How to create a small business marketing plan

Writing a marketing plan may sound daunting to some...but don't worry. We’re here to walk you through how to create a marketing plan, step by step. And once you get organized and put your ideas down on paper, it’s actually pretty easy – and maybe even a little fun.

So, what is a marketing plan, anyway? In a nutshell, it's a document that outlines your high-level marketing strategy, efforts, and results. Your marketing plan should directly ladder up to your overall business goals and mission. The good news is that a marketing plan doesn’t have to take a lot of time, money or effort. It just needs to be researched, well thought-out and executed in a timely fashion.

At the end of the day no matter how good your product or service is, if you don’t have customers or don’t know how to reach any customers, you aren’t going to meet your goals. That’s why having a small business marketing plan is so important - it will help you stay focused on finding (and retaining!) customers.

You often hear about businesses that stumble upon success and achieve their goals overnight. In reality, most businesses aren’t that fortunate. More typical is the tale of the suburban couple who used their last penny to buy tons of beads and wire to start a jewelry company...then realized they didn’t have any funds left to market their new venture.

Moral of the story? A marketing plan is crucial for any small business and should be at the forefront when creating your overall business plan. And now that you know what a marketing plan is, let’s talk about how to start writing one for your small business.

According to small business experts, a marketing plan is comprised of three main parts:

  1. Customers. Who exactly is your target audience? Be specific! More details and data will make it easier to focus your marketing efforts.
  2. Competition. Who are you competing against? Learn as much as you can about your competitors so you can determine how to best position and promote yourself.
  3. Strategy. How will you attract your customers? A marketing strategy should include everything you'll do to promote your product or service - and turn a profit.

1. Identify your market and customers.

Identify your market and customers.

Start by considering the problem your product or service solves and the need it fills. For example, maybe you’re a photographer offering family portraits. Taking a family photo isn't necessarily difficult or overcomplicated, but you're filling a need by capturing precious moments, marking milestones, and creating beautiful wall art.

Now, look at the market. How many people buy what you sell every year and how much do they spend on their purchases?

  • Don't guess at this information. Research it with the following tools:
  • Online searches will give you national statistics about the size of the market.
  • Search the U.S. Census Bureau Quick Facts page for local demographics.

Your local U.S. Small Business Development Center or SCORE office offers free help.

Next, describe your most likely customers. Remember, "everyone" isn't a market. Neither is "all moms,” or "women who like shopping." Those categories are too broad. Look for niches within big markets such as “young moms who use Instagram daily,” for example.

VISTAPRINT TIP

Look for common characteristics shared by customers. Depending on what you sell, those may include:

  • Age. What is your target’s general age? Knowing how old they are will help you narrow down how to advertise to them. For example, millennials tend to prefer social media, while senior citizens turn to television or newspapers.
  • Location. What city, state, or even country does your audience live in? This will help you understand the cultural, social, and economic issues they face.
  • Behavior. What are their needs, desires, fears, and dreams? This information will help you understand your audience’s psychological queues and better communicate with them.
  • Number of children. Whether your audience has children (or not) can help you tailor your product’s unique selling proposition to the challenges they face as a parent.
  • Hobbies. What do they like to do in their spare time? Having this information can help you relate to your audience on a day-to-day level.

If possible, talk to existing or potential customers. Call them, or look for opportunities to meet with them at craft fairs or virtual events. If you already have customers, ask for feedback. You can also offer a promotion or free samples in exchange for information and feedback.

Once you've completed your research, summarize the characteristics of your ideal customers. These will be the people with 1) the biggest need, 2) money to pay for what you sell, and 3) the need to buy in quantity or on a repeat basis. Initially, you should focus on these people.

2. Scope out the competition.

To win customers, you'll need to distinguish yourself from your competitors. Research who they are, who they target, how they price themselves, and how they market their business. Here are some tips for scoping out your competition:

  • Google words associated with your business, like "candlemakers near Springfield," "newborn photographer,” or "wood carver in Rhode Island." Get a feel for your local competition, and see if the market is too saturated.
  • Look at competitors' websites, slogans, ads, and images to determine who they target...and think about how your branding can be different.
  • Browse Facebook, Instagram, Yelp, Angie's List, and other social media, noting what people like (or don't like) about your competitors.

Summarize any key takeaways in the “competitor” section of your small business marketing plan, noting names, locations, your biggest competitors, and their advantages and disadvantages.

3. Develop your marketing strategy.

First, think of your business’ overarching goals. Let's say your main goal is to gain 100 new customers in the next year. Now, create a marketing strategy around reaching this goal. How are you going to gain those 100 new customers? Networking, referrals, flyers, postcard mailings, email marketing, a website, and posting to social media are just a few examples.

Once you have a few ideas, it’s time to get specific. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What networking groups does my target audience attend?
  • What social media platforms are they engaged with?
  • How often will I communicate with them?

Once you’ve answered these questions, turn them into goals and prioritize each of them. Then assign a budget to each - and if you have any employees, assign an “owner” who is responsible for completing each task.

Top 4 Takeaways

  1. 1
    Write down your goals.
  2. 2
    Set a budget.
  3. 3
    Assign projects to employees (or allot your own time).
  4. 4
    Don't try to do everything at once!

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