Create a marketing plan for your start up business

When you start up your business, it is likely that marketing will play a key role in its success or failure. It is also likely that marketing is going to be another hat you try and wear along with accounts, client services; sales……….the list is endless.

It is therefore essential that you have some sort of plan with a loose budget so you what you should be doing; if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. You must consider elements like the potential market size, the competition, your pricing, where your prospects are, their buying habits etc.

You also need to try and outline what the ultimate goal of your marketing is – geographically, profits & margins, client size or even whether you are seeking an exit strategy.

The plan shouldn’t be just about the volume you want, but whether the brand and reach you are creating is achievable. Knowing these elements will dramatically help you construct your plan.
It is unlikely that, as a start up, you have a blank cheque to spend so getting value for any spend is vital. So, break your budget up into small chunks and identify the marketing needed to get you to each point on your journey.

So……do your research. Knowing exactly who your best customers are will enable you nail your marketing. You’ll also waste a lot less and convert a lot more suspects to prospects using targeted campaigns and the right messaging.

Then make sure you have conducted some thorough competitive analysis. Who are your competitors? How much do they charge? What is their customer service like? What are they doing well? Are they dropping the ball in key areas you can do better on?

This will enable you to craft an effective positioning statement, USP and brand.
After identifying your best prospective customers and the right branding, you will be able to better select the best fitting marketing and advertising channels.

We advocate creating a marketing tool kit containing all elements you might need – a website, SEO work, social media, business stationery etc. However, these elements will be a little different for every start up. Your kit may also include TV advertising, outdoor display advertising, print ads, email, popup shops or live events.

All of this requires budgeting and time. Even if you aren’t doing Google PPC ads, Facebook or other paid campaigns, marketing requires a budget and this budget should be viewed as an investment in the business.

You can never afford to stop marketing. When you stop marketing, you stop having a business. If the big brands like Coke and Apple are still doing it with all of their billions and high market positions, then you had better believe it!

But who is going to devise and implement all this marketing activity? You may be a genius at what you do and believe you have a creative eye, but no matter how good you are, there are many platforms and factors to master in marketing so do not shut the door on getting expert help from a reputable marketing organisation.


The Marketing Challenge for the Small Business Owner

The challenge for so many small business owners is that they have little idea or time to make marketing actually work. The majority are experts in their fields, but they simply don’t have the time to become experts in the ever changing world of marketing.

So what happens? Rather than taking a strategic approach, most SME’s marketing efforts are the result of reactive decisions that usually come with unrealistic expectations. Their marketing mix looks can look like a mix of tactics and tools from a variety of in-house and external sources.  On a good day, the business owner doesn’t truly know what is working.  On a bad day, they feel like blowing it all up and cutting of the marketing investment all together!

If any of this sounds familiar, a very good option is to take a step back… and that “step back” involves creating a strategic marketing plan. Developing a marketing plan is, in my opinion, the best chance at success, and this is why.

It Provides a Guide

The best thing a marketing plan does for a small business is it provides a route, of sorts, to follow. It keeps you (and everyone on your team) on the same page when it comes to the direction your business is heading and how it’s going to get there.
So what does this guide look like? The specifics will vary, of course, but there are some basic components that I think every marketing plan should have:

SWOT Analysis – This is basically a snapshot of your business. Who are you? What is your unique selling proposition? What are your strengths and weaknesses relative to the competition? These are all questions you need to answer.

Target Audience – Before you can start marketing, you need to clearly identify who your best customers are. You can break the information down into key demographics, such as age, sex, geographic location, etc.

Marketing Goals – It wouldn’t be much of a plan if you didn’t set goals, now would it?! Your goals should clearly state what you want to happen and by when; a sort of list of realistic objectives.
Marketing Strategies – Your goals are what you want to happen, your strategies are how you make them happen.

Budget – If business growth is a priority, marketing MUST have a dedicated budget.  Too often the small business judges everything marketing related on cost. Marketing is an investment NOT a cost!
Yes, there are ways to market your business for free, but those methods will only do so much for your business. Eventually you’re going to have to shell out some cash, whether it’s for Facebook ads, new business cards or a website revamp.

As mentioned above, budget is one of the main components of any solid marketing plan. You’re a small business owner, so you know just how important it is to have a budget and stick to it. It’s just as important when it comes to marketing, which is why creating a marketing plan is so critical.

What to include in your marketing plan

Marketing plan is actually your how-to guide for your marketing, advertising and business development. This can be a few months or a few years depending on the purpose of the marketing plan and the company strategy so hang in there!

