Making a Marketing Plan for a Small Business

Making a marketing plan for a small business does not have to be complicated or difficult. It is a series of steps that helps you define exactly what it is you’re selling, who you’re selling to, and the best way to reach those people. Too many business owners confuse marketing and advertising. Marketing is all about determining your customers’ needs (and wants) while advertising is the actual promotion of your products and services.

Over the two decades that I have officially been in marketing, I have developed an 8 step marketing plan specifically for entrepreneurs and micro business owners that is easy to follow. It involves time on your part — there is effort involved — but none of the steps require a masters degree.

What are the 8 Steps?

Step 1: Define Your Objectives and Goals

You need to know what you want your marketing to do for you and your business because just taking any road won’t get you there. This step is only partly about setting a financial goal for your marketing. You also need to clearly define exactly what it is that you are offering. Then examine whether your current business setup can accommodate the projected influx of new business.

You might have a marketing plan for just one of your products or services; the plan might test two different products. That’s for you to decide.

Most small businesses and entrepreneurs know they want to bring in more business. This step asks you to define what kind of business you want to bring in and how much business you want or need to achieve your goals.

Not everyone wants to rule the world. Not everyone is building an empire. There’s a reason why websites crash when Oprah mentions them. Sometimes too much business is as bad as not enough business. You can use your marketing plan to help you sustain a continuous, healthy growth in your business rather than the feast or famine rollercoaster that so many businesses are riding.

Step 2: Target a Specific Market — Work with People You Actually LIKE!

Let’s face it, when you’re first starting out in business, you take any clients that come through the door. Some you love, some… not so much. If you’re going to spend time and money marketing, it only makes sense to gear your marketing towards those people who will be your best clients. You will pick up the others, the outliers, along the way.

If you’ve been in business for a while, think about your favorite clients. What is it about them that you like? My favorite client is someone who takes action without being prodded, is business minded but has a sense of humor, knows their business (not a “fake it til you make it” person), and has the budget to hire me. Now I also have some other factors that I look at (I don’t trust guys who use too much hair gel), but those are the main qualities I look for.

In Step 2, you define your client avatar: men, women, age range, income range, educational level. The kind of cars they drive or restaurants they eat at. Do they hire out their lawn service or have a cleaning lady? Do they have kids? Pets? A swimming pool?

You get to choose your clients and it is easier to find those clients if you know exactly who they are. I have a worksheet that helps you with this step. You can find it here: TARGET MARKET WORKSHEET

Step 3: Refine Your Message; Become the Client Whisperer

Understand that different words and marketing avenues resonate with different people. In my book, The 8 Step Marketing Plan, I go through how men and women use different words and how those words appeal to each. Have you ever watched a commercial on TV and been thoroughly turned off? (I’m thinking about those tire and car commercials where the pitchman yells at you.) That commercial is not turning everybody off. It is attracting some people and the advertiser knows exactly who that commercial is bringing to his business.

You have to speak to your potential client in a way that they are open to and that will resonate with them. That’s a process of using the right words and making sure you are clear on what you are offering. Don’t be shy about your offer. This must be very straightforward. One of my favorite parts of creating a proposal is outlining the deliverables. I tell people exactly what they are going to get. That’s half of your marketing message. The other half, and possibly the more important half, is telling people how what you do for them is going to benefit them in quantifiable ways.

Take a page from the big guys. Find a big company that has the same target market that you do. If you sell makeup, look at the Clinique or Maybelline commercials. If you’re an independent insurance agent, look at the big insurance companies. What colors do they use in their logos, advertising, and websites? What words are they using to communicate their message? A lot of big companies do brand advertising (think all those pouty, beautiful models hanging out in Calvin Klein underwear), so look for the actual marketing messages. Leverage their market research (and budgets!) and follow their lead.

Step 4: Know Your Numbers and Define Your Starting Line

When I first start working with a new client, I have them fill out a client audit that tells me where they are in their business. This sets the baseline numbers so we can actually see if our marketing is working. Some of my clients are just starting out and they don’t have numbers or stats on their business. The audit helps them prioritize what to track in their business.

