Everyone knows that planning is essential to business. Yet, the average work at home professional does not have a current marketing plan. Many don’t feel they have the time or the skills to create a marketing plan, however a marketing plan can save both time and money and no special skills are required to create a marketing plan.
What can a marketing plan do for your business?
Just creating a marketing plan can benefit most businesses immediately. It gets you thinking about marketing as an ongoing investment rather than the haphazard approach that contributes to inconsistent results. Creating the plan can help clarify and distill your goals into achievable tasks. Knowing what you are going to advertise and when helps you narrow down exactly how you are going to do it far in advance. Planning in this way can pay off big for your business. It can help you stay on budget and increasing profit margins by reducing marketing costs. The resulting windfall can be used to pay off debts, re-invest for growth or put into savings for the future.
The immediate benefits can be quite astounding to those new to planning. It can put you ahead of the competition in both advertising space and in placement for events, online and off. The rules of some of these events prohibit two representatives of the same company from participating. By researching the options early, you can take the time to choose the events most likely to be profitable for you. Booking early for these events can ensure that you secure a position at some of the most popular events. Events like craft shows, bridal and baby fairs, and other events often give preferential treatment to those who book early, including reduced rates, preferential placement and any number of perks.
A marketing plan can help you budget purchases more effectively. For instance, if you plan to get a personalized item, such as pens, printed for a particular event you can price out the options in advance and begin setting aside money for the expense. If you happen to see a good sale or special in the meantime, you may decide to purchase early, possibly saving a significant amount depending on the sale. Without a plan, you may purchase these sorts of items without a solid purpose or end up leaving the decision too late and have to pay for expedited production and delivery. Since these sorts of items are often less expensive with higher quantities, planning in advance can allow you to purchase enough to last through several, if not all, the events you have planned saving both with the lower unit price and by avoiding additional set-up fees common to most print jobs.
Relax! This is quite likely not as hard as you fear it will be. There’s no need to face the process with trepidation. There is no reason to avoid it as a daunting task that you need to procrastinate your way up to.
As a small business you don’t need a fancy program or any specialized knowledge to create your own marketing plan. Your marketing plan doesn’t need to be drawn out and complicated; it simply has to meet your needs. You don’t need a marketing plan that conforms to corporate level standards. It simply needs to keep you on track and moving towards your personal business goals.
Before you begin, block off at least one hour of time. If you have young children at home, you may want to book two hours to allow time for interruptions. Once you’ve blocked off this time, you will want to gather up your supplies.
If you are a paper planner you will need:
Post It Notes
*Easy Access to past and present business records
Working near the computer (if you keep your records online) or filing cabinet will ensure you can keep working. If your records are all over the place, take the time to gather them in one place even if they aren’t organized. You may have to do additional calculations to make the marketing plan effective, but at least you won’t have to search the entire house to do it.
If you are a computer planner you will want programs that can allow for the simulation of the paper supplies. Most word processors can easily handle this, though you may have to download a calendar template. You may choose to use a scheduling program if you are comfortable with using one, but there’s no point to learning a new program for this task. Learning a new program while developing a marketing plan can slow down the creation process.
First read through all the steps before you begin. This is important because you may choose to do some of the steps out of order.
Step One: The Budget
Your first task is to develop a marketing budget. Small businesses often find it necessary to budget both money and time. Since money can be rather scarce, especially in the start up stages, you will have to invest time to take advantage of free and low cost alternatives and undertake much of the marketing work yourself.
How much to budget is a matter of debate. The exact amount will vary depending on the size of your business, your comfort with risk, and your long term business goals. Someone with a small business who wants business to grow big enough to support her entire family within five years will choose to spend more than the business owner who is content to fund household extras.
