you there)
  • launch the new/improved Bright Ideas website (coming soon!)

For each of the rocks above, we also defined who was responsible for each one so that we could all be held accountable. We also made a spreadsheet listing out all the topics we wanted to blog about and then scheduled each one of them in the editorial calendar. The goal is to have all content created and ready to go at least 30 days before it’s published.

Financial Goals

Here’s how we defined our goals for the quarter (same metrics, different dollar amounts from annual):

  • deadline: 12 months out
  • revenue
  • net profit margin
  • profit
  • number of subscribers
  • cash in the bank

Key Performance Indicators

While these could have been also included in the annual section, we decided that if we achieved them each quarter, then we’d be on track for them annually as well.

Given that Bright Ideas (not including our agency, which is a separate entity with its own plan) is an information products and software company, it seemed logical that our #1 Key Performance Indicator (KPI) would be revenue per subscriber. The fact that this is extremely easy to calculate and track made the selecting this metric as our #1 KPI even easier.

For tracking purposes, we identified four levels:

  1. current level (shown in red)
  2. minimum acceptable improvement (shown in yell0w)
  3. target performance level (shown in green)
  4. exceptional performance level (shown in bright green)

As I’ve described above, each of these numbers are displayed on our scoreboard in the denoted color.

Rev It Up! (image source:

Rev It Up!
(image source:


I like to play games, and I like to win. With this in mind, we decided to come up with a theme for the quarter, name it, decide what the measure number is, and then define a reward for winning.

In our case, here’s what that looks like:

  • Name: Rev it up!
  • Measure Number: Revenue per Subscriber
  • Rewards: I get to hire another full-time programmer

Establishing a Meeting Rhythm

Now that we have our Q4 strategic plan complete, we needed a way to ensure that we stay on plan. To do that, we meet first thing every Monday morning and review our progress. During this meeting, each member of the team talks about what they have accomplished as well as what they are struggling with. For the struggles, we attempt to come up with a solution. For the tasks completed, we express sincere appreciation.

How to Create Accountability

When you are a company of one (solo-preneur), keeping yourself accountable can be quite a challenge. To help with that, I would suggest you find someone to partner up with, and then each of you becomes the accountability partner for the other.

You don’t need to work together, however, it would be a good idea that you are faced with similar challenges. Ideally, if you run a small agency, you want to select an accountability partner who runs a similarly sized agency. That way, you will both understand each others’ challenges, as well as be in a position to help each other with shortcuts to solutions.

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