Unlike Rome, your marketing plan can be built in a day.
Here’s how. Gwen Moraneth Talbert was a highly respected interior designer. After reading an article about successful homebased businesses, he decided to quit his 9-to-5 job and launch his own corporate-office design consulting company. He turned a spare bedroom into an office, ordered a batch of business cards and called a few colleagues to let them know about his new venture.
Then Talbert patiently waited for the phone to ring. Six months later, he had only one client, and his business was failing miserably.
While some entrepreneurs brag about achieving success without much planning, stories like Talbert’s are much more common among businesses that don’t have an ongoing marketing program. Just as a winning football team always goes onto the field with a solid game plan, your business must have an outline of how to reach out to prospective customers in order to succeed.
If the word “plan” makes you break into a cold sweat, fear not. It’s possible to create a simple, effective marketing plan in less than 24 hours. By following a series of steps, you can schedule your marketing activities as part of your daily routine and reach your expansion goals much sooner.
23 hours to a great marketing plan
HOUR 1: Taking Stock
Before you map out where you want your marketing plan to take you, you need to find out where you are now. How have you positioned your business in the market? Is this how your customers see you? You may want to ask some of them for feedback. Being as objective as possible, write four or five paragraphs that summarize your business, including its philosophy, strengths and weaknesses. Don’t worry if it’s not neatly organized — it’s more important just to get everything down on paper.
HOURS 2-3: Setting the Goal
Now that you have a sense of where you are, you can decide where you want to go. Ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish. Do you want to increase sales? Change the perception of your business among target audiences? Generate more store traffic? Enter a new market where you may not have much experience?
Outline each of your goals, and be specific. While you should be optimistic, use a healthy dose of realism to keep you grounded. Remember, the best marketing plan in the world is not likely to increase sales 80 percent this year, that is, barring special circumstances such as an outstanding new product introduction or the sudden disappearance of your competition. While it’s fine to have multiple goals, be sure to prioritize them so you can create a realistic plan to achieve them.
Hitting the target
HOUR 3-4: Hitting the Target
Who are your target audiences? If you say “everyone,” you need to rethink your answer. Even the largest companies don’t market blindly to every individual.
They break their audiences down into distinct profiles, or niche markets, and create messages and vehicles designed to reach each segment.
Define your niche markets as clearly and specifically as possible. If you’re reaching out to businesses, describe which type, including the industry, revenue level, location and other important characteristics.
If consumers are your audience, describe their age, sex, income level, marital status and other relevant facts. If you identify several market segments, rank them in order of priority.
Researching your plan
HOURS 4-9: Researching Your Plan
Now that you’ve outlined where you are and where you want to go, it’s time to determine the best way to get there.
Nothing will get you where you want to go faster than research. Information about your target audiences is available from a variety of resources, many of them free.
Take some time to find out about the demographics (physical characteristics) and psychographics (psychological characteristics) of your target markets. Demographics outline such factors as age, geographic location and income level. Psychographics offer insight into trends, buying habits, market segments and the like.
Trade associations and publications are often great places to start your research, especially if you’re reaching out to businesses. Use your own and your target industries’ trade resources for market information. Many associations have Web sites, and many publications are also available on the Net.
Once you’ve gathered this information, write a detailed profile of your audience segments. Include all the demographic and psychographic information. Find out what percentage of people own homes in Anytown. What is the average household income?
Do most homeowners have children? The more specific your profiles are, the better.
Planning the action
HOURS 9-18: Planning the Action
This is the heart of your game plan. For each goal you’ve outlined, create a strategy, complete with your key messages and steps that will help you accomplish the goal. The good news: You have many tools at your disposal.
As you examine each of your goals, conduct a minibrainstorming session. Consider the best vehicles for your message. You may decide to use newspaper, radio, TV, magazine or outdoor advertising; direct marketing programs, including postcards, sales letters, fliers, business reply cards, newsletters or toll-free response numbers; or public relations elements such as publicity, events, speaking engagements, sponsorships and opinion polls.
Perhaps you can accomplish your objectives and cut costs by teaming up with related, noncompeting businesses for in-store promotions or cross-promotional campaigns. Online promotional opportunities are more abundant than ever, so consider designing a Web site or uploading information into a news group or special interest forum.
Write out each strategy, and beneath it, list key messages and tactics. Here’s a sample:
Strategy: Position myself as the market leader in home inspections in my community.
Key messages: Homer Wright Home Inspections is a reputable, trustworthy name in home inspections.
Approach local communities about teaching a home-buying class.
Propose a feature story to a local paper about “10 Things to Look for When Buying a Home,” with me as the expert to be quoted.
Create a brochure entitled “Secrets of Buying a Home.” Offer it free to people who call.
Issue a press release about the free brochure to local media.
Send informational brochures to real estate agents and mortgage brokers who refer home buyers to home inspectors.
For each step you plan, keep asking yourself, “Why should I do this?”
Don’t decide to do big, splashy promotions if you really can’t afford them. Smaller, more frequent communications are much more effective if your budget is limited. For example, a small accounting firm wanted to increase its exposure in local newspapers.
The owner made a $10,000 donation to a local charity’s annual gala, believing this would make a great news story. While the gesture was greatly appreciated by the charity and its supporters, that money represented the majority of the firm’s annual marketing budget. In return, the owner got one brief story in the local paper. If the organization’s goal was to become more philanthropic, the donation would have been an effective gesture.
However, because the original goal was to increase publicity, the money would have been better spent on a diverse program with more components.
Finally, be sure the promotions you’ve selected project the right image. If your audience is conservative, don’t stage an outrageous promotion. Similarly, if you need to project a cutting-edge image, make sure your efforts are sophisticated.
Budgeting your resources
HOURS 18-21: Budgeting Your Resources
Some business owners believe marketing is an optional expense. This is one of the most tragic myths in business. Marketing expenses should be given priority, especially in times of slow cash flow. After all, how are you going to attract more business during the slow times if you don’t tell customers about your business?
Take a realistic look at how much money you have to spend on marketing. While you shouldn’t overextend yourself, it’s critical that you allot adequate funds to reach your markets. If you find that you don’t have the budget to tackle all your markets, try to reach them one by one, in order of priority.
For each of your tactics, break down each expense and outline the estimated cost of each. For example, a brochure includes writing, photography, graphic design, film, printing and delivery. From there, you can beef up or pare down your plan, depending on your financial situation.
Timing your projects
HOURS 21-23: Timing Your Projects
Now that you’ve broken down the steps involved in each activity, allot a segment of time and a deadline to each. Again, make sure you’re not overextending yourself, or you may get burned out. It’s better to start with smaller, more consistent efforts than an overly ambitious program you’ll have to discard a few months later.
HOURS 23+: Go For It!
What you now hold in your hands is probably the most effective “to do” list you’ll ever write. You have prepared a document that can help you reach your market segments from a position of knowledge and expertise instead of from shoot-from-the-hip hunches.
Don’t put your marketing plan on a shelf and forget about it. It should be a living
document that grows and changes over time. As your business reaps the benefits of your initial strategies, you may want to increase the scope of your marketing. If you find something is not working, change it.
Consistency and continuity, delivered with a dash of creativity, give you the formula for successful marketing.