Why do you need a marketing plan? And what does ‘good’ marketing look like?

Find out why it’s a mistake to assume you don’t need a marketing plan if you’re running a small business by yourself.

With so much else vying for your precious time, it’s easy to assume you don’t need to worry about a marketing plan if you’re running your own small business. But not having a marketing plan is an expensive mistake.

In fact, we’d go as far as to argue that a marketing plan is as essential for a small business as having a laptop, or keeping accounts. And yet, too often it’s considered by entrepreneurs and freelancers as a luxury they’ll consider only when their business gets big enough.

The trouble with this thinking, though, is that in order to get big enough to be able to bother with a marketing plan, you NEED marketing! So, if you’re currently considering what to do about marketing and edging towards putting it on the back burner, we recommend reading on, and making it a much bigger and more urgent priority.

Every business needs marketing

If there is one thing that every business or freelancer has in common – whatever it is that they do or sell – it’s that they need customers or clients. Without people paying you money, you don’t have a business.

And how do you find customers or clients? Through marketing.

Marketing is how you get your name out into the world. Whether it’s as simple as designing business cards to handout at networking events and ensuring that your LinkedIn profile or website is correct, or as complex as running ad campaigns that lead to automated email sequences, marketing is the channel through which people first find you, and then evaluate whether you are the right business for them.

And yes, you can order business cards and set up a LinkedIn profile without a marketing plan, but you’ll know much less about your advertising attribution and you’re much less likely to be successful.

Why? Because ad hoc or scattergun marketing approaches like this are exactly that: ad hoc. They’re not done with any thought as to what they lead to. Instead they’re created in the hope that, on their own, they’ll be a magic pill that attracts, nurtures and converts people, and convinces them to hire or buy from you.

People need seven touchpoints before they buy

But one piece of marketing alone cannot do that. In fact, the basic rule of marketing is that people need seven ‘touchpoints’ before they’re ready to buy. That means they need to be exposed to you or your messaging seven times.

So simply handing someone a business card that directs them to your LinkedIn profile isn’t enough. Nor is running a single Facebook ad that sends people to your website. Even if you collectively create seven ways people can find out about you, if you haven’t consciously joined them up into a journey, you risk people falling through the gaps, or missing some.

What you need is at least seven potential touchpoints that connect up in order to nurture people through to a stage when they are ready to buy from you. Here is an example:

  1. You meet someone at a networking event and give them your card.
  2. They check out your card later and visit your LinkedIn profile.
  3. Your LinkedIn profile has a link to your website.
  4. On your website you have a report they can download.
  5. You email them the download with a welcome email giving them more information about what you do.
  6. They see a happy customer retweet a testimonial they gave you that you shared on Twitter.
  7. A couple of days later you email them suggesting them for a call to see how you can help.

As you can see, each stage on this journey helps move someone who is a good fit for what you do, and needs what you sell, closer to a sale. And they all work together like mini cogs in a machine to ensure that once someone is on your journey, or in your ‘funnel’ they receive all the information they need to pass through the seven touchpoints.

A marketing plan builds a journey to sale – and saves you time

This is why a marketing plan is so important – and why it saves you so much time. Without one, you are just left either doing nothing at all, or creating marketing on the fly when you think about it (the scattergun approach).

But the problem with this kind of marketing is that not only does it fail to create a journey for customers though to sale, but it actually takes more time and energy.

Why? Because with a marketing plan, every element in it works hard and in unison. So your website doesn’t just contain information people may need now, but it also sends them somewhere else – for example, to download a sales brochure, join your mailing list, or follow you on social media.

And your email list doesn’t just collect customers’ email addresses, but it sends out regular newsletters as well as sales emails. Your social media doesn’t just get you likes and follows, but it encourages people to visit your website, download resources and join your mailing list.

Everything is carefully considered and is maximised to nurture customers through to sale. And work is created in batches – in flow – and automated. So once it’s set up you can just sit back and wait for people to move through it at their own pace. It’s a bit like building Mousetrap, if you remember the game!

Contrast this to an ad hoc or scattergun approach where you wake up one day and fancy writing a blog, which you post in a tweet. That blog or tweet isn’t connected up to anything else, so anyone who sees it might think it nice or thought provoking, and may even click through to read your website, but they quickly move off and forget about you.

