Do I need a marketing plan?

Your question

I see the words ‘marketing plan’ used a lot, but am not sure exactly what’s involved, or whether I even need one as a small start-up. Where do I start?

Our answer

A marketing plan doesn’t need to be complicated, in fact as a small start-up you should try to keep it as simple as possible.

A marketing plan is essentially a written document (in any format: Word, Powerpoint or just handwritten notes) that explains how you are planning to grow your business. You may find that you need a written marketing plan for your business if you are applying for funding from your bank.

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Here are seven things helpful things to consider when thinking about your marketing plan.

1) Where should I start?

There are lots of template marketing plans available online, including one that I prepared for small start-up businesses (you can download it here).

Use a template like this to prompt your thinking and document your thoughts. Start by printing it off and pencilling some answers/ideas in, then go back to it in a few days and add some more.

2) There are no wrong answers

Creating a marketing plan isn’t a test and no-one is going to laugh at your ideas. Everyone has to start somewhere.

A marketing plan is a document that you will come back to fairly regularly to update, based on what has or hasn’t worked for your business, or as other factors change. You will find that as your business grows your marketing plan will become more sophisticated.

3) Decide on your marketing objectives

Think about what you want to achieve for your business over the coming months and divide that into three month phases.

In the first quarter your objective might be to get the foundations in place and raise awareness of your business, the second quarter to obtain a certain level of sales or gain a certain number of clients. In the months thereafter you might want to combine new sales/new customer targets and retain existing customers or increase the average spend of each customer. Do you need to achieve a certain level of sales to cover your costs?

Decide which objectives are important in each quarter so that you know what you are trying to achieve. The marketing objectives and pace of growth will be different for each and every business, so settle on something that is achievable for you.

If you want a greater level of detail in your marketing plan then you can create a plan on a month by month basis and take into account any seasonal highs and lows, for instance if you are planning any special Christmas sales activity.

4) Set out how you will achieve your objectives

Once you are happy with your objectives, your plan should explain how you will achieve them. Many new businesses set themselves a goal to get the foundations in place within the first three months – creating their branding, setting up a website or social media profiles, or getting some print materials created.

At the same time you may want to be getting ready for the next phase of your plan, such as collecting customer details so that you can send out a regular newsletter for instance. Align your marketing activities with your objectives for each quarter/three month period.

So now you have the essentials of your marketing plan in place. You know what marketing activity you will be doing and when.

5) Set a budget

You can market your business on a shoestring, but some things will incur costs, such as buying a domain name for your website, or if you want to use a professional designer for your branding. Do some research to identify how much these are likely to cost and include those costs in your plan. Total it up, add some contingency and there’s your marketing budget for the year.

You may want to have some additional marketing activity planned just in case your business needs it – either because you are growing faster than anticipated, or if you are struggling to make sales.

6) Knowing what has worked and what hasn’t

Before you start it is worth identifying how you will know if your marketing activity has been successful. What measurement will you put in place? Any online advertising can be easily tracked, but other (particularly offline/traditional) marketing is harder to quantify.

The easiest way to work out what has worked is to ask your customers where they heard about you. If, for instance, nobody mentions the ad you placed in the local paper, then you know that it wasn’t worth spending the money on that again next time.

7) Deliver your plan!

Now it is time to put your plans into action and do what you have promised to do. Try to stick to your goals and commit some time to marketing your business.

If you are planning promotional activity you will need to work at least two months in advance (so if Christmas sales activity starts in October, you should start preparing your promotional communications at the beginning of August to make sure they are all set up and ready to go in time).

Put a reminder in your calendar to review your marketing plan every three, six or (at a minimum) 12 months. Update it with notes about what has or hasn’t worked, and make changes to the coming months based on that knowledge.

If you have the flexibility and budget it is worth testing a few different approaches to marketing to see what gives you the best results. Big brands are particularly good at evaluating each campaign and feeding that insight into their next marketing activity, so steal that approach and apply it to your business.

Answered by our marketing agony aunt Roisin Kirby from Refresh Marketing. If you have a question you’d like Roisin to answer, please email her or call her on 07553 012367. You can sign up for free monthly email tips or follow Refresh Marketing on Twitter and Facebook.