One of the greatest business challenges many funeral home owners and managers face is finding the right balance between managing day-to-day operations and planning for future success. It may sometimes feel like you spend most of your time on things that need your attention immediately and far too little time considering how to position your business for long-term success. In this complete guide, discover the benefits of strategic planning for your firm and how you can create your own strategic planning cycle that will help guide your funeral home business' future success.
Benefits of Strategic Planning for Funeral Homes
In funeral service, schedules can change minute-by-minute, and the families you serve expect you to be 100% focused in their time of need. Though it can prove challenging, the benefits of a consistent approach to strategic planning are numerous:
1. The chance to investigate and explore options.
You can proactively investigate your business environment, challenges and opportunities in a less time-sensitive setting. An absence of planning will force you to make rushed, less informed decisions when confronted with both opportunities and threats.
2. Improved control over the future of your funeral business.
You design and plan your future as opposed to simply letting it happen.
3. A clear purpose and direction.
Your team members are more unified and understand what is expected of them and how they can contribute.
4. Better business decisions.
A clear vision for the future can lead you toward the actions that can help you reach your goals. Perhaps more importantly, a clear vision can help steer you away from those actions that will not help you achieve those goals.
5. Well-allocated resources.
Strategic management of your human and financial resources is key to your success. A solid plan for your future allows you to put your resources to work most effectively to help you achieve your goals.
Strategic Planning Tips for Funeral Homes
It’s relatively easy to see the value of strategic planning, but it can be difficult to start and maintain a discipline of planning. Here are just a few tips to help you get started:
Make time for it.
Set aside the time and protect it. Unexpected events are the hallmark of funeral service, but it’s vital that you plan for uninterrupted participation in your sessions. Consider your backup options and conduct the session at a time that is unlikely to be interrupted.
Invite the right people.
Include the leaders of your organization and make sure participants represent a range of perspectives and responsibilities in your organization. It doesn’t have to be a large group, but the group’s perspective should be broad and well-informed in terms of all aspects of your business.
There are many tools and resources you can use to design your session and create an effective plan. Make sure you have key business information readily available. Create an agenda and follow it.
Don’t “skip” the hard questions.
It’s important that you be honest with yourself and confront the hard questions about your business. For instance, many funeral home owners say it’s their service to families that helps them stand apart from competitors. Attempt to answer questions like, “How does our service set us apart?” “What do we do that is different than our competitors?” “How would our clients distinguish between the service that we provide and that of our competitor?” If you can’t answer those questions, it’s highly unlikely your clients will be able to.
Document and track.
The insights, decisions and initiatives that result from your planning should be documented and shared with the planning group and your team. This also creates the plan your team will use to move forward in the execution and tracking phase of your planning cycle.
How to Create A Strategic Planning Cycle for Your Funeral Home
Creating an effective strategic planning cycle for your firm takes time and attention, but the process is key for your firm’s long-term success. At Homesteaders, we employ a strategic planning cycle with four basic elements: an environmental scan, strategic framework development and review, business planning and initiative development and initiative execution. As you can see from the image below, our planning process is truly a cycle of activities that builds on the previous cycle and lays the groundwork for future work.
The environmental scan phase of your strategic planning can include a variety of investigative activities. The purpose of this phase is to help you and your team better know and understand the world in which you do business, both internal and external. As a strategic planning facilitator, I prefer gathering a mix of qualitative and quantitative information to inform the planning cycle.
Funeral home owners will likely be interested in quantitative data such as how many deaths occur in your primary and secondary service areas and any information you can gather about how those numbers are trending up, trending down or staying stable. You may also consider how many of those deaths are going to your competitors compared to how many are being served by your funeral home, the average income in your service area and the average costs related to funeral service.
The qualitative data you might gather would include feedback from your family service surveys and any other information you might have about the end-of-life and death care preferences in your community. It may also be helpful to understand how actively your competitors are marketing, any new services they are offering and how the community is responding to those activities.
Another element of your environmental scan might be a SWOT analysis to help you identify your firm’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This type of analysis can help set the stage for building your strategic framework.
Strategic Framework Development and/or Review
Key to your ability to build and execute a business strategy is identifying exactly where your focus is. As a funeral home, you might decide to be the best full-service funeral home in your community, or you could choose to focus on more affordable or discounted funeral service options. You might choose to be the best provider of services to newcomers to your community or offer services specific to key ethnic groups. These decisions should be guided by the findings of your environmental scan and SWOT analysis.
A couple of things to remember when developing your strategic framework:
- Draft your framework carefully and test it with a variety of what-ifs. This is the element of your planning which should stay relatively stable over time. Shifts in your environmental situation might cause you to tweak or adapt your framework, but wholesale changes should only happen in response to significant adjustments in your situation or competitive environment.
- Your framework is designed to help you decide what to do and what NOT to do. If an initiative or activity doesn’t help you achieve your purpose, you should probably avoid devoting resources to it, no matter how compelling the opportunity might seem.
Business Planning and Initiative Development
This phase of your planning cycle will involve identifying and prioritizing the initiatives that will help achieve your goals for your business. It’s very important that you focus on assigning adequate resources and attention to the business planning and prioritizing your efforts. Attempting to do too many initiatives is nearly as detrimental to your business as doing nothing because the result is often the same—nothing gets done!
As noted above, the execution phase needs to be properly prioritized to successfully meet your goals. Once you complete a project, you can move on to the next one. Key to this phase is designing a process that identifies timelines and resource allocation (including budget) as well as responsible parties. It’s also important to set up a process for tracking the outcome of your initiatives in order to better understand what works for your firm and what you might do differently the next time.
The elements of strategic planning largely remain the same regardless of how detailed or simple the planning process you identify for your business. The best approach is to begin with a process that is doable for your organization. You can certainly add elements to your process as time goes by and you get more comfortable with accomplishing the planning cycle.
The most important step? Getting started!
Ready to evaluate your firm's strategic plan? Contact your Homesteaders account executive for assistance.