Preparing a marketing plan for your small business

Small BusinessCategory
12 min read
Will Stevens

When you own a small business, you have to wear all the hats – from CEO to admin assistant, from salesperson to the one who writes the marketing plans.  

Excelling in every single area isn’t easy.  

Take the role of marketing manager, for example. Some professionals train for years and complete degrees in order to become fully proficient in this field of expertise.  

Whether you have prior experience in promotions or not, it’s important that you undertake some form of marketing activity for your small business. Marketing helps: 

  • Attract new customers to a business 
  • Win the loyalty of existing customers 
  • Encourage buyers to return again and again 

Some entrepreneurs choose to outsource their marketing efforts to an external agency. But if your budget doesn’t stretch to this at the start of your business journey, all is not lost.  

It is possible to carry out your own marketing activity — you just need a marketing strategy and a complementary marketing plan to get started.  

What is a marketing plan? 

In a nutshell, a marketing plan is a year-long guide for advertising your small business.  

A marketing plan goes into more specifics than a marketing strategy.  

This document lays out a timeline for individual marketing campaigns and projects. While every one of these campaigns and projects will have different themes and sub goals, they will all tie into the marketing strategy.  

All should reflect your brand values and goals and be aimed at the customer profiles outlined within it. 

<H3>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.  

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How do you write a marketing plan? 

Woman working on a whiteboard

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 can use what worked (and what didn’t) to make your plan better. 

  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. Here’s how to make one you can stick to. 

Step one: Write 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 get ## signups this year). 
  • What are my marketing objectives? Objectives are the tangible steps you must take to meet each goal.

Now answer these questions: 

  • How much can I spend on marketing this year? 
  • What are my business’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats? (Check out this how-to SWOT illustration for a visual aid.) 
  • 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 year, pick a month when you’d like to start. Then break down your timeline week by week. 

What can I do for free? 

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 

Related: Online advertising for small businesses 

How often will I buy ads? 

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

Example of Facebook ad

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.  

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.

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 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. 

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What is a marketing campaign? 

Put simply, marketing campaigns promote your products and services and turn cold leads into sales.  

Every marketing campaign you devise for your business should be included in your broader marketing plan.  

Marketing campaigns can be themed around: 

  • Calendar dates (e.g. Valentine’s Day and Christmas) 
  • New product/service launches 
  • A business rebrand 
  • Discounts and sales  
  • Purchase incentives such as free gifts or free delivery for a limited time 
  • Building awareness of your business 
  • Customer stories Be more dog campaign

You can also build campaigns around other creative themes/concepts conceived to increase sales or awareness of a specific product or service.

Think O2’s Be More Dog campaign, which was designed to reflect O2’s brand values of helping customers enjoy life to the full. The campaign focused on 02’s value for money phone tariffs that come with perks like entertainment vouchers and offers.  

A variety of marketing activities can be included as a part of a single campaign, such: 

  • Social media posts and videos 
  • Social media advertising — You can learn the basics of Facebook ads here, Twitter ads here and Google AdWords here. 
  • Email marketing
  • PR (public relations), including sharing press releases with the media 
  • Blog content 
  • Influencer collaborations 
  • Video marketing on the likes of YouTube 
  • Print advertising 
  • Advertorial content 
  • Guerilla marketing 
  • Direct mail marketing 
  • Real world banner advertising 
  • White paper/eBook/guide creation 

For each campaign you carry out, you’ll need to set a budget.  

You’ll also need to set goals. These goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, and time limited (aka SMART). 

Graph of goals

Saying “We will increase sales with our Valentine’s Day marketing campaign” is not a SMART goal.  

It’s not specific and you can’t really measure it (as we haven’t said what period the increase will be measured against). As such, there's no way to tell how well your campaign did. 

A better goal would be:  

“During the period from January 15th to February 15th we will aim to increase website sales by 15%, compared to the same period last year.” 

By using SMART goals, you’ll be able to accurately judge if you’ve met your goals. 

You can learn more about setting SMART goals in this guide. 

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What is a marketing strategy? 

A marketing strategy is a document that outlines how your company aims to attract customers and turn their initial interest into sales. 

 

 

It will detail the following: 

  • Your value proposition – a few sentences or paragraphs that explain how your company solves a problem (or several) for your potential customers, as well as how your business solves this problem better than its competitors.  
  • Who your customers are – this section should be based on market research and industry insight. Ideally, you’ll want to create one or several customer ‘personas’ — fictional personalities, with lists of likes, dislikes, and demographic features that represent your target audience. You can follow this guide to create your own customer personas. 
  • Where you intend to reach out to customers – this will be an overview of where your target customers are most likely to consume information, e.g. the social media sites they use and the publications they read.  
  • Who your primary competitors are. 

Your marketing strategy will need to be updated as your business and your industry grow and change. 

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What are the 5 Ps of a marketing plan? 

The 5 Ps of marketing are product, price, place, promotion and people.  

Product: Your product is what your company sells, which could be anything from cakes to hairdressing services. In a marketing plan, you need to outline the problem your product will help customers to solve and define how it stands out from your competitors. You’ll need to and clarify what makes it unique. You can then include this information in your marketing activity going forward. 

Price: Pricing your product is tricky. You’ll need to develop a price that keeps you in business while giving your customers perceived value for their money.  

As part of your marketing plan, you may want to include discounts and sales every now and again. You may also want to consider loyalty pricing for frequent shoppers. 

Place: This refers to the outlets where you’ll sell your products, which could be anything from a farmers’ market to Amazon. It can also refer to your distribution methods. Your marketing campaigns will need to include these specifics.  

Promotion: Every marketing plan should include the channels through which your customers consume information (e.g. social media, hoardings).  

For example: 

  • Which social media sites are they most active on 
  • Which print publications they read (if any) 
  • Where are they most likely to visit in the real world 

This will help you tailor the campaigns in your marketing plan to ensure you meet your customers where they are. 

For example, if your product is aimed at retired people, you’re probably not going to have any luck marketing on TikTok, which is most used by 16- to 24-year-olds.  

People: This refers to your team and the influencers who might be able to help you get word of your product out there.  

Telling customers about your employees can be a really worthwhile part of your marketing activity. As can unboxings and reviews by influencers.  

You might even want to consider event sponsorship as part of this element of marketing.  

There’s just one more step 

Once you’ve written out your marketing strategy and created your first marketing plan, it’s time to identify and produce the

assets you’ll need to execute your marketing strategy, plan and campaigns.  

You may think your marketing plan is finished, but there’s one practical step you need to take before it’s ready to be implemented. 

You need to pinpoint what assets you’ll need to deliver each planned campaign. 

What do we mean by assets? It’s things like images and words that will make up your campaigns. 

This is likely to include: 

  • Product photos and descriptions 
  • Ad copy 
  • Email messages 
  • Web design elements 

You don’t have to produce all this yourself, but you will have to understand what you need and create or commission it so it’s finished in time for your campaign to launch.  

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What comes next 

Once you’ve followed the advice above, you should have a ready-to-implement marketing plan. 

 

 

But don’t forget how important it is to monitor the results of each element of your plan, so you can see how it tracks to the goals you set. 

You can then use that information to pinpoint what worked and what didn’t work so well. Doing so will help you improve marketing plans you create in the future. 

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