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By Henry DeVries

Developing a plan to market and promote your business takes time, effort, and a dedication that most new entrepreneurs, or busy established businesses think they don’t have.

But without a map to guide you to your ultimate destination, treacherous roadblocks and time-consuming detours can keep you from reaching your goals. Try not to look at planning as an obligatory to do, but as a way to solve tangible problems like improving cash flow, generating new business, overcoming ill will, and meeting customer deadlines. Think of it as a way to solve problems before they arise. Don’t leave your life of the success of your business to chance.

Planning doesn’t stop once you open your business, close the deal, or win the account. It’s a constant process that demands concentration and hard work, but the payoff is worth it. By applying the planning techniques that sophisticated public relations and marketing professionals use to position their company, promote their cause, or sell their product, you can improve your business, advance your career, and improve every other facet of your life.

Let’s work at developing a rudimentary marketing plan. Marketing plays a vital role in successful business ventures, yet its systematic implementation is often overlooked by many small businesses.

Sure, every business owner has his repertoire of marketing gimmicks, but I’ve noticed over the years that the majority of small businesses operate without formal business plans, let alone some semblance of a marketing strategy.

If you’re one whose total marketing efforts include a yellow-page advertisement, some outdoor signage and an occasional flyer, this short marketing course is for you.

Too many individuals believe that the tactical plan—the newsletters, press kits, trade shows, banners, 800-numbers, display advertisements, logos and give-aways—come before the strategic plan. Those promotional, publicity and advertising tactics—and there are hundreds to choose from—should be contained within a well-orchestrated marketing plan.

A marketing plan is a strategy best contained in a formal document, not on a cocktail napkin or recalled from memory. Approach this checklist as though you were compiling a simple report.

Each subsection requires an appropriate entry. You—the business owner—should write a few paragraphs for each topic. When finished, you’ll have a basic marketing plan.

The executive summary consists of a one-page top level summary of the entire plan. It’s placed at the front of the document, but it’s the last thing you’ll write. Its purpose is to convey the gist of the plan to stakeholders, investors, and anyone else who needs to know the facts in a hurry

The scope of the plan is a paragraph that outlines 1) the product or service being marketed; 2) for whom the plan is being prepared; 3) the time period the plan covers; and 4) the geographic area where the implementation occurs.

The corporate profile introduces the company and includes: 1) a brief overview of the product or service; 2) a brief overview of the personnel involved; 3) a past history of the company; 4) its present performance; and 5) financial information if appropriate.

The product or service profile provides information regarding the specific items you intend to market. By addressing the following categories, a profile emerges. They include:

  • Position Statement—the niche the product or service is intended to occupy.
  • Description—the product or service described in detail.
  • Pricing—the methods used to establish pricing. Questions such as “will discounts be offered?” are asked.
  • Market Maturity—the overall market maturity is addressed.
  • Quality/Reliability—What level of quality is being portrayed? What’s the relation to price?
  • New Market Potential—the potential size of the market is assessed.
  • Delivery of Service—an explanation of the service delivery mechanism is given.
  • Packaging—includes overall presentation of the product or service and its delivery.
  • Image—the impression customers receive from employees, furnishings, stationary, etc.

It’s important to identify the target audience, or the customers you intend to reach. Provide specific information about the people your company considers its clients.

It’s also important to identify user trends, or those changes in the market that can create opportunities for your company.

A brief summary of a past sales performance should be given. Why do you think you were successful in the past? Look at issues related to growth which include: 1) seasonal sales performance; 2) cyclical or repeating patterns; and 3) an evaluation of what has been done by others trying to market this type of product or service.

The type of competition you face in the marketplace should be addressed. Insight here will help you understand why certain competitors have done so well or so poorly, and why, and how, your competition can create opportunities for you.

An assumption of the uncontrollable elements in the marketing environment, or what we call marketing considerations, should be offered. These assumptions include, for example, anticipation of radical changes in the social, political or economic environment. Hopefully, you’ll be able to identify realistic challenges you can expect to face in the marketplace.

What are your objectives—what do you intend to accomplish in the next six months? One year? Five years? Elaborate on your marketing objectives and attempt to assign some kind of figure to market share, growth, and market penetration.

You’ll need some type of research to complete your plan, but have no fear—plenty is available. Secondary research is broad research that has been conducted by others, and is found at libraries and on Internet Web sites. Take advantage of it. Primary research is that which you collect specific to your particular endeavor (more expensive to obtain). Getting the number of Buick owners in San Diego from DMV records is considered secondary research. Counting them at intersections is primary.

Next, the tools, training, and support needed to accomplish the sales objectives—or what’s called your sales support strategy—needs to be addressed.

Last, you’ll need to establish some type of budget in order to execute your marketing plan.

If you manage to write two or three paragraphs for each of the topics, you’ll end up with at least a 10-page marketing plan. From there, you can refine your objectives. More important though, you’ve taken a big step forward because you’ve written your strategy down on paper.

It’s said, “if you don’t know where you are going, you might not get there.” But you’re ahead of the game, because this marketing plan is your blueprint to success.

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