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Why small businesses need marketing plans

Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare—Japanese proverb

If you are a small business owner who believes marketing plans are only for large corporations, perhaps you don’t understand the real benefits. A marketing plan turns your vision into actions, so that you will be confident that you can reach your sales target.

Review, reflect & research
Creating or revising a marketing plan is a great time to review your current situation, your objectives and the market. Are you delivering on your brand promise?

You can evaluate your current situation by looking at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT). You may have addressed these questions when you first wrote your business plan. Many small businesses fail to see the benefit in reviewing and updating these. I recommend that you update these annually, and when the need arises.

As your business has grown, you may have improved and grown on your list of strengths and identified further opportunities. Weaknesses will highlight where your business should potentially focus, and threats should be identified early so that a contingency can be thought through.

Review your competitors, their products and their marketing activity where available. Has a competitor launched a new website, cut prices, or received an award? As a small business owner you must be in touch with what your competitors are doing, and find a way to differentiate your business.

Define your target audience
Your product or service may attract different types of customers, but who is your ideal customer? Your ideal customer is usually the most profitable one, and who is most likely to buy from you.

To get the most out of your marketing, you should have a clear profile of who these customers are and then bring them to life. What do they look like, how old are they, where do they shop, what are their habits, where do they socialise, what do they read, are they internet savvy?

A marketing plan is a great tool to create and document your customer profiles. I recommend reviewing each marketing activity against your customer profile to double-check that it is targeted correctly.

What makes you so special?
What makes your business stand out in a crowd? It is sometimes easy for a business owner to guess the answer to this question, rather than looking at all the facts. A marketing plan can encourage you to discover what makes your business unique, or simply review your current proposition to see if it still stands true.

You must look at your product or service from a customer perspective. Find ways to set yourself apart from your competition and reasons for your customers to stay loyal to you and your brand.

Where are you heading?
A marketing plan requires clear, specific business objectives that can be measured, and include a deadline. Then a strategy must be developed for each objective. For example, your objective might be to increase sales by 10% to $500,000 by December 2012, and one strategy to achieve this might be to develop a customer service promise, an opportunity that you identified.

Time for some action
The greater part of a marketing plan is the development of a tactical marketing mix to deliver your marketing strategies—a tactic is not a strategy. An experienced marketer can help to choose relevant tactics and forecast realistic results. To grow your business, I recommend a tactical mix of various channels and activities, depending on your ideal customer and your resources.

Using a planned approach for your tactics ensures your marketing efforts are unified and consistent. Many businesses engage in ad hoc marketing activities, without taking a step back to look at the overlap in communications, not to mention the confusing messages to customers and potential customers. You can also avoid surprise ad hoc marketing activities and your resources are planned appropriately to deal with the volume of expected sales.

Finally plan your marketing tactics to take advantage of existing events, publication dates, trade shows, peak sales periods and seasonality to put your business top of mind.

Is your marketing working?
As part of a marketing plan, you should set up measures for each tactic. Monitoring and measurement of your marketing is key. A marketing plan will force you to evaluate your current activities, and plan for improvements and changes in marketing for the year ahead. Tracking should be ongoing, allowing you as a business owner to limit, increase or stop activities based on their performance.

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Angela Potts

Angela Potts

Angela Potts is the founder of Areté Marketing, a marketing consultancy specialising in marketing strategy, coaching and outsourced marketing for small businesses in Australia. She has more than a decade of marketing experience across industries including financial services, publishing, telecommunications and not-for-profit.

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