As you haven’t collected their email address you can’t continue your communication, so your connection is lost until they next time they happen to see a tweet from you and click through. As a result the time and energy you spent on the blog and tweet were almost for nothing (especially if you haven’t planned an SEO strategy). It’s like laying out all the parts of Mousetrap but not connecting them up… it just doesn’t work.

Read here how our marketing strategy enabled me to grow our profits by a whopping 3,150% in just five years – wheel working part time!

What does a marketing plan look like?

So what does a marketing plan look like? There’s no set format or length. We’ve seen one-page marketing plans scrawled on a sheet of paper, and long, complex plans written at length in a digital document. Personally, we like to plan ours out in Google spreadsheets so we keep all the information and data in one place and can share and update as a team. Here’s a quick glimpse of what part of ours looks like:

What matters is the thinking that goes into your plan, and that you take people on a journey – from finding out you exist through to buying from or hiring you. You also need to ensure you have adequate content on that journey to nurture people with the information they need, for as long as they need, to get to know enough about you to be confident to buy from you.

We structure the journey in our marketing plan in six stages:

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Consideration
  • Test
  • Purchase
  • Loyalty

Some of these stages may be quite quick, and require fewer elements. Others though may need to keep potential customers or clients on your journey for months, or even years, so will need more content.

What are the common mistakes people make with their marketing plan?

There are some common mistakes we see people making with their marketing plans that we definitely recommend avoiding! The first, and biggest (hence writing this article) is not having one at all. The second is having one and not actioning it.

Marketing plans are not magic, and simply having one does not automatically mean you will attract as much business as you want or need. They do need to be put into action and got properly working.

The third most common mistake people make with their marketing plan is missing out the middle, or not having enough in it. The middle of your marketing plan – the consideration phase – is where most people will spend most of the time.

At this stage, they’re actively aware of you and weighing up whether you might be right for them. But they either need more information to make a decision, or the time isn’t right for them to buy now. Your job here is to keep them in a kind of holding pattern. To remain front of mind and ensure they have the information they need to decide when the time is right.

If you fail to keep people at this stage, they’ll drop out of your funnel. And the chances are that they’re not just in your funnel; they’re probably looking for other ways to solve their problem too – either direct or indirect competitors. So if you let them slip out of your funnel then you are almost serving them up to your competition.

That’s why it’s so important to have what we call a ‘meaty middle’ and make sure that when you bring people into your marketing journey they stay there until they’re ready to buy.

So if you want to avoid the biggest mistakes in marketing, here are three things you need to do:

  1. Have a marketing plan
  2. Action your marketing plan
  3. Ensure your marketing plan has a ‘meaty middle’

What’s a good ROI for your marketing?

One reason why marketing is so important can be summed up in just three letters: ROI. ROI stands for return on investment and describes what you expect back in return for the money you spend on your marketing. How you measure your ‘return’ can vary, but for most businesses, the return is financial – the extra money they make as a direct result of their marketing.

A good marketing ROI is 5:1, which is around 20%. So this means that for every £5 you invest in marketing you would expect to make an extra £1 (on top of the £5 you put in). This means that if you invest £100 in Facebook ads, you’d expect to make £120 in sales.

This is why marketing is so important. It should never be a cost; it should always be a wise investment in your business, and give back more than it takes.

Of course not everything you do in marketing is going to deliver that result. Poorly planned marketing and ad hoc marketing can be frustratingly unrewarding. And there will always be occasions where you’ll need to test out new marketing approaches as part of your plan… not all of which will bear fruit.

But over time, honed through trial and error, and done properly, marketing should always deliver you a return. And sometimes it can be even higher than 5:1.

To find out just why ROI matters and how investing in marketing can make or break what you do, read on for the cautionary tale of two small businesses!

A tale of two businesses – one with a marketing plan and one without

Very early in in Talented Ladies Club, I was reading about marketing and why it was so important, and read an explanation that impressed the need perfectly. And I wanted to share that with you now, as a cautionary tale of two businesses – one with a marketing plan and one without.

The two businesses are both the same size, and sell the same thing to the same people. Let’s call them small business A and small business B.

One year, small business A decides to invest in a proper marketing plan, while small business B chooses to carry on as they are. They reason that they can’t afford to invest in marketing right now, and will re-look at the situation next year if their sales improve.

