I don’t recall whether I ever had a client ask me directly whether they needed a marketing plan for their business. Instead, over the years I observed that a significant percentage of small to mid-size businesses and organizations don’t bother to have a plan at all.
Instead, in my experience, for many a business, the awareness of marketing seems to spring up all of a sudden, often because a business owner wants to promote an upcoming event, such as a grand opening, the launch of a product, the hiring of an expert, an open house or any other activity that requires the business to attract visibility and leads, often on a short deadline. In the most challenging situations, this “reactive marketing” may be driven by a slump in sales or no sales growth at all, if the business is relatively new.
The Trouble with Reactive Marketing
Reactivity is not uncommon, and it happens in big organizations, not just small. It is hard to believe, but in my agency career I have seen just as many large as small businesses admit that they did not have a marketing plan. I will not name names, but this includes a company that took in $50 Million in investment dollars. At that level no marketing plan is an inexcusable omission, but when you are a single proprietor of a coffee shop or local yarn store, or just starting up your yoga studio or wellness coaching practice, you are the chief cook and bottle cleaner and chief “everything” person, adding the planning to your “to-do” can seem overwhelming.
So, it’s no surprise that reactivity happens often at the small business level. Small business owners often feel they lack the time and resources to think ahead. It often feels challenging to think beyond the next day, next week or next month. There is some advantage to being small though, in that you are nimbler, able to adjust rapidly to a change in the market, a shift in demand, or anything else. Having a plan in place provides an anchor by keeping your goals in front of you, and ensuring you keep your eyes on the prize as you adjust your course to respond to change or take advantage of an opportunity. Think of it as of a map or trajectory to a destination, if you encounter a detour or see that there is an attraction worth stopping for, you can now make the adjustment while keeping the overall course intact.
Five Good Reasons You Should Have a Marketing Plan
Think of marketing your business as you would of preparing for a competitive event such as a marathon, a tennis match, or a spelling bee. I don’t doubt that occasionally there may emerge a “phenom” who never trains and takes first place, but in most cases, any such event requires weeks or months of training and dedication to produce the best results. It is the same when it comes to marketing. Those who plan (“train”) and follow a plan, are generally more successful at whatever they do.
And so, while it takes time and effort, developing a marketing plan for your business or organization (yes, nonprofits also need to plan) is a worthwhile investment of time that is guaranteed to pay off by giving you a clearer path to growth.
Developing a Marketing Plan Helps You Prioritize & Budget
First, don’t overthink it. One of the reasons marketing planning (or any sort of planning) often doesn’t happen is that there’s a desire for a plan that doesn’t miss anything, that is perfect. And that is when perfect becomes the enemy of done.
Second, you don’t need to be all “stuffy”, chained to your desk when doing your planning. Go outside with a pad, to a coffee shop, play your favorite music. It helps. Remember what is driving your plan is what drove you to start your business in the first place. Planning is building a plan to achieve your dream. You deserve to enjoy the process.
The best part about putting together your plan is that it makes you put ideas that have been floating around in your brain into words. It is actively thinking about your business, and how you can make it better. You get to consider what your priorities are, what products or services you want to showcase or prioritize, who you want your (ideal) customers to be, and how to make sure that you deliver to them what they want and need. Because all marketing really is, is connecting what you have to offer with the people who need what you have.
Planning forces you to consider your finances and develop a realistic budget. What are your revenue goals? How many new customers or clients do you need to attract to stay in business and make a profit or enough to sustain yourself, your business and anyone depending on you? How much do you need to sell? And in the process, you consider what you would be willing to spend to bring in a customer, or two, or three to your business.
If you are doing this alone, find someone willing to review it with you and ask questions. If you are working with a team, make sure they understand and are on board with your plan. If they have misgivings, listen to them.
Lastly, once a plan is in place it functions to guide you and remind you of the path ahead. You can use your plan with its shining goal at the end to prioritize activities and spend. You can reflect on it when a new opportunity presents itself, and it will help you determine whether the opportunity is “on the path” or not, is it worth the detour, additional spend needed? Or should you let it go. This will avoid you getting distracted by the proverbial “new shiny” and staying the course.
Planning Makes You Evaluate How to Measure Success
Too often small business owners are timid about setting growth-oriented goals for their business. Instead they focus purely on revenue goals, in terms of making x% more in the next year, staying in business, etc.
Mere survival should not be a measure of success. Consider instead more growth-oriented goals that will build a foundation for the business moving forward. For example, plan how much to reinvest into the business, what percentage of revenue to set aside for marketing, how much money to keep “in reserve” in your bank account (should be a minimum of 3 months of operational costs) to serve as a buffer against unexpected events, etc. Consider what would it take to hire an employee that would enable you to take on more clients, service more customers, or just have better balance. And when you set real targets, make them achievable, and when you reach them, you get a measurable sign of success.
A Plan Communicates What Matters to Your Business
This seems obvious, but having a plan gets ideas, goals and targets out of your head and made visible, available for others who are in the business with you to get on the same page with you, and with each other.
It is much easier to target a real number, such as many new clients to sign, how many sessions to book, how many tickets to sell during [time period] than to think of a nebulous “we want more of…” to happen. There is evidence that tangible targets are perceived to be more achievable and are more likely to be achieved.
Better Efficiency in the Use of Funds
Equally obvious, but worth stating, with a plan in place everyone will know what you are going after, and there will be no ambiguity about prioritization and when and where to spend your marketing dollars on. This will make you and your team more efficient, and “wiser” in the use of time, money and other resources.
We are all aware that our resources are finite. This means both time, and money. And discussing and settling on what your priorities should be ahead of time allows you to manage your resources with less guesswork and less stress, and with less risk of getting in hot water overspending, or missing out on an opportunity by underspending when you could have invested more.
Imagine for example a scenario in which an opportunity worth taking advantage of presents itself, such as a networking event that wasn’t on your radar that offers display table space and where you know many of your potential customers may be in attendance, but it’s $500 to participate. You’ll now be able to immediately determine and decide whether this additional marketing expense is doable, whether it fits your plan, or not, and what else may need to come off the plan to accommodate. The plan itself presents a reliable framework, while giving you the flexibility to adjust to take advantage of business opportunities.
Marketing Planning is About Customers
A core component of marketing planning is homing in on what will resonate with your target audience. When thinking about marketing your business you will naturally be considering the needs of the recipients of your marketing efforts: your prospective customers. After all, your customers are the reason why you are doing the business and marketing it in the first place.
Thinking about what your customers want to hear is connected to what you want to do to meet their needs, whether you are delivering services or products. You will be thinking about who you will be talking to, and what they need to hear to consider paying for your goods or services. And then, you will also be thinking about what happens after the sale. How will you continue to support and connect with your existing customers? How to get them to come back and become a repeat customer? Marketing isn’t about just getting that new customer; it is also about doing what needs doing in terms of communication, responsiveness, customer service to keep existing customers happy and coming back for more. Consider, for example, the marketing of promotions, specials and a newsletter sent to your “house list” of emails form existing customers. Your existing customer base is your greatest asset, and so cultivating a relationship with them, through special offers, a newsletter, etc., is another piece of marketing.
Have we convinced you that you need a Marketing Plan, but you are not sure where to get started? Don’t worry. We can help develop the plan with you. Or if you’re the DIY type, then look here for my next blog post where I will take you through a basic marketing planning exercise and provide a template you can use as well. (If you just can’t wait, email email@example.com and put “marketing plan template” in the subject line, and I’ll send you one.)