How to Create a Small Business Marketing Plan
The marketing plan is a powerful tool that belongs in your small business arsenal. If you’ve been making do without a plan so far, or using a “play it by ear” approach, you’re missing out on boosted revenue. You need a fully developed marketing plan.
Why a Marketing Plan?
A plan focuses your best efforts on activities that move your business forward. Without one, you are operating by “seeing what sticks”—not the optimal way to market your business.
A marketing plan is much more than just another boring business document, it’s your map to revenue, growth, and longevity. It will help you understand yourself and your customers. Writing it down forces you to think through tough problems, come up with repeatable solutions and positions you for success.
Fortunately, you don’t need a marketing degree or extensive experience. Many small business owners have put together effective marketing plans without either.
So what are the elements of a good marketing plan? You want to create something that:
- is easy to understand and execute
- tells a comprehensive story about your business and your customers
- is realistic but sets challenging goals
It’s important to know that a properly developed, comprehensive plan isn’t something you’ll finish in one or even two sessions. You’re deciding what you need to do to grow your business and how you’re going to go about it. So take your time putting it together. Don’t feel pressured to rush.
You don’t need to come up with a perfect plan, either. Marketing plans are not, and should not be, written in stone. The best plans are flexible, letting you make adjustments as you gain experience, data and insight into what works.
Before you can sit down to write, you’ll need to do some market research. While this might sound daunting, especially if you’ve never conducted formal market research before, the reality is that you already have much of the information you need.
You’ll need to know where your company stands in your market. Look at recent financial reports, current and past sales numbers and your product and services list. You’ll also want to gather together information about your target market. This should help you answer questions like:
- Who is your ideal customer?
- Where is your ideal customer located?
- What needs does your ideal customer want your product or service to fulfill?
If you did any research when you developed your business plan, you may already have this information. If not, talk to your salespeople and your customer service staff. These are the employees who engage with your customers on a daily basis, and their feedback will give you valuable insights about your customers and prospects.
After you’ve done your market research, you should know everything you can about:
- your competitors
- current market trends that affect your business
- a comprehensive listing of your products and services
- your distribution channels and networks
- any demographic data that describes your potential (and current) customers
Fill any gaps by talking with your employees and researching publications from trade and professional associations specific to your industry.
The Executive Summary
This is the first thing someone sees when they read your marketing plan but it is the last thing you write. The Executive Summary outlines all the major points of the plan itself, so anyone in management can pick up the plan and get an idea about your vision.
Once you’ve gathered market research, it’s time to prepare your Market Overview section. Begin this section with a description of your market as it currently stands. Define your market and discuss your customers’ needs and any other market factors that might affect your customers’ purchasing patterns.
What are the characteristics of your target market? What’s the size of your market in dollar figures? Include any relevant demographic details. If you have more than one target market, describe the product lines associated with each one. This section should also include information about:
Products/Services. What are your current products and services? How do they fulfill your target market’s needs? How well have your products been selling? Include details about sales, prices and gross margins.
Competitors. Who are your competitors? What strategies are they using and how are they positioning themselves in the market? How successful are they at what they do? What kind of an impact do they have on your business?
Distribution. How is your distribution network set up? What channels do you have working for you? What are your sales trends? Are any recent major developments affecting your distribution channels?
Once you have a basic overview of your current market situation, it’s time to take a closer look at your market environment.
Examine the current market trends you’ve outlined. First, identify those trends that might present you with challenges. How will these challenges affect your business? Be as specific as you can. Once you have the specifics down, consider what you can do to reduce the impact of these threats. There will also likely be market trends that provide you with opportunities or benefit you in some other way. Identify these trends and describe the positive impact they could have on your business and how you can take advantage of them.
Now that you’ve described your current market situation and analyzed how various aspects of it affect your business, it’s time to set your marketing objectives. Where do you want your business to go? Think of your marketing objectives as answering the crucial questions: What is my plan going to accomplish? Why will it work? Some examples of common marketing objectives include:
- Expanding in a territorial or geographical area.
- Promoting a new product launch.
- Landing a significant new client.
- Increasing sales to particular clients.
Make it SMART
It’s a good idea to make each objective conform to the SMART goal criteria. SMART = Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. Marketing is where creativity meets data. To align both you need clear, measurable objectives. Specific objectives are more effective because you can define the steps you need to complete to win. To make objectives specific, start with knowing what success means for you. Maybe it’s a certain number of new leads, a defined increase in revenue, walk-in customers, or social engagement (more likes, re-tweets, pins, etc.). Quantify goals as much as possible. This makes them readily measurable. This will help you better evaluate the strategies and tactics you implement.
