You may not have ever thought about it, but the Plain Communities Business Exchange is an amazing piece of work. Dozens of articles, hundreds of advertisements, and hundreds of pages—how does the PCBE get it done, month after month, year after year so that readers like you can count on it arriving without fail each month?
They couldn’t do it without a plan: who does what by when.
Every writer has a deadline to meet for submitting his article. Every business has a deadline for submitting its ad. The staff at the PCBE have their own deadlines to meet so that they can send each new issue to the printer on time.
Without a plan, the PCBE would be a clunky contraption instead of a finely oiled machine. You’d never be sure when, if ever, the latest issue would arrive in your mailbox. Advertisers would worry that their ads might fall through the cracks and not be included. Thanks to the good planning of the good folks at the PCBE, none of us have these worries.
This article is about bringing the benefits of planning to your marketing activities, but first, let’s look at a reason that some businesses don’t have a marketing plan.
No time to plan?
I think all of us understand the value of planning, so I won’t spend time convincing you of its value. Of course, we also know that planning has its limits. No matter how well we plan, events that only God knew were headed our way can intrude and interrupt our plans.
Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” His point was that the value of a plan lies as much in the exercise of planning as it does in the plan itself.
Even when they know the value of having a plan, business owners often feel too busy to create one. Who has time to sit down and think about the future when so many things need to be done NOW?
We can think of planning as somewhat like praying, in that the busier we are, the more we need it. In a poem entitled “No Time to Pray,” the unknown poet describes a wearisome day when things didn’t go well, and then concludes with this thought:
I woke up early this morning,
And paused before entering the day;
I had so much to accomplish
That I had to take time to pray.
By the time you finish this article, I hope that you are looking forward with enthusiasm to planning your marketing for next year and reaping the benefits of investing the time to plan.
Benefits of a marketing plan
Following are fourteen ways that a marketing plan can benefit your marketing as well as your overall business. These ideas are not listed in any particular order.
Organization: A marketing plan replaces disorder with structure and focus.
Don’t underestimate the power of structure and focus. Without a marketing plan, you will simply engage in haphazard and random acts of marketing. This dilutes both your focus and your results. In addition, better organization results in more efficiency.
“The person who chases two rabbits catches neither.”
Prioritization: A marketing plan helps you set marketing priorities.
Having too many priorities is both exhausting and ineffective. Like the Chinse proverb says: “The person who chases two rabbits catches neither.”
None of us can do everything that we’d like to do, so we are forced to make decisions between different options. Without a plan, you are forced to decide your marketing priorities on the fly. Planning helps you make thoughtful, intentional decisions in advance.
Scheduling: A marketing plan is a scheduling device that increases efficiency.
Schedules are an essential part of running a business. It’s the when part of “Who does what by when.” Marketing involves deadlines. Your marketing plan will include these deadlines, but it will also incorporate the time needed to do the work to meet those deadlines. You can start beating deadlines rather than just meeting them.
Memory: A marketing plan keeps deadlines and projects and ideas from being forgotten.
There is a trade show in June that you plan to attend, but you forgot to reserve your ad space in the show program. A marketing plan will help you or your marketing person stay on top of the many details involved in a successful marketing program.
Instead of wasting mental energy and brain space trying to remember all the details, your marketing plan is your external brain that holds all that information. This gives you confidence and peace of mind that you aren’t forgetting something important.
Budgeting: A marketing plan makes the best use of your limited marketing budget.
A marketing plan is not just about deadlines. Without a marketing plan that includes dollars in addition to deadlines, you run several risks:
- You might overspend on less important priorities or channels, underfunding the important ones.
- You might spend too much at the wrong time of year and run out of budget before the year is over.
- You might not even have a marketing budget, running the risk of investing too much or too little in marketing.
With a marketing plan, you can allocate your marketing budget according to your priorities and strategy for that year.
Stewardship: A marketing plan helps you spend money wisely.
Stewardship is not only a principle for our personal lives, but it also applies to our businesses. A marketing plan helps us utilize wisely the resources God has given us, reducing waste and overlap.
Communication: A marketing plan helps keep everyone on the same page.
Likely multiple people will be involved in creating and/or approving your marketing plan. This process is a mechanism for unifying your team around a common vision for your marketing. Once the disagreements are settled, and decisions are made, the marketing plan can be implemented smoothly because the path forward has been charted in advance.
Management: A marketing plan is a management tool for efficient operations.
This is related to the previous point about communication. In an efficiently run business, everyone knows exactly what to do because management is planning and communicating goals and tasks clearly and competently.
This applies to marketing as well. The marketing plan gives direction to the people responsible to implement your marketing. They are the who in “Who does what by when.”
A marketing plan frees you from needing to answer a lot of marketing questions from your employees because the answers can be found in the marketing plan.
Consistency: A marketing plan imposes consistency across your marketing activities.
Instead of placing advertisements whenever you remember to do it, a marketing plan brings those reminders to your attention so that you don’t miss opportunities. With a marketing plan, you can harness the truth of that old adage: “Slow and steady wins the race.”
Goal Setting: A marketing plan helps you be thoughtful about what you want to accomplish.
As you think through your marketing goals as part of the process of creating your marketing plan, you will decide to add or remove certain elements or projects from your plan because they don’t reflect your current goals.
Goal Achievement: A marketing plan is an important element of supporting and achieving business goals.
“Plan your work, then work your plan.” Your marketing plan exists in the context of your overall business goals. It reflects and supports those goals.
Strategy: A marketing plan helps you think strategically about your goals and tactics.
When you are proceeding without a marketing plan, your strategy is made up on the fly (if you can even call that a strategy). Creating a marketing plan brings strategy to the forefront because you are forced to think through how you will accomplish your marketing goals for the next year.
Implementation: A marketing plan is a tool for implementing your strategy.
Related to the previous point, a marketing plan ensures that your strategy doesn’t just remain a nice idea but that it is implemented “on the ground.” Investor Ray Dalio observed, “Great planners who don’t execute their plans go nowhere.”
“Great planners who don’t execute their plans go nowhere.”
Growth: A marketing plan sets the stage for continued growth.
It’s common for startups to grow without much of a plan. Things happen organically and without a lot of structure. But as the business develops, planning and structure and focus become more important. A marketing plan is just one of the many tools a growing business will begin to use to ensure that it continues to grow.
What do you think? Are you enthused about creating a marketing plan for next year? Try it and see!
If it feels intimidating to create a marketing plan, start small and keep it simple. Begin by making a list of your marketing activities in the previous year. Decide which projects you will continue with next year. Are there new projects to include? Add deadlines and the people responsible for them. Plug in the estimated cost for each item.
As you begin to develop and implement your plan, it will bring stability to your marketing. Each year you can iterate and advance your plan, making it more sophisticated if needed to meet the needs of your business.