Congratulations on having a skill or business idea worth sharing with the world. Owning a business is a challenge, but it’s the best job security anyone can have. If you want a successful business to last, you have to create an ongoing strategy for growth. Marketing your brand is the smartest way to attract new customers and build loyalty.
In a survey of small businesses, Intuit Quickbooks found:
- 46 percent of owners said the first year was the hardest.
- 65 percent of owners wished they spent more time and money on marketing.
- About 67 percent admitted they would write a better business plan.
A good marketing plan can help you reach the right customers and expand your business. It’s also a way to measure your efforts, so you don’t waste resources.
Sometimes, a product is a good idea, but there aren’t enough people willing to buy it. Doing research can help you find out what type of people would enjoy your product. That way, you can figure out if a business model is profitable before making a big investment.
What is a marketing plan?
A marketing plan is a rundown of your ideas for promoting your business and products.
The goal is to think about ways to connect with potential customers and get them excited about your brand. In the process, you learn how to reach the people most likely to buy your products.
A solid marketing plan for small business should also discuss your budget and how well you’re meeting each marketing goal. Spending as you go is an easy way to rack up expenses without knowing if your marketing efforts are working.
Define your target market
Customers are the lifeblood of your business. If you know what’s important to them, you can keep coming up with new solutions to match their needs. Identify your target market by thinking about the problems your product solves. What makes your product unique? How does it improve the lives of your customers?
For example, landscapers don’t just keep grass healthy. They create an attractive environment, making customers proud property owners. They also take care of chores customers prefer not to do.
Figure out which niches to focus on. Your customers have a wide variety of needs, and their lifestyles affect what they buy. Ten people may buy the same product for different reasons. Some customers make regular purchases, while others shop around. Some customers are willing to pay your prices, and some only look for discounts.
Learn about your customers
You probably collect information about your customers every time they contact you or buy something. You learn the average amounts they spend on a product. You learn why they buy more or less at different times of the year. When you handle customer service issues, you may even learn how customers use a product or what they don’t like about it. The information you collect about a customer’s buying habits is known as sales data. All of these details help you understand your customers and get better at making a sale.
Loyal customers will provide 50 to 80 percent of your income. You can use sales data to find out what traits your loyal customers have in common. If you sell to consumers, start with traits like age, gender, hobbies, occupation, family status, or income.
Consumer markets involve working with the public. Think about the clothing stores where you shop or the plumber you call to fix your home shower. If you sell to other businesses, focus on traits such as annual revenue, number of employees, and service industries.
Assess the market situation
Set yourself up for success by preparing for issues that could affect how well your product sells. Create a detailed profile of key conditions, including:
- A description of each of your product lines
- A brief summary of your sales volume in the past
- Your geographic range
- The annual amount of people who buy the type of products you sell
- Price ranges of products in your industry
- Your primary methods of sales and distribution
Size up your competition to decide how you can give customers a better experience. You can read review sites or survey people in your area to find out what they don’t like about your competitors. Think about the products and services your top competitors offer. Do they provide features that make their products more appealing than yours? Pay attention to pricing and branding strategies that help other businesses stand out.
List threats and opportunities
Looking at the market as a whole, write down any trends that could threaten your business. This could include unhappy customers, competitor expansions, resource problems, and employee shortages. Planning for obstacles in advance can help you come up with a solution that won’t harm your business.
Just like the competition, you also have advantages that make your business stand out. Think about types of customers who could offer new business. Can you add a low-cost service to reach more customers? Do you have special expertise that isn’t common in your area? Local trade associations or chambers of commerce are good places to get information about local business trends. Try to scope out opportunities that could put you ahead of the competition. Can you negotiate better contracts with suppliers? Partner up on a promotion with a business that sells related products?
Plan your marketing strategy
A strong strategy starts with describing the marketing channels you already use and your future goals. A marketing channel is the form of communication you use to make products available to shoppers. Social media, email, and direct mail are common marketing channels.
If possible, write down the number of leads you reached through each channel. Leads are prospective customers. Some leads turn into a good source of business, while others may be a dead end. To find new leads, think about where your customers go to get information. Do they do research online? Get quotes by phone? View your social media content?
Be realistic with your goals. Based on your past numbers, write a list of objectives you want to achieve. If you normally get 50 interested customers a month from searching LinkedIn, start aiming for 75. Other growth targets may include:
- Email newsletter subscribers
- Customer referrals
- Purchase volume or amount per customer
Plan to research new methods of marketing. Small business owners are often so busy that they stick to one or two channels, even if they don’t work. For example, 16 percent of small businesses don’t create any content to share with customers. Blogs, videos, e-books, reports, emails, and social media posts are types of content. Creating content allows you to show credibility as a business owner. It also helps you meet people who wouldn’t otherwise learn about your business.
A marketing plan has no value if you don’t track your progress. In Infusionsoft’s 2017 Small Business Marketing Trends Report, 47 percent of owners said they don’t know if their marketing tactics work. Another 10 percent said their efforts are completely ineffective.
Measuring your performance lets you see the impact of your efforts in clear terms. Your loyal customers are a great resource for measuring your marketing plan. Answer key questions about your business activities. Here are common examples:
- On average, how many interested customers do you get before making a sale?
- How many times do you communicate with a customer before a sale?
- How often do customers make a repeat purchase?
- What marketing channels yield the most loyal customers?
- What types of content keep customers interested in your business?
- How many website visits do you get each month?
- What factors make a customer choose not to buy your product?
- Which marketing channels are most cost-efficient?
Learn as you go
No marketing strategy is perfect. You learn more about your business and customers along the way, and that’s a good thing. Getting data that’s specific to your business and customers helps you refine your efforts. In many cases, a marketing plan for small business needs to be revised as you identify new goals or conflicts.
The most important thing is to set aside enough funds to cover your marketing goals. Once you know the strategies you want to use, you can research costs and make sure you don’t blow through your budget too quickly.