*As a business strategist with a track record of building technology businesses from start to exit, I’m frequently asked questions about these and a range of related topics. I’ve written these articles because I like to operate At Scale. So when I advise startups 1:1, I often turn that into a blog or LinkedIn post. I work to help answer your questions in the simplest ways possible. These articles are for educational purposes only. If you have any questions you’d like me to answer, please send them to me using my contact form.
Ready to discover the vital role of a business strategist in driving company growth and success? Learn about their responsibilities, essential skills, and impact on businesses across different industries.
I’ll be the first to say it – I love my job. It’s allowed me to work with a whole host of talented individuals and put me in the position to mentor hundreds of empowered women.
However, when I bring up the term business strategist in my everyday life, I’m often met with blank stares. I won’t name names, but I’ve even received these confused looks from a few business professionals.
I want to change that because the role of a business strategist is an incredibly valuable one. It takes strong business acumen, creative problem-solving, analytical expertise, and excellent communication skills to be able to craft and implement strategies that help companies not just survive but thrive.
There’s never a dull day on the job, and you get the sheer joy of knowing that your work is effectively shaping a business and that you’re evolving the industry.
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While all that talk about the impact and import of my work is true, it still doesn’t answer the fundamental question. What is a business strategist?
A business strategist is the person that helps you drive new opportunities in your business. It’s generally not just a title. It’s a job that might take up 10% of one person’s time or 100% of 10 people’s time, depending on the scale of the opportunity.
At its core, a business strategist is responsible for predicting the future and providing recommendations based on that information and insights. Business strategists must assess the competitive landscape, identify market trends and potential obstacles, develop growth vectors, and monitor the effectiveness of these strategies to ensure they are helping the business reach its goals.
Let’s say a company is planning to expand into a new market, consolidate several brands, or launch a new business model. Any of these might be a great opportunity – but the right person must be on board to evaluate what these decisions would mean for the top line, the bottom line, and customer satisfaction.
Strategists can wear several hats, from market researchers to data analysts to problem-solvers to advisors. This means there can be overlap between a business strategist and other important roles within a company, but in companies that are scaling, they are better fully separated from these jobs.
Project managers typically focus on the completion of a specific project, while business strategists plan for long-term opportunities that have an impact across many teams in the company. Although different on a surface level, these jobs have a similar problem-solving bent, as the strategist often creates plans that the project manager can bring to fruition.
The differences come with scale. While a project manager might oversee a single product launch or reorganization of a few departments, the business strategist looks for opportunities that can be key inflection points in a business, either to take corrective action, resolve defensive issues, or create growth through expansion.
While some of the roles and responsibilities may overlap, a business consultant is usually an external person who is contracted by a company to look at a specific problem or project and provide advice on how to design a solution. An effective business strategist needs to be part of the company because only by operating within a business can you deeply understand the organization, its potential, its positioning, and its challenges. This level of understanding is critical for developing opportunities that are relevant to the company’s capabilities and long-term goals.
In short, a business strategist combines operating roles to get a cross-company understanding of the business and its market and develops new opportunities based on the business’s overall needs.
A high understanding of what a business strategist is meant to accomplish is important, sure, but at the end of the day, it’s important to know what exactly the role entails.
Here’s what I’ve observed in the core duties and functions of a business strategist:
- Explore new opportunities in line with company objectives.
- Establish an understanding of market trends, customer behavior, and economic shifts.
- Analyse data to inform decisions.
- Guide the company to evaluate opportunities and drive decisions on the best ones to pursue.
- Support the implementation of a strategy, ensuring outcomes align with the company’s goals.
Business founders and CEOs have different approaches and tasks from the business strategists that they hire.
There are the people who are constantly coming up with new ideas – you’ve met these people. They are our explorers. They spend a lot of their time reading about new trends, talking with people from a variety of cross-sections of life, and then pattern-matching what they have read and heard against what’s happening in the business, which generates new ideas that the business could pursue. Successful founders are often explorers. Explorers can generate a lot of new opportunities for an organization to consider. The danger is if they jump the evaluating step and just decide to instruct their organization to implement the opportunity.
