Your marketing plan can be the key to making your business a success. With so many options to choose from, it can be hard to know which are right for your business. Read on to find out what to include in your marketing plan.

You have to have a marketing plan if you want your business to succeed. Use this guide to define and articulate your plan and make the most of the time and money you put into marketing your products or services.

Marketing plan = confidence

The only way to start a business venture with confidence is to develop a good marketing plan—one that’s backed up with facts and research. This document clearly shows how you’ll attract customers to your product or service and persuade them to buy. The marketing plan also builds confidence with financial institutions, showing lenders that your business has a good chance of being successful.

Contrary to popular belief, a marketing plan is not a one-time effort destined to sit in a binder on your desk. On the contrary, it should be updated on a regular basis to reflect the changing needs of your business and customers.

There are many different models for marketing plans. Here are five essential ingredients.

Define your goals.

Before you start making decisions about how to approach online marketing, it’s important to think about what you want to get out of it.

Do you want to drive more traffic to your website? Do you want to drive a specific type of traffic to your website? Are you selling something and need to prioritize profit? Are you hoping to build an email list?

You may have more than one main goal for your online marketing, but use this step to figure out both what your specific goals are, and the priority level for each. Different types of online marketing will work best for different goals, so this step will play an important role in leading you toward the best choices in the next few steps.

Clarify your target audience.

Most websites aren’t for everybody. Your online marketing efforts will work better if they’re focused on the people most likely to be interested in your website.

Think carefully about who is most likely to want what your website offers. Is it more likely to appeal to people within a certain age demographic, geographic area, or gender? What about parental status, household income, and general interests?

If you already have customers or followers, then what you know about them should help shape your idea of your target audience. Sit down and create a profile of the kind of person that’s most likely to buy your products or follow your content. Be thorough. Include things like:

  •      Age
  •      Location
  •      Gender
  •      Income level
  •      Education level
  •      Marital status
  •      Parental status
  •      Occupation
  •      General interests
  •      Hobbies
  •      Politics and values
  •      Personality traits
  •      Buying behavior

Obviously, there will be some variety in the kind of people interested in your website – you probably won’t exclusively appeal to liberal women aged 32 with two kids and a yoga habit (even if that describes some of your audience), but crafting a picture of the kind of person you want to reach will help you refine your efforts.

After you’ve worked up your initial portrait (in marketing speak, this is called a buyer persona), you want to back it up with research. There are a number of different products (some free, some not) that can help you learn more about a particular market segment. Some of your initial assumptions about your audience may be wrong and the research stage will both help you figure that out, and enable you to flush out the information you have on the people you’re trying to reach.

Determine which marketing tactics to use.

Once you know what you want to accomplish and who you want to reach, it’s time to figure out which online marketing tactics to use. If you’re not already familiar with online marketing (and maybe even if you are), this step will require diving into some research. There are a lot of tactics and channels to be aware of and each of them have their own set of best practices.

If you’re hoping to do this all yourself rather than hire help, then expect to devote a significant amount of time to learning the ropes. If you have a budget and intend to hire help, then you still want to make sure you have enough understanding of the different online marketing areas to know which ones you want to pursue and be able to hire someone that knows what they’re doing.

You’ll probably want to do some combination of:

Each of these works in tandem with the others, but you may not need to do all of them to start. And to further complicate things, these are large categories with a lot of different tactics within them. For example, content marketing can include hosting webinars, making podcasts, publishing a blog, making videos –or some combination of any or all of those things.

If you have limited time and budget to work with, you’ll need to figure out where to put your initial efforts to get the most bang for your buck. Knowing your goals and the audience you most want to reach should help guide you in determining which tactics and channels to prioritize.

Do a situation analysis

Many companies start with a SWOT analysis, looking at their firm’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This involves identifying your competitors, understanding exactly how they operate and becoming familiar with their strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths are any competitive advantage, skill, expertise, proficiency, talent or other factor that improves your company’s position in the marketplace and can’t be easily copied. Examples are a well-trained sales team, low staff turnover, high consumer retention or low production costs due to superior technology.

Weaknesses are the factors that reduce your company’s ability to achieve its objectives independently. Examples include unreliable delivery, outdated production tools, insufficient marketing efforts and a lack of planning.

Opportunities are ways for your business to grow and be more profitable. These can include seeking new markets, managing technological change or addressing new consumer trends. You need to look at how your company’s main skills can be used to take advantage of these opportunities.

Threats are barriers to entry in your primary markets, such as a labour shortage, legislative hurdles or detrimental economic or political developments.

Determine your marketing strategy

Once you’ve determined your objectives and targets, it’s time to look at how you’ll promote your business to prospective customers.

Strategies typically cover the Four Ps of marketing:

  • product
  • price
  • place
  • promotion

Your choice of marketing vehicles will be governed by the profile of your target market, so you need to understand how different vehicles reach different audiences. Don’t always assume you have to spend money on costly advertising. If you have a niche audience, for example, you can take advantage of low-cost marketing strategies such as e-mail.

The costliest options are usually advertising, sales promotions and public relations campaigns. Referrals and networking are lower cost ways to reach customers. Digital marketing is a powerful strategy because it is inexpensive and effective in reaching target markets.

Figure out your budget.

Online marketing has two big costs: time and money. You can get away with spending less in money if you’re able to spend more in time, but either way it’s going to cost you. So before you start to delve into the specifics of your plan, consider carefully how much you have to spend.

Some types of online marketing don’t cost anything in money unless you hire someone to do them, while others, like paid search and social advertising, will cost you something no matter what. If you need to get by with little to no monetary budget, then try to find the overlap between your own strengths and what your audience will respond to. If you want to try content marketing but you’re a terrible writer, consider if your audience might respond to a podcast, for instance.

In general though, you’ll get further with your online marketing if you have some money to spend on hiring skilled professionals to help and investing in paid advertising to help give you that first boost of awareness. Online marketing isn’t entirely dependent on being able to spend a lot of money, but it does help.

Create your plan.

The four previous steps should bring you to the point where you have a pretty good idea of what types of online marketing you’ll be doing and how much you can handle. Now it’s time to put it all together into a clear plan, with specific steps and timelines.

If you want to keep up with your online marketing, you’ll need to be organized and give yourself a schedule with deadlines to stick with. If you’re pursuing social media marketing, commit to updating your profiles a set number of times each week and schedule time to spend interacting with others on the platform. If you’re starting a blog, work up a list of topics to write about and give yourself a specific deadline for getting each post written and published.

Conclusion

A marketing plan is the centerpiece of your business, so it’s important to take the time to create a thorough and accurate document. In this article, we’ll walk you through the basics of writing a marketing plan, so you can get started with confidence.

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