Q: I'm the owner of a computer software design company, and I need to update our marketing plan. Where can I get examples of some good plans and/or programs? I'd appreciate your help.

A: It's a great idea to update your marketing plan annually and to review and adjust it quarterly. A solid plan should consolidate all the required information within an easy-to-follow structure. Over the years, I've developed an effective format with five concise sections:

1. Situation analysis. Begin your plan with a realistic overview of your competition and how you'll position your company against them. Outline the challenges you face, then describe the benefits that set your company apart.

2. Target audience. List each primary and secondary target audience followed by a description of each. If you're marketing to consumers, include a profile of your target audience based on demographics, such as age, gender, household income and location. For a B2B plan, describe your targeted business categories and the qualifying criteria for prospects in each.

3. Goals. Make a list of your marketing goals, and assign a completion deadline to each one. It's vital to make your goals quantifiable. For example, it will be easier to measure your success if your goal is "Gain three retail accounts by September 30" than if it's "Win new retail accounts."

4. Strategies and tactics. This is the heart of your plan. Define each of your marketing strategies, and outline precisely which activities you plan to undertake and the tools you'll produce to achieve your goals. How will you use advertising, direct mail, public relations or the Web to reach your target audiences? What types of brochures and sales tools will you create and in what quantities? Describe your tactics, and attach media and production schedules with completion dates.

5. Budget. Once your tactics are fully outlined, you can determine the costs to execute each one. If the tactics you've selected are too costly, you can easily re-evaluate them and look for more affordable ways to reach your goals.

For more ideas, visit Palo Alto Software's Web site and view sample plans created with their Marketing Plan Pro program. Or set up a marketing program online at www.marketitright.com .