How to create an effective marketing plan

Blogs 25 Nov 2022

Get set for success and grow your business with our guide to writing a marketing plan. Find out why it’s important for small businesses, what you should consider and how to stay one step ahead.

Creating a marketing plan is important for any business, no matter what sector you’re in. Whether you’re a freelancer searching for new clients or a growing manufacturing business launching a new product range, getting clear on your goals is the key to successful advertising.  

In this guide, you’ll learn how to create a marketing plan for your small business, what to include, and how often you should revisit it. Even if your small business doesn't have a dedicated marketing team, with a strong plan, you can track your performance and wave goodbye to the panic of last-minute promotional posts. 

What is a marketing plan? 

A marketing plan is a strategic overview of your advertising activity, typically for the next quarter or year. By plotting and tracking your advertising, whether on social media or in print, you can get a better picture of your performance. 

Why is a marketing plan important for a small business?  

Creating a marketing plan can seem like a drain on precious time at first, but just like your business plan, it’s helpful to get what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it in black and white. Without a plan, you won’t know how effective your marketing is and you might miss out on valuable opportunities to grow your business.  

  • Stay on track when life gets busy. You’ll know exactly what’s on the horizon and can schedule in advance.  
  • Grow your business strategically. A well-executed plan can help you and your team generate new leads, secure sales, and plan for demand. 
  • Don’t miss out on opportunities. Switch from a reactive to a proactive approach and stay ahead of the curve.  
  • Learn from your mistakes. Not everything goes to plan – but with a plan in place, you can quickly spot the changes you need to make and where you can make improvements.  
  • Get a better look at your business. Take a step back and evaluate your current marketing efforts, how to make the most of your budget, and what works well.  
  • Make the most of your budget. Every penny counts as a small business. A plan can help you to spend in the right places and get the best return on your investment.  
  • Keep your team informed. Sharing your plan means your team is kept in the loop with your focus and how they can play their part. 

What does a marketing plan include? 

Your business is unique, so you should tailor your plan to your business. However, there are key elements that form the basis of a marketing plan, including goal setting, competitor analysis, and your budget. 

Get clear on your offering 

It might sound obvious, but is it clear to someone who doesn’t know your business what products or services you’re selling? This is important if you’re introducing a new side of your business or making core changes. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes or ask someone outside of the business for their opinion.  

  • What products or services do you offer? 
  • What problem are you solving? 
  • What is your Unique Selling Point (USP)? 
  • What are your price points/packages? 

This will make it easy for people who have never heard of your business to understand what you do and how your services are relevant to them. You want to make it as easy as possible for a potential customer to engage with you. 

Do your market research 

Understanding your target audience ensures that you’re spending your budget effectively and attracting your ideal customers with your strategy. It can also help you to craft an effective marketing message that will resonate with customers and inspire action.   

A buyer persona is a way of bringing your ideal customer to life by giving them a name and characteristics. This exercise can help you to understand who you’re trying to communicate with. Depending on your business, you may have more than one buyer persona for different products, services, or price points. 

Ask yourself: 

  • Who is your target market? 
  • What do you get asked most often by your customer base? 
  • What are the most frequent pain points or comments you get? 
  • What are people talking about in your industry? 

You can use free online tools to uncover what people are searching for in your industry. This can give you insights into the problems that your customers want to solve, the questions they want answers to, and the services that they’re looking for. Feed this information into your search engine optimisation (SEO) efforts by writing content and blog posts for your website about topics you’re knowledgeable about. Not only will this help boost your online presence, but it also establishes you as a trusted source.  

How can you stand out from the crowd?  

Identifying your competition and understanding your position in the market through a competitor analysis is crucial for differentiating your business.  

  • Who are your main competitors? 
  • What do they sell? What are their prices? 
  • How do they market their products or services?  
  • How are people engaging with your competitor? 

 A SWOT analysis can help you to understand your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as a business. Having an awareness of your competition will give you a greater understanding of where you fit into the market and how you can leverage your USP in your marketing messaging. 

Choosing your marketing channels 

When it comes to getting the word out, you have lots of options to choose from, including: 

  • PR and media relations 
  • Social media  
  • Digital advertising 
  • Press advertising 
  • Direct mail  
  • Search engine optimisation 
  • Email marketing 

You can learn more about the benefits of each channel with our guide to popular ways to promote your business. When you’re considering your options, you should be thinking about which platform will allow you to best reach your target market. For example, if you’re a B2B supplier, industry publications in your sector could work well, but if you’re selling products directly to consumers, you might find your audience on social media platforms.  

Set your marketing goals 

What are you hoping to achieve from your marketing efforts and how can you track this? Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are a way of measuring the success of your marketing by setting achievable and realistic targets.  

So, instead of a general aim of ‘more leads’ or ‘more sales’, you could set a goal of increasing sales by 20% by the end of the financial year or attracting 10 new leads per month. This way, you can see if you’ve reached the goal in an agreed timeframe. Don’t forget to include a timeline of when the activity will be taking place. 

Setting your marketing budget 

It’s time to back up your plan with a budget – but how much should you spend on your marketing? As a small business, keeping costs as low as possible and getting the best return on your investment is key. You can set monthly, quarterly, or annual budgets depending on the activity you’re planning and the goals you want to reach.  

Working with an agency? Don’t forget to factor in any fees if you work with any third parties to support your marketing, such as digital agencies, designers, or suppliers.  

Put your plan into action 

No matter how well-written and detailed your marketing plan is, unless you follow through on it, you’ll still be where you started. This is where a simple planner or spreadsheet can help your business. A marketing calendar looks at the day-to-day activity in your business, such as your email marketing or social media posts.  

For example, do you have a process for responding to reviews and making the most of testimonials on your website or social media? Online review platforms are a great tool for small businesses as people trust recommendations from people they know. Even if it’s less than favourable, you can put your excellent customer service skills to use and turn the experience into a positive one.  

How often should you review your marketing plan? 

Lastly, checking in with your marketing plan on a regular basis, especially if you’ve made any significant changes within your business, can help you to stay on track and aligned with your goals.  

Ask yourself: 

  • Is your plan still fit for purpose? 
  • Does it align with your overall business objectives
  • What has worked well? 
  • Where can you make improvements?

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