What Does It Mean to Be Strategic?

8 minute read

I’m sure you’ve heard this before:  You have to be strategic in your marketing.

And it sounds great. Solid advice, for sure.

But do you know what it means to be strategic?

The first step toward strategic marketing is thinking about what you’re trying to accomplish and focusing your actions on that goal.

But there’s more to being strategic than being deliberate. A whole lot more.

Let’s pull back the curtain on strategic thinking and see how it applies to you as a writer working to grow your business.

Step 1:  Where You’re Going and Why

Being strategic starts with having a cohesive vision — one based on your values and your objectives.

Strategic thinkers take a big-picture view of their business.

That means considering what you want your business to look like in a year, in two, in five… even in 10 years.

Think about the logistics of your business. How much time do you want to spend working every week? How much money do you want to earn? How much time off do you want to take every year? And when you’re working, how do you want to spend that time? Which kind of clients and which kinds of projects do you want to take on? Finally, what resources do you have to dedicate to your business?

Think about why you want to build your business in the way you do. And think about this both internally and externally. What will it mean to you? Your answer here might be that having your own flourishing business will give you time to travel and explore the world or allow you to be home more with your children or give your spouse a way to retire early.

But also consider the difference you want to make in the world. How will your services make a positive impact on your clients, and how do you feel about that?

A writer who doesn’t consider these questions goes after clients in whatever way they can think of and takes on whatever projects come their way. You can earn an income this way, but it might not work so well to build the business of your dreams.

A strategic approach looks more like this…

My goal is to earn an income as a writer creating content for business websites. I plan to spend 30 hours a week on my business with 20 hours of that dedicated to client work and the rest dedicated to marketing, building, learning, and administration.

My main asset at this point is time. I currently have three hours a day to focus on my business. When I’ve saved $20k from client work, I will leave my job and have a full six hours a day for my business activities.

Within the year, I want to build my business to $6k a month, working on projects for B2B clients in the construction industry. In five years, I want to be earning $10k a month, with $4k of that coming from passive income sources. By that time, I want to be able to take three full months of vacation each year.

That provides a much clearer objective and sense of what’s important to you than simply saying I want to earn money as a writer.

Step 2:  Who You Serve and How You Help Them

The next step in strategic thinking is getting very clear on who you serve and what you do for them.

It’s easy to think being available to write for anyone and capable of writing whatever they need is the best way to get clients. Doing anything else can feel like you’re setting yourself up to miss out on opportunities.

But your business will grow faster — and grow into something that serves you better — if you carefully define the types of clients you want to work for and the services you want to provide.

When you narrow your focus, you set yourself up for a lot of good things:

  • It’s easier to find your potential clients. You can figure out what events they attend, what publications they read, who they follow on social media, and what groups they join.
  • It’s easier to connect with prospects. By focusing on a specific client type, you can learn about their unique goals and challenges. When you meet them at an event or in a group, you’ll know what to talk about and what to listen for.
  • You can create better messaging. If you’re trying to talk to everybody, you won’t really be saying anything. If you know who you’re talking to and what about, you’ll be able to say something worth hearing.
  • You can demonstrate your value right away. When you know exactly what you offer and the value it delivers, you can speak more authoritatively, and that lets your prospects see clearly the benefit of hiring you.
  • You’ll be able to charge more. When you know a market’s needs and have a specialty service, you can set higher fees.

Take some time to describe your ideal client. Think about their demographic, their interests and values, and the type of company they represent.

And then think about one or two services you’d like to offer that ideal client. (This doesn’t mean you won’t do other things for them, but you’ll have something to lead with and become an expert at.) Get very specific about the service. What does a finished product look like, and how does it make a positive impact for your client.

Once you take this step, you’ll know who you’re trying to reach and how you’re going to help them.

And that leads naturally into the next step of strategic thinking.

Step 3:  How You’ll Reach Your Audience

Once you know where you’re going with your business and why, who you want to reach and how you’ll help them, the next step is to decide how you’ll connect with the right people.

There’s a lot that goes into this step.

Research Your Market – Knowing who you want to reach doesn’t mean you know your audience. You still have to spend some time figuring out their needs, how they talk about their goals and pain points, and where you can best connect with them. You also want to study your competition and what you can do better than them or what you can do that they’re not.