However you should be aware that not one universal marketing plan fits all businesses and all scenarios – Instead, I feel that the structure for any marketing plan for a business is based around the following planning elements:

Step 1 – The prospective target market or audience and the specific marketing objectives. In other words who your ideal customer is and what would you like to achieve – start as simple as that before you go into specifics of when, how often, where, how much etc.

Step 2 – The type and structure of your company will set the planning horizon as well as the marketing and business growth strategies and tactics.
For example, a small business requires a completely different set of tactics and approaches compared to a large global corporation that markets to customers in various market segments worldwide. The small business plan might be quite uncomplicated, specific and actionable in a few months because the small business is more flexible and adaptable whereas the large organization needs more time to change its marketing strategies because market development, product development, etc take months for bigger business. There is also the issue of internal communication i.e. the larger the organisation, the more the need for communication and “buy in.”

Step 3 – The market structure. You should carefully evaluate your key competitors and other stakeholders like vendors, legal, social influence…so that you have a clear picture of what you’re up against. Every market is full of “noise” so must know where to make yours and how loud!

The old adage of failing to plan mostly meaning planning to fail is very true when it comes to effective marketing.


Marketing planning and routes to market

Most small business owners know how important it is to have a business plan as a plan outlines your company’s course for success. However, one crucial element of that plan which is sometimes missing or hidden is the marketing strategy.

Marketing strategy can quite often be buried within the larger business plan and, as such, many small business owners may not give marketing the time, research and attention it deserves, assuming that they know their customer base and how to reach them. But an in-depth and detailed approach to laying out your marketing strategy can reveal opportunities from a new audience or potential product line, pitfalls in pricing, competition reaction, and potential reach.

In my previous post, I outlined 4 core tasks to consider when developing a marketing plan, but you need to figure out how you are going to reach that target customer. You need to identify a suspect, turn them into a prospect and then a client and quite often, your marketing strategy can just be to “sell” a meeting.

Anyway, aside from the 4 core tasks I touched on in June, there is also traditional print and broadcast media, but there are also two tech-driven marketing channels that many of today’s business owners utilise and hence, should be considered.

Social media
Social media has become an essential part of businesses’ marketing plans because every type of customer is on some type of platform, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and other networks. Small business owners can feel overwhelmed at the possibilities but should focus on the ones that can benefit them the most.
Brett Farmiloe, founder of internet marketing company Markitors, advised companies that are
just getting started in social media to get to know their customers and what platforms they are using.
“Figure out where your customers are spending their time, and set up shop on those platforms,” Farmiloe told Business News Daily. “Develop a content strategy that can be executed internally, [and then] execute your strategy by posting branded content on your selected platforms. While all three steps are key, the biggest one is really determining if your customers are on these platforms.”

Though email marketing may not be a new concept like social media marketing, it is an effective and popular choice for many small business owners. In fact, recent statistics show that 89% of millennial customers STILL prefer email as a communication route.
Companies can implement email-marketing techniques in a number of ways, including using newsletters, promotional campaigns and transactional emails. Companies such as MailChimp and Constant Contact make it easy for companies to manage their email campaigns.

With so many marketing routes to market, you’ll have to decipher the best ones to use via testing, but don’t discount anything until you’ve tried it and make sure that these routes are part of the larger marketing plan.

Burn baby burn…..

I saw this quote many years ago from the marketing director at leading advertising agency, Young & Rubicam and I have never really forgotten it.

“Marketing is rather like building a darn good fire. You need to start off slowly, gently nurturing it and not expect results immediately. With constant care and attention, the fire will grow and grow and the investment of logs rather than kindling will produce even greater results. The fire can now burn freely and produce the rewards. But beware, if it is left unattended for any length of time, you can be left trying to resurrect the ashes.”

For many organisations, marketing is viewed as some sort of magic switch – “business is slow so we need to do some quick marketing” – which can be flicked on and off during tricky times. This is NOT the case! Marketing is a never ending process, not an event or a knee jerk reaction to something that is happening in your market.

We always advise people to take baby steps with their marketing; test new initiatives, implement new ideas and set aside time each day for marketing rather than do “marketing” one morning a month. Little and often is the key and make sure your message stays “on brand” and consistent. After all, it is highly unlikely that your prospects are only looking for what you offer at the exact time you offer it. You need to remain on radars so that your name is at the top of the list for when the prospects are looking.

To help you, most social media platforms can be automated, emarketing can be done very easily, you are very likely to be spoilt for choice with networking opportunities and print is now much cheaper than it used to be.

My advice to every business out there is to continually market their companies even when business is booming as this lays the foundations. Don’t fall into the trap of delaying your marketing until you’ve finished the latest project as, you will very likely raise your head at the end and wonder where the next project is coming from. Then is is too late to kick start the marketing process. The fire needs attention or it goes out!

