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Use These 5 Steps to Create a Marketing Plan

Use These 5 Steps to Create a Marketing Plan
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In their book Start Your Own Business, the staff of Entrepreneur Media Inc. guides you through the critical steps to starting your business, then supports you in surviving the first three years as a business owner. In this edited excerpt, the authors explain the simple steps involved with creating a marketing plan for your new business.

Everyone knows you need a business plan, yet many entrepreneurs don’t realize a marketing plan is just as vital. Unlike a business plan, a marketing plan focuses on winning and keeping customers; it's strategic and includes numbers, facts and objectives. A good marketing plan spells out all the tools and tactics you’ll use to achieve your sales goals. It’s your plan of action—what you’ll sell, who'll want to buy it and the tactics you’ll use to generate leads that result in sales. And unless you’re using your marketing plan to help you gain funding, it doesn’t have to be lengthy or beautifully written. Use bulleted sections, and get right to the point.

Here’s a closer look at creating a marketing plan that works:

Step 1: Begin with a snapshot of your company’s current situation, called a “situation analysis.”

This first section defines your company and its products or services, then shows how the benefits you provide set you apart from your competition.

Target audiences have become extremely specialized and segmented. No matter your industry, from restaurants to professional services to retail clothing stores, positioning your product or service competitively requires an understanding of your niche market. Not only do you need to be able to describe what you market, but you must also have a clear understanding of what your competitors are offering and be able to show how your product or service provides a better value.

Make your situation analysis a succinct overview of your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Strengths and weaknesses refer to characteristics that exist within your business, while opportunities and threats refer to outside factors. To determine your company’s strengths, consider the ways that its products are superior to others, or if your service is more comprehensive, for example. What do you offer that gives your business a competitive advantage? Weaknesses, on the other hand, can be anything from operating in a highly saturated market to lack of experienced staff members.

Next, describe any external opportunities you can capitalize on, such as an expanding market for your product. Don’t forget to include any external threats to your company’s ability to gain market share so that succeeding sections of your plan can detail the ways you’ll overcome those threats.

Positioning your product involves two steps. First, you need to analyze your product’s features and decide how they distinguish your product from its competitors. Second, decide what type of buyer is most likely to purchase your product. What are you selling? Convenience? Quality? Discount pricing? You can’t offer it all. Knowing what your customers want helps you decide what to offer, and that brings us to the next section of your plan.

Step 2: Describe your target audience.

Developing a simple, one-paragraph profile of your prospective customer is your next step. You can describe prospects in terms of demographics—age, sex, family composition, earnings and geographic location—as well as lifestyle. Ask yourself the following: Are my customers conservative or innovative? Leaders or followers? Timid or aggressive? Traditional or modern? Introverted or extroverted? How often do they purchase what I offer? In what quantity?

If you’re a business-to-business marketer, you may define your target audience based on their type of business, job title, size of business, geographic location or any other characteristics that make them possible prospects. No matter who your target audience is, be sure to narrowly define them in this section, because it will be your guide as you plan your media and public relations campaigns.

Step 3: List your marketing goals.

What do you want your marketing plan to achieve? For example, are you hoping for a 20 percent increase in sales of your product per quarter? Write down a short list of goals—and make them measurable so that you’ll know when you’ve achieved them.

Step 4: Develop the marketing communications strategies and tactics you’ll use.

This section is the heart and soul of your marketing plan. In the previous sections, you outlined what your marketing must accomplish and identified your best prospects; now it’s time to detail the tactics you’ll use to reach these prospects and accomplish your goals.

A good marketing program targets prospects at all stages of your sales cycle. Some marketing tactics, such as many forms of advertising, public relations and direct marketing, are great for reaching cold prospects. Warm prospects—those who've previously been exposed to your marketing message and perhaps even met you personally—will respond best to permission-based email, loyalty programs and customer appreciation events, among others. Your hottest prospects are individuals who’ve been exposed to your sales and marketing messages and are ready to close a sale. Generally, interpersonal sales contact (whether in person, by phone, or email) combined with marketing adds the final heat necessary to close sales.

To complete your tactics section, outline your primary marketing strategies, then include a variety of tactics you’ll use to reach prospects at any point in your sales cycle. For example, you might combine outdoor billboards, print advertising and online local searches to reach cold prospects but use email to contact your warm prospects.

To identify your ideal marketing mix, find out which media your target audience turns to for information on the type of product or service you sell. Avoid broad-based media—even if it attracts your target audience—if the content isn't relevant. The marketing tactics you choose must reach your prospects when they’ll be most receptive to your message.

Step 5: Set your marketing budget.

You’ll need to devote a percentage of projected gross sales to your annual marketing budget. Of course, when starting a business, this may mean using newly acquired funding, borrowing or self-financing. Just bear this in mind—marketing is absolutely essential to the success of your business. And with so many different kinds of tactics available for reaching out to every conceivable audience niche, there’s a mix to fit even the tightest budget.

As you begin to gather costs for the marketing tactics you outlined in the previous step, you may find you’ve exceeded your budget. Simply go back and adjust your tactics until you have a mix that’s affordable. The key is to never stop marketing—don’t concern yourself with the more costly tactics until you can afford them.