It’s amazing how so many companies don’t have the time or money to do it right the first time, but they always seem to be able to do it over again. Strategic planning is the only way to mitigate risk at the outset, and be in a position to create opportunity once you’re up and running.

Consider the cost of a product launch. Even as a small business you’ll spend hundreds of thousands of dollars getting your product or service to market, and then delivering it and building your business on top of it. Strategic planning today is the closest you can get to an insurance policy on tomorrow; it pays to build it into resource planning.

While strategy isn’t easy, these five steps will get you started:

1. Set SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. “Increase profit” isn’t useful direction. Help yourself and your team understand and remember what you’re trying to accomplish. An example SMART goal might be: We will increase sales by 40% by November 2018 and maintain a 22% margin.

2. Do Research. Test as many of your assumptions as you can. Look at your competitors. Even if you’re seasoned in your industry, we all get in a rut. Market sizing, competitive review, industry trends – this is all information you need before you launch.

3. Formulate a strategy. If/then statements are helpful when building a marketing or business strategy. A strategic framework makes it even easier. Segmentation, Targeting and Positioning are helpful, customer personas are helpful, and Frameworks are also very helpful.

4. Build a Brand. One of the biggest marketing mistakes companies will often make is thinking of their brand as being a simple logo. In this day and age, customers are seeking a connection with values. Brands have to be dimensional and stand for something. They have to have a story. When done right, the branding process will present you with a prime opportunity to position your product as something with much more impact than a simple commodity.

5. Create a plan of execution and a method of measurement. Whether you’re planning a simple billboard campaign or a full on data-driven content marketing campaign, you need to have the clear plan of execution, as well as how you will know that it performed (or didn’t). By knowing at the outset what you expect from your strategy, you can optimize it to perform. And more easily direct others to do the same.

Building a culture of alignment around goals and strategy will give the best start to your start-up (or start-over). Sharing clear goals, research, strategy, branding and plans of execution will keep everyone on track and keep your organization learning and growing.

To download a free workbook designed to help guide your company through the SMART GOALS Strategic Planning Process, visit this page.