Marketing (and sales) should be run continuously regardless of your current successes, failures or situation. Put a plan together and use as many platforms to get your message out there!

2016. Look at these marketing ideas to make it a good one

I don’t know about you, but I have received countless email campaigns so far this year offering to “increase my sales in 2016” or “improve my website” or “increase my rankings.” Now I know that these are from companies playing the numbers game and blasting thousands of emails addresses from some sort of purchased list, but I am curious to know whether they actually get engagement.

Have you received these types of emails and, if so, what action do you take with them? My inclination would be to say that they get deleted fairly quickly. However, what would happen if you were wanting to improve any of the marketing areas the email you received suggested; you were “in the market” so to speak?

A lot of marketing in January contains some sort of resolution or objective for 2016 so if you were in the market, the category of the email would suddenly change from being junk or spam to being relevant and may well hang around in your in box. It is unlikely that it would be acted upon, but it may well get you thinking.

Now apply this sort of approach to your own business. Do you email your clients and prospects offering to do something for them or promoting a new service you are offering? If you’re not doing this, then you could be missing a trick. For 2016 instigate some sort of plan to market to your targets. Email marketing is all about relevance and timing. It shouldn’t be a numbers game that becomes a spamming exercise. Construct a clean database and categorise the recipients and tell them something relevant and useful. If you’re not doing this, then you can bet your competitors are!

Another marketing consideration for 2016 is to make sure you have a consistent brand and reputation online. For example, are all your social networking platforms up to date and displaying the correct information? With regards to messaging and tone, are you just spouting a monologue from Twitter full of facts or are you engaging with people and connecting with them?

Customers these days are able to huge amounts of due diligence online before they make a decision whether to contact you or not so make sure your website looks modern, says the right things and can be viewed on all platforms including tablets and smart phones. It is also worth asking for reviews from customers (providing the experience was a good one!) and displaying these reviews on Facebook.

Finally, if the turn of a new year has re instigated your enthusiasm and you want to expand or reach a certain new goal, invest in marketing yourself and your business. 2016 doesn’t mean that you can just do what you did last year with the same website, logo, advertising etc and expect the market to change. My suggestion would be to try and get a totally independent view on where you are in your marketing activity. Engage a marketing professional if need be and work together to construct a realistic and fully costed plan.

By looking at these marketing areas, I am confident that 2016 will be a great year!

Pay peanuts, get monkeys!

I’ve been doing a lot of competitor analysis and market research over the festive period to try and gauge any shifts or trends in what the potential client is looking for from a professional service provider and what the industry is actually offering in return. What I have found quite frankly scares me.

I am seeing more and more organisations shouting louder about lower prices while, you, and me as customers, turn the volume off on the TV ads, ignore the adverts in the magazines and get driven mad by endless cold canvassing and hundreds of “blast” email marketing campaigns.

For example, I came across a number of marketing, website and graphic design “specialists” making ridiculously low financial offers across social media platforms in an attempt to drum up business. i.e I saw a “graphic designer with 10 years experience” offer logo design, stationery, some marketing collateral with “unlimited” amends for £200?!

From experience, this type of project can take anything between 2 and 5 days to deliver so £200 would imply a serious loss-leading campaign or worse still, a desperate scream for business. Not only that, making direct financial offers at ridiculous prices can convey a negative impact on the brand of the organisation making the offer and actually the industry in general.

There’s no easy way to say this, but, if you do not put a value on what you are offering, nor will the people you are targeting or working with. As the subject heading says, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

This way of marketing your products or services is an initiative a lot of industries seem to employ and in markets like retail, the price point can make a large difference to sales. However, it is my opinion that the best route to market is to try and sell the benefits as a package rather than putting all eggs in the financial basket. For example, I rarely see direct financial offers from professional services companies such as Solicitors or Accountants.

I’m not saying that every organisation should charge a premium, but it should have something special about it; a USP which can be marketed. Sometimes that USP are the people delivering the service. Sometimes it can be the product or service itself, but I feel the best route should be to market the “package” on offer.

What you should be evaluating when marketing your company and what it does is the reasons people buy from your business when they can just as easily buy from the competition? i.e. what makes your company different from the rest?

If the money things keeps raring its head, maybe ask a potential client or prospect what sort of value he or she would put on what you are offering. For example, what would it be worth to have a stress free house purchase or how much would you value would you place on having a strong brand, website and ongoing marketing.

