The approaching year-end for small business owners means making preparations for charging into next year full speed ahead. One of the most important: Putting together your business’s annual marketing plan.
Of the many challenges business owners face, developing a bona fide marketing plan can be a considerable one. It takes knowing how to make good use of the tools in your marketing toolbox (being able to apply fresh thinking to the tried-and-true) and then applying it all to building an actionable and measurable marketing plan for 2014 and beyond.
Your toolbox needs to include a good understanding of what’s happening inside and outside your business.
- Competitors. What are your competitors doing that they maybe weren’t before? Are there new ones, businesses in other sectors, some new to the playing field?
- Customers. Have you seen evolving changes in the way customers are buying? Are there customer segments you haven’t seen for a while or maybe are seeing for the first time? Do you know why?
- Trends. Are you familiar with shifts taking place across your city or state, the country and globally? Changing demographics, attitudes, behaviors, practices are all a part of your business landscape.
- Your business. What worked for you—and didn’t—over the past 12 months? Products or services, promotional offers, messaging: What seemed to resonate with your customers?
- Analytics. If you’re fortunate enough to have a more formal research program, great. But most small businesses don’t have this luxury. Even so, there are still important “analytics” you can tap into. Things like Yelp and other online reviews and comments, Twitter and Facebook comments, blog readership all tell you if and how well you’re connecting with audiences.
For some, fresh thinking is a little harder to come by. Especially, when your marketing efforts are working, it’s tough to think about making changes. But the marketplace is never static, and neither are successful businesses. There are ways to approach this that can yield a new perspective, some fresh ideas and even an aha! moment or two.
Have you ever considered doing a SWOT analysis? The Houston Chronicle’s smallbusiness.chron.com says that SWOT is a widely used tool that many organizations use to establish successful marketing programs. Sure, there are day-long SWOT workshops, but you can get many of the same benefits by applying SWOT thinking to your marketing planning.
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Once you’ve analyzed your business in this way, you have the pillars of your marketing strategy. You can clearly see what’s out there, where you can pump up your efforts and what needs to be changed or fixed.
With all this valuable insight at hand, the next step is actually writing your marketing plan. It’s tempting to jot down some notes or a few broad goals. But writing it out in detail is what separates effective marketing plans from the not-so-successful ones. There are lots of great resources online for building a marketing plan; a good one for getting started also comes from smallbusinesschron.com. The simplicity and expediency of the six main steps offered here will ensure that you don’t get bogged down in extraneous detail while you’re writing your first draft.
From creating your initial summary, an important step in focusing your thoughts, to using your SWOT analysis to writing a rich situation analysis to putting your tactics in place to detailing your tracking mechanisms, this is a roadmap for a very do-able plan. Getting your first draft on paper is the hardest step. Once you’ve done that, you can add detail or tweak as you like. Ask several trusted colleagues to review and comment, and you’ll be well on your way to a bright new year!
Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG / FreeDigitalPhotos.net