While small business people tend to be diligent about documenting their goals and detailing financial forecasts, devising a clearly articulated marketing strategy is so often something they leave to the last minute.
To be sure, many firms 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.
As to why small business owners overlook marketing is a mystery. 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.
More likely a lack of confidence about what the purpose of marketing is may lie behind the scattergun efforts of firms to build effective marketing plans.
In some ways, this fuzziness is understandable. Marketing has undergone a significant evolution in the digital era. It used to be all about targeting audiences to ultimately sell a product or service. These days it is more about building communities and long-term relationships around sets of ideas. The emphasis is more on digital, 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. Start with 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.
What activities do you need to support those business goals? What budget in terms of share of revenue are you prepared to allocate to marketing? Who will be responsible for what? What is your timeline? How will you measure your success?
In other words, a marketing plan is like any other business initiative. 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.
A useful way to guide your marketing plan is to answer the key questions: Who? What? Why? How? When? The Who is your firm identity and brand; The What is the definition of what you do; The Why is your purpose; The How is about strategies to achieve that; The When is about timelines, deadlines and reviews.
Of course, a single plan can incorporate a number of strategies. For instance, if part of the plan 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.
Each marketing strategy needs to support your key messages, which in turn should reflect your value proposition. And your value proposition should inform your overall brand in terms of language, design and tone.
Marketing 101 is all about knowing your message and sticking to it. And the message in this case is about more than words. It’s how you present yourself to the world through your print and digital collateral, office design and style.
Knowing your message and being able to articulate are important, because the mistake many firms make is jumping ahead to, say, website design before establishing clearly in everyone’s minds their firm identity and proposition.
So, start with a plan on a single page. Establish your goal. Know your market. Articulate your message. Design strategies to support the goals. Allocate responsibilities and accountabilities. Set a timeline. And review.
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.
When you have answered those questions, don’t be afraid to outsource. While it’s important you know your market, the actual implementation can still be done by external website designers, writers and media advisers within your chosen brief.
Picture: Maarten van den Heuvel via Unsplash