Don’t set up your business without developing a clear way to reach customers. Before you launch, create a marketing plan to shape sales strategy and marketing programs.
Getting a handle on the entire marketing process can be overwhelming but a solid marketing plan can help you organize and move forward. Here’s information to help you get started.
What is a marketing plan?
Typically, a marketing plan is included in your overall business plan and details how to reach a targeted demographic. It’s a roadmap to help you introduce your product or service to potential customers. A marketing plan doesn’t need to be lengthy but takes some research and work. Here are 8 steps to take in order to create an effective and comprehensive marketing plan:
1. Know your business and industry
Look at the industry landscape to determine which products or services are selling successfully. Explore economic trends relating to your industry and how they might impact future sales. Take note of new innovations in the industry and how that can shape your marketing efforts.
2. Define your target market
You should have a solid feel for the customers you want to attract. Ask yourself:
- Who are my customers? (Define demographics like age, gender, where they live, type of family, etc.)
- What are their likes and dislikes?
- How can you solve a problem for them?
- When, where and how do they make purchases?
Creating buyer personas will help you segment customer lists to personalize your sales and marketing messages.
3. Conduct a competitor analysis
You probably took this step before you launched your business. However, it’s time to revisit your findings and update. Here are questions you should answer after investigating competitors big and small:
- Who sells products or services the same or similar to yours?
- Have your competitors expanded with new products or services in the last 6 months?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the competition?
- What marketing and sales strategies are used by each competitor to achieve their objectives?
- How does their website look and function?
- What’s the overall market outlook in your industry?
If you have strong competition in your industry, a marketing plan is even more important. Few businesses are without competitors but strong marketing can help you stand out.
4. Conduct a Marketing SWOT
SWOT stands for Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat. Conducting a SWOT analysis provides an overview of where you stand.
Look at your business strengths and weaknesses internally. You’ll have some control over these areas and the ability to pivot if needed. Examples include the employees on your team, your location, and intellectual property.
Opportunities and threats are external actions outside of your company in the marketplace. You can jump on opportunities and avoid threats but you can’t necessarily change them. Examples include competitors, vendor pricing, and economic outlook.
5. Set multiple goals
The goals you set should be SMART goals – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. Here’s a breakdown to help you get started:
Instead of simply “cutting costs”, a specific goal could be “reduce facilities expenses by 10% over the next 3 years.” Instead of “increasing profits”, put a number on it like “increase sales by 15% this year”.
If you’re not measuring, you won’t know where you stand and your progress can screech to a halt. For example, one of your business goals might be to increase website traffic by 10%. Measure metrics like page views to determine if you’re on target or need to adjust.
To make goals achievable, you need to be aware of your limitations. Do you want to add 20 more products? This won’t be attainable unless you have working capital available to purchase inventory and the employee support to manage it. Be realistic and take cash flow, employee numbers, and your own bandwidth into account.
A goal like “increasing Facebook fans” is fine. However, relevancy is tied to the “why” of a goal. If you simply want more fans because that’s what your competitors do, that’s not enough. A relevant goal would be to increase Facebook fans to highlight new products, advertise a sale, or up engagement with your current or potential customers.
This quote from time management expert Diana Scharf sums it up: “Goals are dreams with deadlines.” Don’t end up discouraged by setting an open ended goal. Instead, try to accurately estimate how long it will take you to reach that goal. Not setting goals has been compared to setting sail on a ship without a destination.
6. Outline different strategies
You should have strategies for both current and potential customers or clients. Tactics to reach those unfamiliar with your business include traditional advertising, public relations, search engine marketing, and social media promotions. To reach current customers and spark more sales, you can employ strategies like email or newsletter blasts, customer loyalty programs, special sales, and appreciation events. The important thing is not trying to reach all consumers.
7. Set your overall budget
A portion of your sales income should be spent on marketing throughout the year. If you formulate your budget and discover you’re coming up short, you’ll need to adjust. The key is to keep up with marketing without breaking your budget. As your company increases cash flow, you can assign some of those funds towards marketing.
Funds to finance marketing can also come from a low-cost loan. Self-financing is also an option to kick off marketing programs.
8. Monitor performance and adjust
The final, and most important, part of your plan includes a detailed way to monitor marketing progress. Choose the metrics to measure success. Some measures to include are Return on Investment (ROI), net income ratio/profit, and increase or decrease in customers.
Evaluate needs and requirements
What resources will you need to carry out your marketing plan? A few elements to consider are:
- Do you need branded business marketing materials?
- Is there easy-to-use software you can use for putting plans in place and tracking programs?
- Do you have the funds you need to implement your plans?
- Is the support staff on hand to stay on top of marketing or handle the resulting extra business?
It can help to divide the checklist into sections based on priority—for example, must haves now, must haves later, and nice to haves.
Regularly update your plan
Once your plan is in place, make sure to revisit regularly. Your marketing plan is a “living document” that should evolve and adjust as your marketing efforts are measured. It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day activities when running a busy small business. But set aside a chunk of time to look over your goals and strategies to make sure you’re still on track. Are you meeting your marketing objectives?
Ready to get started? Marketing plans templates can help. Visit Hubspot to download a free template here.
Looking for more helpful tips, advice, and recommendations for small business experts? Visit the SmartBiz Learning Center and search for “Business Marketing” to keep reading.