Your marketing plan doesn’t have to ever be on the best-seller list, but it should be written well enough to have a clearly drawn map to guide the marketing side of your business. It’s an integral part of your overall business plan, an essential component in taking your business from a “good idea” to a profitable operation, and it’s proof to funding sources, both lenders and investors, that you’ve thought about how you ultimately sell your product or service and make money doing it.
No two marketing plans are exactly alike, but all successful ones contain the same fundamental elements. Follow this basic structure:
– Define your product. You need to know precisely what your product or service is and what it will do for your customers. Be very specific. Successful marketing requires a solid understanding of the features and benefits of every aspect of your product.
– Identify your customers. Who will buy your product and why? Again, be specific. Where do these people live and work? How much money do they earn? How often will they buy? Understand various purchase sensitivities, such as brand importance, location, warranty, and price.
– Identify your competition. Know your competition as well as you know yourself. Who else sells what you sell? Where are they? How do they market? How similar are your products? What are the comparative advantages and disadvantages between what they do and what you plan to do? What is your pricing structure? What do your customers like and dislike about them? What would make your customers buy from you instead?
You may believe that you have no direct competition; that is, no one else in your market is doing exactly what you are doing. But if that’s the case, how do you know there’s a need for your business? And how are your potential customers meeting that need today?
– Set your prices. How much you charge affects both your profitability and your position in the market. Understand what your costs are, what competitors are charging, and how your price relates to your overall marketing strategy.
– Explain how you will interact with your customers. This includes the general promotion of your business as well as the actual sales process. How will potential customers learn about you? What will lead them to you? Will you advertise? Make personal calls? Put up clever signs? Do you use the Internet? Will you own a retail store, be in an office complex or industrial park, or be based out of your home? Once a potential customer realizes what you have to offer, how will you convert them from a prospect to a buyer? How will they actually receive the product? Will they come to you or will you hand them over?
Develop a very specific plan and plan for it at least a year in advance. Incorporate what you will do for the holidays and other special date events, such as trade shows. Consider the necessary waiting time; For example, if a yellow page ad or special directory ad is important to your overall marketing plan, what is the deadline for placing the ad and when will the new directory be distributed?
Along with what you are going to do, calculate what it will cost and what you expect the result to be. Although you can’t always accurately predict results, you should have a solid reason to spend money before you do. Marketing cost will vary by industry, but a general average is five percent of sales. Regardless of how much you spend, spend it on the methods that will give you the greatest return on your marketing investment.
As you develop your plans, keep in mind that this is not a linear process. For example, you might start with a particular product and then, as you study your market demographics, realize that you can capture a larger share of that market with a few product tweaks. What you learn from studying your competition may prompt you to make changes to your plans to engage with your market. You should also incorporate your production capacity into your marketing plan: do you have the capacity to produce enough product to meet your sales projections?
This is why you should give yourself plenty of physical space as you develop your marketing plan. Even if you’re using a business plan program on your computer, take notes on large sheets of paper and post them on the wall so you can easily see how each part of the marketing plan interacts with the other. Although these software products vary in depth and quality, many are excellent, the basic physical limitations of a computer monitor force you to focus on one item at a time and prevent you from seeing the big picture without printing your plan. .