Every business must have a business plan and a marketing plan. Even if you’re just a one-man or one-woman operation, it pays to look at your operation as a business. Writing a marketing plan helps focus your efforts and forces you to be clear on who your core customers or clients are, how you plan to reach them, what your objectives really are for being in business, and so on.
In your business plan you describe your business, write your mission and vision statements, analyze your competitors and your own strengths and weaknesses, and set your objectives. In your marketing plan, you develop strategies and tactics to sell your product or services to your target market.
You may not enjoy marketing and having a marketing plan won’t change that, but it will help focus your efforts. As Linda Hailey says in Kickstart Marketing ~ The No-Nonsense System for Boosting your Small Business, the good news is that you don’t have to love marketing to get great results, nor does it have to cost a fortune or take hours of your time. We can all do it.
State your objectives
Marketing plans are necessary for all stages of business development but your objectives will vary at different times. For example, an established business might want to improve client retention, whereas as a start-up business is looking for customers.
In the first section of your plan, briefly describe your company and state your objectives. Be as specific as possible and set a time frame for your plan. Make your objectives measurable so you can monitor your progress and identify marketing techniques that work best for you.
Understand your business from a customer’s perspective
When it comes to marketing, Michael Gerber author of The E-Myth Revisited advises that you forget about everything but your customer. Instead of looking at the features of your product or service, view them from the customer’s perspective.
Put yourself in their shoes and ask questions such as:
- What are the benefits of my products and services?
- Are my products and services good value for money?
- Is my packaging/service delivery attractive?
- How do my services or products compare with my competitors?
Understand your Target Market
Your product or service is unlikely to have universal appeal so you need to identify and understand your target market. Look at your market in terms of demographics (age, gender, education, geographical location etc.) and psychographics (what motivates their purchasing).
The amount of market research you do will depend on your budget and your prior knowledge of your target market. It is worth putting time and money into market research when you start out to prevent scattering your efforts too thinly. You can employ someone to conduct research for you or you can do it yourself.
Research avenues include user surveys, talking to people and reading about companies who fit your target profile in trade magazines or on the internet.
If you have several possible target audiences and need to refine your market, take your personal preferences into consideration. We all work better with groups we feel comfortable with.
Established businesses might consider interviewing current, past and prospective customers to identify what customers like about your business and to identify areas for improvement.
Position your Business
You have probably done a competitor analysis as part of your business plan so, transfer this knowledge to your marketing plan. Look at both direct and indirect competition. For example, a carpenter will compete not only against others in the industry, but also against the home handyperson, or the guy that chooses to do it himself.
Ask yourself if your services or products have some unique features that differentiate you from your competitors. In marketing jargon, this is called a unique selling proposition (USP).
Don’t worry if you don’t have a USP; a lot of small businesses don’t but it’s something you should think about creating. If you have one, use it to promote and position your business. Whether you have a USP or not, decide how to position your business.
For example, you may want to position yourself by:
- Specific product features – this works if your product has some unique features
- Benefits – this is generally an effective way to talk to customers… what’s in it for them, what wants and needs does it solve for them
- Direct or indirect comparisons with competitors.
Jack Trout and Al Reis developed the notion of positioning in marketing in the 1980s, but their books are still relevant today. One of the most famous is The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.
Brand and Image
Your brand and image help determine how your customers perceive you. Decide what image you want to portray. For example, do you want your customers to see you as solid, stable and secure or jazzy, upbeat and new?
When you’ve developed your image and brand make sure it runs consistently throughout your company, from your brochures, website and stationery through to the way staff answer the phone.
Your branding should do a good job of describing the value that you deliver to your customers. According to Denise Lee in What Great Brands Do ~ The Seven Brand-Building Principle That Separate the Best from the Rest, the big brands use branding all part of designing your company's offer and image so that it occupies a distinct and valued place in your target customer's mind.
This means that your brand extends beyond the surface details such as your logo, image, look and feel, reputation, attitude or trademark.
Denise lee defines brand as follows:
“… A brand is a bundle of values and attributes that define the value you deliver to people through the entire customer experience, and the unique way of doing business that forms the basis of your company’s relationships with all of its stakeholders. Simply put, your brand is what your company does and how you do it. Your brand is not what you say you are – it’s what you do.”
Having done your spadework, it’s time to choose the marketing tools that best suit your target market, your budget and your personality. There are several options to choose from. They include:
Networking: Participate in groups where your customers are likely to be or where you can form alliances.
Telemarketing: Telemarketing, or cold calling, has a bad reputation because of the number of unsolicited phone calls most people receive, but in some industries it does work. Persistence and follow-ups are important.
As Wendy Evans says in How to Get New Business in 90 Days and Keep It Forever, the first rule of cold calling is not to sell over the phone as you need to build a relationship before you can sell. She says you must stay in contact and that the good news is that 60 percent of all sales opportunities arrive after the fifth contact.
Direct marketing: We all receive so much unsolicited junk mail that the generic mail drop is probably of limited value for most small businesses. There are exceptions – for example, direct mail may work in the fast-food industry and business box mail drops can also give results if your direct mail is distinctive.
A variant of the generic mail drop is inserting a flyer into a trade magazine.
Targeted direct mail is useful for small businesses aiming at a specific target audience. Once you’ve identified your list of companies, send a letter or brochure addressed to a specific person within that company. Follow-up is important, so ring the person a few days later and see if you can set up an appointment.
At this stage you’re building relationships, not hard selling.
For both targeted direct mail and telemarketing, you need lists. You can compile our own or buy a list. There are privacy laws governing direct mail, so to be certain you are within the law.
Yet another direct marketing option is post-card marketing. If you’re in the United States, www.postcardmania.com is a good place for this. They can help craft your marketing copy, they can get you lists, they can also give you a free test run to see if this form of marketing works for your business.
Advertisements: Advertising isn’t cheap, but it gives an impression of credibility and may be a good investment for your company. Consider your target audience and decide where to advertise.
For example, major dailies, specialist newspapers or magazines, local newspapers, radio, television and places like YP.com the online yellow pages. It might be worth employing a copywriter to help you with the words.
Press releases: This is a great way to build your profile, giving you free publicity and wide coverage. You must have newsworthy stories, such as a new product, the success of a client or a promotion. You can build your own contact lists by ringing publications you’re targeting or buy a media guide.
Become an expert: If you are an expert in your field and prepared to use yourself to publicize your business, people will seek out your opinions. You could write articles for trade journals or give presentations and speeches to groups.
Service professionals can also leverage their expertise to create educational content that you can give away free on your website and in community venues. This is called information marketing, and it works very well for promoting your services in this information age.
Newsletters: These are another form of information marketing. They are a relatively inexpensive way of staying in touch with your database. Use an autoresponder to deliver quality content and to stay in touch with the customers you have on your list. Just be mindful that once you start it, you need to maintain it on a regular basis.