In the Marketing Strategy section you’ll answer the question “How”. This section is all about execution, evaluation and correcting course.
There are a lot of strategies out there (far more than can be covered here). No matter which approach you take, it must push your objectives forward and – ultimately – drive revenue.
Let’s Talk About the Four Ps:
In marketing parlance, marketing strategies fall within what’s known as the four Ps: product, price, place (distribution) and promotion. For a typical small business, promotion will form the bulk of your strategy. Some common promotion strategies include:
- Personal selling
- Public relations
- Sales promotions
- Direct marketing and direct mail
You’ll also have to decide how to implement each strategy. Take advertising, for example. Most small businesses explore the range of advertisement channels available, such as:
- Social media
- Kiosk-based advertising
- Outdoor advertising
- Transit advertising
Now is a good time to get creative! At the same time, make sure you watch costs and check that the strategies you embrace are measurable. After all, stuff like airplane banners are great, but not if they sink your whole marketing budget.
Ask yourself, what’s the best way to get your message in front of your target market? Does your ideal customer spend a lot of time on social media? Are they using mobile devices? Are there particular events or activities which are a big draw? Once you know where your target market can be found, you can brainstorm the most effective ways of reaching them.
Marketing is about creating a conversation with people and measuring that conversation to see how well it’s working. As you start executing your strategies keep that top of mind. What is that conversation for you? What is it for your customers? How does that conversation change tone, or meaning, as the marketplace changes?
This is the section where you get down to the practical nuts and bolts of your marketing plan. You want to address how you’ll implement your strategies and achieve your objectives by breaking things down into action steps or smaller goals.
You already did a bit of this when you considered the implementation methods you would use for each marketing strategy. Here you’ll simply break things down further and provide yourself with an actionable roadmap.
Think of these action steps or goals as addressing the “Who”, “What” and “When” of your strategy. As you outline the steps to achieve your marketing objectives, decide who will be responsible for each specific action or goal, what will be done and when it will be done.
When you combine all of these elements together into a single push, you get what’s known as a campaign. A campaign can run for a finite amount of time or it can continue until your message seems to lose its energy (you’ll know when the response numbers start plummeting). Ideally you’ll develop individual campaigns tailor-made for each of your objectives.
Be specific about dates and schedule each of the different tasks. The more specific you are, the more likely the action steps you’ve outlined will be executed.
Your marketing budget is another crucial component of your plan. It will outline both the expected costs of your strategy and the expected revenues. As with other sections of the marketing plan, it’s a good idea to involve staff members who will be responsible for various action steps in your budgeting decisions.
You should also be as comprehensive as possible when you’re estimating the costs associated with each of your action steps. This helps prevent unpleasant surprises in the future. And while external costs are often the most apparent, it’s important to remember internal costs as well, such as the time required of your staff to implement particular action steps.
Once you have your budget in place things may start to feel inflexible. Remember, despite having a fixed budget, you still have wiggle room—you can always re-evaluate how to allocate your budget.
The final part of the plan is the Measurement/Controls section and it may be the most important. The Measurement/Controls section provides you with a detailed method of monitoring your progress to see how well you are doing. Remember, marketing is where creative ideas and data meet – this is the where you’ll address how you’re going to get all of that data
The first thing you want to measure is your return on investment (ROI) by coming up with ways to continuously measure your financial progress. Your ROI can be an effective indicator of a strategy that isn’t working. Some marketing strategies present a challenge when it comes to calculating ROI but that doesn’t mean they aren’t without value. Social media campaigns, for example, are difficult to measure because the path someone takes from liking your post, or sharing your tweet, to buying your product isn’t a straight line.
You’ll have to get creative when you measure these strategies and remember revenue isn’t the only metric to measure: brand awareness, engagement (how long and how often someone interacts with you), and building your business’ reputation are invaluable.
Plan out how you’ll approach the measurement of results. Be concrete: use projected and actual numbers and compare them regularly. While intuition and experience can be helpful in assessing a given strategy, measurement and controls provide you with crucial evidence to back up your gut feelings. Reporting also plays a big role in this section. Monthly reports and regularly scheduled meetings to discuss results will go a long way in helping you determine what’s working and what’s not.
