If you’re in business, it's essential to get your products and services in front of your prospective customers. The art and science of informing your audience about your products and services, and encouraging them to buy from you, is known as marketing.
Marketing needn’t be a ‘dark art’, or something that only experts know how to do. Creating a simple marketing plan is actually pretty simple, and just means that you need to be able to answer a number of simple questions, so that you can grow your business.
This guide will show you how.
The areas we will cover are:
- The format of your marketing plan
- Simple rules to follow
- Understanding your products and services
- Understanding your audience
- Working out what channels to use
- Creating an action plan
Benefits of writing a marketing plan
- You'll be clearer on your products, services, audience and ways to reach that audience
- It will help you decide where to spend your money
- Other people will have a better idea of your marketing approach
- It helps you understand what you need to do, how and when, to best reach your potential customers
Who is this article for?
- Small business owners and entrepreneurs
- Marketers, online and offline
- Anyone looking to spend money or time on marketing
People in marketing departments
Step 1 - Don’t worry about the format of your marketing plan
Many people will tell you that you need to follow some kind of template for your marketing plan, whereas the truth is, as long as it contains everything that you need, it can be in more or less any format that’s useful to you.
The key thing to understand about a marketing plan is that it has to work for you, or the person that’s doing the marketing. If you want to use a pre-designed template, there are lots of useful ones out there, but this guide focuses more on what to put in the plan, rather than following a specific format.
Step 2 - Follow a few simple rules when creating your plan
To write an effective plan, you’ll need to do the following:
- Be concise with your writing - The best marketing plans are very focussed; your business, products and services cannot be all things to all people, so specialize and think that way. Your business has a niche, and that’s one of its strengths - Play to that
- Don’t try to be perfect - A marketing plan is a work in progress. You will come back and revisit it often, so don’t waste time trying to get it right straightaway; ‘good enough’ is good enough!
Step 3 - Understand your own products and services - What does your business offer?
One of the most vital areas is to work out exactly what it is that you are marketing. This means doing the following:
- Specify exactly what your business provides - What are the products and services that you are marketing? Write a brief description of each one, from a prospective customer’s perspective
- Understand what makes your products and services unique - What are the benefits and strengths of what your business provides? Write down the unique selling point(s) (USPs) of what you are providing. What makes your offering different and creates more value for your customers. Is it price, quality, ease of use, simplicity, innovation or something else?
- What do you have over your competitors? Write down why a customer would buy from you, rather than someone you are competing against. Building on your USP, how does a customer decide to buy from you? This could be value for money, expertise, quality or something different
Step 4 - Understand your audience
Now that you know what you are selling, you have to establish who you are selling it to.
- Specify who your target market is - What audience is going to want what you are providing? Are they other businesses, stay-at-home moms, hobbyists or enthusiasts, students or some other part of the general population? The more specific that you can be, the better as this will help you tailor your advertising and marketing to what matters to this group
- Understand what your target market needs - What is it that matters most to this group? Speed and efficiency, quality, value for money or something else? If your ideal customer had a number of benefits or needs that you could meet, what would they be? What is your ideal customer looking for?
- Find out where your prospective customers are - Now that you know who your audience is, you need to figure out where they hang out. In other words, how are you going to reach them? Do they have common activities that they enjoy? Are there online communities where they spend time? Are they local to your area or city? Again, think about where your customers are going to congregate, so you can target your marketing effectively
Step 5 - Work out how you are going to get to your audience
Now that you know what you are selling, the benefits, who you are selling to and where they are, you’re most of the way there. To finish your marketing plan, you need to think about how you’re going to engage with your audience.
- Think about and capture the most effective channels to reach your customers - You’ll need to carefully think about what the best ways of reaching your audience are. Is it through online or offline (traditional) advertising? Word of mouth? Viral marketing? Or some other means? There are dozens of different ways to get to people - Email, websites, online advertising, SEO, forums, print, flyers, newsletters and lots more. The majority of your time will be spent investigating and understanding what your best channels are
- Understand how your audience will reach you - If your marketing and advertising work, establish exactly how your audience is going to purchase your product or service. Is your website easy to find and use? Do you have a phone number that they can call? Do they come and see you face-to-face? You need to make this process as easy for your customers as possible
- What is your call to action? - Exactly what do you want customers to do when they reach you? What is the ‘Call to action’ that you are going to include in your marketing messages?
- Track your return on investment (ROI) - When you spend money on marketing (as you will have to do), make sure that you have a way to track what parts of your marketing are working; where are you spending money most effectively and getting a good return on investment?
Step 6 - Create an action plan
Now that you have your marketing plan setup, you’ll need to create actions to get all of your marketing in place. This will involve putting a budget together, understanding where and how you want to advertise, possibly involving graphic designers and copy writers and lots more. Having the marketing plan to work from is a great start though and will really help you out as you develop and grow your business.
Some great books on Marketing from Amazon
If you want to find out more about creating brilliant marketing and marketing plans, here are some excellent books from Amazon that can help you out:
- Duct Tape Marketing: The World's Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide
- Digital Minds: 12 Things Every Business Needs to Know About Digital Marketing
- Marketing For Dummies
The simple steps here will help you create a rough marketing plan that will serve as a good basis for getting your products and services in front of the right people. I wish you every success in your business.
All photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net