How to Create a Successful Marketing Plan for Your Small Business
Introduction: Marketing plans are an imperative part of starting any business. They are used as a blueprint for mapping out the manner in which you will be able to achieve your business goals. A marketing plan is not only necessary for new businesses, as it can be used to help existing programs incorporate the strengths their company currently enjoys in an effort to implement necessary changes or improvements. A marketing plan can be implemented for a new product or service in which case it is meant to pull together all of the needed elements for an effective marketing start.
It is important to have a marketing plan so that you can determine where you are, where you are headed, and how you will get there. It is especially important to have a marketing plan so that you can submit it for things such as loan considerations. As a whole, you should see your marketing plan as a process for which you have a team whose goal is keeping it simple, developing a time-frame, providing feedback, implementing necessary revisions, and remaining consistent with the mission statement.
Reason for Having a Marketing Plan
Your marketing plan is a small subsidiary of your business plan. The business plan is responsible for spelling out what your business does and does not do as well as the ultimate business goals. It is more than merely marketing as it discusses your locations, financing, staffing, and strategic alliances. It also includes your vision. Overall, think of the business plan as the cornerstone for your business. For new marketing or business measures, you need to alter the business or marketing plan. Your business plan should encourage an environment where your marketing plan can grow, thus both should reflect well on one another.
There are many components to a marketing plan. The first component is a mission statement. Following this should be an executive summary. After the executive summary should be an internal or external analysis. You should include objectives after this point, followed by marketing strategies. Once you have determined your marketing strategies you should identify your resources, an implementation plan, a marketing budget, and evaluation methods.
The mission statement should contain a clear description of the organizational identity, for what the business is meant, as well as which results your organization seeks. The mission statement should do more than just describe who is a part of the organization. It should reflect upon the internal and external perception in a manner which is understood by all. The mission statement should speak to what drives the organization and how things are accomplished within the organization. Overall, the mission statement should be simple.
The executive summary acts as an overview which is readable and concise and summarizes the main objectives of your marketing plan. The internal analysis provides the background of the company, the current states, future directions, current resources, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the company.
The Executive Summary should be brief, a single page, and located at the front of the marketing plan. It should use short sentences, bullet points, as well as bullet points for the major issues. It should spell out what someone reading your marketing plan needs to know in order to make sense of it all. The summary should provide readers with a concise description of the upcoming plans for your company while also boiling down your main thoughts. Generally, this summary is written after the completion of the marketing plan.
You should also list who your competition is, what their products and/or services feature, their pricing, their packaging, and their promotion. You should list the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors and how you are different. The customers and target markets section should include the current and potential customers, the requirements of the customer as well as the market clusters. For the marketing strategies, you should include the customers, target markets, programs, services, packaging, pricing, and promotion.
The implementation strategies should include the steps, responsibilities, deadlines, and budget. The marketing budget should include the advertising, media, direct mail, databases, printing, production, and possible mailing. When you are evaluating your market plan you need to understand your success measure, the completion of action dates, the accomplishment of goals and strategies, the results, as well as new customers, repeat customers, the average size of your contracts, and revenue.
The size of your marketing plan is dependent upon the size of your company. If you run a small company, you can generally create a marketing plan that is no more than a handful of pages, whereas a large corporation might have a marketing plan that runs over one hundred pages. In either case, the marketing plan should be placed in a binder where it can be referred to at least quarterly, but hopefully monthly. A section can be placed in the marketing plan for monthly reports on things such as sales and manufacturing for the sake of tracking performance as you follow your outline. A marketing plan should cover the length of one year. This is because markets will evolve, people will change, customers will leave, as will people. It is helpful to include a section in your marketing plan that addresses two or four-year segments. Whether or not you do this, the majority of your marketing plan should address the coming year.
You should make sure that you have a couple of months to write the plan before finalizing and publishing it, even if the marketing plan is only a few pages in length. The development of the plan is the hardest part. Executing the plan will bring with it challenges, but the biggest challenge is deciding what your company should do in the market and how to do it. Generally, a marketing plan will begin with the first of the year or with the opening of the fiscal year if they are not the same.
