From the November 2000 issue of Startups

Question: How do I construct a marketing plan, and what's the best concise book on beginning marketing?

Yoon Li
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Answer: The best format for a marketing plan incorporates five sections, from an overview through a written budget. Follow this formula for a clear, workable plan:

1. Situation analysis. Begin with a realistic look at your competition and position in the marketplace. What are the specific challenges your business faces in the coming year, and what benefits set your business apart? Briefly describe your unique niche here, so when you refer back to this section of the plan you'll be able to see how your situation and company have evolved.

2. Target audience. This section can be completed in one simple paragraph. If you're marketing to consumers, include a one- or two-sentence target audience profile. That's a brief description based on demographics (gender, age, household income, etc.), that you'll use to guide your marketing buys. If you're marketing to other businesses, describe your targeted business categories and all qualifying criteria for prospects in each category.

3. Goals. In bulleted form, make a concise list of your marketing goals for the year. It's best to make them quantifiable, such as "Increase sales to medical practices by 15 percent per quarter." That way you can measure and evaluate your progress.

4. Strategies and tactics. This section is the core of your plan because it includes the direct mail, advertising, PR and other marketing activities you'll pursue to reach your goals, plus all the marketing tools and materials you'll produce. Be careful not to go overboard and take on too much. Each tactic must be manageable to handle along with the day-to-day operations of your growing business.

5. Budget. Your last step is to attach costs to each of your tactics. If the tactics you describe in your plan require an unrealistically high budget, you can always go back and adopt other, more affordable means of reaching your goals. Then, as your company grows, you can phase in the higher-cost programs.

Evaluate your plan quarterly and modify it as your business and strategies evolve. My newest book, Bringing Home the Business, includes a comprehensive chapter on writing a marketing plan and is a concise, step-by-step guide to marketing a business.