9 Easy Steps To Write A Solid Marketing Plan For Your Business
Marketing Planning Process For Business
The success of a new business is dependent on generating sales turnover and a marketing plan is critical to achieve this.
I thought it might be useful to provide a step-by-step, no nonsense approach to developing a solid marketing plan. One that a sole trader, start up business or new business can complete without spending out on professional advise or relying on trial and error marketing. I have also provided some free downloadable resources to help with your planning process (see further down in the article).
Investing a few hours a day over a couple of weeks and following this guide you can develop a plan for your business for the year ahead. Saving you time, effort and money in the process.
I’d welcome your feedback and it would be great to hear your success stories!
Too Many Marketing Choices?
The Internet is awash with articles with promises about websites, social media, email marketing, advertising online….to achieve your business goals. They can contribute, but all of these are marketing tactics not a plan. Many businesses thrive on word of mouth referrals, using direct mail, door drops and outbound calling.
So where do you start as a new business owner? How do you decide on a strategy and then select the right marketing tactics? And how do you know which of these will work for your business?
Planning For Business Success
Having a clearly written marketing plan helps you to focus on promoting key products to your potential customers. The process does not need to be as complicated and indeed it does not need to be a massive undertaking in the way that say a Corporate company would do.
Marketing is not a business activity that guarantees you sales or even a response on the first try. However without a plan or without trying different methods there is a high risk that if sales do not ‘appear’ then increasingly desperate and costly tactics will be adopted.
A marketing plan helps to define who you are targeting, how you are going to go about it, how much you can afford to invest and how you will measure success. There are savings in terms of your time, resources and overall business effectiveness by planning ahead in this way.
A marketing plan is something to be continually monitored and reviewed, this way your budget will reach its maximum level of effectiveness. Critically your business will prosper!
Measuring your success is key to being able to learn from each marketing effort you carry out and informs how to improve your plan accordingly.
Marketing Planning, Where To Start?
1) Remind Yourself What Your Business Is About
If you have a business plan already then you can review the contents and remind yourself of the core objectives of your business. Many businesses find that, as they get into the day to day running of the business, that the original business ideas have changed or been simply forgotten.
Even if you don’t have a business plan (and I recommend that you do) then either by yourself or with your team write down answers to:
• What products or services do we offer?
• Who are our target customers?
• Are there enough potential customers who need our products?
• Are we able to reach these customers? (are they local, national…).
• What is our competition like and what do we know about them?
• What are our advantages over our competitors?
• Which products or services are the most profitable to us?
• How many products do we need to sell in order to make profit?
• Are there any products or services that don’t sell?
2) Who Are Your Existing And Potential Customers?
Many products and services are more appealing to one business type or individual customer sector.
For example if you are selling very high end products like couture then generally a ‘high demographic’ customer (those with most income) are most likely to buy your product. A company who sell air conditioning systems in the UK are most likely to attract either commercial clients or occasionally people with very large homes. This would differ dramatically if the same company was based in a location like Miami with its high temperature climate.
There are always exceptions to who may buy your product, but your marketing plan should focus on customers who are ‘most likely’ to buy from you. This will help focus your plan and keep marketing costs down. It is not cost effective to market too widely e.g. to ‘all customers’
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3) Researching Your Market
You may already have some trading information telling you which customers tend to buy your products, their age, which business sector they are in, what they do for a living, how often they buy and so on. This is known as ‘secondary data’ really valuable customer insight!
The more secondary information from your own business or by researching on the internet (there is a huge amount of information you can find there) you can gather or record the better as it tells you what customers really do, no guesswork.
However, to expand your business or if you are starting up this information has its limitations to identify new potential customers. This is where formal research known as Primary customer research comes into its own. Commissioning research of this kind can be very expensive and is prohibitive to most small businesses. The good news is that by carefully searching the Internet you can often find key information for free, for example via Mintel, Government websites and even your competitors sites! Often written as ‘White Papers’ or ‘Research Papers’ they can provide really key information e.g. demographics, sales volumes in a sector, market growth forecasts.
