Noah is currently the COO at Palo Alto Software, makers of the online business plan app LivePlan.
Business Plan Vs Strategic Plan Vs Operational Plan—Differences Explained
5 min. read
Updated March 8, 2023
Many business owners know and understand the value of a business plan. The business plan is a key component of the startup and fundraising process and serves as a foundation for your organization. However, it only tells part of the story. To get the whole picture and have a framework on which to build your business you also need a strategic plan and an operational plan.
On this page
- What is a business plan?
- What is a strategic plan?
- What is an operational plan?
- What is the difference between a strategic plan and a business plan?
- What is the difference between strategic planning and operational planning?
- How to use your business plan for strategic development and operations
- Use your business plan to manage your business
What is a business plan?
In its simplest format, a business plan describes the “who” and the “what” of your business. It lays out who is running the business and what the business does. It describes the products and services that your business sells and who the customers are.
What is a strategic plan?
A strategic plan looks beyond the basics of a business plan to explain the “how”. It explains the long-term goals of the business and how it expects to achieve those goals over the long term. A strategic plan explores future products and services that your business might offer and target markets that you might expand into. The plan explains your strategy for long-term growth and expansion.
What is an operational plan?
An operation plan zooms into the details of your business to explain how you are going to achieve your short-term goals. It is the “when” and “where” of your planning process. The operational plan covers the details of marketing campaigns, short-term product development, and more immediate goals and projects that will happen within the next year.
What is the difference between a strategic plan and a business plan?
First, let’s look at the difference between a business and a strategic plan. For review:
A business plan covers the “who” and “what” of the business. The strategic plan gives us long-term goals and explains “how” the business will get there, providing a long-term view.
In broader terms, the business plan tells us who by showing us:
- Who is running the business? What makes them qualified? What do they bring to the table that adds value?
- Who is the competition? What do they offer and what makes you different?
- Who is your customer? How big is the market? Where are they? What do they want and how will you give it to them? Also, how will you connect with your market?
The business plan answers the “what” by telling us:
- What the business provides and how it’s provided.
- Product, services, and operations are all explained so that readers understand how customer needs are met.
The strategic plan, on the other hand, outlines long term goals and the “how”, focusing on the following:
- Where will the business be in 3, 5, or even 10 years?
- How will you expand to offer different products and services over time?
- Will your market and industry change over time and how will your business react to those changes?
- How will you grow your market and reach new customers?
- What needs to happen so you can achieve your goals? What resources do you need to get there?
- How will you measure success? What metrics matter and how will you track them?
So, your business plan explains what you are doing right now. Your strategic plan explains long-term aspirations and how you plan to transition your business from where it is today to where you want it to be in the future. The strategic plan helps you look more deeply into the future and explains the key moves you have to make to achieve your vision.
What is the difference between strategic planning and operational planning?
While strategic planning looks at the long term and explains your broad strategies for growth, an operational plan looks at the short term. It explains the details of what your business is going to do and when it’s going to do it over the next twelve months or so. An operational plan covers details like:
- What activities need to happen to achieve your business goals?
- When will each activity take place, who will do it, and when do you need to reach specific milestones?
- How will your business operate? What suppliers will you work with? When do you need to have them in place?
- What marketing campaigns will you run and what will they cost?
- What investments will you make in your products and services this year?
The bottom line, your operational plan is the short-term action plan for your business. It’s the tasks, milestones, and steps needed to drive your business forward. Typically an operational plan provides details for a 1-year period, while a strategic plan looks at a 3-5 year timeline, and sometimes even longer. The operational plan is essentially the roadmap for how you will execute your strategic plan.
How to use your business plan for strategic development and operations
A great business plan can encompass both the basic plans for the business, the long-term strategic plan, and the near-term operational plan. Using a lean planning method, you can tackle all three phases of planning and make the process easy to review and revise as your business grows, changes, and adapts.
Start with a simple plan
The lean planning methodology starts with a simple, 30-minute business plan that outlines the fundamentals of your business: who you are, what you are doing, and who your customers are. It’s a great way to provide a brief overview of your business.
Expand your plan
From there, you can expand your plan to include your longer-term strategy. Adding greater detail to elements of the plan to explain long-term goals, milestones, and how your products and services will change and expand over time to meet changing market conditions.
Finally, your lean plan will cover financial forecasts that include monthly details about the short-term revenue and expenses, as well as longer-term annual summaries of your financial goals, including profitability and potential future loans and investments.
Use your business plan to manage your business
Regardless of the type of plan, you are working on, you need a team of players on hand to help you plan, develop, and execute both the operational and strategic plans. Remember, your business needs both to give it a clear foundation and a sense of direction. As well as to assist you with identifying the detailed work that has to happen to help you reach your long-term goals.
Learn how LivePlan can help you develop a business plan that defines your business, outlines strategic steps, and tracks ongoing operations. You can easily share it with your team and all of the right stakeholders, explore scenarios and update your plan based on real-world results. Everything you need to turn your business plan into a tool for growth.