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How to create a small business marketing plan

Estimated reading time: 14 minutes

There are two distinct sides that make up a small business marketing plan: On one hand, there’s the creative flair—crafting innovative campaigns, designing captivating visuals, and engaging with potential customers. On the flip side, there’s the analytical realm—crunching numbers, conducting precise calculations, and making data-driven decisions.

But these two sides aren’t adversaries; they’re partners in crime, two sides of the same coin. And the thing that binds them together? A marketing plan.

This singular document is the cornerstone of small business marketing. It provides direction, cohesion, and momentum. 

In this article, we delve into the details of a marketing plan for small businesses, including what it entails, its critical components, its impact, and the steps to craft your own.

Table of contents

What is a small business marketing plan? 

A small business marketing plan is like the blueprint for your business’s marketing efforts. 

It’s more than a random collection of ideas scribbled on a napkin after a caffeine-fueled brainstorming session. A marketing plan is a structured roadmap that guides you through the twists and turns of the marketing maze and toward the treasure chest of success.

At its core, a small business marketing plan outlines your business goals, identifies your target audience, and lays out the strategies and tactics you’ll use to reach them

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Key elements of a marketing plan for small businesses

In order for the document to guide your small business, there are specific items it must contain:

  • Goals and objectives: What are you aiming for? Increased sales? Brand awareness? Brand recognition? All of it? Your marketing plan should spell out your goals clearly, so you know exactly what you’re striving for.
  • Target audience: Who are you trying to swoon with your marketing charm? Your target audience is a meticulously defined segment of potential customers with shared demographics, interests, and behavioral patterns. The better you know them, the better you can tailor your marketing efforts to win their hearts (and wallets).
  • Competitive analysis: A systematic evaluation of competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, and market positioning to inform strategic decision-making and gain a competitive edge. Knowing what your competitors are doing can give you a leg up in the marketing game.
  • Unique Selling Proposition (USP): What sets you apart from the sea of competitors? Whether it’s superior quality, unbeatable prices, or top-notch customer service, make sure your USP shines through in your marketing plan.
  • Marketing strategies and tactics: From social media campaigns to email newsletters to good old-fashioned flyers, your marketing plan should lay out the specific strategies and tactics you’ll use to reach your audience and achieve your goals.
  • Budget and resources: Allocation of financial resources and human capital required to execute marketing initiatives efficiently and effectively.
  • Metrics and measurement: How will you know if your marketing plan is working? Set key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics to track your progress, whether it’s website traffic, social media engagement, or revenue rolling in.

Why do you need a small business marketing plan?

You might be thinking, “Do I really need a marketing plan? Can’t I just wing it?” 

The short answer is, yes, you do need a marketing plan for your small business to succeed and bring you revenue. Here are just a few benefits a small business marketing plan brings to the table:

  • Strategic direction: A marketing plan gives you a clear direction, helping you navigate through the noise and focus on what really matters.
  • Resource optimization: Time and money are precious commodities, and a marketing plan helps you spend them wisely. By outlining your priorities and allocating resources strategically, you maximize your impact without breaking the bank.
  • Consistent branding: Ever feel like your brand is all over the place? A marketing plan keeps you on track. It keeps your messaging and visuals consistent across all channels, which builds trust and credibility with your audience.
  • Targeted outreach: A marketing plan can help you zero in on your ideal customers and tailor your messaging to resonate with their needs and desires.
  • Measurable results: How do you know if your efforts are paying off? A marketing plan helps you set clear objectives and track your progress, so you can see what’s working and what’s not—and adjust accordingly.
  • Adaptability: The only constant in marketing is change. With a plan in place, you can stay agile and responsive to shifting market trends and consumer preferences, keeping your business ahead of the curve.
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Your plan must be top-notch to gain all these advantages. That’s why we created a step-by-step guide for building a marketing plan for a small business. Read on for actionable insights and specific instructions. 