A good business strategist strikes a balance between exploration and evaluation, harnessing the strengths of both roles to drive effective decision-making. They create frameworks for assessing new opportunities and collect relevant information and data to use to evaluate the opportunities against one another. Or if they direct a team that completes this evaluation, they still have the analytical skills to dig into the results and ensure they were assessed appropriately.
Implementing an identified opportunity without taking the time to evaluate it often leads to a waste of resources. How many times have you seen that happen?
Now just like explorers, evaluators can also get carried away. They feel the need to continue to collect more data and analyze it – there’s never enough analysis. This ends up in analysis paralysis. A good business strategist has the skill set to know when to stop the evaluation step and make a decision.
Business founders and CEOs bring a different approach to the table compared to business strategists. Where founders often serve as explorers, generating new ideas and opportunities, strategists create the frameworks for evaluating those opportunities, gather data to support a decision on which ones to pursue and ensure the implementation of the opportunity aligns with the business’s original goals.
A business strategist is essential to any team hoping to drive growth. They’ll be the first to identify different opportunities for the company’s expansion, as well as the risks associated with pursuing those opportunities. Through their research and analysis, they keep a finger on the pulse of the industry and the market while also keeping an eye on competitors.
Strategists are key to helping companies differentiate themselves from their competitors, conducting workshops, and coming up with marketing and branding plans that ensure the business stands out.
With someone looking out for all the moving pieces within a company, they can be sure to clock risks before they become issues and highlight any sustainability problems. Any team that wants to run smoothly, effectively, and innovatively will want a strategist on their roster.
I’ve had the absolute pleasure of working with multiple companies from inception to full realization, and my role as a business strategist grew and shifted with the businesses. In this way, the business strategist’s lifecycle mirrors the business lifecycle.
Because it covers such a breadth of disciplines, becoming a business strategist can be complicated as there’s no single career path for becoming one.
I often see job descriptions for strategy roles that require experience with large management consulting firms. Getting a management consulting job is probably the straightest path to a corporate strategy role. However, it doesn’t often lead to the best business strategists!
A great business strategist is someone who has had a variety of different roles in a few different companies, ideally within the same broad industry. This allows them to understand business broadly while also having developed some expertise in one or two areas of the business. The breadth of experience helps them explore and identify – the depth of experience gives them the skills to analyze and decide.
A business strategist might also be a functional leader (for example, a head of product) or an individual contributor (perhaps a business systems analyst). However, for high-growth businesses, it’s often useful to have a full-time role dedicated to driving new opportunities since the growth opportunity is significant, and it is likely that your functional leaders have their hands full in leading and scaling their own functions. Failing to invest in a strategy role could limit the growth of your business.
Remember, the most important skill you can bring to the table as a strategist is the ability to understand and communicate the “why” of your proposals and plans. The “what” is often clear once you understand the push behind it.
The more complex the business world gets, the more vital a business strategist becomes. Every single company, from start-ups to empires, could benefit from someone with a birds-eye-view of their growth.
The role of a business strategist is crucial in driving company growth and success. While business founders and CEOs bring their unique approaches and ideas, a skilled business strategist serves as a balance between exploration and evaluation. By creating frameworks, gathering data, and assessing opportunities, they make informed decisions and prevent wastage of resources. Their impact on businesses is significant, from identifying new opportunities to guiding implementation and ensuring outcomes align with the company’s goals.
Becoming a business strategist requires a diverse range of experiences and expertise, ideally within the same industry, and their contribution is invaluable in high-growth businesses.
If you love problem-solving, market-watching, and bringing lots of moving pieces together, why not chase the dream of becoming a business strategist? I know from personal experience that it’s a rewarding, exciting, and satisfying endeavor.