The 3 parts of a marketing plan

7 min read
Ashliegh Gehl

Take a deep breath and say to yourself, “I’m smart and I can create an amazing marketing plan!”

With this confidence in your pocket, let’s ignore all of the complex diagrams in the world and turn off all of the head-spinning jargon.

An easy marketing plan begins with you and the skills you have, such as your years of experience as a consumer and the lifetime you’ve spent as a storyteller.

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Easy marketing plan in just 3 steps

The following steps will help you build out a simple plan that focuses on what you want to achieve in the next year, while incorporating periods of reflection. By making time for mindfulness, you’re creating a flexible template that can change with your business’ needs.

  1. Do an overview.
  2. Set a timeline.
  3. Choose growth targets.

A manageable plan that you actually carry out is better than a complex one you don’t do. Here’s how to make one you can stick to.

What’s a marketing plan?

In a nutshell, a marketing plan is a year-long guide for advertising your small business. That’s it!

Why do you need one?

The truth is, every small business needs a marketing plan. It’s a picturesque road map. Without it, you risk getting lost. It also goes hand-in-hand with your business plan.

Step one: Do an overview

For this marketing plan, let’s imagine that you just launched a chocolate shop. The overview for your plan simply states what you would like to achieve with your advertising efforts. Remember, this is for a 12-month period.

Start by answering two questions:

  • What are my marketing goals? These are usually broad, brief statements of intent (e.g. I’d like to sell $xx.xx this year).
  • What are my marketing objectives? Objectives are the tangible steps you must take to meet each goal.
Marketing Plan Chocolate Shop

For details on the difference between goals and objectives, check out this tip sheet. It breaks it down nicely.

Now answer these questions:

  • How much can I spend on marketing this year?
  • What are my business’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats? (Watch this how-to SWOT video for help.)
  • What do I need to do to enhance my strengths, improve my weaknesses, seize my opportunities and minimize my threats?

Step two: Set a timeline

Creating a timeline is the hardest part. If your plan doesn’t align with your business’ fiscal, pick a month when you’d like to start. Then break down your timeline week by week.

What can I do for free?

Marketing Plan Instagram Feed
Social media marketing is a good place to start if funds are tight.

This may include being active on social media, launching biweekly promotions that give your customers a reason to return and distributing a monthly newsletter.

What media ad placements will I buy?

Media includes online advertorials, billboards, transit signage and ads you pay for on:

  • Radio
  • TV
  • Newspaper/print
  • Websites (digital)
  • Social media

How often will I buy ads?

Many mainstream media avenues, such as radio, TV, print and billboards/signage, are pricey.

If your budget is small, digital and social media ads may be your best option.

Because this plan is for your hypothetical chocolate company, it’s important to be seasonally minded. Your timeline should have every major holiday listed and revolve around seasonal product promotions.

Once your timeline is done, all you have to do is stick to it.

When done well, promotions can even become a season. At least that’s what it feels like when Tim Hortons launches its Roll Up The Rim To Win campaign. Canadians coast-to-coast-to-coast definitely know when it’s Roll Up The Rim to Win season.

Once a quarter, reflect

Every three or four months, schedule an hour to reflect on what is (or isn’t) working. If your digital ads are not being clicked enough, it could be a sign that the ad isn’t connecting with your ideal customer. You may want to pause them while you evaluate.

Pro tip: Don’t promote a poor product. Read the reviews. Hear what your customers are saying. If your salted caramel chocolate bar isn’t performing well, refine or replace the product instead of spending more money to sell it.

3. Step three: Choose growth targets

Finally, map out what growth looks like. For example, over the course of four months your goal may be to see a 2% increase in new customers. In eight months, you want to see it jump 4 to 6%.

At this stage, you may not be sure how much growth is reasonable — so guess. You can refine later.

If your marketing efforts are working, you should be seeing growth in the four areas below:

  • New customers
  • Returning customers
  • Increased sales
  • Increased website traffic

Pro tip: Ask your customers how they found you. This will help you hone in on how you were discovered and may provide you with ideas for your next marketing campaign.

Promotions with passion

One of the easiest ways to understand marketing is to think about the last time you raved about a new restaurant.

When you passionately shared your recent dining experience with your family and friends, you were marketing the restaurant.

Marketing Plan Sign on Sidewalk
Show some personality in your marketing messages — you’ll find people love it.
Photo: Jon Tyson on Unsplash

It wasn’t intentional, but you most likely described the elements you enjoyed — the ambiance, the superior service and the mouth-watering food — all of the intertwining components that made the experience memorable. Your family and friends may have even tried the restaurant because you whole-heartedly believed in what you were saying. It was genuine.

Apply that same framework to your small business by answering the following questions:

  • How do I want my business to make people feel?
  • What do I enjoy most about my company?
  • What makes it unique from other similar companies?
  • What’s the level of service I currently deliver?
  • How can I take my service to the next level?

Now that you’ve focused on what you personally love about your company, turn it into a story. Storytelling is an essential component of marketing.

Share your story everywhere — on your website, in your newsletter, on social media.

As Canadian author Margaret Atwood once said, “You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s built into the human plan. We come with it.”

As you innately tell stories and want others to share in your experiences, use this to your advantage. Your style of storytelling is personal and unique to you. It can separate your business from your competitors.

Marketing plan recap

Marketing your small business is an added layer of responsibility on top of running your business. Your customers will become discouraged if you’re not readily available to answer their questions, be it by phone, email or on social media.

So be realistic with your goals. Ease into it when creating the overview, timeline and growth targets of your plan. Pull from your experience as a consumer and a storyteller to create a successful marketing plan. And remember, every dollar spent matters.