Ya Gotta Have a (Marketing) Plan

2 min read
14 Oct

Small businesses need marketing plans.

Every large, successful company got that way by following a plan. 

Small businesses need plans, too. 

I mean, you don't just rent a storefront and throw open the doors without some kind of planning, do you?

A marketing plan is a GPS guiding you to your destination.

To create a marketing plan, you need to know where you're starting from -- and where you want to go.

That's where a marketing plan begins.

Where are you starting from?

Describe the marketplace you operate in. What's the marketing climate? Who are you competing with? Are there other businesses like yours in your area, or is yours unique? 

SWOT is not what you do to flies.

SWOT analysis is a way to identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats versus your competitors.

By doing a SWOT analysis, you start with a clear-eyed assessment of what's going on around you, and where you stand in the competitive field.

Where do you want to go?

Your destination is your marketing goal. 

That might be a dollar amount of revenue by a certain date or a certain number of target audience members reached with your message during a three-month campaign. Or maybe a certain number of website inquiries during a six-month push.

Be specific. 

Be positive. 

And be realistic.

Approach long-term goals by laying out a series of short-term goals so you don't get overwhelmed by trying to do it all at once.

Who are you hoping to influence?

You can't target everybody. So identify the people most likely to need your product or service. 

Create an ideal customer profile. Take some time, and be as detailed and specific as you can.

  • What geographic area do they live in? 
  • Are they males between ages 18 and 29 or mothers ages 25 to 49? 
  • Blue-collar, white-collar? 
  • Income levels? 
  • Suburban or urban?
  • Education levels? 
  • What do they like to do? 
  • Why do they need your services?

What marketing tactics will do the best job of reaching your ideal customers?

Your ideal customers favor certain sources of information, entertainment and news over others. Do a little digging into finding the media where they're likely to show up often. 

  • Traditional media includes newspapers, radio, TV, magazines and billboards. These cover a wide general audience. They are pretty expensive for a small business. But neighborhood papers or magazines might be affordable -- and will reach customers in a defined area.
  • Social media can help you reach and engage your ideal customers. Find out where they hang out online -- maybe they're on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Maybe you'll start a blog on your site or send them monthly or quarterly emails to keep awareness high once they contact you. Maybe they get information from certain types of websites or YouTube channels.
  • Public relations can boost awareness. It might include publicity about your sponsorship of a Little League team or a special event, like an open house or a special promotion, or maybe a charity event to build goodwill. Choose media outlets your ideal customers will see.

Set a marketing budget.

I can hear you groaning right now. Yes, it's expensive to run a business, and marketing can eat up some profit. But marketing is to your business what water is to a garden  -- essential for life. 

A marketing plan doesn't have to big to be effective. Even a small business can put together an affordable marketing plan. 

With a focused marketing message, you let your ideal customers know you empathize with their pains, then show how your product or service can relieve them.

You can start with a few tactics, measure results, and add more if it makes sense.

How will you know if you've succeeded?

In your marketing plan, you'll state the specific criteria you'll use to define success. 

It might be X number of inquiry calls by a certain date, or $10,000 in sales during the quarter, or a percentage increase in site visitors over six months. 

Whatever it is, be specific, so you can later evaluate the results of your marketing efforts. 

Then do it over again, implementing learning that you've gained during the first experiment to sharpen your message and refine your approach.

It's all about experimenting.

You've heard stories of famous inventors. They start making a product one way, learn from the process how to make it better, experiment with a better way, and so on, until they reach their goal for the product. 

Marketing is a kind of experiment. A marketing plan is a structured approach that helps you avoid randomly trying one tactic after another, spending money without success. You make a good plan, try it and learn from it. 

Evaluate. Improve. Repeat. And along the way, you reach small goals, then bigger ones. Stick with it, and it will more than repay the investment of time and budget.

Never stop learning. The reward is worth it.