If you are already in business, one way of coming up with a ballpark figure for your marketing budget is to review your marketing expenses over the past year. If you haven’t been in business for a year, add up what you have spent on marketing so far, divide the amount by the number of months you’ve been in business and multiply this figure by 12. From this yearly figure, decide whether you would like to increase, decrease or maintain this budget, keeping in mind that you may be able to reduce some marketing costs through advance planning. You can add or reduce the figure using a set dollar amount or percentages. For example, if you spent $100 on marketing in the past year, you may want to increase it by a modest 10% or a more aggressive target of $1000 in an effort to expand.
If you are not yet in business and developing a marketing plan, look at your sales goals and decide on a percentage of sales (or profit) that you are willing to re-invest into marketing. At 10% a sales goal of $3000 would net a $300 marketing budget. If you are basing your budget on retail sales, you will want to make sure you can still make a reasonable profit. If you are in direct sales and receive 40% commission, this scenario would leave $900 remaining after marketing expenses. Adjust the figure up or down until you feel comfortable committing to it for at least six months no matter what your sales figures dictate.
Don’t worry too much if your marketing budget seems minuscule. There are a variety of ways to stretch a marketing budget. Look for the article on this topic (Stretching your marketing dollar) next week.
Step Two: The Methods
After the often challenging task of developing a budget, this next step will undoubtedly be a breeze for you. If you are already in business make a list of the methods and venues you are currently using and have used in the past year. This includes both free and paid marketing opportunities. Things that you might be adding include:
Pay Per Click
After you’ve completed a comprehensive list of what you’ve done, create another column or start another page that covers what you would like to do in the coming year.
Step Three: The Calendar
The calendar will become an integral part of your marketing plan throughout the year, so choose one that has large blocks for you to write in. Resist the urge to use the same calendar as you use for all your business and family needs. You can add marketing tasks to your general calendar later if having calendars is too confusing, but the planning part should be done with a blank calendar.
First, go through each month and identify the major holidays and events. This is easy because most calendars already have them marked off. Decide which of these holidays will lend themselves well to your product or service. For instance, mother’s day won’t be an ideal holiday if you are a consultant for toys (though you could try to promote certain toys as sanity savers for moms the idea probably won’t lead to a high volume of sales).
Second, you will want to enter dates that are specific to your company. When is your spring product launch? Do you work with a company that has specific campaign start and end dates. Pencil in as much of this information into your calendar.
Now, let’s take a minute to go back over your holiday or special event promotions. If you work with a direct sales company, determine how long does it take for items to be shipped. Count back from the event and add three days just in case and write this on your calendar. You can skip adding the three days only if you are confident that your company always ships with precision and timeliness. Repeat this process until you have a date which orders must be in by for each holiday and special event. We’ll get to the actual marketing and promotion tactics a bit later.
Next you’ll want to revisit those company specific dates. Count back 8 weeks from the product launch and mark that as the date when you’ll start booking forward with hostesses. This will also be the date when you begin to call previous hostesses and customers to get them lined up for the new season.
After you’ve established the basics, you’ll want to take a look at other promotional opportunities. If you are involved in online or offline fairs, you’ll want to slot these into your calendar. General dates are okay at this point, but be sure to write these events on your notepad so you can investigate and fill in the details later.
Finally, before we put away the calendar for this exercise, book yourself one to two days a month to follow up on special events for your customers. If you haven’t been making an effort to record things like birthdays, anniversaries and other special events in your customers’ lives, you could be missing out on some wonderful sales opportunities as well as a chance to connect to your customers on a personal level.
Step Four: The Nitty Gritty
Now comes the most labor intensive part of the process, putting it all together. You want to work to align your budget, your dates and your methods together, so you can create a plan of action to take you through the year.
Let’s take February as an example for a business that sells handcrafted jewelry. In this business the owner has decided to use 10% of last year’s income to determine the marketing budget for this year. In February of last year the income was $600, giving a budget of $60 in total. However, it costs the owner a steady rate of $10 per month for hosting charges for a website and has an ongoing ad for $5/month at a shop at home website. That leaves $45 for the marketing expenses for this month.
