How to Make a Small Business Marketing Plan

February 4, 2013 in Marketing Thoughts by Adam  |  7 Comments

Marketing Plan
You probably know that you should have some kind of marketing plan for your business.  However, if you’ve never put one together before, it can be difficult to know where to start.  To help small business owners who are serious about putting together a marketing plan we put together this article that outlines a 6 step process that will help you achieve a great result.

The six step process that we have outlined below is:

-          Assess Your Current Business Situation and Outline Marketing Goals

-          Determine What You are Able to Invest (Time and/or Money)

-          Identify the Biggest Gap in Your Marketing (Reach, Engagement, or Conversion)

-          Identify the Most Attractive Near Term Opportunities

-          Put Together an Action Plan that Prioritizes Tasks

-          Measure Results and Make Adjustments

1.  Assess Your Current Business Situation and Outline Marketing Goals

What is the current situation of your business?  Are you just getting started, with very little revenue?  Have you been in business for 10 years, but can’t quite seem to break through to the next level?  Or have you been in business for 1 or 2 years, and you are having a hard time getting the business to make money?  Every situation is unique, and it has a big impact on how you carry out your marketing.

If you have a stable business that you are trying to take to the next level, you probably want to focus on leveraging your existing customer base, and you may have stable enough cash flows to also invest significant money in marketing.  On the other hand, if you are just getting your business started, you will probably need to be a little more patient and invest in some lower cost marketing techniques.

Whatever the situation of your business, take an honest assessment, and based on that try to come up with some reasonable marketing goals.  Saying that you want to take a brand new business to $10 Million in revenue in the first year with no marketing budget is pretty unrealistic and unhelpful, unless you are in a business that is inherently viral.  It can be challenging (particularly if you are new to your business) to come up with reasonable goals and you might want to consider either speaking with a trusted advisor in your network, or contacting an expert.

2.  Determine What You are Able to Invest (Time and/or Money)

Once you have taken stock of where your business is, and created some reasonable marketing goals, the next step is to figure out what you are able to invest.  You needed to have a vague idea of the assets you had available to you in order to complete the first step, but now you need to get a little more specific.

Set a budget, both for time and money.  Do this specifically, particularly on the time front.  How much time are you able to invest per week in marketing?  It’s really easy to let your marketing slide as you focus on running your business and having a specific goal will help you keep track of how you are doing relative to your plan.

In terms of how far out you should plan, a year is not a bad place to start.  If this is the first time that you’ve put together a marketing plan, you should understand that you may need to do some course correction over time.  Don’t completely flip your marketing plan every month, but you also don’t want to go an entire year without taking stock of what is working and what is not.

Think of your marketing as a giant freight ship.  It takes a lot of effort to get it moving, it doesn’t turn too quickly, but once it is up and running it has a ton of momentum to keep going.  You can call in tug boats every so often if you need to change course dramatically, but those tug boats cost money.  Most of all you need to have the patience that it takes to get the freight ship moving in the first place.

 3.  Identify the Biggest Gap in Your Marketing (Reach, Engagement, or Conversion)

Now that you know where you are trying to go and which assets you have to help you get there, it’s time to figure out where your biggest problem lies.  This is the most difficult step to accomplish without outside help, because a lot of the ability to do this comes from having the perspective of seeing multiple businesses that are similar to your own.  Now is a good time to reach out to other small business owners you know or to give someone who works with small businesses a call.

When it comes to determining where your biggest marketing challenge lies, there are 3 key areas that you want to consider; reach, engagement, and conversion.  The first thing to do is understand each of these metrics without thinking about numbers.

Reach – Reach is all about the number of people you can touch with a marketing message.  Reach can be generated from just about anything; the number of people who see your sign at your physical location, the number of people who visit your website, the number of people who see your messages in Facebook, or the number of people who subscribe to your monthly newsletter.

Reach is critically important because by definition, the maximum number of customers that you can have can never be more than the number of people that you reach.  It doesn’t really matter how good your product is, if only 10 people ever hear about it (unless of course you have a business that only ever needs 10 or fewer customers).

Engagement – Engagement is all about the quality of the marketing that you’re producing.  Assuming that you’re reaching people, are they engaging with the marketing that you are producing?

The way to determine this is different for each type of marketing.  For Facebook, people liking and commenting on your posts is a straightforward indication of engagement.  For your website, the bounce rate will give you an indication of how well you’re engaging your online visitors.  For email, looking at open rates is a great indicator of engagement.

Conversion – Conversion is the final step in your marketing.  This is where you take a person who you reached and who engaged with you, and then you get them to take the action that you want them to take.  This could be placing a phone call to book an appointment for your service, it could be having a person fill out a form requesting more information (at which point your sales process begins), or it could be an ecommerce purchase.

For marketing purposes, the way to define this conversion is where the hand-off from marketing to sales occurs.  You may or may not have a sales process per se, but you can still measure how well you are converting from an engaged person to a lead or sale.

Now that we’ve defined Reach, Engagement, and Conversion, the hard step is to figure out where your biggest problem lies.  Going back to the beginning of this section, this is where it really helps to talk to someone who can bring a little bit of perspective to help you find your problem.