Be sure this section includes a summary of how you will make changes in response to what your tracking tells you.
A Marketer is Only as Good as His Tools
This section can be the most intimidating if you’re new to marketing. There are lots of tools designed to help you track all of these metrics and data. Some of the best are free. If you are primarily using a website, check out Google Analytics to monitor all of your website traffic and measure your online marketing campaigns. Hootsuite is great for social media scheduling management.
A Marketing Plan in Action
Let’s say you run a pizza restaurant called Pizza Party Delight. You begin working on your plan by pulling together market information you’ve gathered over the past few years. This includes:
- data from a customer survey you had up on your website the previous year,
- last year’s sales figures as well as the current year’s numbers from your bookkeeper
- customer information from your restaurant manager
- dine-in and take-out menus from competitors you found through an online search
- your own dine-in and take-out materials
- articles from local news sites and magazines you think might be relevant
From the material you’ve gathered, you see that your average customer is between 18 and 35 years old, earns an income of between $22,000 and $35,000 and works, but doesn’t live within walking distance of your business.
Your market research also tells you competing restaurants in your area mostly offer take-out options, and you are one of the few restaurant businesses with a dine-in experience. While you do offer delivery services, the bulk of your income is generated during the day through eat-in and take-out orders. All of this provides you with the basis for your Market Overview section.
You know from one of the news articles you’ve collected that an apartment building a block from your business has recently been rezoned. According to the article, a large accounting firm is slated to move into the top two floors of the building later this year. This is definitely a market trend that will have a positive impact on your business.
However on your way to work the other day you noticed several retail businesses in the building two doors from your restaurant have closed down, and there are now “For Lease” signs in their windows. You know this will present a challenge for your business, as your market research tells you both the employees and customers from these businesses often stopped by Pizza Party Delight for a slice or two.
Using this information, you’re able to write a comprehensive Market Analysis section outlining both an upcoming opportunity and an immediate challenge facing your business. You’re ready now to move on to your marketing objectives.
You have a number of objectives you set out in your Marketing Objectives section. The time you’ve spent on the first part of your marketing plan has also added a new objective to your list. Because the bulk of your current business comes during the day from employees of local businesses, you decide you also want to increase your evening profits by focusing on potential customers who live within your delivery area.
While working on the Marketing Strategy section, you decide you want to use a two-pronged approach to reach your goal of increasing your customer base for deliveries: you want to combine print marketing with digital marketing.
You decide you’ll draw on direct mail strategies and sales promotion strategies.
While researching strategies, you learn about Every Door Direct Mail® (EDDM®) offered by the United States Postal Service. It lets you easily send a flat mailer to everyone in your delivery area. Sounds like a great way to reach your predefined target audience (those who live in your delivery area) and you know your competitors are seeing success with mailings as well.
You decide to include a print coupon in your EDDM® mailer that requires the reader to go to your website for redemption. Once they land on your site, you can plan to capture their emails, paving the way for future digital marketing campaigns. This helps you drive down future cost, since you’ll be able to email offers and incentives instead of sending a mailing every time. It also helps you meet the goals outlined in the Measurement/Controls section of your plan, providing you with concrete numbers.
In your Implementation/Action section, you’ve broken down the components of each campaign into smaller steps. The steps you identified include:
- Doing more research to help you pinpoint the geographical area you want to target
- Gathering more information about the EDDM® service, including all cost information
- Discussing potential flyer designs with your graphic designer
- Talking with your website designer about the best way to capture email addresses
- Getting quotes for your direct mail pieces
By following these steps, you will be able to make realistic progress towards full implementation of this campaign. You also know the amount of spend you have available for this campaign, as you’ve already calculated everything out while preparing the Marketing Budget portion of your marketing plan.
As for the timing of each of these actions, the Measurement/Controls section has your detailed schedule to help you monitor your marketing efforts. These meetings provide you target dates when it comes to implementing each of your steps.
Of course, this example focuses on only one campaign, you will have similar steps for each campaign you launch. A comprehensive marketing plan forces you to think critically about your business, how it will grow, how it responds to changes in the marketplace and allows you to measure creative efforts.
If you want some help figuring out how to add print, direct mail, EDDM® and other components to your marketing plan give us a call at 800-930-6040. Printing for Less has been helping small and medium size businesses for over 20 years, we can help you stand out and get results.