Once you have gathered together all this information you should have a clearer picture of your market size and who your potential customers are.
This information will also help you to identify a niche area or market to focus on.
4) What Do Your Customers Look Like?
As mentioned earlier it is not a good plan to try and target everyone. So profiling your customer into 2 or 3 major segments is a good way of developing your marketing plan.
If you are selling to individuals these profiles might be an ethnic group, based in a certain area, who shop in a certain place and tend to buy certain products. If you are selling business to business, you might want to focus on a certain sector e.g. manufacturing and aim at certain personnel within an organisation e.g. Marketing Manager, Production Manager.
Even for business customers if you can identify what the individuals’ hobbies, interests and so forth are it will help to refine your targeting plan. After all businesses are a collection of people, not an entity, so your marketing needs to understand their motivations as much as a residential customer.
Consider key elements such as gender, age, income or business turnover and geographic location. There is no point having a profile of a 115yr old man if you are selling youth products (its always possible, but unlikely there will be a match!).
5) Where Do Your Customers Exist?
In marketing this used to be limited to where do they work, live, travel, which newspapers do they read. But these days this also means where do they look on the Internet, which trade sites do they like at, which social media sites do they use and what interest sites do they enjoy?
Thinking through and researching this information helps you to decide where to promote or market your business. So a business customer may use LinkedIn more than Facebook at work, but use Facebook at home and may have more time to look at relevant content when relaxed by the TV.
A mix of marketing methods from web to direct mail may be required to locate and engage your customers, it depends on their behaviours.
6) An Honest Assessment of Your Own Business – SWOT Analysis
A SWOT analysis is simply a realistic, brutally honest view that you make of your own business and external factors (e.g. people becoming more health conscious) that may affect your business. Commonly summarised by the acronym S.W.O.T. – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
The challenging part is being honest with yourself about your business and also not being too critical. It is not easy to be objective so work with your team and customers to give an independent view.
Strengths of Your Business:
• What are you good at?
• What do your customers say you do best
• What products sell well?
• What is your business cash flow like?
• Do you have business assets?
• Are you well known or established?
• Is your customer service exceptional?
And so on, the Strength questions are all about your knowledge of your business.
Weaknesses of your business
As you identify Strengths you are likely to start thinking of some areas that need development for your business e.g. “We give great customer service, but our location isn’t right” or “we have lots of stock but it isn’t selling fast enough”.
Again list these down by asking your self a set of key questions.
Opportunities and Threats
These two differ from strengths and weaknesses in the sense that they are all about the ‘external business world’, including of course your competitors. The research you carried out earlier should help here a lot!
So, under opportunities, you may have identified from research that ‘an increasing number of people or businesses are interested in X product’. Or as a threat you may have found that ‘less families are living in this area’. It can also include major factors like ‘is the government likely to change’ (resulting in a policy or legislation shift at Government level that may affect your business’ potential).
A good example of these would be ‘Are vaping products going to fall under the same legislation as tobacco products’. If you’re a vaping shop this could have a major impact.
Using the acronym PESTEL (political, environmental, social, technical, economic, legal) helps to consider the key external influences that may affect your marketing plans effectiveness this year.
Are you aware of your competitors, are they local, regional, national or international? Are there new competitors entering your market area or competition that may attract your clients? Carrying out a regular competitor analysis is key to your marketing planning and success.
How to Use The SWOT In Practice?
Once you have noted down the key areas of your SWOT you can prioritise them in terms of ‘how big’ is this threat, strength etc. or ‘how likely’ is this going to happen. This will help you prioritise your marketing plan.
The information you have gathered can now be reviewed against your business plan and in turn your marketing plan. Ready to shape your marketing objectives.
7. How To Set Marketing Objectives?
The first thing to consider is all the work you have done so far to focus on what your business would like to achieve and how likely (given the customer environment) it is to achieve.
