Don’t Fix Your Economic Development Website Without A Strategic Plan

strategic plan

Why Economic Developers Need At Least This 1-Page Strategic Plan

If you’ve listened to any of my EDAC, OMAFRA, or OEMC, webinars and training sessions, you’ll know I advocate:

You can’t communicate who you are, if you don’t know who you are.

Every county, municipality and economic development department needs a strategic plan that tells you who you are, what’s different about your community and who would do well there. Obviously this requires research into what kind of companies are already succeeding – and why particularly your location in your region helps them succeed. You have to look at growth projection charts, employment and a lot of other census data non-mathematically minded people find incredibly boring.
But getting approval to do a Strategic Plan usually requires an RFP process, which means you have to wait for the next fiscal year to get started on the real work of what you are wanting to do.

No worries: here is what you can do in the meantime while you’re waiting to get a strategic plan done

This is commonly called the Where, Now, How process, and I frequently use it in group facilitation sessions I run for teams of staff. It never ceases to amaze me that three simple questions can be used in so many different instances to get the results such vastly different projects require. But I love this three-simple-word activity because it’s so consistently effective at helping you acknowledge strengths and articulate gaps.

  • Where: You have to start here. Define the vision that you and your team have for where you want to end up. You could answer this question just for your website of course too. But I’m asking you to back up a step and make sure you have it answered for your community. (You need to know that your elected officials and municipal staff have a similar vision for what you want to achieve – even if you’re just doing a strategic plan for economic development, you may not need to involve them in the whole activity, but you want their opinion during editing rounds). Answering a “Where” helps you understand how to anchor your activities – either it fits with this “Where” vision or it’s a back burner idea.
  • Now: This is where you create the benchmark of where you are now. Let’s say you’ve identified that you want to create a cluster of green energy businesses in your community over the next 5 years (make the goal SMART, for sure). Here is where you look at where you are now and index the current status.
  • How: This is the real meat of the activity. The How step creates your gap analysis of how do you get from where you want to go from where you are now. Once you have fleshed out how to do it you can move on to creating projects and timelines to meet your goals, with everyone on the same page.

Give yourself hours to do this activity. Remember that people participating will not communicate or think in the same way, so expect that you will need to present the activity in different ways  (different instructions, different thinking and learning activities) to draw out all the learning styles in the room and get the most true responses.
At the end, if you at least have this one page understanding of what gaps to prioritize you can get to work without waiting for the new fiscal year to start. Plus, you’ll be more persuasive in showing why a formal strategic plan will really help your region be more competitive and more competent in keeping the great businesses who already exist in your community.
Then, use the information you’ve gathered from your Where, Now, How to start planning your website content and your new website design. You’ll know what content you need to create to reach the goals you’ve defined and you can envision a design that works bets for your target users.