One of the things I have learned in my time doing marketing for different companies is that if you don’t have a plan for your attack, you might as well just lock the doors and give all your money to your competitor. This plan doesn’t have to be a Pulitzer prize winning coffee table document that takes thousands of dollars to produce, but it does have to be something that is in writing and carefully thought out. Again this doesn’t have to be a formal marketing plan with all the big words and things most small businesses don’t understand, but it does have to make sense to you and it does require a little hard work and effort.
So you ask why is this “marketing plan” so important and why should I put in the time to do it? Most small businesses have just one entrepreneur or at best a few people involved in the business who are already doing everything needed just to keep the business afloat. One of the best sayings I have heard about being an entrepreneur/small business owner is that “they have the freedom to work all 24 hours of the day and most usually get close”. So again why add extra work to these already overworked people for something that most see as a waste of time? Well first off, let’s make sure we are clear about what we are talking about.
Most of us think of a marketing plan as a complicated document with excessive amounts of analysis, budgeting, and over the top reviews of all things business. This is not the document I am talking about. Yes, these types of Marketing Plans can be valuable; especially within large companies where there are abundant resources available and one must convince many of the higher-ups that the dollars required for marketing are justifiable. But for the small business owner, we are already intimately involved in the industry, know our competitors pretty well (most-likely we used to work for them), and probably don’t have much money to pump into marketing anyway. But, the fact that there may be meager dollars allotted for marketing is exactly why we need a plan.
We need to simply put down on paper what we know about our industry, what we know about our products, what we know about our competitors, and then a quick plan of how we will utilize the small amount of marketing money we have to maximize every cent of it. So, really, most of us already have a marketing plan in our head, in notes scattered about, or maybe even in emails written to customers and colleagues. However, it is critical that we organize this information and spend time not just thinking about it all, but also put it in writing so that all of that scattered information can all be in one place. So for the small business owner/team, the most important part of a marketing plan is the actual act of writing the document. This is more about brain storming and less about the document itself. Former President Eisenhower sums it up well; “I have always found planning to be indispensable, but plans to be all but useless.”
So hopefully you are now starting to see that you don’t have to spend weeks and weeks creating a full blown Fortune 500 ready marketing plan full of Situational Analysis, Macro environmental PEST analysis, and other things that just don’t matter in a small business environment.
Now, one analysis that probably sounds all big and fancy, but is actually just what we reviewed above (and in my opinion, is the basis for all small business marketing plans) is the SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). SWOT can be broken down like this; who you are (strengths and weaknesses), what your selling points are (opportunities), and who your competition is (threats). This process, along with identifying your target market and your goals for reaching them, give you what you need for a good marketing plan. You can be as detailed as you like or skip parts all together; it is just a good exercise to go through in order to initiate the thought process regarding how you want to promote your company. This gives you a road map to follow when creating promotions, advertising, making cold calls, and applying other marketing strategies ~ all so that your company has a brand (now you’re probably thinking Nike Swoosh, but I actually mean a brand as in this is what we do best and this is how we want people to think about the company). Having a brand is having the same look and feel no matter what medium your customers are seeing your company through. You want to insure that you are not wasting your time on things you don’t need to do and your company is putting forth the best image possible at all times. This little plan can be done in less than a day if you really want to sit down and make it happen. It doesn’t have to be pretty or even clear to anyone but you.
So now hopefully you’re starting to think that this whole marketing plan thing might just be a good idea… But, I’m guessing that there are still some skeptics out there. However, I will continue to insist that this is something all small businesses must do because most small businesses not only lack a marketing plan but a business plan (or any plan at all). These small business owners/teams may know their products and their industry, but without a plan of attach, it will be nearly impossible to truly convey their vision to the rest of the world. The other drawback to having no plan is there is nothing to test, nothing to change, and nothing to track. I assure you that, when time and resources are limited, unwritten plans and ideas in heads start falling through cracks. If every things good, then maybe having a written marketing plan is overkill. But, when the market changes and/or as your sales start to slip then your marketing plan matters very much. Your plan is the guide that will get you through all the times (good and bad) in your business life. It serves as a reminder of what you did that works (which is why you actually do need this plan even in good times) and doesn’t, timelines and costs; and helps keep you (and your customers) focused on what is special and critical about your product. And, it also helps you think about the best ways to get in front of the customers you want to reach with little to no budget.
So, start putting your thoughts down on paper so that you can give your company its best shot at success while at the same time make working 24 hours a day worthwhile and not just a very time consuming (and financially draining) hobby.