For those of you new to business ownership, there is plenty to learn about growing a business, and the learning process may seem daunting. The most important part of growing any business is getting your name “out there” and generating enough interest to attract your audience to your service. To get your name out there, you need to market effectively. But first, you must identify your target clientele and develop a plan that will bring the right people through your door.
People often confuse marketing with advertising, thinking that they’re one and the same when, in fact, they’re very different. Truth is, marketing is a large umbrella, whereas advertising is just one component of a comprehensive marketing package. [Editor’s note: For a full discussion on developing an advertising strategy, please see the Training for Growth column on page 5.] In other words, if you look at marketing as a large puzzle, then the pieces of that puzzle include all of the following elements:
- market research
- media planning
- public relations
- customer service
- sales strategy
- community involvement
Because advertising is just a single piece of the bigger puzzle, creating a marketing plan that allows all of the pieces to come together cohesively is vital for success.
Marketing is a process that takes time and can involve hours of research if it is to be effective. Ultimately, the goal of your marketing package should be to bring your potential customers and your business together. Since there are many pieces to this puzzle, the best way to start is by creating a solid marketing plan. This plan should outline the specific actions you intend to take in order to influence prospective clients to purchase the services you offer.
Your marketing plan must reflect your marketing strategy and provide the goals for your entire marketing package. The plan tells you where you want to go from here and serves as a roadmap that’s going to get you to your ultimate goal—to bring in new business. Just as a business plan lays out the map for your business strategy, the marketing plan lays out the map for your marketing strategy.
A marketing plan can be developed
as a stand-alone document or as part of your overall business plan. Either way, the marketing plan should serve as your blueprint for communicating the value of your products and/or services to your customers.
The first step in developing your marketing plan is to create a clear objective. Ask yourself this question: What do you want your promotion efforts to achieve for you and your business? For example, perhaps your objective is to sign up three new personal training clients each month. Whatever your objective, make sure it’s realistic so that you can have a practical way to measure your plan’s success.
Under each objective that you create, you’ll need to list the specific steps necessary to bring the objective to fruition. These will become your action steps. For example, one of your objectives may be to contact new prospects during the winter months, when business is typically slow, by becoming a guest speaker at three local events, but how are you going to make that happen? The specific action steps you would want to consider might include looking in your local paper for organizations that are made up of your targeted customers. You would then contact those organizations via letter, e-mail or phone; find out the names of their primary contacts; and set up a time to talk directly with those individuals to share three salient and solid topics you can speak about. This simple action step will result in your having achieved one of your marketing objectives.
Once you have listed your action steps, you need to add a timeline for those actions. As with everything in business, you must be mindful of what you can realistically accomplish in terms of both time and dollars. Being practical with your timeline allows you to be proactive about your action steps, as opposed to wondering (at the last minute) what you should have done to be adequately prepared.
Another benefit of having a concrete timeline is that it can save you money down the road. For example, you will be more likely to stay within your marketing budget if you can arrange to have all of your marketing collateral, such as ads and brochures, created at once. In addition to saving money on graphic design and copywriting fees, you will lower your printing costs by having all your new marketing materials printed together.
The good news is that you don’t need to create an elaborate marketing plan in order to succeed. On the contrary, your marketing plan should be easy to follow and simple to create. It should include the following 5 primary elements.
Generally only about one page in length, this section of the plan should provide a clear snapshot of your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This will then serve as a helpful benchmarking tool: when you review your plan a few months from now, you’ll be able to see how your business has changed and what you might need to adjust.
If you’re marketing to consumers, write a profile of your target audience based on the group’s demographics, such as age, gender and household income. If your target audience consists of other business professionals, include a short description of relevant businesses in this section of your plan. Your target audience description will prove invaluable when you are deciding whether a particular publication, organization or media tool will help you reach and attract your best prospects.
Write a short, bulleted list of your company’s marketing goals. Be sure to make each goal measurable. For example, rather than say you will attract new clients, be specific: “I will sign five new clients by February 16.” Setting a date makes planning much easier and allows you to better evaluate the performance of your marketing plan.
Outline your company’s overall marketing strategy, along with the list of action steps you will take to increase your bottom line. Find a workable system to create your timeline. For example, there are numerous software programs that can keep you on task and help you realize your goals.
The most important element of your marketing plan may well be pricing your marketing strategies and making sure they are sensible and achievable. This is where your business plan comes into play, as it should include a line item for marketing. Does your plan fit in with the budget you determined? If not, you should go back to the drawing board and come up with other strategies. Whatever you intend in the way of marketing strategies, you need to make sure you won’t go broke trying to attract new customers. Be certain you understand how much it will cost to draw a new client to you and how long it will take you to cover that cost. A solid marketing plan isn’t cheap, but it doesn’t have to break the bank either.
The biggest mistake business owners make is throwing money at only a single element of their larger marketing package. Typically, that single and costly element is the advertising budget. Remember, not all of your potential clients will read the paper in which your ad appears. A strong overall marketing plan will allow you to look more closely at your potential customers and know which other outlets will get your message out effectively. In the end, it’s important to realize that a sound marketing plan can be the difference between a thriving business and one that fails because it was trying to reach an ill-defined market.
Here are some great books that offer more information on developing a marketing plan:
- Grant, J. 2000. The New Marketing Manifesto: 12 Rules for Building Successful Brands in the 21st Century. Texere.
- Levinson, J.C. 1998. Guerrilla Marketing: Secrets for Making Big Profits From Your Small Business. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
- Rosen, E. 2002. The Anatomy of Buzz: How to Create Word-of-Mouth Marketing. Currency.
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