Choose Your Channels – There are so many ways and places you can connect with your audience. If you try to use them all, you’ll become overwhelmed. Instead choose two or three channels to focus on. For example, you might use LinkedIn, an email newsletter, and guest spots on podcasts. Or your mix could be blogging, direct mail, and networking. Whatever you choose, make sure you can consistently dedicate time to that channel. And make sure each channel makes sense for who you’re trying to reach.

Craft Your Message – Now that you know who you’re trying to reach, what they need, how they talk about it, and how and where you’ll connect with your market, the next step is to craft your message. Focus on your core offer and develop two or three key points that you’ll use through all your channels.

Set Up a Process – You’ll make more strategic use of each channel if you have a process for using it. Using LinkedIn as an example, you may follow 10 new people in your target audience each week with the goal of commenting on each of their posts for two weeks. After interacting in the comments, your next step would be to send a connection request. And then, when your connection request is accepted, you may send a thank you note with a question to start a conversation.

Develop Your Materials – Based on your channels and your message, you’ll need materials for each channel. Some of these you may be able to create once and continue using until they need to be updated. Others you may be able to develop a basic template for that you customize for each usage. And still others may require regular product. Continuing with our LinkedIn example, you’ll need to create your profile (with a plan to update it every three months). You’ll need to write out a basic connection template you can customize for each connection request you send, as well as a thank you note to send to new connections. And you’ll need to plan a schedule for creating posts.

Identify Obstacles – Part of big-picture planning is considering what might interfere with your plans and thinking about how you’ll handle it if any of the likely obstacles come up. For example, what if you consistently post to LinkedIn for a month, but don’t gain any traction in terms of new connections? You’ll want to know how you’ll handle that situation and adjust course.

Implement a Consistent Schedule – So much of marketing success depends on showing up consistently. That’s how your market gets to know you. That’s how you make connections. And eventually, that’s how you land clients. As part of your strategy, plan a schedule for implementing your marketing and then stick to it.

Step 4:  How You’ll Serve Your Clients

a woman sitting at a table in front of a window

Getting clients is only part of your strategy.

How you serve your clients should also be part of your bigger picture. After all, if you serve your clients well, that can lead to repeat business and referrals, which makes your business easier to run.

Things to consider for this part of your strategy…

An Onboarding Process – When you land a new client, how will you kick off a project and make them feel welcome and excited to work with you? This doesn’t need to be complicated, just deliberate. It might involve a Zoom meeting, followed by a handwritten thank you note you send through the mail. Or you could put together a “What to expect” packet you send as a pdf.

Communication – How do you want your clients to contact you when they have questions or requests? How soon can they expect a response? What hours are you available for meetings and phone calls? Giving this information to your clients up front can help smooth the communication process and set expectations, so no one is disappointed.

Deliverables – For your well-defined offers, what will you deliver (Word documents, a pdf, a Google docs link), and how will you present it? Will you have a meeting soon after sending in your drafts, so you can present what you’ve done? Or will you simply wait for your client to send feedback? Both are fine, but you should be deliberate about your choices.  

Follow up – After a project is complete, what does your follow-up plan look like? How soon after your work launches will you check in with your client to see how things are going? Clients appreciate a writer who checks in after a project is complete. It also gives you a chance, if the client is unhappy with anything, to find a way to set things right. And, if the client is thrilled with your work, this is the perfect time to ask for a testimonial or referral and to suggest a next project.

Step 5:  Review, Reflect, and Adjust

Being strategic in your business requires big-picture thinking. And part of big-picture thinking is knowing that things don’t always go as planned. Sometimes the unexpected happens. (Think 2020.)

If you want to continue to be strategic about building your business, you need to revisit your strategy regularly to see if it’s producing the outcomes you were hoping for.

If not, ask yourself why not. And then adjust your strategy to get you closer to your goals.

Look at industry trends, as well as broader news cycles, and consider how they might affect your strategy. What can you adjust now that will take advantage of trends or buffer you from their impact?

When you start being strategic, every action you take is part of a bigger plan. They’re well-thought-out and cohesive. When that’s the case, it’s much easier to build momentum… and much easier to build a business that makes you happy and proud, rather than one that just earns you an income.