With your trusted advisor, take a close look at your numbers.  Are you just not reaching enough new people each month?  This is a very common problem that small businesses face.  Are you unable to engage people properly?  When you send an email newsletter do you get almost no response?  Do you feel like you are talking to a wall when you put your marketing messages out?  That could be an engagement problem.  Or, do you have a lot of buzz, but nobody is buying?  If you’ve generated a lot of publicity for your business that translated into a lot of engaged folks, but nobody is buying, you may need to fix your conversion process.

4.  Identify the Most Attractive Near Term Opportunities

At this point you have hopefully identified where your problem lies, so now the task is to identify the low hanging fruit when it comes to marketing channels that can solve the particular problem that you are facing.

If you think your problem is Reach:

The first thing to look for here is unused marketing assets.  Do you have a stack of business cards that you never uploaded into a contact list for emailing purposes?  Starting to send out a regular newsletter can be a great way create reach.

Do you have a website that has been around for a while and gets some website traffic, but was never really optimized for traffic?  Doing some on-page SEO optimization and regular blogging could be your low hanging fruit.

How about social media?  Many people have Facebook accounts for their business that they got started, but never really got off the ground.  You may be able to start reaching new people pretty quickly by becoming active with your Facebook page.

If you have a bit of money to invest, advertising in Google, using Google AdWords, can start to bring in traffic almost immediately.  If you decide to go down this route, take a look at our guide for how to setup an effective AdWords campaign.

For some businesses, a good way to generate reach can be to use one of the daily deal services like Groupon or LivingSocial.  Be very careful, because if your business has very tight profit margins or if it is unlikely to generate a lot of near term repeat business, these daily deals are probably going to be bad for your business.  However, for some types of businesses, if managed correctly they can really jumpstart your reach.

These are a few ways to improve your reach, there are of course many more.  Hopefully this list helps you start thinking about the easiest wins to generate reach for your business.

If your problem is Engagement:

If you have identified engagement as your primary issue, this means that you feel as though you are waving your arms a lot, but nobody is listening.  One of the best ways to remedy this problem is to take a look at what similar businesses are doing.

If you are spending a lot of time making noise in Facebook, but you aren’t getting any traction, take a look at the pages of some similar businesses who appear to be doing well in social media.  What types of posts are they creating?  Try making some adjustments and then measure the results.

If you are trying very hard to get people to your website, but they just leave immediately, you should take a close look at your navigation, images, and video.  Is your navigation and website structure easy to use?  Do you use images and video which tend to be very engaging?  Here again take a look at what some similar businesses are doing and you are likely to get some ideas.

Wherever your engagement problem lies, a lot can be learned by studying how the competition is marketing themselves.

If your problem is Conversion:

If your problem is conversion, there are a couple of very common mistakes that small businesses make in this department that can be fixed.

The most common issue is a lack of a suitable Call To Action (CTA) on the website.  Don’t just say “contact us”, give people are reason to contact you.  Include a benefit statement that says why they should contact you, and then make sure the CTAs are on every page of your website.  Don’t make people hunt around for the best method to get in touch with you, make it as easy as possible.

The second common conversion problem is a situation where small businesses simply make it too hard for someone to convert.  They may have a great CTA on their website, but the CTA takes a person to a form with 20 different fields that have to be filled out.  That is going to turn off a lot of people and decrease your conversion.  Make it easy for someone to convert.

The third big conversion problem that is common among certain types of small businesses is a situation where they try to make the sale too early.  The web makes it possible to create online shopping carts for just about anything.  Just because it is possible, doesn’t mean that you want to do it.  If your product is complicated enough to usually require a sales conversation or consultation, don’t make the mistake of trying to have someone purchase without talking to you.  Your CTA should be directing them to that conversation.

No matter what your conversion problem is, the solution is to make adjustments and then measure the before and after to make steady improvements.

5.  Put Together an Action Plan that Prioritizes Tasks

You now have all the pieces to put together a marketing plan.  The next task is to simply write down the tasks that you want to accomplish and prioritize them. This may seem like an unnecessary step, but nothing could be further from the truth.  You want to have a nice to-do list that you can reference any time you have a spare moment to work on marketing.

Creating the prioritized list will make your marketing far more approachable and it will make you far more likely to get started and stick with it.  Once you have created the prioritized list, put it in a highly visible spot for quick reference.

 6.  Measure Results and Make Adjustments

Although you have technically already created a marketing plan at this point, the final step is to ensure that you are measuring your results and adjusting your plan accordingly.  As you make progress on some fronts, your priorities may shift, and you need to be open to making those shifts.  You also want to be sure that you are maximizing the effectiveness of your investments of time and money.  Measuring and adjusting will ensure exactly that.

We hope this was a helpful guide to help you get started.  If you would like some additional help you can either download some sample marketing plans to help give you ideas, or you can setup a free marketing consult with ThriveHive to guide you through the process.  Happy marketing!

Posted in Marketing Thoughts.

About Adam

Small business advocate - Cofounder and COO at ThriveHive

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