Starting a small business takes courage, passion, determination and focus. Coming up with a profitable idea that meets a market need is no easy task. However, once a business is up and running, ideally with a business plan in hand, it’s time to move into the next phase of development: creating a marketing plan. Why is this the next step for small businesses? Mainly because when a business is about to launch, its main concerns are feasibility and operational issues. Marketing usually kicks in after a business is running and has the bandwidth to think through growth and awareness tactics.
This does not mean that a business should keep its marketing plan after its launch. The best way to start a business is to have a business plan and a complementary marketing plan. If that wasn’t the case for your small business, then there is no need to worry. There is always time to take a more strategic approach to your small business marketing efforts.
If you are the point where marketing is rising on your business priority list, this article is for you. We’ll go over the essentials of a marketing plan so that you have an actionable document to help you achieve your overarching business goals. Are you ready? Let’s jump in.
The 4 Ps of Marketing
If you’re new to marketing or just need a refresher, the 4 Ps of Marketing should be your guide to your marketing plan. The 4 Ps are product, price, location and promotion. These four considerations are the basis of any marketing strategy. If you keep these four marketing elements in mind and incorporate them into your plan, you can’t go wrong. Below is a brief summary of the 4 Ps and how they relate to your business.
image courtesy of SmartDraw
By keeping the 4 Ps as the framework of your marketing plan, your initiatives, strategies and goals will align perfectly with the goals of your business plan.
With the 4 Ps as a benchmark, we can go into the five components of a small business marketing plan. Each component builds on the other and creates a path for your marketing efforts. Taking the time to develop a thoughtful marketing plan will save you time and resources in the long run.
Your goals are your north star for your marketing plan. Without them, what do you do? Clearly defining your goals and writing them down is your first step in building a solid plan. Go through your business plan and filter for broader goals that can be supported by marketing efforts. Identify these opportunities and turn them into long and short term goals. Feel free to add dates, if they make sense for your goals and help you stick to your schedule.
If your business plan is out of date, a good question to ask yourself is: what problem can my business solve for my target audience? This will guide you in the right direction in determining your goals and help you develop your plan.
With the “why” now answered in the goals section, you can dig into the research part of your plan. Use this part to define your current market position, target audience, and competitive challenges. It puts a mirror in your face, metaphorically speaking, and forces you to see the opportunities and gaps within your business.
For a comprehensive search strategy, use these three types of assessment:
Perform a SWOT analysis
The SWOT analysis, or Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, is a useful tool to objectively assess your business. This prompts you to look at all four areas and determine the company’s position in the market.
From this analysis, a company can identify areas of growth, improvements and, most importantly, its Unique selling proposition (USP). A USP is your differentiator in the market. This is what sets your business apart from others and is often the reason why people choose your products or services over your competition. USP is an integral part of a company’s marketing efforts and should be recognizable and visible in every marketing activity.
Do a competitive analysis
To properly position your business in the market, you need to know who your competition is and what their USPs are. This essentially calls for doing a SWOT analysis of your competitors. This way, you will have a full understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities, and you will be able to market your business more effectively.
Ask these questions once you’ve identified your competition:
- What is their market share?
- What are their fundamental goals?
- What were their past strategies?
- What are their current strategies?
- What type of media do they use to market their products or services?
- What are their strengths and weaknesses?
- What potential threats do they represent?
- What potential opportunities do they make available to you?
Most of this information can be found in your competitor’s marketing materials, such as leaflets, e-mailing campaigns, websites, and through search engines, for example their ranking in Google searches for specific keywords.
Create buyer personas
A buyer persona is a “fictitious representation of your ideal client based on market research and real data from your existing customers. Personas help divide your target audience into smaller segments, which allows for more precise target marketing to specific groups based on a number of determining factors.
Common information for buyer persona creation includes demographics, location, buying behavior, motivations, and needs. These factors provide hard data that can be synthesized to better understand the subsets of your target audience. With precise buyer personas, your business is equipped to focus on the needs of your customers and communicate your product or service based solutions in the most valuable way.
The Buyer Persona Institute has some great examples of buyer personas that can help you with your creative process. Below is a sample persona, but if you are interested in a comprehensive buyer persona profile, download this guide.
image courtesy of Buyer Persona Institute
Another useful resource is that of HubSpot Word document generator for Buyer Persona, which develops personalized personas in real time by answering a series of questions. Try it out today!
Marketing strategies are ways to add tangibility to your desired results. With your clearly defined goals and an understanding of your market positioning, you can develop strategies to support your business goals. In essence, these are broad avenues for achieving your broader marketing and business goals.
Here are some common marketing strategy ideas:
- Build a recognizable brand, both in print and digital
- To create a SEO strategy
- Establish a content strategy
- Extended dissemination
- Have an optimized website
- New versions of products and services
As you can see, there is room for interpretation in marketing strategies, as you will likely need several tactics to be successful in carrying out your strategies. Considering your marketing budget, market share, type of business, and many other factors, choose the three to five strategies that are best for you.
As mentioned above, tactics are the âhowâ of your marketing plan. This is where you get the serious stuff, and define actions that will bring your strategy to life. Think of tactics as the most effective way to reach your customers. It’s useful to associate metrics with marketing tactics, so that you can objectively assess ROI and determine which ones were successful or not.
Again, your business is unique and your tactics will be as distinctive as your strategies. However, here are some common tactics to get you started:
- A presence on social networks
- Advertise, both in print and digitally
- Loyalty programs
- Promotions, online and offline
- Public relations
- Sponsorship programs
- Write a corporate blog
Once your tactics are in place, your marketing plan becomes more actionable and is a useful resource for your entire business. Revisit your tactics often, as new ideas arise, and you’ll want them documented in your marketing plan.
The final piece of the marketing plan puzzle is your distribution channels. This section indicates where you will actually market your business. It may sound like a given, but writing down how you will use the different channels makes it clearer, more complete, and more consistent. By formalizing your channel process, you create a holistic view of channel activity and can ensure that each platform receives the proportional amount of effort and resources.
With the world reliant on both print and digital marketing, it’s important to have both types of channels in your marketing plan. Use this list as a starting point to create your chain strategy:
- Direct mail
- Email advertising
- Social media
Marketing plans are incredibly useful for businesses of all sizes. Knowing and understanding the elements of a solid marketing plan means your small business is positioned for success. Once you’re ready to jump into strategic marketing, craft your plan and reap the rewards for the months and years to come.