How do you suppose the latest issue of your favorite business news magazine came into existence so you could be reading it right now? Do you think several people randomly decided, “Hey, I’m going to write an article and send it to the magazine today”? Do you think lots of business owners randomly decided, “Hey, I think I’ll put together an advertisement to send to the business magazine today”?
Of course not.
A business magazine is a monumental feat of planning. There is no other way to bring together dozens of articles and hundreds of advertisements into a single product that is mailed simultaneously to a multitude of subscribers.
Your favorite magazine has a plan. It has an arrangement with article writers. Those writers have deadlines to meet. It has arrangements with advertisers, and those advertisers have deadlines to meet, too. The magazine company has arrangements with a printer, and it has its own deadline for sending each issue to the printer.
If you think about it, that company’s plan has a ripple effect. Each writer and advertiser must have their own plan for creating their content and submitting it to the magazine editors on time. Otherwise the magazine’s publication process would be a dismal failure. But with planning, the business magazine is a finely oiled machine that hums along smoothly, cranking out a new issue month after month.
From just this one example, you can glimpse the importance of planning any project, not just magazine publishing. Your business would be in trouble if the employees did not have a plan to arrive each morning!
Now, in spite of the above, you might not be a fan of planning because nothing ever goes to plan. After all, as Jason Fried and David H. Hansson say in their book Rework, “Why don’t we just call plans what they really are: guesses.”
Why do I need a marketing plan?
You probably have at least an informal plan for what you would like to do tomorrow, and how you plan to do it. You likely even have a general plan for your week. You may even have a high-level plan for your year, such as goals for each quarter. But many small business owners do not have a plan for marketing.
You might be wondering if a marketing plan is even necessary. You may believe that you don’t have time for such trivial matters. And you might wonder if planning can even be applied to an area as nebulous as marketing.
Sometimes when I tell people that I’m in the marketing business they respond, “Oh, we don’t do any marketing! We don’t need to. We get enough work without wasting money on advertising.” Their air of superiority is thinly veiled at best. I usually smile and say, “Good for you!” However, if I’m up for a challenge, or my new friend seems open and sincere I’ll continue with this, “You probably are actually doing some marketing without even realizing it.” That can be the start of an interesting conversation. I have found that businessmen who think they don’t need to do any marketing fall into two categories: A) they actually are engaging in marketing activity of some sort without realizing it; or B) they are headed for business struggles or even failure. If you have revenue coming into your business, somewhere, sometime some marketing happened.
This might be a good time to mention President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s perspective on the value of planning. He said, “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” The value of a marketing plan lies as much in the exercise of planning as it does in the plan itself.
Here are several ways a solid marketing plan is likely to benefit you.
- A marketing plan can save you money, for example, by helping you use your marketing dollars more wisely and efficiently.
- A marketing plan can keep new leads coming in, rather than your marketing becoming neglected when you forget about it or are too busy.
- A marketing plan can increase the effectiveness of your marketing because it helps you think more deeply about your products, your customers, and your prospects.
- A marketing plan can increase the overall strength of your business as you learn the discipline of learning, evaluating, researching, planning, and executing a solid strategy.
A plan is like a path you can follow. A path keeps you from getting lost in the woods. It allows you to travel more efficiently, and removes uncertainty and spur-of-the-moment decisions. Best of all, a path takes you to your destination! A marketing plan is a marketing path!
What is a marketing plan?
A marketing plan can be as elaborate or as simple as you need it to be. At its core, a marketing plan determines in advance your marketing activities and priorities for the upcoming quarter or year. It includes items such as:
- Routine advertising
- New product launches
- Special events
- Seasonal or special promotions.
For each item, your marketing plan will also include details such as the estimated or allocated budget; the personnel responsible for the actions; the schedule for beginning and finishing each phase of a project; deadlines; and other relevant information.
Planning a budget
Do you know how much you can afford to spend on marketing this year? Do you know how much you should be spending on marketing? If not, how do you know if you will have enough money for your marketing?
Creating a budget for your marketing is part of creating a marketing plan. There are not usually clear answers to the question of how much money to put into your marketing budget. Rather, it is something you can work through and choose reasonable answers. Then you can tweak it as you go along as results come in and you learn from the process.
Of course your marketing dollars will need to come from your overall business budget. Therefore, your other business decisions and priorities will affect the amount of money you allocate for marketing, and vice versa.
One final note about budgeting: It is a good idea to budget time, not just dollars. This simply means that you have an estimate of the time needed to implement each item of the plan, and that you assign people to make sure it happens. If no one has time to follow through, your marketing plan will be just that—a plan that is never implemented.
Planning for branding
If your business does not have a brand, or if your brand is weak or outdated, start thinking about whether you should invest in branding. Notice what other businesses are doing (particularly your competitors). Take some time to read about branding so you can better understand how it might apply to your business.
If you already have a brand that works well for you, you will still want to allocate resources for keeping your brand in front of both new and current customers: promotional items, vehicle graphics, product packaging, and much more–all relate to branding.
Planning for lead generation
How do you get your message in front of people who have never heard of you? How can you catch their attention and interest them in your product or service?
Lead generation is the first step in gaining new customers. Plan to develop several sources for new leads so you don’t find yourself relying on only one source. (What happens when that source dries up?) Your marketing plan should include all the places you plan to advertise for the coming year, what the ads will feature, as well as how much you plan to invest in them.
Most of your advertising will fit into the category of lead generation. Print advertisements and online marketing is lead generation. If you have an outside salesman, one of his responsibilities is lead generation. Job signs and product identification nameplates are also lead generators.
Planning for lead conversion
After a lead has contacted you or signed up to receive material from you, your lead conversion tools will kick in and do their important work to help the potential customer make a good buying decision.
Lead conversion tools include brochures, catalogs, a website, product information sheets, product samples, and customer relationship management abilities.
What methods and tools will you use to persuade prospects to make a decision to trust you with their money? How will you answer their questions and make it easy for them to purchase? How will you help them discover that they may not be a good fit for your product or service? Yes, you read that correctly. Unqualified buyers cost you more than they pay. Plus, it is a disservice to them.
In your enthusiasm for attracting and converting new customers, don’t forget your existing customers—the people who have already given you the opportunity to serve them. Most businesses spend much more time, effort, and money chasing new customers than keeping the ones they already have. This is in spite of the fact that retaining current customers is much less expensive and much more profitable than gaining new ones.
Planning for measuring results
How will you know if your marketing efforts paid off? How will you know whether or not you are pouring money down a marketing hole?
To answer these questions you need to create a system for tracking the results of your marketing. This includes everything from asking walk-ins where they heard about you to working with your website administrator to review statistics about your website traffic.
While there are complexities in measuring the results of your marketing, learning to do it well allows you to calculate your marketing return on investment (ROI). Understanding your ROI helps you make informed decisions about specific marketing initiatives.
Has marketing ever made you feel dizzy or frustrated? Does it feel like you are flying by the seat of your pants? There are so many opportunities, so many options, and not enough time or money.
A marketing plan is a systematic way to establish and implement a marketing strategy. Working through the planning process will help you establish your priorities. Like the Chinese proverb says, “A man who chases two rabbits catches neither.” Stabilize your marketing and point it in the right direction with a marketing plan. After all, if your marketing fails, your business fails.