Jean publishes a blog called the Enterprise Corner. It features articles on entrepreneurship, local industry trends, manufacturing news and periodic ‘toolbox’ articles showcasing assistance, incentives and other resources for local businesses.
Your marketing plan is your strategy to drive customers to your business. Every business has to market itself, but not many small businesses have an effective marketing plan. Even fewer have one they actually use. It's time to update it and make it work for you.
Your plan should be simple, so you'll actually do it. There are just four steps. You can create your plan in any form that makes sense for you: outline, notecards, etc. Just be sure it addresses each of these four areas.
1. Who is your customer – If you think in the broadest terms, a customer is anyone whose actions affect your business results. If you are not sure you have a complete list, try brainstorming with a friend or colleague. You will have more than one market to reach. A car detailer will market to all car owners but also can reach out to large companies with fleets of vehicles to provide services. A local eatery markets to hungry people but also to event organizers and meeting facilitators. List all your potential customers and really stretch your parameters. Who are your customers and how are they going to find you and buy from you? Name and describe each market opportunity.
2. How are you going reach your market – Will you find them or will they find you? Either way it has to happen for you to stay in business. So after figuring out who your customer is, now you must find the best methods of reaching them so that they buy from you. List your traditional methods, including newspaper advertising, word of mouth, or printed materials. Now add online methods, Facebook Fan Pages are a natural for small town businesses. Other ideas might be participation in local forums, contributing to groups on Flickr, blogging, uploading videos to YouTube, or updating your status and sharing links on Twitter or LinkedIn. The key is to identify the areas where your customers are online. How do you find out where your customers are online? Ask them! It sounds simple because it is, and it works!
3. What makes your business stand out – Now take a long look at your competition, what do they do that you are going to do better or different? What is the customer’s advantage of buying from you? This is what you will be selling and it will create the structure for advertising within your marketing plan. This is where your flair, business personality and style really come through. Customers will ask why they should buy from you – Be prepared to tell them exactly why and how!
4. What’s your strategy - It's decision time. Go through your new list of potential marketing methods. Start estimating the cost in time and money to use that method. For example, blogging might cost 12 hours of your time and $5 in expenses per month. A newspaper add could run $1500 a month with 2 hours of time. You must balance the costs against the benefits. Which methods get you more contact with your targeted markets? Which methods will generate interaction and deeper customer connections? Which ones have the best potential to drive sales?
Finally, make a decision. Decide which methods to use and which to let go of. Pare your list down to just the most effective and do-able. If you have been at it awhile, now is the time to get rid of some things you may have been doing for a long time that just aren’t working. Recapture that time and money for more effective methods. Line up your methods, and see where you can multiply your efforts. Write once, reuse or customize many times. Once you write the text for a blog post, it can automatically post to your Facebook Fan page. The same words could be reworked for a printed newsletter or a information sheet for customers. Status updates and links shared on Facebook can go automatically to Twitter and LinkedIn. Be creative but always mindful of efficiency.
Lastly get organized! A well constructed marketing plan will only work if you take care of the “to do “ list. Once you've selected your methods for reaching customers, draw up a daily or weekly checklist for activities to be completed and take action!