How to create a marketing plan for small business: A step-by-step guide

  1. Evaluate the current state of your small business
  2. Set goals and objectives for your small business marketing 
  3. Identify your target audience 
  4. Research your target market
  5. Develop your unique selling proposition (USP) and marketing messaging
  6. Outline your small business marketing strategies and tactics
  7. Determine timelines for your marketing activities
  8. Set a budget for your small business marketing activities 
  9. Mention metrics to measure your success

1. Evaluate the current state of your small business

Before you begin crafting your master plan, it’s essential to assess your current position. One of the best tools for this job is SWOT analysis.

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats—four little letters that pack a powerful punch when it comes to understanding your business’s current position in the market

  • Strengths: These are the things your business excels at—maybe you have a killer product, top-notch customer service, or a loyal fan base. Whatever it is, it’s what sets you apart from the competition.
  • Weaknesses: Ah, the not-so-fun part. These are the areas where your business falls short or could use a little improvement. Maybe your website needs a facelift, or your marketing efforts could use a boost. It’s all about being honest with yourself and identifying areas for growth.
  • Opportunities: These are the shiny golden nuggets just waiting to be seized. Maybe there’s a new market you could tap into, a trend you could capitalize on, or a partnership that could take your business to new heights. Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities lurking around every corner.
  • Threats: These are the dark clouds looming on the horizon—the potential pitfalls and obstacles that could derail your plans. They could be fierce competition, changing market conditions, or external factors beyond your control. The key is to be aware of them so you can navigate around them with ease.

SWOT analysis isn’t just about making lists—it’s about gaining valuable insights that can inform your strategic decisions moving forward. 

2. Set goals and objectives for your small business marketing 

Once you’ve peeled back the layers of your small business’s current state, it’s time to chart your course forward by setting goals and objectives for your marketing endeavors. Thanks to the insights gained from your SWOT analysis, you’re now equipped to focus on ambitious yet attainable goals.

Depending on the current state of your small business and where you want to move with it, some of the most common goals are:

  • Increase brand awareness
  • Drive website traffic
  • Generate leads
  • Boost sales
  • Improve customer engagement
  • Enhance customer loyalty
  • Expand market reach
  • Build brand authority 

Goals and objectives are like the dynamic duo of strategic planning—working hand in hand to propel your small business forward. Goals are the big picture, the overarching ambitions you strive to achieve, while objectives are the actionable steps that pave the way to reaching those goals.

People looking at a computer thinking of goals for their marketing plan

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To ensure your goals and objectives are effective, they should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound).

Here are a few examples of well-defined goals and objectives to reach them:

Goal: Boost Brand Awareness

Objective 1: Increase social media followers by 20% within six months through engaging content and targeted advertising campaigns.

Objective 2: Secure coverage in three industry publications within the next quarter to expand brand visibility and reach new audiences.

Goal: Increase Customer Engagement

Objective 1: Launch a monthly email newsletter featuring exclusive content and promotions to drive open rates and click-through rates by 15% over the next year.

Objective 2: Host monthly interactive webinars or live Q&A sessions to foster meaningful dialogue and interaction with customers, aiming for a 25% increase in participation over six months.

Tip

As a guideline, small businesses typically outline 3 to 5 overarching marketing goals in their plan. Each of these goals can then be supported by 2 to 3 specific and measurable objectives.

3. Identify your target audience 

Now, it’s time to create a portrait of who you’ll be targeting with your marketing activities. You need to be as specific as possible in describing key characteristics of your target audience, as you’ll be referring to this element of the small business marketing plan every time you craft a marketing campaign. 

Abstract illustration of a customer persona

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Here are just a few things to write out in this section of the marketing plan:

  • Demographics: Get to know the basics—age, gender, income level, education, and location. These details give you a snapshot of who your audience is and where they hang out.
  • Psychographics: Go beyond the surface and delve into their values, interests, hobbies, and lifestyle choices. What makes them tick? What keeps them up at night? Understanding their motivations and aspirations helps you connect with them on a deeper level.
  • Behavioral patterns: How do they behave online and offline? What websites do they visit? Which social media platforms do they prefer? Do they prefer to shop online or in-store? Tracking their behaviors helps you tailor your marketing efforts to meet them where they are.
  • Needs and pain points: What problems are they facing, and how can your products or services solve them? Identifying their needs and pain points helps you position your offerings as the perfect solution they’ve been searching for.
  • Communication preferences: How do they like to communicate? Are they all about email, or do they prefer snail mail? Do they love engaging on social media, or are they more old-school and prefer phone calls? Understanding their communication preferences ensures you reach them in the most effective way possible.
  • Purchase journey: What steps do they take before making a purchase? Do they research extensively before buying, or are they impulse shoppers? Mapping out their purchase journey helps you anticipate their needs and tailor your marketing messages accordingly.

