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Free--Yes, Free!--Marketing Resources Give your campaigns a boost with these no-cost tools.

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Are your 2010 marketing goals and plans ready to go? Or, are you working so hard to run your business, navigate consumer and marketplace changes, make payroll, and keep your business afloat that you're greeting the second quarter without a blueprint for how you'll steer its future? If so, take action immediately to get your marketing plan in order. This lineup of free resources will ease the process.

Market research: MapStats. Don't rely on guesswork to determine whether the region you serve can support your growth goals or whether new markets are good choices for business expansion. Instead, tap into government-assembled facts about any U.S. state, county, city or congressional district. With just a few keyboard clicks you'll see the region's population and demographics, as well as facts about growth, housing, income, employment, number and nature of businesses, and business activity by sector. Through this single source you can gather valuable information to weigh as you plot your next marketing moves.

Customer research: Zoomerang and SurveyMonkey. These resources let you create customized surveys and view responses to them, giving you knowledge of how your products and services are perceived by consumers so you can improve your business offerings accordingly. Higher-level services are available for a fee.

Goal-setting: National Business Information Clearinghouse. Start with clear knowledge of the business goals, sales goals and marketing objectives you want to achieve. This site makes the terms understandable and links to a form you can use for your goal-setting efforts.

Marketing-plan resources: U.S. Small Business Administration. Business advisors agree on one thing: Businesses with marketing plans market better. For help getting your marketing in order, the SBA provides a rich array of advice on a single Web page. Links lead to how-to instructions for conducting competitive analyses, writing marketing plans, placing advertising and more. For additional information, visit the Palo Alto Software site Mplans.com for marketing-plan advice, tools, and what's described as "the largest single collection of free sample marketing plans online."

Budgeting: Budget spreadsheet. Without a budget, you'll spend the rest of the year dithering over whether you can afford each marketing purchase and how much you can spend. Just fill in the blanks on this Excel worksheet to budget for staffing, market research, communications, customer acquisition and retention, and marketing by channel (for example, by product line, sales territory or distribution channels such as wholesale, retail, online, etc). If your marketing program relies heavily on events, an alternative spreadsheet helps you plot annual costs for research, communications, networking and each major event.

Web marketing: Master web site marketing checklist. Search Engine Guide, "the definitive guide to search engine information on the internet," features Stoney deGeyter's "Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!," a claim reinforced by an impressive number of referrals and user comments. If your web marketing can use fine-tuning (and whose can't?), this list (available in a PDF version) is an invaluable planning resource.

Business networking: LinkedIn. Network locally, for sure, but also tap into the world's most popular business social network, which enrolls a new recruit into its 53-million-person membership every second. Connect with business friends, friends of business friends, clients, and prospective clients, all while tapping into a resource for marketing information, collaboration and business development.

Social media guidelines: Mashable. With social media spending projected to see another dramatic increase this year, and with a majority of businesses planning increased e-mail and social media marketing efforts, it's worth your time to put your company's social media guidelines in writing. Fortunately, there are examples to follow. Pete Cashmore, CEO and founder of social media guide Mashable, presents advice on this web site, which links to policies from more than 80 organizations provided by Chris Boudreaux, creator of socialmediagovernance.com.

Start with these free resources to power up your marketing plans and efforts, and count on Business on Main to keep you current and motivated. Here's to your success!

Barbara Findlay Schenck is a small-business strategist, the author of Small Business Marketing for Dummies and the co-author of Branding for Dummies, Selling Your Business for Dummies and Business Plans Kit for Dummies.

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