My SME guide to writing a marketing plan
Every startup needs to think about how they are going to market their business effectively, as it could be its make or break. The first thing I’d suggest is doing some serious market research.
Although once established it’s important not to focus too much on where your competitors are going, in the planning stages it is vital that you learn from the things that other businesses in your industry do well, and indeed what can be improved upon.
Market research may seem like a task that only larger businesses would perform; however it is simply the process of gaining an understanding of your competitors. This can be as simple as desk based internet research, or potentially as in depth as engaging specialists to perform this work for you.
If you have already worked in the industry that you are looking to set up in, it’s likely that you already have some informal market research from your experience in the business. In my experience, the most effective research is the practical research that you can perform yourself. Although a report from a research agency might tell you the economic contribution of a sector and other such “big picture” statistics, realistically this information is only of benefit for impressing people with facts and figures – in the day to day running of your business, these statistics are irrelevant.
Monitor Marketing activity
Marketing for the sake of marketing is pointless; planning, recording and monitoring your marketing activities is vital. Make sure each activity has a clearly defined purpose, and ideally a measurable outcome. While not every activity can be correlated directly to new business, the purpose of each marketing activity should be carefully weighed up, so that you can compare the costs (and return) of each different form of marketing.
Unless you are heavily reliant on a brand image (for example, a website might be extremely reliant on a catchy domain name, as a general rule I believe it is wise to only spend 30% of your first year marketing budget on branding, reducing to a maximum of 10% thereafter. It’s different for every business, of course, but generally I’d suggest that this 10% should mostly be saved for a refresh of branding every 3 – 5 years.
All other activities can be mapped out on a marketing plan, with expected spend and expected return set out for each activity. The most powerful part of this process comes when you then record the actual spend and return on each activity, as this gives you the ability to monitor your spend and calculate a cost per lead for each activity.
It is always worth considering whether there are any seasonal trends that you should capitalise on when preparing a marketing plan. A coffee shop might focus on seasonal promotions for example, selling mince pies at Christmas and iced drinks in the summer. Likewise, a florist might maximise on gift occasion opportunities, such as Mother’s Day or Christmas.
Your marketing plan should work in conjunction with your business plan. What are your values? Where is your business heading? What do you want to achieve? Work out exactly what your aims are, and break them down into realistic, manageable steps. Define who will do what, and when by, and stick to it. I guarantee that if you and your team are focused on the same point, you are far more likely to make it there.