How to Craft Your 2021 Business Strategy—Despite the Uncertain Year Ahead

Here's how to build a strategy for your business in the face of the giant question mark that is 2021.


Building a business strategy is always a challenge—but it’s especially challenging in 2021, when the pandemic has the year looking like one big question mark.

Obviously, there’s hope that 2021 will be less disruptive than 2020—but there’s also the potential for additional lockdowns, travel restrictions, and other business-slowing events looming on the horizon. So, as a business owner, how do you plan for your small business’ future when you don’t know what that future is going to hold?

Let’s take a look at five tips to help you build a solid 2021 business strategy—and make sure it can carry you through the uncertainty of the upcoming year.

Tip #1: Acknowledge How Your Business, Industry, and the World Have Changed

Strategy planning in 2021 is going to be completely different from years past. In order to craft a successful and realistic strategy for your business, you need to acknowledge the ways your company, your industry, and the world at large have changed—and work those changes into your business plan.

For example, how has customer demand for your product or services changed during the pandemic? How have COVID-related restrictions changed the ways in which you’re able to serve your customers? How has your community changed?

As you’re crafting your strategy, it’s important to acknowledge all the changes your organization, your industry, and your customers have experienced as a result of the pandemic—and how you can adapt to those changes to set yourself up for success in 2021.

But it’s not enough to acknowledge the changes that have already happened. You also need to acknowledge the change that could be ahead in the upcoming year.

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That’s where scenario planning comes in. It’s a strategic structure that forces you to examine all the things that could happen within your organization by:

  • Examining current trends
  • Exploring assumptions you have about your company, competitors, and industry as a whole
  • Identifying unknowns that could influence business outcomes

From there, you forecast a number of likely scenarios that could play out in your business in 2021—and develop different strategies to deal with each one.

There’s no denying that 2020 changed the world of small business as we know it—and that more changes are likely ahead. But by acknowledging the changes that you’ve already experienced—and anticipating and planning for potential new challenges—you can ensure that your business is as prepared as possible for whatever 2021 throws your way.

Tip #2: Focus on What’s Within Your Control

There’s a lot that’s out of business owners’ control right now. You can’t control the spread of COVID. You can’t control whether any new restrictions are rolled out that have a negative impact on your business. You can’t control when it will be safe for things to go back to some semblance of normal.

But focusing on all the things you can’t control isn’t helpful or useful for your small business. Instead, shift your focus to what you can control.

Look at the areas of your business where you still have power and influence to help you make decisions that will set your business up for a more successful 2021 and beyond. For example, if you own a restaurant, you can’t control whether in-person dining is restricted in your city. But you can decide which operational areas to focus on—and make the decision to start marketing delivery and takeout options in order to better serve your customers and drive sales.

Having so much up in the air is tough for small business owners. But by shifting your focus to the things you can control, you can build a strategy that drives results regardless of any challenges that may come your way—and set yourself up for the best results possible in 2021.



Tip #3: Embrace All Things Digital

Most people are excited to safely connect face-to-face again. But if and when we get the green light to start interacting more freely, there’s no guarantee that your customers will be comfortable connecting in person immediately. According to this McKinsey study, 75% of consumers will still continue (and prefer) to use digital communications post-pandemic.

So, if you want your business to succeed in 2021, having a solid digital strategy is non-negotiable.

Regardless of whether it becomes easier to conduct business in person this year, the shift to digital is here to stay. If you want to connect with customers and drive revenue and growth in the upcoming year, you need to have a solid strategy for how you’re going to make that connection in the digital space.

For example, if you own a brick-and-mortar store, you need to have a clear e-commerce strategy. If you typically meet with clients in person, you need to focus on hosting more engaging virtual meetings. However you conducted business in person pre-pandemic, you need to account for that in your digital strategy.

If you’ve kept your business moving forward through 2020, chances are, you’ve already crafted a solid digital strategy. But now that it’s a new year, it’s important to review what’s working, what’s not, and how you can continue to adapt to best serve your customers online.

Tip #4: Have a Clear Strategy for How to Support Your Team

It’s no surprise that 2020 was tough on your team. Employees are likely feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and burned-out from all the change and uncertainty of COVID-19. So while it’s important to strategize how to best support your customers in 2021, it’s just as important to have a clear strategy on how to best support your team.

When you’re crafting your 2021 business strategy, make sure that you acknowledge any potential issues your employees may be struggling with—and then develop a plan for how you’re going to support them in dealing with those issues.

For example, what’s your policy on how to support an employee if they or a loved one are diagnosed with COVID-19? Or, if your team has transitioned to remote work, how can you ensure that they’re maintaining a healthy work-life balance—and not glued to their email 24-7?

Think of the kind of structures you can put into place to help your employees better navigate the stress of the ongoing pandemic, such as rolling out a wellness program or offering paid sick leave.

Employees are the backbone of businesses—and if you want yours to stand strong in 2021, you need a strategy in place to support them as they support you.

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Tip #5: Have a Plan B (and C…and Maybe Even D)

As mentioned, in many ways, 2021 is one big question mark. So while you’re definitely going to want a strong strategy in place for the upcoming year (let’s call it plan A), you’re also going to want to prepare a plan B (or C…or even D) for if and when it’s necessary to pivot.

Let’s say you’re planning to launch a new suite of services for spring 2021. Craft a strategy for a May launch—but also have a backup in place in case COVID-19 (or some other force out of your control) makes a May launch unideal and you have to push things back to the fall (plan B) or into 2022 (plan C).

Or maybe you’re hoping to expand into a new market by opening a new brick-and-mortar location of your retail store in a new city by the end of the year (plan A). Start by crafting a strategy to expand your market reach by EOY. Just don’t forget to brainstorm other ways to drive revenue in case that expansion doesn’t happen (plan B) or figure out how to gain exposure in your new market in the event that you have to push the opening back (plan C).

Ideally, your plan A strategy will work out. But with so much in the air, having a plan B, C and even D ready to go—and being willing to pivot as necessary—will ensure that you’re prepared to succeed no matter how the year pans out.

Make the Best of the Year Ahead

Building a corporate strategy isn’t easy when there are so many unknowns. But with some hard work, proper planning, and a willingness to be open, flexible, and adaptable, you can craft the plan your business needs to succeed.

It’s time to get out there, craft your strategy, and make sure your company is ready for whatever is next in 2021!



about the author

Freelance Contributor Deanna deBara is an entrepreneur, speaker, and freelance writer who specializes in business and productivity topics. When she's not busy writing, she enjoys exploring the Pacific Northwest with her husband and dog. See more of her work and learn more about her services at deannadebara.com.