Written by Jim Higgins
There's no use in denying it -- marketing is a critical component of a small business' success.
The challenge is that so many small business owners have no idea what it takes to make marketing work for them. They are experts in their business, but they simply don’t have the time to become experts in the ever changing world of online marketing.
So what happens? Rather than taking a strategic approach, most SMB's marketing efforts are the result of off-the-cuff thinking, and it shows. Their marketing mix looks like a fragmented collection of tactics and tools from a variety of in-house and external sources. On a good day, the business owner doesn’t truly know what is working. On a bad day, they feel like blowing it all up and cutting of the marketing investment all together!
If any of this sounds familiar, I highly recommend you take a step back… and that “step back” involves creating a strategic marketing plan. Developing a marketing plan is your best chance at success, and here’s why.
The best thing a marketing plan does for your small business is it provides you a blueprint, of sorts, to follow. It keeps you and everyone on your team on the same page when it comes to the direction your business is heading and how it's going to get there.
So what does this guide look like? The specifics will vary, of course, but there are some basic components that every marketing plan should have:
Situation Analysis: This is basically a snapshot of your business. Who are you? What is your unique selling proposition? What are your strengths and weaknesses relative to the competition? These are all questions you need to answer.Target Audience: Before you can start marketing, you need to clearly identify who your best customers are. You can break the information down into key demographics, such as age, sex, geographic location etc.Marketing Goals: It wouldn't be much of a plan if you didn't set goals, now would it? Your goals should clearly state what you want to happen and by when.Marketing Strategies: Your goals are what you want to happen, your strategies are how you make them happen.Budget: If business growth is a priority, marketing must have a dedicated budget. Outline the total investments you are willing to make and align the individual cash outlays with your strategic marketing priorities.
The opportunities for marketing seem to have no bounds in the digital age, making it extremely easy for you to get distracted and lose sight of your goals. With a marketing plan in hand, you'll have an easy-to-reference guide to remind you what the best opportunities are for your business. It will keep you on track using the technologies and practices that will support business growth.
Sure, there are ways to market your business for free, but those methods will only do so much for your business. Eventually you're going to have to shell out some cash, whether it's for Facebook ads, new business cards or a website revamp. As mentioned above, budget is one of the main components of any solid marketing plan. You're a small business owner, so you know just how important it is to have a budget and stick to it. It's just as important when it comes to marketing, which is why creating a marketing plan is so critical.
If you already know you're a procrastinator, a marketing plan is going to be a lifesaver for you. And even if you don't see yourself as someone who puts off important tasks, it's not uncommon for marketing to take a backseat to other areas of your business. Typically, when you make a marketing plan, you set a timeline for when you want to see certain results. Again, this helps keep you on track toward achieving your goals by telling you what tasks you need to complete and when.
Because you set goals in your marketing plan, you've provided a benchmark for how you will measure success. This is critical to your marketing strategy -- if you have no way to measure results, how will you ever know your strategies are paying off? Having a plan identifies what "success" looks like for your business and lets you determine whether or not you found success at the end of the campaign.
So to return to the basic question posed by this post… Yes. You absolutely need a marketing plan if you want to optimize your marketing investment. It doesn’t have to take weeks and it doesn’t need to look fancy, but it does require you to give it your best thinking.