Still struggling with your marketing plan? You plan your vacation. You plan your retirement savings. You even plan your spring vegetable garden. Why is that when it comes to marketing your business you jump right into the tactics and avoid the planning?
Is it because you have never done a formal marketing plan? When you do a Google search for marketing plan templates you see these scary documents, pages long and full of market research and budget projections. It is all so overwhelming. It is just easier to avoid it.
Sometimes it is because the tactics are more fun. It is an active step you can take. You might start to see immediate results. Planning just seems like a lot of work with no results.
But think back to that vegetable garden. How would it work if you just started planning without regard to sun requirements, size of the mature plants, or water needs? You would have large plants shading the small ones that need sun. The runner beans would completely cover up the carrots and you might even forget the carrots until they had grown too woody to eat. You might find you have too many zucchini and not enough tomatoes.
The same is true with marketing.
If you jump in with the tactics, whether Facebook or the Yellow pages, you may find you don’t have the budget to cover all the activities you want to do. You may spend too much money on local advertising and then not have enough for a business networking event you really need to attend. You do things out of sequence so they do not leverage each other for the biggest bang for your marketing effort.
Just as you manage your garden so you have yummy veggies available throughout the season, you need a marketing plan that will produce year round, not just at a few select times (unless you have a very seasonal business like a Halloween costume rental).
I rarely have a client show up at our first meeting with a written plan. Or worse, they come with a list of tactics and think it is a marketing plan. When I ask about the strategy I get a blank look or excuses.
Why don’t they have a strategy?
It isn’t because business owners are lazy. Far from it.
It is the result of the Curse of Knowledge. They have an abundance of great ideas. They can see the vision. They know intuitively who is an ideal customer. They know why their product or service is perfect for these people.
The problem is that without articulating all of this no one else knows!
We are not yet able to do the Vulcan mind meld where we can transfer our knowledge to someone else. The Curse of Knowledge is a known principle that once we know something it is impossible to understand what it is like to not know it. There is the trap.
Our marketing doesn’t speak to those who don’t know us. We are often marketing to ourselves . . . but we are not the buyer, we are the seller!
Ideal customers don’t see themselves in the marketing so they don’t pay attention. Our business lurches from one idea and one design one focus to another, confusing potential customers. Confused people don’t buy so all of this backfires.
Getting people to sit down and write a marketing plan the traditional way just doesn’t work for the solo entrepreneur.
OK you say. You agree with all this. But you still don’t have a marketing plan and have no idea how to do it!
Introducing the Its Not rocket Science Marketing Plan
This marketing plan is for you. Not for a lender. Not for a business partner. This is for you to write down what you are doing, why you are doing it and when you will do it. This is practical, action-oriented and doable by any business owner. So let’s get started!
The plan assumes you already have identified:
- Ideal Customer. Do you have a single person in mind that you can create your marketing for? A real person (one of your best customers) is much better than a fictitious persona or composite. The entire plan is based on the understanding of this customer so be fully confident of this person before you continue. Your marketing plan is based on these ideal customers (you may find you have more than one). Where do they hang out? What magazines do they read, clubs do they join, businesses do they patronize, causes do they support? What non-competitors are focused on these same customers? These are your potential partners.
- Problem / Solution What is their problem and how do you solve it? Be sure you really understand the problem that is motivating these people. For some customers it may not be a serious pain, it may be a desire or a need. Whatever it is, what is driving them to seek a solution and pay for it? Ignore customers you need to educate or persuade they need you. For example, smokers in general may need your stop smoking clinic, but if they are not motivated to quit smoking, they are not ideal customers with a problem they will pay you to solve.
- Uniqueness. What makes you stand out from the competition? Few businesses have no competition. Who is yours? It may not be what you offer; it may be in how you offer it, or the experience you provide. Your marketing plan should stress this uniqueness. If you are struggling defining this, don’t start marketing yet! Spend some time talking to current or prospective ideal customers and find out what their challenges are and why they haven’t found the solution yet. Is this a need you can fill? Spend some time researching potential competitors. Review their websites, shop their stores, check out their social media hangouts and find out what they do well and where they may leave an opening for you business.
- What is working? What is in place that is working for you? A web site? A newsletter? A booth at the Farmer’s Market? Before you create a marketing plan you need to know the foundation you are working from.
Now we are ready for the plan itself.
12 month marketing plan
Define 3 -5 SMART goals for this year (or time period you have defined)
- Specific. No vague goals like “grow an email list” are allowed. Instead use a goal like “add 500 new subscribers this year” or “create new blog and have one blog post each week.”
- Measurable. Put a number to your goal. Good examples are “Add 500 new email subscribers in the next 6 months” or “Hold four yoga classes a week at capacity of 20 students each.”
- Assignable. Who is going to do this task and be responsible for its completion? If you are a solo business owner, it is probably you.
- Realistic. Is it realistic to say you will grow you email list to 100,000 if you only have 12 people on it now? Setting goals that are challenging is fine but don’t set yourself up for disappointment and failure. On the other hand, don’t set goals that fail to push you beyond your comfort zone. You need to be driving this business, not just coasting.
- Time-bound. Set specific dates. Goals with shorter time frames make it easier to see if you are not making sufficient progress. One big goal due at the end of the year may be too big and may never get started or may go off the rails. Rather than saying you will add 1,000 new subscribers by the end of the year, try adding 100 each month. This way you will see if your goals are too ambitious or if you need to rethink the strategy to get back on track.