Tip

The more information you collect about your potential customers, the better. At the same time, however, don’t waste your time trying to figure out the details that won’t help you sell your products or services better. It’s okay not to know your target audience’s favorite color or whether or not they had a pet as a child if it’s not relevant to your business. 

4. Research your target market 

Now that you’ve got a handle on who your audience is, it’s time to turn your detective skills toward the competition. Think of it as a game of cat and mouse—except you’re both the cat and the mouse, and the prize is market domination. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Identify direct competitors: These are the folks playing in the same sandbox as you—offering similar products or services to the same target audience. Make a list of your top competitors and study their every move like a hawk.
  • Assess their offerings: What are they selling, and how does it compare to what you’re offering? Research their products or services to understand their features, pricing, and value propositions.
  • Analyze their marketing strategies: How are they getting the word out? Are they killing it on social media, dominating the search engine results, or running killer email campaigns? Take notes on their marketing tactics and channels to see what’s working and what’s not.
  • Learn from their successes and failures: What can you glean from their wins and losses? Maybe they hit the jackpot with a viral marketing campaign, or perhaps they stumbled with a product launch gone awry. Either way, there are valuable lessons to be learned.
  • SWOT analysis (yes, again): Apply the same SWOT analysis you did for your own business to your competitors. What are their strengths and weaknesses? What opportunities are they capitalizing on, and what threats are they facing? This intel will help you craft a winning strategy that leverages their vulnerabilities and plays to your strengths.

Now, onto the fun part—documenting all this intel in your small business marketing plan. Consider creating a competitive analysis section where you outline:

  • A list of your top competitors
  • An overview of their products or services
  • Their key strengths and weaknesses
  • Their marketing tactics and strategies
  • Lessons learned from their successes and failures

5. Develop your unique selling proposition (USP) and marketing messaging

Now that you’ve laid the groundwork, it’s time to craft your secret weapon—your unique selling proposition (USP) and compelling marketing messaging. Think of this as the heart and soul of your marketing plan—your USP sets you apart from the competition, and your messaging captivates your audience. 

By outlining your USP and marketing messaging in your marketing plan, you ensure that your communications across different channels—whether it’s your website, social media, advertising, or email campaigns—are cohesive and reinforce your brand identity.

Besides, with your USP and messaging stated loud and clear, you always remember the benefits your products and services bring to the table and market them accordingly. 

6. Outline your small business marketing strategies and tactics

At this stage, you need to describe exactly how you will put your plan into action. 

In this section of the marketing document, you need to outline:

  • Strategies: overarching approaches you’ll take to achieve your marketing goals. For example, if your goal is to increase brand awareness, your strategy might involve social media marketing or content marketing.
  • Tactics: specific actions or activities you’ll undertake to implement your strategies. Continuing with the brand awareness example, tactics include creating engaging social media posts, publishing blog content, or running targeted ad campaigns.

Your marketing plan should offer sufficient detail to steer your actions without delving too deep into excessive detail. Offer concise summaries of each marketing strategy, highlighting the primary channels or methods for reaching your target audience. 

When detailing tactics, provide specific information such as timelines, responsibilities, and budget allocations for each activity. 

Aim for a blend of short-term and long-term tactics to maintain a balanced approach addressing immediate needs and long-term objectives. 

And remember, stay adaptable, and ready to adjust strategies and tactics based on market feedback, performance metrics, and shifts in business goals or circumstances!

Small business marketing plan with flyers and banners

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7. Determine timelines for your marketing activities

If you want your small business marketing plan to really be actionable (and not just a document that holds no value), it’s crucial that you determine timelines for all your planned marketing activities. Not only do they help to hold everyone accountable and ensure tasks are completed in a timely manner, but they also allow for effective allocation of resources. 

