Build it and they will come. It’s a well-meaning sentiment. But when it comes to running your own business, it misses the mark a bit.
As you already know, you can’t simply set up shop and cross your fingers that people find you. Instead, being a successful business owner means constantly marketing and promoting your business in hopes of getting more eyeballs on your product or bodies through the door.
But, the words “marketing plan” are enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine. It sounds overly technical and completely daunting, doesn’t it? However, I assure you, it isn’t as intimidating as you might think it is—and you definitely don’t need to have a degree in marketing in order to figure it out.
Follow these seven simple steps, and you’ll be armed with a marketing plan that is sure to help you take your business to the next level!
What is a marketing plan?
Before you can jump right in with creating your plan, it’s important to have a solid understanding of what exactly it is. Typically included as an expanded piece of your overall business plan, a marketing plan is just what it sounds like: a document that details everything you need to know in order to successfully promote your business.
Some large corporations have marketing plans that are hundreds of pages, whereas a small one-person business might only have a handful of pages. There’s no exact length for this sort of document, as long as you’ve included all of the necessary information.
Additionally, it’s important to note that your marketing plan should span one year. This is enough time to reach those big, long-term objectives, and short enough to remain flexible when your circumstances and goals change over time.
Now that you know the nuts and bolts, let’s dive into the details. Here are the steps you need to take in order to piece together the essential elements of your business’ marketing plan.
Step 1: Know Your Business
You needed to do this exact same thing when working on your business plan, so this first step shouldn’t be too difficult. After all, nobody knows your business quite like you do.
Think of this section as your opportunity to provide a general overview of your current business operations, as well as your internal and external environment. How long have you been up and running? What’s your business structure? Are you an LLC or a partnership? Do you conduct business online or through a storefront? What sorts of products and services do you offer?
Within this section, some companies also choose to do a SWOT analysis—which details your strengths and weaknesses as an organization, as well as any opportunities for growth, and threats that could hinder that progress. It’s a great way to get a snapshot of your current situation in a way that’s helpful and completely manageable.
Step 2: Determine Target Market
“Target market” is likely a phrase you heard repeated in any sort of marketing class you ever took or article you’ve read. And, for good reason—it’s a key element for coming up with effective and successful marketing strategies.
In this portion of your marketing plan, you should list anything and everything you know about your ideal customer. This includes basic demographic information, such as gender and age. But you should also dig deeper into their behaviors and decisions.
Why do they buy from you? What challenge or pain point are you solving for them? How do they spend their free time? What outlets do they turn to to get information? Gather any intel you can find, and include it in this section. Knowing your customer inside and out will be helpful when identifying marketing tactics and strategies.
Step 3: Analyze Competitors
Wouldn’t it be nice if you operated in a vacuum and never had to worry about any competitors infringing on your space or stealing your customers? Unfortunately, business doesn’t work that way. Chances are, there are already companies out there doing something incredibly similar to you—meaning you’ll need to work that much harder to stand out.
Don’t get intimidated! This is something every business owner deals with. So being armed with all sorts of knowledge about your competitors will be helpful in finding ways to differentiate yourself from the crowd.
Start by describing—in detail—the product or service you offer to consumers. This is your chance to expand on the basic overview you provided in the first section. Then, spell out how your product or service measures up to the existing competition. What positions you as the one source clients or customers should turn to? What makes you different? As you might imagine, you’ll be able to leverage this differentiator to effectively market your business.
Taking a magnifying glass to your competitors can be disheartening—particularly if they’re really thriving. But it’s an important step to not only gather all of the information you need, but also to demonstrate to any potential investors that you’re aware of your competition and prepared to tackle that challenge head-on.
Step 4: Set Goals
Here comes the fun part—spelling out your marketing-related goals for the year. What objectives do you want to accomplish? Are there specific targets you want to hit?
Depending on your current situation and ambitions, goals can range from lofty and grandiose (such as doubling sales or increasing market share) to smaller, more bite-sized ambitions (like getting 100 new Instagram followers on your brand’s account or starting a blog for your business).
The important part is to zone in on the milestones you want to reach throughout that year, whether it seems possible or not. Don’t cloud your mind with logistics just yet—this comes in the next step.
Step 5: Outline Strategies
Now that you’ve outlined exactly what you want to accomplish, it’s time to detail the strategies you’ll use to actually reach these objectives.
I recommend taking each goal separately, and listing the related action items directly underneath it. This allows you to see exactly what needs to get done in order to push yourself toward that accomplishment. It’s also a great way to get a handle on whether or not this goal seems realistic or if needs a little adjusting. You want your goals to be motivating and far-reaching, but not so difficult that they’re just discouraging.
Let’s stick with the example of getting more followers on your business’ Instagram account. Here’s what this could look like:
Goal: Gain at least 100 new followers on Company XYZ’s Instagram account by December 31.
Starting Number: 458
Be more active in the space by posting at least three new photos every week.
Engage with users by responding to comments on photos as well as commenting on photos posted by similar, relevant accounts.
Research industry and community-related hashtags that we can utilize in our own posts to attract more organic traffic.
Host an Instagram contest for our followers.
See? It’s not nearly as complex as you think, but it still provides a tangible, helpful roadmap to set you on the right track to accomplish your goals.
Step 6: Set a Budget
If you’re anything like me, this is the part you dread the most—the numbers. I’ve never been a math whiz, and just the word “budget” is enough to send me running for the hills. But, as you already know, it’s a necessary evil when it comes to running your business.
In your full-blown business plan, you detailed the entire financial side of your business. But in your marketing plan, stay focused strictly on marketing-related activities. How much do you plan to spend on marketing and promotion throughout the next year, and how much will the action items you listed above cost you? Most importantly, where will this money come from?
Budgets aren’t fun, but it’s important to be honest with yourself here. You’d rather discover you need to tweak or tailor something to make it affordable right now—rather than six months from now when you’ve already forked over your credit card!
Step 7: Get to Work!
There you have it! These are the steps you need in order to create a marketing plan for your business—you just need to put them all together. As mentioned earlier, marketing plans vary from basic and simple to comprehensive and complex. And remember, as with everything else, it really depends on what’s best suited for your own business.
But regardless of whether you plan to end up with a document that’s two pages or 200, these steps should help to get you started! More