Friday, June 12, 2009

Why Every Business Needs a Marketing Plan

Every business, from multi-billion international conglomerates to the one-person show, needs a marketing plan. You know that. You've heard it, read it, seen it, but do you know why?

Marketing plans are like road maps:

  • Marketing plans give you a starting point
  • Marketing plans mark the route you plan to take to get there
  • Marketing plans pinpoint your destination

On Your Mark, Get Set, GO!

Marketing plans give you an opportunity to locate an accurate starting point - a read on where your business is right now, and how well it is doing. Creating goals implies knowing where you are, so you know how far it is to realize those goals. You'll have to have some idea of how your business is faring to know how much marketing you'll need to do. You'll also have to have some idea of how your business is doing before you can create your plan of how to reach the goals you set for your firm. In a finely detailed marketing plan, this starting point will be set out in its own section or in charts or both, when discussing your objectives for the coming marketing period. In less formal, less detailed marketing plans, your current situation might be described in one sentence - "In the coming year, we will grow our sales from $X to $Y, and expand our customer base from OurTown to YourTown." No matter how you phrase it, display it or put it on the paper - your marketing plan will provide a clear, accurate view of your business's success (or lack thereof) right from the start.

Are We There Yet?

The most important benefit of marketing plans is that they act as road maps on your path to achieving a higher (hopefully) level of success. In your marketing plan, you'll want to outline exactly what steps you'll be taking to increase, or at least maintain, your level of sales. Again, how nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty detailed you get will depend on the type of the marketing plan you need, and the purpose of the plan (how you plan to use the plan.) (We'll talk more about this in a later post, promise.) You usually needn't list every little baby step along the way, even in the most detailed plan, but some do call for more specifics than others. (One thing you'll want to be very specific about is your marketing budget, irregardless of the rest of the details. Your budget will determine the frequency, the type and the reach of any marketing you do.) A simple way to map out your marketing journey is to simply state your budget in one sentence, then list each month of the proposed marketing period after. On each line, after the name of the month, list what marketing efforts will be made, and how much, approximately, those efforts will cost. For example, if your business doesn't have a Web presence yet, your first month may look something like this:

Month 1:

set-up business blog (free)

set up Twitter page (free)

order new business cards with web address ($25)

press release for local newspaper announcing our new web presence (free)

Get the idea? Now, a finely detailed marketing, such as those required when applying for a government business loan, for example, will most likely include charts or spreadsheets, outlining expenses and projected returns on investment (ROIs.) The small, one-man show can get away with a simple outline as demonstrated above.

Your marketing plan can help keep you on the right road, too, whether you are a very busy one-person operation, or you have employees. You see, you can use the marketing pan to remind yourself, and explain to others, of just what needs to be done every month in the way of marketing your business. You can't forget to start that blog because it's right there on the paper, screaming at you, every time you turn around. Your employees will know that your big Christmas in July sale is probably not the best time to ask for a week off. Your employees will also know that new business cards will be necessary and when. They'll know that in September, you'll be kicking off a new customer acquisition campaign. They may even be inspired to come up with a few things for that campaign you hadn't thought of. A shared, public marketing plan keeps everyone in the loop, on the same page, and aiming for the same goal.

One word of caution - DO NOT treat your marketing plan as if it were set in stone. Especially when it would be to your advantage. If you get an advert from a local print shop or online graphic design house offering a special on business cards, go ahead and set up the blog account so you have the new web info, even if you aren't supposed to do that this month. If you get really swamped, or difficulties prevent you from following through on something, don't count it as a lost cause, either. Do what you can to get back on track. Maybe you can't offer a back-to-school special in October, but you can run an Autumn Harvest special. Maybe it takes you six weeks to learn how to really use a business blog. So what? Start it when you're ready. It's never too late to make a sincere marketing effort.

The Finish Line

Your marketing plan should have a definite goal, be it a dollar amount for sales, additions to available inventory, a new customer figure, or an increase in service area, or all of the above. And since you put it in writing and placed it somewhere for the whole world to see, you should be able to tell when you're going to reach that goal. Setting those goals may actually be the easiest, and yet the hardest, portion of the marketing plan to create. Set a goal that's too low and you'll make your marketing plan obsolete in a very short time. Set a goal that's too high and you'll face frustration, anxiety, and possible failure. Sometimes, in the midst of listing the steps, I'll realize that the goal is either too high or too low, and can then change it to reflect a more realistic objective. Sometimes, things go wrong, economies change, employees leave suddenly, environmental disasters strike, computer systems fail. You can't help it - it just happens. When those kinds of difficulties occur, rewrite the plan. Throw that puppy in the nearest trash bin and start over, from your new starting point. There's no shame in it. As long as you've given it your honest, true, best effort, you have nothing to hang your head about. Shooting for the stars can sometimes lead to moon landings, after all.

Marketing plans needn't be something scary or complicated. If you need a bigger plan than you think you can devise, get help. Most marketers (myself included) can help you create the type of plan you need. For those of you who would like to try your hand at creating your own marketing plan, in the next week's post, we'll cover the ins and outs of the simplest marketing plan I know of, suitable for the individual business owner, or the small firm with a handful of employees. It'll be so easy to do, promise!

Have a good week and see ya after!

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