Year one

Small business A only have a modest amount to spend on marketing, and it means less profit for the owner, but they are convinced it’s worth the short term sacrifice. Thanks to their marketing efforts though, by the end of the year small business A has grown their business and profits by 20% and own a slightly larger share of the market.

Small business B, meanwhile has had an okay year, but they haven’t really moved forward much, and the owner still believes that they need to wait before spending money on a marketing plan. Until then they’ll carry on doing what they can in-house.

Year two

Another year passes, and small business A has re-invested the extra 20% they made the year before in their marketing. They hired a small local agency and ran a successful ad campaign. As a result, their business and profits have grown a further 40%, and they are now recognised as a significant player in the market and getting more media coverage. 

Small business B had a good year too, and grew 5%. But by now they’re significantly behind small business A in sales, profit, market share and brand awareness. 

Year five

Three years later, and small business A is now the market leader. They’ve redesigned their brand and have a team managing their marketing and sales. They’ve moved office twice as they have grown, and the owner now works just part time on the business and is considering attractive offers to sell. 

Meanwhile small business A is still struggling. They owner is still running the business by themselves as they can’t afford to pay staff, and they’re still telling themselves that they can’t afford to invest in marketing yet…

In the space of five years there has been a dramatic divergence in fortunes of these two businesses that started out the same size, and with the same opportunities, thanks to marketing.

Marketing isn’t a magic cure-all

Of course, marketing isn’t a magic bandaid for your business. Brilliant marketing won’t make up for poor quality products or service, or lack of business strategy. But if you get everything else in your business right, marketing is the essential rocket fuel that brings you the customers and sales you need. 

And if you want marketing that is going to genuinely and consistently deliver the results you want and need, then you need a marketing plan.

How you can create and launch your own bespoke marketing plan in eight weeks

The best way to get a professional marketing plan is to hire a consultant or agency to help you create one. But we’re aware that many small businesses and freelancers don’t have the budget for that yet.

So to help you create and launch a bespoke marketing plan designed specifically for your business, we’ve created an eight-week online course called Marketing The Easy Way. (It’s the exact plan I followed to grow our profits by 3,150% in just five years.)

As the name suggests makes mastering marketing for your business as easy as possible. We explain how marketing works and guide you through each step along the way, with video classes, written explanations, simple exercises and worksheets. There really isn’t an easier way to get your own marketing plan.

Here’s what you’ll do each week:

  • In week one you’ll learn what ‘marketing’ means, the difference between evergreen marketing and marketing campaigns, the three essential elements of marketing (and what happens when you miss one out) and what a completed marketing plan looks like. 
  • In week two you’ll learn why finding your ideal customer is so important, how to research your perfect customer, how to turn that research into avatars and how to find these people. 
  • In week three you’ll learn what the marketing ‘journey’ is, the six stages of your journey, two types of buying trigger and work out how long your journey needs to be. 
  • In week four you’ll learn why the right messaging is so important. You’ll define your mission, vision and values, create your messaging matrix, work out how to powerfully talk about and describe the benefits of about what you do or sell, and develop persuasive responses to objections to purchase. 
  • In week five you’ll learn what ‘content’ means in marketing and what type of content you need. You’ll then create specific content ideas and build your marketing content plan. 
  • In week six you’ll learn the importance of loyalty, how to build it and how to make buying from you easier and more special. You’ll work out how to encourage repeat business and build loyalty into your marketing. 
  • In week seven you’ll learn what a campaign looks like, how to build one and what content you need in your campaign. We even give you a campaign template to make it really easy to build successful campaigns. 
  • In week eight you put all the of the work you have done over the past seven weeks together to build your plan. You define your marketing goals and objectives, conduct a marketing SWOT analysis and then complete and launch your evergreen marketing strategy. 

By the end of the course you will feel like you have mastered marketing. You will understand all the working parts, and how they relate to your business or freelance career. And importantly, you’ll finally have a marketing plan! (And one with a meaty middle…)

Marketing The Easy Way gives you the advantage small business A had, and enables you to grow your business over time, so you can reinvest more money into marketing and grow further – if you wish to.

So if you want to ensure your business has enough customers or clients, and nurtures them consistently through to sales, come and join us inside Marketing The Easy Way.