For your small business marketing plan to be an effective tool in marketing management, you need to:

  • Break down tasks: Divide your marketing plan into smaller tasks or milestones, each with its own timeline.
  • Set realistic deadlines: When setting timelines, Consider factors such as task complexity, available resources, and external dependencies.
  • Prioritize: Identify key initiatives or activities that require immediate attention and prioritize them accordingly in your timeline.
  • Allocate buffer time: Factor in buffer time for unforeseen delays or setbacks to avoid falling behind schedule.

8. Set a budget for your small business marketing activities 

It’s time to talk money. That is your budget. 

Your small business marketing budget should strike a balance. It needs to cover all your marketing activities without being overly detailed or too vague. Aim for a budget that’s just right—not too big, not too small.

Here are the things you need to cover:

  • Advertising: This includes expenses related to paid advertising channels such as online ads, print ads, radio spots, and outdoor advertising.
  • Digital marketing: Allocate funds for digital marketing efforts such as search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, social media marketing, email marketing, and content creation.
  • Content creation: Budget for the creation of high-quality content such as blog posts, videos, infographics, and downloadable resources to engage and attract your target audience.
  • Graphic design and branding: Set aside funds for graphic design services, branding materials, and visual assets to maintain a consistent and professional brand image.
  • Website maintenance: Include costs associated with website hosting, domain registration, website design updates, and ongoing maintenance to ensure your online presence remains polished and functional.
  • Events and sponsorships: Allocate funds for participating in industry events, trade shows, sponsorships, and community outreach initiatives to increase brand visibility and network with potential customers.
  • Marketing tools and software: Set aside funds for investing in marketing tools and software such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems, email marketing platforms, analytics tools, and automation software to streamline your marketing processes.
  • Consulting and agency fees: Budget for hiring external consultants, agencies, or freelancers to provide specialized expertise or execute specific marketing tasks beyond your in-house capabilities.
  • Marketing collateral: Budget for the production of marketing collateral such as brochures, flyers, business cards, and promotional materials to support your offline marketing efforts.
business card idea for marketing collateral

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9. Mention metrics to measure your success

To gauge the effectiveness of your marketing efforts, evaluate what’s working and what needs improvement, ensure that your marketing activities are in sync with your overall business objectives, prioritize efforts and hold your team accountable for results, you need to clearly outline your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in the marketing plan. 

Choose KPIs that are specific, quantifiable, and easily measurable. This allows you to track progress over time and gauge the effectiveness of your marketing activities accurately.

Additionally, select KPIs that are relevant to your business and industry. Consider factors such as customer acquisition, conversion rates, revenue generation, customer retention, and brand awareness.

Incorporate a mix of leading indicators (predictive metrics) and lagging indicators (outcome-based metrics) to provide a comprehensive view of your marketing performance.

Some examples of KPIs for tracking marketing performance include:

  • Conversion Rate
  • Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)
  • Return on Investment (ROI)
  • Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)
  • Website Traffic and Engagement Metrics (e.g., page views, bounce rate, time on site)
  • Social Media Metrics (e.g., followers, engagement rate, shares)
  • Email Marketing Metrics (e.g., open rate, click-through rate, conversion rate)
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By defining and tracking relevant KPIs, you can gain valuable insights into your marketing efforts’ effectiveness, identify improvement areas, and make data-driven decisions to drive business growth and success.

Start your marketing plan today

Crafting a small business marketing plan is not just a task—it’s a strategic imperative. It’s the blueprint that bridges creativity with analysis and builds your efforts toward success. 

By defining your unique value proposition, setting clear goals, and implementing targeted strategies, you can elevate your marketing game and propel your business forward. See how small business owners are adapting to changes, seizing new opportunities, and implementing detailed, actionable marketing plans with insights from our Small Business Marketing Guide 2024.

So, don’t underestimate the power of a well-crafted marketing plan. Embrace it, refine it, and let it be your roadmap to achieving your business objectives. With the right plan in place, the possibilities for growth and success are limitless. 

This article was originally published in July 2021 and has been updated with information.