Strategies are how you are going to reach your goals. This doesn’t mean tactics like a start a newsletter, get a trade show booth or place an ad in a trade magazine. Marketing strategies might be:
- Leveraging your relationship with an industry leader to market to their audience.
- Targeting a new industry trend or technology.
- Focusing on a specific subset of your ideal customer (Moms with shoulder pain, primary kids below grade level in reading, homes built before 1940 that could benefit from an energy audit.). With a focus on their particular issues, they may be more interested in what you offer.
- Using a new (to you) approach that reaches a new or bigger audience, such as press releases, writing articles for trade magazines, or social media. Be sure you understand why this is broadening your reach and not just reaching your existing followers. (Notice that these approaches are tactics but you are using them as part of a strategy. Example: your strategy is to reach the home herb gardener, a market you have no presence in now. Your tactics would be to take about an ad in a home herb garden magazine and get a booth at the local garden show.
- Increase your email conversions by offering deal-of-the day email-based promotions using products that make great impulse buys.
Monthly Marketing Themes
Now comes the action! It is easier to manage marketing if you create a theme for each month. These themes are based on your strategies plus any basic marketing that must be done. Basic marketing may be reviewing current systems, educating yourself on new features of social media tools you use or reviewing your web site for out of date or missing information.
For each month identify action items needed to reach your goal. Schedule the activities you need to perform. Schedule individual tasks so the big project is not overwhelming. Put these tasks on the calendar so nothing is overlooked.
Examples of monthly themes:
- Know-Like-Trust-Try-Buy-Refer-Repeat cycle review. This is the basis for marketing. Get people to know about you, and then get those who know you to like and trust you. Offer ways for them to try out your service through special offers, free samples, or demo version. Once they have tried, how do you persuade them buy? Easy payment options, guarantees, free delivery, etc? The “refer” and “repeat” elements are often overlooked but are critical to your business success. Repeat business and a steady flow of referrals don’t happen by chance. You need solid programs in place to keep customers buying and for them to send their friends. you might use this month to review where everythying you do fits in this cycle and see where you have gaps to fill.
- Web site creation/updates. Web sites are like puppies, they take a lot of work and constant monitoring. Be sure you give yours a thorough review at least once each year.
- Search optimization. Your great web site is underperforming if it isn’t visible in the search engines. Search algorithms change all the time and what worked last year may be a penalty this year. New competitors come on the scene and may be outranking you. At least once a year you should review your web site’s organic and local search (if applicable) to make sure you have not dropped out of sight.
- Email campaigns. If you don’t have an email system this could be a good monthly theme. If you do have one, perhaps it needs to be reviewed and refreshed.
- Direct mail campaigns. Yes, that means the old fashioned post office! Direct mail has been successful for years and still is . . . especially with so much email, a real mail piece can stand out. Depending on your business and customer base, direct mail might be a winner.
- Building partnerships. Partnerships are gold for a small business. Find others who have your same customers. Look for situations where there is a buying process with a step needing your service. For example, if you are a dog trainer, contact all the dog breeders and pet shops that sell pets. Anyone buying a new dog will need your services! If you have a landscaping business, reach out to all the real estate agents for homes coming to market needing some curb appeal and for the subsequent buyers who may need advice on their new yards or possibly a yard makeover.
- Publicity. Don’t overlook the power of press releases, articles in the local press, radio and TV interviews.
- Testimonials / social reviews. Nurturing testimonials and keeping them fresh and relevant needs to be done as an intentional project. Never let testimonials just become passive (if we get a testimonial we put it on our web site). Keep a steady flow of testimonials coming by following up after a new sale and repeat buyers.
- Loyalty program creation. Once you get a customer, you can’t rest on your success. What programs can you implement that will keep that customer coming back? Customer appreciation events? Special repeat customer discounts? Birthday cards? Buy 9 and get the 10th free?
- Blogging strategy. Blogging may be a great strategy for your business or a complete waste of time. Maybe taking a month to review what the competition is doing, what blogging experts are advising, and what you are able to sustain.
- Marketing education. Perhaps your marketing skills are bit rusty. Use one of your months for education on new marketing techniques, finally watching all the tutorials from your email service
- Social media campaigns. Social media needs constant attention. New tools and new techniques happen daily. At the same time, you need to be reviewing social channels you are using to see if they are really reaching your target audience.
- Stories! We couldn’t end this with a month devoted to finding, writing and promoting your stories!
Create a Marketing Calendar
Now that you have all the monthly themes, it is time to put the individual tasks on your calendar. You should be doing some marketing work at least once a week, and preferable more often. Nothing will happen if you only have a list of monthly themes.
Break down each theme into specific activities and the tasks. If your monthly theme involves creating a press release, you will need to decide on a topic, create a draft, find someone to give feedback, rewrite until it is perfect. You may need to research what the template is for a press release. You may want to hire a PR consultant to help you out. You need a distribution list so you know where it will be sent. Someone will need to put it on your web site. You need to review for search optimization elements. You may want to add photos or even a video. If it includes another company (say announcing a new partnership) you will need their input and get their authorization to publish it. You need to proof the release, proof again and proof yet again!
The Secret to marketing success is not the plan. Success is in the execution of the plan!