Without a plan, how will you get there? Get where? You won’t know without a plan, nor will you know when you’ve achieved it. Many small-business owners don’t write down a marketing plan— they just want to have more sales than last year. But does more sales mean more profits? Not if payroll, rent, distribution, postage, and other business costs and expenses increase as well. Even a rough marketing plan is better than none—it’s something you can refer back to often to see whether you’re on the right track. Did you ever hear of a general going into battle without a plan? Or a football coach without a game plan? A homebuilder without plans? You need to define to yourself and to your employees where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. Without it, there’s no telling where you’ll end up.
Here are five steps to help you set up your marketing plan and then work with it:
- Define your objectives. Make your objectives challenging but still within reach. It’s useless to plan to double sales when in the past your best annual increase was 20 percent. Perhaps you want to add new products or services, or move to a larger distribution center or a bigger store?
- Establish a time limit. When do you want to reach these objectives? Setting a time limit that is too short or too long will not give you accurate results. Try selecting six months, one year, or a selling season. Make your time limit reasonable and possible to achieve.
- Identify your target market. Define your customers and where they are. For a retail store or restaurant, they might be shoppers or diners within a five-mile radius. For a mail-order company, it could be the entire U.S., North America, or the world. And who are these customers? Teachers, consumers, engineers, homeowners, manufacturing firms, insurance companies, bookstores—whoever is most likely to purchase your products or services. Do you want to expand your customer type and add new groups? If so, decide which ones you will pursue.
- Plan a marketing mix. How do you want to achieve your objectives—by advertising, direct mail, telemarketing, signs, in-store classes, coupons, or press releases? Decide on the best strategy that is in line with your budget and then follow through. Test different approaches and expand on the ones that show the best results.
- Analyze and review. After you start working with your marketing plan, you need to watch the results as you go.
Is your business progressing toward your objectives the way you planned? Do you need to make adjustments or change your marketing mix? Do your employees believe in your mission statement, or do you need to make some changes?
You may want to consider also writing a long-term marketing plan for three to five years out. This will include several of the aforementioned short-term plans. You can alter the longer-term plan as conditions change and new opportunities arise. You can keep changing your plan as often as necessary to keep up with the times, but you’ll have nothing to change or review if you don’t write the initial plan. Make everyone in your business aware of any changes as soon as you make them. Include everyone in your marketing plan—you won’t reach your goals if you don’t involve everyone.