Everyone in your company should see the marketing plan. There are many companies who like to keep their marketing plans secret because they are ashamed of them, or they think that the information contained therein provides them with a competitive advantage. However, marketing cannot be done without getting people involved. Whatever the size of your company might be, you need to ensure feedback from every aspect of your company including finance, personnel, supply, manufacturing, etc… Getting every facet of your company involved in the process is important for many reasons. Part of having a decentralized company is that you can seek decision-making processes that facilitate every member of the organization, in an attempt to ensure that all members feel as though they are a part of the organization. By allowing every employee to contribute in some fashion or another, they all feel as though they are a better part of the organization and as such work is harder to see projects to which they contributed through. Since our company is not facing a crisis, there is no need to employ centralized decision making.
Researching Your Market
It is important to research your market so that you have relevant data to aid you in solving any marketing problems which your company might encounter. If your company is just starting up, then this is absolutely necessary. Thorough market surveys function as the cornerstone for any successful business. Without market research you cannot identify specific segments within your market nor can you identify which of your products and/or services separates you from your competition. Whether you use experimental methods, survey methods, observational methods, or historical methods, you will end up with two types of data. The first is primary data which is gathered by an outside source but compiled by you. The secondary data is compiled and organized by someone else. This is the most popular source of information generally reported by government agencies, businesses within the industry, or trade associations.
Primary research can be exploratory or specific. If the latter, it is meant to be open-ended so that you can define a specific problem. It will require detailed and unstructured interviews which include lengthy answers solicited from respondents. Specific research is broader and is meant to solve a problem identified by exploratory research. In this instance, the interviews are structured and very formal. Specific research is the more expensive of the two. If you plan to conduct primary research with your own resources, the first step is deciding how you plan to question your target group. You can do this through personal interview, telemarketing, or direct mail.
For direct mail, the best way to ensure you increase the rate of response is to do the following: Make it short and sweet Address questionnaires to specific persons Address questionnaires to people interested in the respondent Limit the questionnaire to two pages Enclose a cover letter from your company explaining your needs Send a reminder two weeks after the questionnaire has been mailed with a self-addressed, postage-paid envelope. Response for direct mail is generally less than five percent.
Phone surveys can be cost-effective, particularly compared to direct mail, with a higher response rate. The cost is one third that of personal interviews whose response rate rests around ten percent. If you choose to conduct market research via phone surveys to ensure that:
- The interviewer confirms the name of the respondent at the beginning
- Pauses are avoided so that interest does not drop
- A follow-up call is made if any further information is required
- Interviews do not divulge details pertaining to the poll until the respondent has been reached
With personal interviews, you will find two types. The first is the group survey while the second is the depth interview. The group survey is generally reserved for big businesses when they are brainstorming product modifications or new ideas as the results of group surveys can dictate buying preferences as well as purchasing decisions made by particular populations. The depth interview is a one-on-one interview wherein the interviewer works with a small checklist. These interviews can be focused or non-directive. Focused interviews include a pre-set checklist. With a non-directive depth interview, the interviewers encourage the respondents to discuss particular topics but with very little questioning. This design encourages the respondent to lead the interview.
When you consider which surveys should be used you should bear in mind the costs attached to each. For mailing, the costs are contained in the printing, envelopes, postage, cover letters, as well as researcher time, incentives, and time for analysis and presentation. For telephone surveys, you must consider the costs for the interviewer’s fees, phone charges, the cost of preparing the questionnaire, the researcher time, as well as the cost for the analysis and preparation of results.
Personal interviews incur expenses based on printing costs, cards if they are necessary,
incentives, interviewer’s fees, researcher time, as well as the cost of analysis and presentation. Group discussions will cost you based on interviewer’s fees, recruiting expenses, rent for a conference room or another facility, researcher time, incentives, recording media, and the final analysis and presentation.
Creating Your Market Plan
No matter how you organize your marketing plan, it should be easily understood by all. You want to ensure that everyone in your company has access to the document both physically and linguistically.
Opportunities and Threats
There are always good and bad implications within the current market. You should consider the following questions when determining opportunities and threats in the current market:
- Which trends in the market are working against you?
- Are there threatening competitive trends?
- Are your current products prepared for success in the current market as they exist right now?
- Which marketplace trends are working in your favor?
- Which competitive trends are working in your favor?
- Are your current market place demographics working for or against you?
You can locate this information from all over. You can begin with the city and state business publications, you can talk with local business reporters, you can browse chambers of commerce publications. You can also contact various manufacturers, read trade journals, or talk to the professionals within your association. If your company is simply creating a marketing plan for the coming year, it is important to address issues which were met during the last year in an effort to create and implement strategies to overcome them at present.
