While small business people tend to be diligent about documenting their goals and detailing financial forecasts, by contrast, devising a marketing strategy is often something they leave to the last minute.
To be sure, most of us these days are thinking about LinkedIn, or writing regular blog posts, or experimenting with podcasts and events, but these efforts tend to be done in piecemeal fashion and are not part of a coherent plan.
So why do small business owners overlook marketing?
Maybe it’s a time issue. Marketing can be an after-thought, something squeezed in after client meetings are held, invoices are sent, and paperwork is done. Or, perhaps more likely, it could be down to a lack of understanding about what you should be trying to do.
If you are lacking some clarity, that’s understandable. Marketing has undergone a significant evolution in the digital era. Where previously you could get away with being more salesy, these days it is more about building communities and long-term relationships around ideas. The emphasis is more on two-way communication and engagement rather than on traditional push marketing. All the more reason, then, to be very clear about what you are trying to achieve.
One answer is set out a plan on a single page.
A useful way to kick-start your marketing plan is to answer these key questions:
Your organisation's identity and brand.
The definition of what you do.
Strategies to achieve your purpose.
Timelines, deadlines and reviews.
You can use simple answers to these questions as a starting point, then refine and develop from there. You need to define your overarching business objective, identify your desired market, assess your competitive position in that market, articulate your unique selling proposition, and work back from there - this will involve asking:
This set of questions should tell you that a marketing plan is like any other business initiative, in that you have to be clear about your goals, your budget, specific objectives, timing and responsibility. And you need a systematic review process so you can see what is and isn’t working.
You should expect your plan to have numerous strategies. For instance, if one of your aims is to increase the proportion of young professionals in your client base, a supporting strategy might be a series of LinkedIn posts targeting specific groups.
Marketing 101 is all about knowing your message and sticking to it. And when I say message, it doesn’t just mean words. It’s how you present yourself to the world through everything you publish, produce and use - It’s everything from your website to your office design.
The mistake many businesses make is jumping ahead to, say, producing a podcast before establishing clearly in everyone’s minds their firm identity and proposition.
So, start with a plan on a single page. There are hundreds of free marketing plan templates on the web, but early in the process it doesn’t have to be any more complex than answering those five questions on one sheet of paper – Who, What, Why, How and When.
By the end of the process, you should have:
When it comes to the actions, don’t be afraid to outsource where something is outside of your expertise. It’s most important that you know your customers and steer the ship, ensuring everyone sticks to the plan. The actual implementation can still be done by external experts, such as content producers, web designers and social media specialists.