There is one vital tool that stands between success and failure with your business: the marketing plan. Many businesses blindly grope their way to sales while others strategically locate their buyers. It isn’t hard to see which will work better. The plan of marketing your business is far more powerful than it seems. It leads you in a definite direction backed with specific research.
Marketing shouldn’t be a guessing game. It should be a strategic equation with solutions that propel your business forward. Lastly, your marketing plan should never end. It is an exercise not a one time activity. So exercise your business and it will grow to be strong and healthy.
The biggest reason business owners don’t pull together a marketing plan is simply that they often don’t know how. So finally, here and now, we can guide you through the process and help you put together a road map to your business goals. Ever wonder why some businesses can predict their sales almost to the penny and others aren’t sure where the next sale will come from? Yep, you got it, the marketing plan. It takes time, it takes research and it takes planning.
So let’s get started. Every marketing plan has these foundational elements:
- Assessing Your Competition.
- Looking At The Niche Possibilities.
- Understanding What Your Business Is and Where It Fits.
- Discovering Who Your Buyers Are And Then Locating Them.
- Reaching Your Buyers and Exercising Your Plan
- Evaluating the Results
Before we get started let us encourage you to buy a notebook for this specific purpose. Don’t get fancy with your marketing plan in the beginning. It’s important to let the ideas flow as they will, and not be forced to fit into a particular format. Use your notebook to scribble, draw pictures and take notes until your marketing plan begins to take shape. After you have the foundation and it’s structure you can organize it into a nice, tidy format. Keep in mind that a marketing plan should be revised subtly every month and drastically every six months which means always having a notebook on hand. Marketing is a process that once put into action requires tweaking, changing, and down right overhauling to make it perfect. Times change, consumers change, environments change which means your business must change with it to thrive. Buy a small tape recorder to talk to in your car and to pop on in the middle of the night when something hits you and it will. Ideas generate ideas. The more you work with your plan the more your plan will work for you and the problem will begin to be putting all the ideas to use, not coming up with ideas in the first place.
So let’s begin.
Assessing Your Competition
Often when we go into business we don’t like to think about our competition and because they are the “enemy” we don’t really want to acknowledge that they exist or could possibly be doing anything right. The problem with this thinking is that it gives your competition an ever increasing amount of power. Smart business owners know who their competition is, what they are doing and if they are lucky, how they are doing it. They know their competition’s motto, their logo, their customer service ideal and how they reach their buyers. Simply put, they know as much as possible. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that you don’t have competition. Trust me, very few new businesses are original. If you are one of those very, very few….Lucky You, because that is the ideal situation, although still fraught with it’s own difficulties. So gather your courage, admit to having competition and let’s see what the competition has to teach you and make you more powerful.
First and foremost, identify who they are. The is often easy online by simply doing a search of keywords in the search engines. Who came up? What are they doing that is the same as your business and what are they doing that is different? Do your business a favor and subscribe to their newsletter if they have one. (On the other hand, always check your subscriber list and try to delete your own competition, they don’t need your help. Or at least you don’t want them to have it.)
Make a list of every single aspect you can discover about your competition. Who are they? Where are they? How do they process sales? What methods of payment do they have? How fast does their site load? What are their meta tag/keywords? (Click View, Page Source to see) Who are their buyers? What are they doing better than you? How can you improve on this aspect? What are you doing that is better than they are? How can you shift your niche market so that it isn’t exactly the same? What are their prices? How do those prices compare with your own? Ask and answer every conceivable question you can possibly think of about your competition and try to improve your own business so that you are the only conceivable solution.
Finally, keep your competition in your peripheral vision. Don’t forget they are there and continue to monitor their business methods. It’s your best defense to out shining them.
Read the article “Do You Know Your Competitors?”
Look at the Niche Possibilities
Unless you have millions upon billions of corporate type dollars to launch your business, consider the niche possibilities. What can you do that slivers off a niche of your market and specializes in such a way that you become irresistible to your buyers? For instance, instead of selling desserts, sell brownies in ten different flavors. The best brownies, richest, chewiest, most delectable brownies in the world. Now you have a niche. When people think of brownies as people often do, they will think of you. Additionally, when they think of dessert they are also likely to think of you.
Make notes. Where can you slice the pie so that what you are doing is specialized and therefore separates you from the masses? Every business has a niche possibility. Consider what yours are. Instead of selling gifts sell candles. Instead of selling books sell cookbooks. Get the idea? Now play with it and see what you come up with.
Read more about niche marketing.
