The Difference Between Strategy and Tactics

The Difference Between Strategy and Tactics

One of the most apparent challenges that I see from my coaching seat is that for many shops, there is some confusion between Strategy and Tactics.  The meaning of these words to some people are basically interchangeable.

I can hear you now, “C’mon Marshall, you know it’s all about planning ahead.  We do that.”


But when you start picking at the methodology for planning and the ability to think beyond the next two weeks, that’s when the emperor has no clothes.

For example, if you are reading this article what’s slated for your shop for October, November, and December?

Got anything booked?

Are you in the middle of your Q1, 2019 planning now?  When are you going to get around to thinking about next year?

Sometime after the Christmas crunch probably.  Oh yeah, we need January sales.  We’re usually slow.


The purpose of this article to so describe the difference between Strategy and Tactics, and then list a few ways you can invest in both for your shop.  So for starters, let’s get some definitions out of the way.


The Difference Between Strategy and Tactics


It’s fairly easy to remember once someone has defined the difference between strategy and tactics.  It can be summed up in a famous phrase “strategic is doing the right things, tactical is doing things right.”

Let’s think about the two.



A strategy is your overarching outlook on things.  It’s the future.  Or, at least the future you want.

The growth and positive business success that you desire deep down in your gut won’t just happen by some random chance.  There is a lot of planning, scheming, failure, and sweat equity along the way.

A sound strategy doesn’t rely on luck.

When you close your eyes and think about your vision for your shop that mental picture in your mind’s eye should match up with the business plan that you’ve written.  Your strategy involves planning your company’s next big move.

Are you thinking about next year yet?  What about five years from now?  Maybe ten?  Just where do you see your circus going?

Your strategy is less about taking that customer’s order, and more about who that customer is and where they came from.  And…where they will be in the future.

Strategic intelligence happens when you think about emerging trends and patterns with your customer base.  It’s recognizing opportunities and developing outreach plans to capture that business.

It’s not about next week, it’s next year that should concern you.

Don’t ask where is the road going.  Ask, “Are we on the right road, to begin with?”




Tactics are the present.  It’s how we get things accomplished that aligns with the companies overall stated strategy.  It’s the here and now.

Workflow processes and operational decisions are tactics.  Who you hire and what they are working on every day are tactical decisions that support your strategy.

Think of your tactics as action steps that are required to accomplish your goal.

If one tactic fails, that doesn’t mean the strategy is wrong.  It means you have to recalibrate your tactic and adjust to work toward success.

Great leaders in companies carefully measure and manage the daily tactics to ensure that they are functioning properly.  When something is amiss, then an adjustment is made or a new tactic is deployed.  But, the strategy doesn’t change.

But without a strategy, you are simply dog-paddling your way around the business pool.


Strategy and Tactic Deployment


So where does strategy originate?

For some, it’s a hit or miss way of doing business.  You might have more success selling to one group than others.  With this version, you pinball your way towards growth, lurching randomly without any solid direction.

I’ve asked many shop owners over the years, “who is your best customer?”  One reply that harkens to that twisted approach might sound familiar, “Anyone that walks in the door or calls us up!”

That isn’t a strategy.  That’s blind luck.

I call that the “Field of Dreams” scenario.  If you build it, they will come.  But that doesn’t consistently work for long-term success.

A better strategy requires hard work and thought.  Plus, data.

If you run your sales history for the past three to five years and rank the results, who are your top customers?  In your shop, the top twenty percent of your customers account for eighty percent of your revenue.

Do it.  Run that report.  I double-dog dare you.

You’ll see that this is correct.

These are the customers you want to clone.  If you want a tip on a starting point for a strategy, this is it.

Use the Numbers


If those numbers point you in the right direction, you can start by building a “Customer Persona” on exactly what your ideal customer looks like.  What they order.  When they order.  Where they are on social media.  Even how they like to be approached, or what other items they might like to buy.

Your business strategy has to start with the customers that are most aligned with what you do.  For marketing, you don’t have to appeal to everyone.  You only need to whisper in the ear of the people who are most likely to buy.

