write a marketing plan

Knowing how to write a marketing plan is key to small business success.

By Rieva Lesonsky

That’s because in order for your marketing to succeed, you need to have a plan of attack — also known as a marketing plan.

You may have written a marketing plan as part of your business plan when you started your business. Or you may be getting ready to start a business and are writing a marketing plan now. Perhaps you never created a marketing plan, but have just been marketing by the seat of your pants. If so, it’s time for that to change.

Here are six questions you should answer to write a marketing plan.

Question 1: What is your target market?

Understanding your target market is key to planning how you will market to these customers. If you did market research as part of your business plan, dig into that information and update it if necessary. Some questions you will want to answer include:

  • Demographics such as age, household income, marital status, employment, and location
  • Media your target customers consume (i.e., do they read print newspapers or magazines, visit certain blogs or websites, use specific social media channels)
  • Emotional motivators — In general, what motivates your target customers to make a purchase? This could include a desire for status, for safety, for excitement, to save money or many other motivators.

Question 2: How does your business fit into the marketplace?

It’s also important to assess your business’s position in the competitive landscape. Start by describing the products or services you sell. Then answer these questions:

  • What differentiates your business from the competition? What is your unique selling proposition (USP)?
  • How competitive is the marketplace? Are you one of just a few companies in your area selling these products or services, or are there dozens of them? How about the online competition?
  • What advantages and disadvantages does your business have in terms of marketing? For example, maybe you’re just getting started and are not well known, so you need to build a lot of brand awareness compared to your competition, who has been around for years (disadvantage). Or perhaps your biggest competitor is suffering from an outdated business brand, which can give you an edge as the up-and-coming new business (advantage).
  • How are your competitors marketing themselves? What marketing channels and tactics do they rely on? How successful are their marketing activities?

Question 3: What do you want to achieve with your marketing?

Identifying your ideal target customers, your competitive advantages and disadvantages, and what your competitors are doing will help you determine specific goals for your marketing. For example, in the example above, a business that’s just getting off the ground will have building brand awareness as its primary marketing goal.

Make your goals as specific as possible and as measurable as possible. Some goals might be increasing website traffic, getting more prospects to call your business or fill out a leads form on your website, or increasing the number of prospects who visit your website after seeing your social media posts. Make sure that your goals ultimately serve the cause of increasing your sales.

Question 4: How much can you spend on your marketing?

Here’s where reality comes into play. You’ll need to find a middle ground between spending too much and spending too little on your marketing efforts. Think of marketing as an investment in your business. If an ad campaign that cost $1,000 pays off in $5,000 of new business, that’s an investment — not an expense.

Of course, as a small business owner, your budget is probably limited. If you’re trying to keep your marketing costs manageable, focus on low- or no-cost ways to spread the word about your business, such as organic search engine optimization, online advertising, public relations, social media and online reviews.

Question 5: What marketing channels will you use?

Based on your marketing goals and marketing budget, you should be able to identify the best marketing channels to reach your target customers. For example, if your target customers are senior homeowners, direct mail postcards or door hangers could be a good way to reach them. On the other hand, if your target customers are millennial renters, channels such as social media, online review sites, and paid and organic SEO are more likely to work.

Once you’ve determined what marketing channels you will use, get specific about what marketing tactics you will use and when. For example, if you’re going to use paid search advertising, specify how many ads you will place each month and what your budget will be for those ads. If you’re going to send out direct mail pieces, set a date and budget for that as well. As you write a marketing plan, including these details will help ensure nothing falls through the cracks.

Question 6: Is it working?

Marketing isn’t something you can just set and forget. You need to keep tabs on how well each marketing channel, tactic, and campaign that you use works to attract prospective customers. Be sure to track where your customers come from–this will show you which marketing methods are the most effective. This will help you learn from experience and put the majority of your marketing budget into tactics that you know will work.

Hand writing on pad of paper stock photo from TierneyMJ/Shutterstock.