Discovering What Your Business Is and How It Fits In
This is very important. Your business is a small business. That doesn’t mean it won’t become a big business. It might even grow to become a corporate business. But right now, it’s a small business. You wouldn’t put adult size clothes on a toddler. Don’t do the same to your business because just in the same way that adult clothes would fit a toddler so will your small business fall out of corporate sized solutions. Make the most of what you are. You can’t mass advertise like your corporate other, but you can reach targeted audiences through articles in the right publications. You can overcome corporate deep pockets by acting like a small business and offer human solutions, more service, friendliness, one on one, and much more. Understand who you are and develop it. It will become a foundation of strength that pulls your out of the big guys shadow. List all the reasons being a small business works for your potential buyers.
Discovering Who Your Buyers Are and Then Locating Them
So who are they? Who, specifically are the people who would buy your product? Well start with what you are selling and answer the obvious. Yes, in your notebook. Are you selling baby clothes? Then your buyers are most likely to be women, in the age group of between 20 and 35. How expensive are the baby clothes? If they aren’t then your buying audience maybe younger, couples with less money. Blue collar workers. If the baby clothes are quite expensive, then your audience might be dual working couples in an older category. Professional white collar couples. See how this works? Define what you know about your buyers. Understand who they are personally and their habits. Evaluate what income bracket they might be in. What do they do in their spare time? What magazines do they read? What newspapers? Think as if you are your buying audience.
Help yourself out by subscribing to the trade publication specific to your business. Every single industry has one, even funerals!!! Find yours by going to the local library or, better yet, university library and seeking out directories of Trade Journals. This will become an invaluable resource for staying on top of selling trends and what your buyers are doing. Join groups online that share an interest surrounding the service or product of your business. This is where niche marketing will really help you out because people love to talk to people who love all the same things they do. Follow them. Listen to them. Join them. And learn from them.
Buy books about your trade, buy mainstream magazines around your trade, buy the publications that your competition advertises in, and read, read, read. This is immensely important as it teaches you about your buyers. Keep a healthy section of your notebook about all the things you learn about your buyers and finding them will become easier and easier. You have to know who they are, you have to understand them before you can find them and sell to them.
Read the article “Knowing Customers is the Key”.
Reaching Your Buyers and Exercising Your Plan
So now you know who your buyers are and your learning more about them everyday. The next question is how will you reach them? What methods will you employ to get your service in front of them? Online businesses have several avenues including:
- Newsgroups and Mailing Lists. Join the lists that include your buying audience. Participate responsibly by supplying valuable information and reasonable responses. Always use an email tag as this alone will serve as your ad.
- Email advertising. Purchasing Opt In Advertising that goes directly to an email box of your targeted buying group. Read more articles on email marketing.
- Newsletter Advertising. Advertising in newsletters whose subscribers are your buying audience. In other words, the people most likely to be interested in your service or product.
- Article Writing and Ezine Submission. Write and submit articles to Ezines whose readers would be interested in your products or services.
- Writing a Newsletter. Writing, maintaining, and building your own subscriber base by writing a weekly or bi-monthly newsletter.
- Reciprocal Links. Exchanging links with web sites that compliment, but don’t compete, with your business.
- Strategic Alliances. Aligning yourself with people who can push your product or service for you. Who will stand behind you by referring business. Read more articles on strategic alliances.
- Word Of Mouth. Encouraging word-of-mouth referrals by asking your clients who they know that would be interested in your services or products.
- Press Releases. Get the word out regularly to the media. Remember article space in publications out performs ad space ten times over. Read more articles on press releases.
- Business Cards. Do you need a business card if your business is online? Yes. Every time you go out make it a point of giving out at least three business cards. Make sure your domain is clearly and boldly printed on it. Use both sides of your business card. Be creative.
- Direct Mail Copy. Put together a direct mail package about your business and snail mail a set number of copies to targeted groups a month. Inform clubs, associations, organizations and more about what you do. Offer them a special discount. In the end it will pay you back ten fold.
Now that you have some ideas about how to reach your buyers, put together a plan that you will follow with out fail every single week. Persistence builds momentum. Stay with it and the sales will be yours.
Evaluate the Results
Finally evaluate the results of your marketing efforts. Consistently ask your clients how and where they heard about you. Keep a detailed outline of which marketing methods are bringing in the most business and give more attention to the winners. Marketing takes diligence and observation. Dump the methods that are not performing and increase what is working well. Even within a marketing method. For instance don’t dump Newsletter advertising if the first campaign doesn’t work. Don’t make a decision based on one ad. Make it based on ten. Then if it doesn’t work, look to other newsletters that might bring in better results rather than dumping the method as a whole.
Recommended Books on How to Create a Marketing Plan:
- Breakthrough Marketing Plans: How to Stop Wasting Time and Start Driving Growth
- Marketing Plans: How to Prepare Them, How to Use Them
- The Marketing Plan Handbook, 3rd Edition
- The Successful Marketing Plan: How to Create Dynamic, Results Oriented Marketing, 4th Edition
- The Marketing Plan: How to Prepare and Implement It
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