For that, you construct your plan based on as much information as you can gather.  Sure, it’s all over the internet.  You can type anything into the Search window and come back with 4,995,362 responses in a matter of seconds.

But the numbers and information you need will only come from one group.  Actual customers.

Simply ask them.

“What do you like about us?”

“Can you let me know how I can win more of your business?”

“What are we doing better than other people?”

“Is there anything we should improve?”

“What is your biggest challenge that we can help you solve?”

You get the idea.  Top customer data = big fat win for business strategy development.  If you aren’t asking your customers this stuff, then how do you know what they want?

ANYBODY can decorate a shirt.  EVERYBODY says they have great customer service and art.  SOMEBODY is going to get their business.

It’s the shop that knows them best.


Developing Your Idea


So let’s say you have some fantastic responses from your best customers.  They gave you a boatload of great information.

Now what?

Use that information to develop a strategy on how to recruit more of that same type of customer.  What you want to do is to elevate your marketing to the point that your customers crave what you do.  They hold you up as the shining beacon of awesomeness.

This doesn’t happen by accident.

It’s 100% on purpose.  It’s called branding, and it’s more than just your logo.

What you want to figure out is what is the Unfair Advantage you have over your competition.  Any schmo can print or embroider a shirt.  What is the thing about your shop that you are going to shout from the mountaintop?

Is there something that aligns you with your customer’s needs?  Can you solve their main pain point and problem?

Your business strategy is about identifying and isolating those customers and getting them to know, like, and trust you.  Prime them up.  When it comes time to buy, you are their only call.




Taking that business idea out for a spin and getting it to work is the tactical part of the strategy process.  Does that mean you need to be on Facebook?  Maybe, but what if your main customer isn’t?  Then a Facebook campaign is worthless.

That’s a tactical decision.

Realizing that you need to change how you connect to your customer doesn’t mean your strategy isn’t working.  If your customers aren’t on Facebook, that doesn’t mean they can’t be your customers.  It only means you need to adjust your approach.

Your strategy is just as valid.


Start Here


For a lot of shops, they have never used a business plan to fence off who their main customers are and how to approach them.  Do you have a business plan?

Many shops in this industry don’t.  Or, if they do it was written a few years ago and never looked at again.

Here’s a point I like to make about business planning.  Let’s say you want to fire a gun at a target and hit the bullseye dead center.  Would you wave the gun around gangsta style and just randomly fire off rounds until you hit the target?

Of course not.

But that’s what you are doing if you are operating your business without a plan.  That plan helps you aim at your bullseye.  The better the plan, the better the aim.

If you need some help with your shop Business Plan, click here to purchase the eBook “Shop Basic Info Pack”.  I’ve included easy to use templates for writing a Business Plan for the decorated apparel industry.  I’m happy to help you with yours.

Ready, Fire, Aim gets the job done.


“To achieve great things two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.” – Leonard Bernstein

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” – Michael Porter

“Strategy requires thought, tactics require observation.” – Max Euwe


A Quick Word About Shirt Lab


Shirt Lab Columbus Target Zone


While we certainly have shop owners from all over the country coming into our Shirt Lab Columbus, Ohio, event on October 27, 2018, this remarkable decorated apparel industry Sales and Marketing workshop style training event was designed for shops within this area.

Not sure if you should attend Shirt Lab? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you have an effective branding campaign established for your shop that is incredibly strong and powerful?
  • Does your website have fantastic conversion rates for online sales?
  • How are you with your sales lead generation? Have you built a fantastic funnel for customers interested in what you do?
  • What about how you close sales? Are you the master? Do you have a process?
  • Now, think about your social media. Are you using videos to create amazing content that resonates with your customer market?
  • What are you doing to add more revenue per order to increase your sales?
  • And finally, have you created your own channel where you don’t have any competition?

If you need help with any or possibly all of these, then Shirt Lab is tailor-made for you. It’s built by people in the decorated apparel industry, and all of the instructors are masters at what they do. It’s a workshop-style day. You’ll be having fun while interacting and learning.

Our goal is to melt your brain with the best Sales and Marketing information that we can possibly provide.

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