Creating a marketing plan is a pain, reminiscent of an annoying school assignment. That’s why most business owners will do just about anything to avoid the task of putting one together. However, those who do are glad they did.
Your marketing plan is your treasure map, with X marketing the spot where customers, sales and profits are to be found. At the very least, it’s a road map offering the shortest, fastest route to qualified customers (the ones with money in their pockets and a willingness to spend it on your products or services).
“Marketing plays a vital role in successful business ventures,” says the Small Business Administration. “How well you market your business…will ultimately determine your degree of success or failure.”
We’ll provide an overview. For details or examples of specific marketing plans you can adapt for your own needs, start at the SBA (www.sba.gov).
Here are some background basics you should know before getting started:
- Forget the ten-pound tome. Keep your marketing plan simple, even as short as one or two pages.
- Get it onto paper. Write it down. If you cannot commit your marketing plan to paper, then it does not exist.
- Skip every possible what-if scenario. Keep your plan focused on what you know today. (If you have a brilliant idea for next year, put it in a “future plans” category.)
- Do not file your plan away. Post it where you will see it every day. Then read it over at least once a week.
- Make it a living document. Update and revise your marketing plan when (1) your circumstances change and/or (2) you realize you missed the mark or discover information you didn’t have earlier.
Down to the nitty gritty: What needs to go in your marketing plan? Answer the following questions and you will have a marketing plan when you are done:
- How do I plan to make money? Skip the high-toned fluff. Be specific. Boil this statement down to one or two crisp sentences. Example: “I will make money by building name recognition and income by selling the greatest number of my product at the lowest cost per unit within the tri-state area.” Or “I will make money by obtaining website development and consulting contracts with ten clients this year in the hospitality and travel industry.” This task can take time. Play with the idea over a few days. Start by scratching out some notes. Then go for a walk (or even a vacation) until you get it right. Then pass it around to others to review. Then revise it … and keep revising it until you can define precisely how your business will make money.
- Who are my customers? Don’t laugh. Every year, thousands of people start businesses without the slightest idea where their customers will come from. Few survive. So, identify your customers. Be as specific as possible. In order to reach your target customers, you’ve got to know who they are. If you cannot define your customers, how are you going to find and attract them? Is your customer the drive-time commuter who passes your shop between 6:00 AM and 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM and 7:00 PM? Is it executive women between the ages of 30 and 45? Is it training departments of Fortune 500 companies? If you’re having trouble profiling your customers, try defining them by age, sex, income, education level, location or residence, interests, etc.
- Who are my competitors? These are not the enemy; they are simply competitors. In fact, they may have helped establish the market you are targeting. Find out who they are, how long they have been in business, how they are positioned in the marketplace, what you believe they do that makes them successful (or not as successful as they could be). You can learn a lot from the competition.
- What are the benefits of my product or service? Is it price? Quality? Above-and-beyond customer service? Skilled technical support? List these. They will become the cornerstone of your advertising and sales initiatives.
- What makes my company unique? This is how you position yourself. Are you going to be the Price King? The Madison Avenue Consultant? The World’s Most Unique Novelty Store? The County’s Speediest Septic Tank Pumper? Give your company a unique identity.
- How do I turn the above into sales and profits? Here we’re talking specific action plans that become daily activities. Example: I will followup pre-approach letters by personal visits to my 10 most promising prospects every month. Or I will place rotating ads in four local newspapers with buy-one-get-one-free coupons, good on Tuesdays. Or I will develop a five-minute presentation for my salespeople. Or I will have my website launched in four weeks. Or…all the above!
The bottom line: There is nothing mysterious or all that difficult about creating a workable marketing plan. Just take it step by step, and you may be pleasantly surprised what you learn about your own company and your customers. Good luck and good selling.
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