Create a Marketing Plan
When starting up your small business, inevitably you will need to implement a marketing plan – a business does not exist without its customers, and customers do not exist without some form of marketing. Your marketing plan details how you intend to meet your customers’ needs and communicate the benefits of your products or services to them; essentially, it is the blueprint you will need to continue to grow and develop your business.
Some questions to ask yourself before you begin are:
- What is my business trying to accomplish and why?
- What makes my business/product/service unique?
- Who am I trying to reach?
- What competition am I up against?
- How will my marketing plan support my business goals?
With these questions in mind, you can now follow the steps listed in this module to help you develop a successful marketing plan for your business.
Set Attainable Goals
As you begin to set up your marketing plan, you first need a clear idea of what you want to accomplish, and then the plan will dictate how you’re going to accomplish it. Setting goals and objectives are the only way a marketing plan works, because you can’t define success without having a measurable standard.
Long-Term and Short-Term Objectives
Be sure to include short-term objectives and long-term objectives. Don’t just make broad, ranging goals – having detailed short-term goals as stepping stones in between long-term goals increases your likelihood of attaining those grand objectives.
- Long-Term Objective Example:
- Obtain an 8% growth in new customers within the Millennial market no later than December 31.
- Short-Term Objective Example:
- Obtain a 2% growth in new customers within the Millennial market no later than March 31.
In this example, you can see the long-term objective has been established and is measurable. The short-term objective breaks down the long-term objective into quarterly growth so it can be monitored regularly and adjustments can be made where needed.
Make Goals Aggressive YET Attainable
It is important to make sure your goals are attainable. While you may need to be aggressive, you should avoid being aggressive to the point where you won’t be able to achieve your goals. For example, consider the goal above. If you only grew in this target market by 3% the previous year, and you need to have more growth to survive, and you know all efforts will be geared toward growth, you may be able to keep the 8% goal. But, a more realistic goal may be 5% or 6%. You may need to depend on other targets to achieve growth in other ways.
While you need to establish goals that will push your business to another level, you need to make sure you build them in a way to experience success as a motivational tool for you (and your employees).
Establish Your Target Market
Your target market is the group most likely to be attracted to your business – or in other words, the group most likely to purchase or utilize your products and services. Your target market may be segmented in many different ways, including the following:
- Demographic – age, gender, family size, relationship status, income level, occupation, education level, religion, ethnicity, etc.
- Geographic – country, city vs. rural, climate, etc.
- Psychographic – social class, lifestyle, personality, etc.
The more you can detail your target, the more likely you will experience success with your overall marketing plan. Consider the following questions as you get to know your target market:
- What do they value most?
- What do they need?
- Where can you find them?
Many marketers suggest creating an “ideal customer” for your business as a basis for the marketing plan development. It will be tempting to try to widen your market as some may tell you the “more the merrier,” but you can’t appeal to everyone. Focus your efforts on one primary target market, and no more than two or three secondary targets at most.
Know Your Competition
One of the best ways to research your target market and prepare your own marketing strategy is to look at the strategy of your competitors’ and assess what you like and don’t like. Examine their strengths and weaknesses relative to yours so you can select the right competitive advantage to market to your target audience. Conducting a thorough analysis of competitors’ methods means you can identify areas to beat the competition and fine-tune your own niche market, one that the competition can’t reach. Don’t go overboard, though. Being aware of your competition and being distracted by them are two separate things – you can’t provide unique products and services if all you do is analyze the competition.
Consider using the following chart (referred to as a SWOT Analysis) to help you align your business with your competition. Working with key employees or a consultant, you can put together what your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats may be for your business. If you conduct surveys, this is where you can input some of your key findings as well.
The following is an example of how you may use this chart for a small business, such as a dance studio:
This chart will help you see your strengths and develop strategies to capitalize on them, and at the same time, work on improving your weaknesses. It will also help you see what opportunities exist around you and determine how you will respond to perceived threats.
Plan of Attack
The heart of your marketing plan is of course HOW you plan to reach your target market – or what we refer to as your tactical plan or promotional strategy. Here are some ideas to consider in this area:
- Advertising: The way you portray your product or service in the minds of your target market is vital. Customers respond to unique and memorable advertising methods, so whether it is a commercial on television or a local flyer or direct mail brochure, make sure you’re spending money on something that will stick out in people’s minds.