It is important to recognize potential problems in new marketing strategies so that they can be addressed in the future. Assume that a new domestic tour operator specializing in surf holidays wishes to build an interactive web site that allows the customer to see in real time the weather, wind, surf and other data relating to their destination. As a new and bold initiative, the operator wishes to tie in the price of the holiday with the weather situation. Better waves and better weather attract a higher price and vice versa. It is a new and potentially risky project and the owner of the business has asked you, a recent project management graduate, to assist him in planning for this project. For the marketing plan pertaining to this endeavor, it would be produced to list the following: A) List the risks associated with this project B) List the top ten steps you would undertake in delivering this project There are many risks associated with building an interactive web site that allows the customer to see in real time the weather, wind, surf, and other data relating to their destination. There are many risks involved in this project. Because of the interactivity associated with the design of the website, there are many challenges that any interactive website would encounter. The website would need applications which are hosted within an environment controlled by a browser. With the site, you can update and maintain the web applications such as the live-feed weather reports. Potential problems include having to develop specific browser-based technology which might prove a costly endeavor, offset by users paying a monthly fee instead of downloading the software linked to the web access.
In a marketing objectives section of your marketing plan, you should describe the future picture. This section should answers that objectives your company wishes to achieve over the course of the following year. You should include a narrative of what you intend to accomplish alongside the data to support the objectives. As an example, you could start with the following: Strategic management has recently expanded to include the management of logistics. Within the maintenance of logistics, information technology has played a large role in productivity. Thanks to the complex developments involved in travel, shipping, global supply chains, and supplying businesses with materials, logisticians have been called to ensure that businesses like ours are able to offer services which get all of their clients where they need to be and when. From this point you should be able to work with each department of your company to determine how the group best feels about implementing new strategies for the coming year, what things worked previously, what advances have been made recently that would help to bolster numbers for the following year, as well as how strategic management would work with the marketing plan at hand.
Sales and Finance
Your sales and finance departments should be able to work hand in hand when it comes to developing the quantifiable goals and costs necessary to implement said goals. For small business owners, it is common knowledge that sales and finance are hardly able to interconnect, making the relationship between the two impossible until now. Thanks to sharing data online and sharing communication, sales and finance departments and staff can come together to maintain the best credit for your company. Prior to now, these two were completely separate departments or areas. The two have had a difficult relationship in spite of their actions affecting the success of each other. Profit levels, business volumes, tracking progress are all components of finance while sales are directed toward closing deals and continuing to grow the customer base. Finance is often responsible for the imposition of aggressive targets in terms of business restrictions. As far as sales are concerned, these moves limit their creative revenue and add unnecessary complications to the sales process. More often than not, Sales has viewed Finance as only caring about closing business instead of accurate billing and recording. However, in order for companies to effectively maintain their transactions including a debit as well as a credit, they must have a relationship with each other so that there are no errors in invoicing, poor customer services, and broken processes. Until now, Finance was not as privy to the complexities of relationships with the customers upon which Sales focused. Sales departments were not pleased with spending months creating good relationships with clients, only to have that relationship tainted by receiving an incorrect invoice from Finance. Thanks to new technology such as cloud computing, these two are forming a relationship with great communication, immediate responses, and improved collaboration. Modern accounting has now been linked to modern business, forming a relationship between Finance and Sales. The two can now invoice effectively, improve customer services, better understand credit balances, and collect cash in a more time efficient manner. Prior to now, Sales was reliant upon a system for managing customer relationships while Finance relied on software for accounting. This older software was often stored in a back office because it required significant upkeep as well as infrastructure which led companies to continue working with systems which were a decade or two old. Thanks to cloud computing, accounting systems have grown and advanced to allow companies to work with the best software. This has encouraged a mindset for Finance that is customer-centric, much to the appreciation of Sales. The customer relationship management systems have been integrated into the cloud along with accounting software which allows the two departments to inter-connect, share data up-to-the-minute and collaboration online.
The marketing plan should address the short term (which is one to twelve months) as well as the long term (which is over twelve months). It should outline the major goals of the year while also analyzing the mechanics necessary to meet those goals, bringing together the short term actions with the long term goals. It is good to think beyond the upcoming year and includes the next few years in your planning. You should be able to anticipate how many employees you will add over the upcoming years, how much office space you will need, whether your staff should endure additional training or certification, if you will hire another manager, whether or not you will be purchasing major equipment, how you can improve your profit margins, how to become active in local trade groups, regional trade groups, or national trade groups, as well as how the market demographics will affect your business in the future. Overall, your marketing plan acts as the key ingredient to a successful business plan and business.
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