She doesn’t feel that this is enough for this year because she really wants to increase sales for this year. She peeks ahead in her marketing calendar and sees she has no major promotion for March, and her next big promotion is a spring promotion around Easter. She takes half of March’s budget of $75 (after website and set advertising)and allots the funds February and April ($37.50 each), choosing to do as much free promotion in March as possible.
Now, being handcrafted, it takes time to create and ship orders. While some orders can be created in advance, the owner doesn’t feel confident in her ability to gauge the most popular pieces in advance. So, she doesn’t like using supplies, if possible until the orders come in. She decides to allow 5 days for production and another 5 for shipping. That means all online orders must be in by February 4th for Valentine Delivery and February 9th for local orders. She decides to run her Valentine Promotion beginning on January 20th. Since the promotion starts in January, she decides to use a percentage of January’s marketing budget $40 (after website and standard ad) for February’s promotion as well. It’s an 11 day promotion out of a 31 day month, which is 35% of the month. This gives a dollar amount of $14.
She now was $96.50 to devote to her marketing efforts for the Valentine’s Day promotion. Now she has to decide which methods to use to promote her business.
She first considers using chocolate hearts with her business name on them and leaving them with a sign and display at the local mechanic. Unfortunately, at 25 cents a piece, the 500 minimum is too high to fit the budget. She loves the idea though, so makes a note on her notepad to reconsider the idea the following year.
She considers putting an ad in the local paper for the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day. She would like to be able to afford a display ad, but knows that three ads would be more than her budget will allow for at $56.00 for a quarter-page. She makes a note to call her friend that makes candles, another who creates gift baskets and ask them if they’ll consider doing a joint ad. She assumes they will and takes $56.00 off her marketing budget.
She notes that there is an online expo that runs a “Love is in the Air” expo on February 4th. It’s cutting it tight for creation and delivery, but decides she’s willing to work extra hard if necessary to complete orders that may come in from the event. She sets aside the $10.00 vendor fee.
She then decides that she will use the remainder of her budget to directly market to the customers who bought around this time last year. She already has general postcards and will print up individual letters. She figures printing and postage will take up the last $30.50.
With her budget gone, she starts to examine free ideas for promotion. She decides to write three articles for the month, one on buying appropriate jewelry based on a woman’s personality, one on jewelry care and one on romantic ideas for Valentine’s Day. She puts the ideas onto her notepad and adds writing and distribution to her list. She also jots down several related ideas to enter into her blog. Then she thinks about the specials she will offer to her newsletter list and the ads that she’ll create for the advertising lists, networks and forums that she’s on.
The process is repeated with each month and each promotional period that she’s set throughout the calendar year.
Step Five: Making it happen
Using a PDA or a planner system, putting specific tasks and deadlines through the calendar year can help keep everything on track throughout the year. When you experience a lull or slow period in your business you can write ads or articles for future events. You could even write all your ads for the year at one go, to create a consistent feel and flow. You could create blog entries or articles for your newsletter months in advance of busy periods, when you know you’ll be too busy to concentrate on those tasks. You could also create your web pages for specials in advance.
Step Six: Measuring
Don’t leave measuring your results till the end of your marketing calendar. Assess your results after each promotional period or at minimum once a month. If a certain venue or method isn’t working for you, you’ll want to adjust your plan and re-allocate your resources so they can be put to best use.
Other Hints and Tips:
It’s important to keep in mind that marketing takes time to be effective. Don’t pull an ad after one attempt in a new venue. It takes time and repetition for prospective customers to decide to click on over to your site or give you a call.
Keep yourself out there and trying new ways to reach more customers. While it’s important to be consistent and stick with venues that work, you want to avoid reaching the point of saturation in any area. So keep seeking out new areas to expand into.
Always follow up and consider your current and past customers in your marketing approach. Repeat customers are less expensive to maintain than finding new customers to replace them.
Don’t forget to have fun! Marketing should not be all drudgery and dirty work, it should be exciting. And with a well thought out plan it should be.