- Social Media/Internet Marketing: Regardless of your target market, a strong online presence is becoming a must for businesses in every field. Create a website that provides your customers and potential customers with all the information they need to know, and consider developing social media pages as well to direct consumers to your website. The more involved you can be online, the broader your audience reach will be.
- Branding/Packaging: Because you are focused on creating a lasting picture in the minds of your customers and potential customers, it is important to streamline your business’ “look and feel” across different platforms (e.g., brochures at your office, social media, website, e-mails, etc.). All of your marketing materials need to support your overarching brand image.
- Promotions: Determine whether or not you will hold special sales promotions for your products and services. For example, you may want to give out free samples, coupons, rebates, or hold contests or a sweepstakes. If you’d like to explore promotions while working with other local business owners, you might consider buying allowances, free goods, cooperative advertising or sales contests.
- Public Relations: What is your relationship in your community? How are you perceived? In many instances, a strong public relations effort is not expensive and can get your brand out in a positive manner. Consider sponsoring events in the community, working at a local food bank, or other such activities. You may also consider providing news releases about “new and exciting” products and services available to the media, or submit feature stories and editorials about topics relating to your business.
The tactical plan (or promotional strategy) you create must be consistent with the overall objectives established for your plan. If they are not in alignment, your plan will not succeed – no matter how hard you may work at it.
Planning it All Out
After you have developed your objectives and created a tactical plan to achieve them, you need to put things down in writing. No goal or strategy has ever been achieved in someone’s head – you have to write it all down. And, you need to organize your tactical plan into a working calendar. The following provides you with a sample of a Marketing Promotional Calendar that has been done annually for a financial institution:
Then, once you develop the annual calendar, in broad terms, you can then put together a special quarterly schedule that outlines exact dates and responsibilities for completion.
It’s important to create an annual plan so you can see how all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together; however, with that said, you should revisit your plan every quarter, or at least every six months, to make sure you are on track with what you have determined to do. If the market changes, or if there is something that is working or not working in your plan, this will give you opportunity to modify it and move forward.
Your Marketing Budget
One of the most important components of your marketing plan is putting together your budget. How much can you afford to spend? In some instances, people will back into their marketing plan with the budget. They will say they can only spend $50,000 on marketing, and then that is the cap no matter what the strategy or growth goals may be. We do not recommend doing your budget this way. It is best to go through the entire thought process, map out everything for the year, and then see how much it will cost. If it is over the amount you think you can afford, cut those things that may not have an immediate impact, or schedule them for later in the year.
This is also the place and time where you will need to project return on your budget for the year as well. Consider the following questions:
- Are you pricing your products and services effectively?
- If you increase your fees for your products or services, will that negatively affect your customers? Will that affect your growth strategy?
- If your product or service is more expensive than the competition, is it because you use higher quality materials?
- If your product or service is cheaper than the competition, why is that?
- Can you cut out a middleman in any instance to create a better return for your business?
- Are you customers more willing to accept your prices if they understand the logic behind them?
The budget can be eaten up quickly, so make sure you monitor your expenses regularly and keep track of the return you are getting for every dollar spent.
Measuring Your Success
The final step in your marketing plan is to determine its effectiveness. All the time and effort spent on creating the perfect marketing plan will be wasted if you can’t track the numbers and adjust for the future. You can utilize tools like Google Analytics to measure online marketing activities, or use more a more manual system.
Refer to your marketing plan often to stay on track, and ask yourself, “Where can I improve?” Keep in mind, though, you must give your marketing plan time – you won’t know automatically how effective one particular marketing activity may be. A good rule of thumb is to adjust on a quarterly basis.
Creating a marketing plan may be a daunting task, but the dividends it will pay for your business are worth all the careful planning. Your marketing plan is a living and breathing blueprint for your business, not a document set in stone. You need to have the flexibility to adjust, by either adding or eliminating strategies as needed. Your business’ future can be guaranteed using a systematic, consistent effort to adhere to a working marketing plan.