A marketing plan is like a roadmap to the promotional future of your small business. It’s an important tool you can use to:

  • Identify prospects
  • Position your business among your competitors
  • Establish future goals
  • Track your progress and make solid adjustments based on past performance

The Elements of a Small Business Marketing Plan

Identify prospects – If you’re advertising a high end product in a free weekly supermarket circular, you’re missing the point, even if the advertising is cheap. Yes, you make pick up customers, but probably not enough to justify the effort. Your best shot at making a good match between a distribution vehicle (advertising venue) and a potential customer, is in understanding the dynamics of your ideal customer prospect. Knowing your product is only half of the equation. The other half is the C-factor — your most likely customers. Once you identify them, you can market to them specifically.

Although consultants are a good source of information, you have some important customer profiling tools already. Your existing customers are a great resource. Start a dialog. Use online instruments, like your business blog, as well as response cards, questionnaires, and giveaways. Get your customers talking about themselves, your products, and their present and future needs. Insights gained from these sources will allow you to identify key similarities among customers that will help you market more effectively, sell more strategically, and even build a better mousetrap.

Understand the competition – Your competitors can be your best friends once you learn to see them as the advance guard (or rear guard) of your marketing army. Have they got the secret of marketing their products to your best customers? Don’t obsess. Learn from their example, and put your own unique spin on a new and improved marketing push.

Your competition should have an influence on your marketing strategies in other ways, too. If your competitor drops his price, should you — or should you just alter the way you market? Planning for these types of eventualities can be a useful way to get and stay prepared for competition related challenges.

Put together a budget – You don’t need a fortune in order to market effectively, but you do need a consistent marketing presence — and a plan. Start with a yearly budget. It’ll get you thinking about the bigger picture and give you some time to build a strategy. Most marketing campaigns succeed through repetition, so plan on giving any approach at least six months to show favorable results.

Have a goal – Marketing numbers exist in limbo unless you associate them with a goal. From increased sales, to a jump in the number of walk-ins or inquiries, think of marketing programs in terms of specific targets. After a few campaigns, you’ll get better at defining your goals. When you start making the connection between a marketing push and the defined goal, you’ll be on your way to becoming a successful marketing wizard for your small business.

Build a reliable brain trust – Customers, the competition, employees, and consultants are all great potential resources for marketing ideas. Do some creative brainstorming and come up with 10 good marketing concepts. Next year come up with 10 more. Assign each a potential effectiveness ranking. In the first year, develop and implement at least two or three of them. As your business changes, your marketing goals will change too, but keep your old marketing ideas in a file for future review. Some that may have seemed too grandiose a couple of years ago may be just the ticket next year — or the year after that.

If you have the budget, consider hiring a marketing consultant to help you. Consultants aren’t the last word in good marketing, but if marketing just isn’t your thing, a consultant can get the ball rolling and give you some great advice.

Choose distribution vehicles – There are lots of avenues through which to market, like:

  • Direct mail
  • Customer newsletters
  • News releases
  • Websites, blogs, and social networking
  • Trade publications
  • Yellow page advertising
  • Billboards
  • Trade shows
  • Radio and television spots

The list goes on, but you can see that there’s a smorgasbord of options waiting to be explored. Yes, money will almost always be a factor, but as you grow your business, your marketing budget will grow too.

When you have a campaign in mind, prefer a targeted approach to blanket coverage. If you can only afford very limited advertising, go with something specific that will focus on key elements of your niche – think scalpel not scythe.

Track your results – We keep saying it because it’s so important. You’ll only learn how to market effectively by identifying what works for your business and what doesn’t. Keeping track of the numbers is vital. Even if you just keep a tally in a spreadsheet, know who’s responding to that mailer or your yellow page listing.

At the end of each marketing year, review your past strategies, and go through the process again armed with the lessons you’ve learned from last year’s campaigns. Past failures will lay the groundwork for future successes. It’s one of the ways experience becomes the best teacher when it comes to growing your small business through marketing.

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