Choose your price point carefully and stick to it. If you need to make a direct financial offer to your prospect market, make it realistic and limit the time it’s on offer. Around this, build your brand. research, develop and communicate your USP. Finally, allocate a budget to do this professionally as well as discuss timescales.

Focus on what marketing you use and when you use it

This might sound like an obvious things to say, but the key word here is “focus.” i.e Focus on the message of your marketing and focus on the timing of its delivery. With regards to the actual message, are you sending out the right message to the right people? Is your marketing message consistent and/or part of a larger mission statement? Either way, my suggestion is to make sure that you break your marketing plan into clearly defined segments which detail what each segment is supposed to achieve. For example, if your objective is to convey the message that your company makes the best xxxx’s on the market, are you talking nationally or locally? What platforms are you using to convey this message? How often and what style are you using? Consider all these anomalies before going “live” with anything!

Focusing on timing is more tricky to legislate for as you may well decide to use a singular burst of activity or use a drip feed method. Alternatively, there may well be seasonal influences as to when you run your activity. For example, you may want to avoid the summer and Christmas periods, but consider whether this means that you want to join the crowds in the Autumn when everyone else is likely to be active with their marketing?

Given the likelihood that your own resources are going to be limited, I would suggest your starting point should be to aim for a spread of activity across the year with synergy coming from uniformity of your marketing message. Decide on a “hook” and a “look” and roll it out! That way your activity will get noticed and your
budget will last longer!

What are your marketing resolutions?

Well, 2013 has started and could this be the year to really plan your marketing activity and take it to the next level?! The start of a new year often comes with personal resolutions like losing weight, getting fit or stopping smoking, but what about the business side of things? Are you making a business resolution for 2013 and if you are, what is it?!

The reason I ask is that Bath Marketing Consultancy has already received 4 enquiries in 2013 from companies looking to “get their marketing into shape for 2013.” Each company had identified that they have sat on their laurels too long with regards to their marketing activity and each one had decided that it was time to put a cohesive plan in place and bring in a company to work with them.

Despite every time you turn on the news you hear that the economy is stalling and that the government is looking to take disposable income away by taxing people all over the place and taking away benefits etc, we are finding it very refreshing that small to medium companies seem to be starting to look ahead and then planning for their futures when it comes to how they market themselves. We have always maintained that an effective marketing plan can make a huge difference to the success of an organisation!

Many moons ago, I wrote a post based on my suggestions on the “20 golden rules for running a successful business” which might be something in this article to look at to spur you on!?

Don’t panic, it is impossible for a single person within an organisation to be solely responsible for all marketing initiatives and be an expert at them all so there is nothing wrong with consulting…..a marketing consultant!

Make hay while the sun shines

If you are one of these people in business who worries about being too busy or where the next piece of work will come from then you are not alone! Many businesses (especially the smaller ones) will go through huge peaks and troughs when it comes to workloads and these are likely to bring with them emotional swings too so partners (domestic and/or professional!) beware.

These peaks and troughs can be as a result of seasonal fluctuations, industry trends or even as a result of the state of the economy in general. In my experience, workloads are not always steady, linear processes so the key thing is to prepare for inconsistencies. In busy times stress levels are likely to increase, but slow times also can result in stress levels increasing. As I saw in a recent article on a recruitment job board, “Examine what important tasks will be coming along in the future and ask yourself is there anything you can prepare for now.”

One area I do think will work when experiencing downtime is to use this time productively and this is where planning and evaluating your marketing activity can help. By this I mean, what about using this time to visit existing clients? For too long email can actually over take a relationship so why not organise a face to face with your clients? These types of meetings can strengthen a relationship and may even result in additional business especially if you use these meetings to update a client on changes in their market and/or changes you have made to your products and services.

Similarly, what about using the time to go on training courses? There are lots of courses run locally on anything from Social Media to IT so maybe enhance your skills in certain areas or learn how to adapt your business to other marketing platforms. Maybe use this time to evaluate your marketing strategy; what havent you tried? What is working….maybe even schedule in an appointment with a top level marketing consultant for them to review what you’ve been doing?!

In some creative industries, studio downtime is often a chance to ‘pitch’ for new business or generate new ideas. However, in any organisation, it can be a chance to explore and investigate new opportunities or a new way of doing things.

What does Bath Marketing Consultancy do if I]there is a quiet day or so? Well, I try and write blog articles, update my website, do market research and generally keep myself busy and be productive. I do see existing relationships and being strategic in how you market your business as key areas to concentrate on in a quiet time… problem is that I dont get a huge amount of quiet time to do this!!

In sum, dont panic if your workload changes! We all know it is all hands to the pump when it is busy, but make the best use of your time, and other people’s time if you get any quiet time…..and try not to stress too much!