For those who have been in business for a while, many have a vague idea of their numbers. Some know exactly what all their figures are. As a business owner, you need to be on top of your numbers. When a client tells me, “I don’t like numbers,” I simply ask, “Do you like money?”

It doesn’t matter where you start. With the exception of a few lucky people, we all started at zero. Writing down the numbers creates your baseline and lets you know if your efforts are working. It won’t take long to get comfortable with them, especially when they start going up. I promise.

Step 5: Determine the Best Media to Reach Your Target Market

Where does your ideal client hang out, online and offline? You want to use the media that are most likely to put your message in front of your target market. There has been a huge shift in where people get their information since the turn of the century. Even “older” people are online. But they are still consuming that information in different online spaces. Sure, the old people are on Facebook and the kids are on TikTok (this week), but where on Facebook is your prospect hanging out? Should you use TikTok or YouTube videos?

Are you geographically based? People still subscribe to print newspapers and magazines. People still listen to the radio. They still open their mail. In a world that seems to have gone entirely online, sometimes the personal, low tech connection is the best way to reach your best people.

Give some thought to the best way to reach your ideal client. The best message in the world doesn’t matter if the right people don’t see it.

Step 6: Create Your Plan, Budget, and Schedule

Creating your plan is a function of gathering together all the elements thus far: you know what you want your marketing to do for you; you know who you want to reach and how you’re going to reach them; and you know what to say and how to say it.

Now you get to evaluate which marketing strategies to use, determine the costs involved, and decide which levers to throw. Your marketing budget is a factor in determining the strategies you can implement. Knowledge, time, and elbow grease will only take you so far. While you don’t have to spend a fortune (and you shouldn’t), know that you will need to spend some money and that spending money will often save you money in the long run.

When I work with clients, we build out three marketing strategies: one that is easy to implement; one that is a longer term strategy, and one designed to bring in clients quickly. Then we make sure that the client can carry out the plan consistently, whether that involves time or money. There’s no sense designing a plan that you can’t implement and see through to completion.

Step 7: Implement Your Plan. Stop Getting Ready to Get Ready. GO!

Back when I was in real estate investing, I attended and ran investor meetings. There were people who showed up every week, attended every seminar, bought all the courses offered, and never bought a single investment property. They wanted to run down every last detail. Make sure there was no risk. (There’s always risk.) They were always getting ready to get ready. And they never pulled the trigger.

At a certain point, you have to close your eyes and jump. Put your marketing out there. Spend whatever dollars and/or time you have allotted to the strategy. Successful marketing is the result of effort and consistency over some period of time. That period of time doesn’t start until you do.

Step 8: Measure Your Results and Tweak… If Necessary

How can you tell you’re winning if you’re not keeping score?

Your baseline numbers gave you a starting point. Once your marketing is up and running, it’s a simple matter to input the new numbers onto a spreadsheet on a weekly or monthly basis.

The real bottom line of marketing success is, of course, the bottom line. Is the company generating more revenue? If so, how much more? How many new clients did it take to bring in that revenue? How much money was spent on marketing? What’s the average revenue earned per client?

All of these questions need to be answered and tracked in order to ensure that your business is heading in the right direction.

Sometimes a marketing strategy doesn’t work, or doesn’t work as well as you had hoped. You won’t know this unless you track how much business is coming from each strategy. When something isn’t working, you need to make the decision to change it up or change it out. When a strategy is working, you need to ask yourself if you can do more of it or take that strategy to a slightly different market, or even apply it to a different product or service.

Tracking and measuring gives you the data you need to make the decisions that will help your business thrive.

As an entrepreneur, I was frustrated by the involved, academic style of marketing plans that I found on the internet. Yes, if you are going for a round of investor funding, you need to go whole-hog corporate with your business and marketing plans. But for those of us in the trenches, we don’t need a master’s degree to create a marketing plan. We need something we can actually use. I specialize in marketing plans that are Practical, Implementable, and Effective — easy as PIE. I lay it all out in my book, The 8 Step Marketing Plan and for those who like more guidance I design custom marketing plans that fit you and your business.

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