If you're anything like me you find it much easier to look at someone else's marketing and see where it's lacking, or where they need to concentrate their efforts, than to take the same objective view of your own marketing.
While this is only human nature and not a major problem it is something that we, as small business owners need to be disciplined about. Why? Well imagine that your business as a house and you are the builder. There are certain tasks that must be complete before undertaking others. There are other tasks that are more effective if others are completed in advance. It is impossible to build the walls before the foundations are laid and set, and you certainly wouldn't want to plaster the walls before the windows and doors are fitted, though you could... Marketing your business is much the same, in that certain objectives must be achieved before others will have any positive effect.
What happens if you don't? Quite simply, there will be lots of activity and very little productivity. You'll end up bouncing from task to task, probably never completing any to the level that you want. Additionally, you can be absolutely certain that, as a result, you will have missed a number of potentially lucrative opportunities.
Who needs a marketing plan? Everyone needs a marketing plan! Whether you're a multi-national corporation, or a freelancer working from home, it is important (in fact vital) that you have a detailed, structured, and practical plan for marketing your business.
So, in a nutshell, what are the benefits of a marketing plan?
- Provides direction for all your marketing effort
- Helps define specific tasks
- Helps to identify prerequisites to planned activities
- If more than one person is involved it helps you to define areas of responsibility
- Can give you insight into new markets that may have previously been overlooked
- Enables you to create clear guidelines for evaluating the effectiveness of different marketing methods
- Can help raising finance for capital expenditure
- Prevents time being wasted on ineffectual marketing activities
- Saves money by helping to ensure that the marketing budget is spent effectively
- Will generate more clients by communicating effectively
What goes in to a marketing plan?
There are a number of important elements that should be included in your marketing plan, even if you are a freelancer working individually.
Write down the background to your company. Include an overview and the results of any previous marketing campaigns. Even if you're solo this part of the plan is important, allowing you to get to the right ‘place' from which to start your campaign. In the same way that many companies go to a web designer saying ‘I know that I need a web site, but I don't know what to put into it', this section will help you to know what you need to put into the rest of the plan.
Financial Review and Projections
Put simply, the numbers to back up your plan. These will help you create a benchmark from which to judge your new campaign's success.
This is an overview of your marketing plan and outlines any major factors that may affect its success, such as a strong new competitor, or a new market area.
It is vital that you know against whom you're competing. As much detail as possible about each competitor should be given. You should also try and evaluate yourself in comparison. This exercise can often help you to focus on areas that need improvement within your own company's performance, or highlight areas where you ‘stand out from the crowd' and therefore could be used as a marketing tool (Unique Value Points).
If you are producing an overall marketing plan, you should look at how you are positioned through your price. Are you and ‘Aldi' or ‘Lidl' providing your product or service as a low price with no frills, or are you ‘Harrods' charging premium prices, but offering value added services that differentiate you from your competitors?
This section may not be necessary if you are creating a marketing plan for a specific campaign that is not price led, in which case you should make a study of whichever metric you are going to use. For example a search engine marketing campaign may have the specific purpose of generating new traffic from Google for a particular key phrase.
This is where you set your stall out for the planned campaign. It doesn't need to be long and may even take the form of the strap-line for your campaign. You could view it like a campaign specific mission statement.
This is the crux of how your success will be measured. You should list all the targets for the campaign and detail how they will be measured. Examples could be:
Radio Advertising: increase telephone enquiries by 15% over 6 months.
Search Engine Optimisation: Gain 1st page ranking for ‘XXXXXXX' key phrase within 3 months.
Google Adwords: Generate 2000 web enquiries in 4 months.
Each of these give a specific activity and the benchmark by which they will be judged. This makes reviewing the marketing strategy and activities in 6 months or so a far easier task with everyone involved knowing what the targets are.
Outline in some detail what will be undertaken to achieve each of the goals detailed in the previous section.
If you've been fairly general in your objectives, or those objectives will need multiple tasks to reach them, each task should be detailed.
It is not unreasonable to go so far as producing a GANTT chart or critical path analysis to ensure that everyone involved knows what and when each task should be completed and what will be affected if deadlines are not met.
Detail the budget allowance for each task. Be as detailed as possible. If you have historical data you should also detail the financial result of previous marketing budgets
Include here any background information such as detail about competitors, details about specific suppliers for certain marketing activities (advertising suppliers, sub contractors etc). The appendixes enable you to create an all encompassing document that can be both a guide and a resource for your marketing over a period.
The final, and perhaps one of the most important reasons for even the smallest business to create (and act on) a marketing plan is that it will help you to know your customers. You will be able to learn what messages they respond to, which marketing tools are the most effective and where you can get most ‘bang for your buck'.