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How to write a marketing plan – a guide for small business owners

5-minute read

Sam Bromley

13 November 2019

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If you want to grow your business you need to market it effectively. And to do that, you should know how to write a marketing plan.

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At its core, marketing is about building relationships with your customers. Without marketing, you’ll struggle to get customers to buy your product or use your services.

In that way, it’s one of the most critical elements of your entire operation – from product development to sales and distribution.

When you start out, marketing might be a little ad-hoc – that’s OK. But as you build your business, you should think about writing a marketing plan to help you grow. A marketing plan could form a part of your business plan or it might be a separate document.

What is a marketing plan?

A marketing plan is a document that lets you establish and track your marketing strategy (or strategies) over a period of time.

Let’s say you want to launch a new product or service. While some businesses might develop these first and then consider marketing as an afterthought, a marketing plan helps you make marketing part of the entire process.

You could have a marketing plan that details the overarching marketing strategy for your business, or you might have individual marketing plans outlining different strategies for different goals.

It should be concise, easy-to-read and compelling to help get people on board with your plans whether they’re team members or investors.

But how to make a marketing plan in the first place?

How to write a marketing plan – step-by-step

1. Work out your goal

It doesn’t matter whether you call it your mission, your goal or your objective. You should define what you want to achieve before planning how to get there.

You can do this by developing your marketing goals based on your overall business objectives.

For example, if you run a vegan café one of your objectives might be to get more people to try vegan dishes. So, your marketing goal would be to increase footfall to your café – which should have an impact on your sales. From there, you can come up with specific numbers that you can measure over time.

2. Who are you targeting?

Some people won’t be interested in your product or service, despite all the money and time you spend trying to attract them. That makes targeting the right audience essential – and a key question to answer in your marketing plan.

You should think along the lines of age, gender, location, how much money they earn and any other demographics you think could be important.

In the vegan café example, younger people may be more likely to go vegan. So you could build a customer persona around someone who’s grown up eating meat but is becoming more interested in vegetarianism and veganism. Where does that person live? What would attract them to your café?

This can get psychological as you work out what marketing and messaging your target audience will respond to.

3. Research and analyse

You’re not working in a vacuum. You have competitors – they may be bigger or have more experience in the market, so you should detail what they’re currently doing with their marketing.

This will help you identify winning strategies that you might be able to replicate. But it’ll also help you understand the differences between your competitor’s marketing mission and what you hope to achieve – helping to plug the gap between the two businesses.

Another vital part of a marketing plan is a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for:

  • strengths
  • weaknesses
  • opportunities
  • threats

You should do a SWOT analysis based on your marketing goals. You can complete this as a grid with four boxes, filling it in with bullet points for each section.

4. Explain your strategy

This is the section where you explain the strategies and initiatives you’re going to use to reach your goals.

Have a think about which marketing channels best suit your aims. Here are some examples of different marketing channels:

  • your website
  • social media
  • email marketing
  • content marketing (think blogs and Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO for short)
  • word-of-mouth marketing
  • Pay-per-click (PPC for short)
  • print advertising

It’s worth reading up about each of these channels to get started. You’ll notice that lots of them are digital – as more of the world moves online, channels like social media are becoming more and more important. It’s worth keeping up with them so you don’t get left behind.

Alongside your strategy, you should think about the messaging you’re putting across through your marketing channels to attract customers. What problems are you solving for your target audience? What’s different about your product or service? And how do existing customers rate you?

5. Measuring performance

You won’t know if your strategy’s working if you’re not measuring performance. This goes back to the numbers mentioned in point one.

Lots of businesses use key performance indicators – or KPIs – to measure the effectiveness of their marketing.

It sounds like jargon, but they’re useful when tracking how you’re doing over time. Some KPIs you could set include:

  • growth in sales
  • growth in website visitors
  • social media likes, shares or retweets

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6. Consider the admin

Budgeting, processes, who’s going to be involved (the stakeholders – this stuff might be boring, but you need to think about it now to make sure your plan stays on track.

If you don’t budget, for example, you could find yourself spending money you don’t have in the pursuit of your targets.

And if you have employees, consider who’s best placed to help you reach your goals. They’ll all have different skill sets – could someone help out on the budgeting, while another runs your social media? Detail all of this in your plan.

7. Write a summary of your marketing plan

This is called the executive summary. While it should go at the start of your marketing plan, it’s best to write it after you’ve written the whole document. That’s because the executive summary has to include short descriptions of each section, highlighting the most important information.

Think of it as a pitch – you’re hoping to attract investors to help you achieve your marketing goals, or win employees over to your plan. The executive summary needs to be compelling enough so that they carry on reading. Be sure to include a short summary of your business and its mission too.

Marketing plan template

Whether you run your business on your own or have a team of people helping, a marketing plan gets you thinking about growth objectives and helps you come up with the best ways to achieve them.

Would you like to see an example of a marketing plan? Watch this space for a downloadable PDF that you can use to create your own marketing plan.

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