Overall most objectives focus on three core areas: keeping the customers you have (retention), selling more to the customers you have (upselling or cross selling) and customer acquisition (gaining new customers). The latter being potentially the hardest and most costly to achieve.
For each objective you need to ask yourself the following SMART questions and if any of your objectives don’t pass the test then it is likely you aren’t thinking about an objective at all. Basing a marketing plan on poorly defined objectives can easily come unravelled!
Checking Your Objectives (known as the SMART test):
Specific – are your objectives succinct, clear and understandable?
Measurable – can you measure in one way or another what success or improvement looks like? e.g. ‘achieve 10 sales per day’ is measurable ‘achieve some extra sales’ per day is not.
Achievable – honestly, realistically with what you know now about your business do you have the time, money and resources to deliver on your plans?
Realistic – are you going to aim to be ‘the number 1 supplier in the UK’ by next month or ‘next year’ or even at all. Is being ‘the number 1 supplier’ in your Town or Region more realistic?
Time Bound – Ensure that for each of the objectives you are setting that there is a ‘to be achieved by’ date, even if it is aspirational or gets moved over the year. It gives you and your team a sense of urgency, focus and prioritisation. It really helps with the planning process so that you then pace yourself and your budgets accordingly.
Each objective needs to be sizeable enough and achievable within a 1-2 year period to plan your marketing. Anything too small such as ‘print leaflets by September and send them out’ is really a tactic and anything too aspirational e.g. migrate to new markets in Asia, is likely to be a strategy.
So a good example of an objective might be:
“Acquire 400 more customers, within the local region, at no more cost than £40 per acquisition by November”.
Does this pass the SMART Test? Notice it doesn’t go on to explain ‘how’ to achieve this, as that will be in your tactics e.g. “by developing our website and social media channels”.
8. Marketing Planning
“At last” I hear you say, it may seem like a long journey to get to this point but realistically the whole process can be done a bit at a time over a couple of weeks and it will be time extremely well spent!
At this stage you should have a reasonably clear picture of what your business wants to achieve this year and understand what is less possible. At least for now
The next stage is to start planning out how much budget you can set aside for marketing and how you are going to allocate it. Ensure that items such as your website development or brand are considered as ‘investments’ (they will become assets) whereas a ‘leaflet campaign’ is deemed to be a marketing cost, an expense.
The reason I mention this is that they should be budgeted for in a different way and sit in a different place on your profit and loss account. Worth checking with your accountant to see how this helps you plan.
Of course you need to know when you are going to do certain things e.g. is there a best seasonal period to promote? (for example if your product is a service relating to holiday booking). Is there an important event that you can leverage off of to improve results? (e.g. a sporting event that aligns with your product).
A simple plan is all that is required, a piece of paper or a basic spreadsheet with time across the top, the activity down the side. Blocks of colour can be used to highlight when you need to start planning, briefing your agency or team, develop the idea, deliver and analyse performance.
It is a good idea at this stage to agree and assign tasks with your production and delivery teams, team managers and so on. They will help you ensure that the time/budget you have allocated is realistic – SMART!
I have created a template that you can download to get you started, it has worked for me for small business planning and even on Corporate sized projects, simplicity is the key!
9. Analyse, Adjust, Refine, Repeat…
This is, in many ways, the most important step for marketing plans. Although the last stage listed here it is in fact the start of the next plan and therefore informs your next marketing activity.
It is also a step that is often overlooked but contains the clues to your ongoing success.
A good example here is an email marketing campaign. The temptation is to email your whole database of customers, then see what happens. A better approach is to target a small group of customers, say 100, analyse the results and adjust the campaign based on actual results. This ensures that marketing spend and important data is not wasted whilst allowing you to refine the approach until you hit the level of results you hope to achieve.
Periodically review your marketing plan and keep refining it, it is a working document not a one off exercise! There is not right or wrong way to write your plan but having a plan is guaranteed to give you more success than not having one!
by Mark Elliott MCIM, Director of Sparks4Growth Ltd. contact Mark for help or advice on planning your marketing