Most people who start a business will create a vision of their expectations. They know what their product or service is, they know the market they are going after, and they know the resources needed to accomplish this. One simple step they forget is to put all this information into a written plan.
The following is a simple guide that will enable you to develop an effective marketing plan for your business. By creating a written plan, you now have a comprehensive blueprint you can follow to keep you on track to building a successful business.
STEP ONE: Creating Your Brand
A brand consists of unique characteristics that differentiate a product from similar ones. Consumers must be able to understand what your product or service is, and what can it do for them.
A business needs to see itself as a brand. Whether it is a large organization or a sole proprietor, it needs to clearly define its place in the market. A good starting point is to look at your aspirations for your business as a guide to creating your brand. In order to define yourself you need to ask yourself the following questions:
•- Do you strive to be the fastest, biggest, cheapest?
•- Is customer service the cornerstone of your business?
•- Is having the highest quality your mantra?
However you see yourself is your brand. Whatever need you strive to fulfill is your brand.
Another key component of your brand are your core values. The ideals you stand for will ultimately be incorporated into your brand. Values such as honesty, integrity, promptness can define who you are and what you are all about.
You need to combine all these concepts into one cohesive bond. This bond, your brand, is what you will use to market yourself to your target customer. This is how you will differentiate yourself from your competition. How true you stay to your brand is what will ultimately determine your success or failure.
STEP TWO: Develop Short and Long Term Strategies
You need to determine the goals and objectives for your business. You need to think in terms of what do I want to accomplish in the next six months as well as where do I want to be in five years. From a planning standpoint you need to develop both a short term and long term strategy to reach these goals.
Short term strategies revolve around cause and effect actions. You will institute an action and then measure the result. Newspaper ads and direct mail coupons are examples of actions that can be easily measured. Based upon your response rate you determine their effectiveness. Since this form of advertising is costly, you must be sure you are reaching your target market, as well as prompting a "call to action" from potential customers.
Other examples of short term strategies are:
- Internet websites
- E-mail campaigns
- Informational brochures
- Press releases
- Trade shows
- Product samplings
These are all crucial in launching a business as well as well as growing an existing one. As long as you are reaching your target market with the proper message, these activities will provide an immediate return on investment.
Long term strategies are much more subtle by nature. Networking is probable the best long term strategy you can engage in. You need to take the time to form and develop professional relationships with people from all industries. These relationships will grow over time and yield incremental business. People tend to buy from someone they like or feel they have something in common with.
Other examples of long term strategies are:
- Joining various trade and civic organizations
- Giving presentations
- Donating time to charities
All these activities will generate positive goodwill for you and your business. It will also generate "word of mouth" advertising which is still the best form of advertising there is.
STEP THREE: Allocating the Budget
You need to align your financial resources with your overall plan. There are several ways to determine the appropriate budget that provides a cost effective way to market your business.
•- Allocate a certain % of sales towards your media and promotional budget. This method allows for increased spending as your overall sales volume grows. As long as there is profitable sales growth, this method makes sense.
•- Institute a "cents per unit sold" budget. For example, if you sell 100,000 boxes and you allocate .10 per box, your budget would be $10,000.
•- Develop a monthly budget based on available cash flow. This gives you greater control over your spending
Whatever method you use to set the budget, it is important to allocate a realistic amount that enables proper execution of the plan's strategies.
Once you have a total budget, you need to determine how much will be spent on media (Internet, print, radio, direct mail) and how much on promotion (samplings, special events, sponsorships, and customer entertainment). This will largely depend on the type of business you are in. You must always look for ways to maximize your dollars by negotiating "added value" from your media and promotional efforts. Try and gain as much exposure for your business from the activities to engage in.
STEP FOUR: Creating Accountability
Now that you have developed your brand, identified your goals and objectives and defined the proper strategies to achieve them, and set your budget you need to add the final and perhaps most important piece; accountability.
First you develop action plans for every goal and objective. Clearly define what must be done and the time frame for completion. You then must assign these tasks to the proper personnel. You need to hold everyone involved accountable for their role in the overall plan. You as an owner should focus on the overall results, while your team can fill in the details of how to go about achieving them. Unless you are a sole proprietor, you cannot do everything yourself. You will always remain responsible for the big picture, but you need to allow everyone else to be responsible for their particular piece.
You must incorporate ways to track and measure your progress. Analyzing results on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis is the most thorough way to stay on top of your plan.
•- Weekly: review short term actions to make sure important tasks are being completed
•- Monthly: this should summarize and review each week
•- Quarterly: measures results on a broader scale. This determines if the overall plan is on track and what adjustments need to be made.
Developing the marketing plan is the easy part. Accomplishing your desired results is much harder. Creating accountability will give you a much better chance of success as everyone remains focused on their individual tasks, which in turn, contribute to the company's overall growth.
The key to making the most of your plan is to create a working document. By having everything in writing, important aspects can't slip through the cracks. By tracking and measuring your results, you determine what parts of the plan are working and what parts aren't. You need to constantly evaluate your plan and be able and willing to adjust accordingly.
A simple concept to follow is: Do more of what works and change or get rid of the things that aren't.