In order to build a sustainable business, you must create a business plan. Ideally, this should be the first step in starting a business. If you got started without a solid plan, know this: while your intelligence, energy, reputation, and experience might get your business off to a good start with initial success, your sales will eventually plateau or decline without proper planning. There are thousands of stories of businesses that started well but quickly died because of a failure to plan. As Zig Ziglar once said, “I don’t care how much power, brilliance or energy you have, if you don’t harness it and focus it on a specific target, and hold it there you’re never going to accomplish as much as your ability warrants.”
One of the most critical elements of a good business plan is the marketing plan. The marketing plan is essential because this is where you identify your ideal customer(s) and determine how to shape and communicate your product or service so that ideal customers are aware of it and find it attractive. A good marketing plan will outline in detail:
- Who – Who is your business trying to attract?
- What – What message(s) will get the attention of your audience?
- Where – Where do you need to deliver your messages?
- When – How often do you need to communicate these messages?
- Why – What is the expected outcome of this communication?
- How – What tactics or tools do you need to meet the goals outlined above? How much will it cost?
If you do not go through the process of answering the above questions, you run the risk of:
- Wasting time and resources on the bad prospects
- Being ignored by the ideal customers
- Being invisible to your ideal customer
- Annoying your ideal customer
- Not being able to identify success or failure in time to adjust as needed
- Spending money, time, and energy in the wrong place with little or no ROI
Do you know how cashiers learn to identify counterfeit money? They study real money, examining every detail. In the same way, you need to be intimately familiar with the key details that signal a prospect is able and likely to buy your product or service. These details will vary depending on your product or service offering, but generally, they include demographics (age, income, location, education, and profession), interests or hobbies, and/or behaviors. Often, there is more than one type of person who will buy from you. The key is to identify all the different types in as much detail as possible and prioritize they types by optimum reward (How much is each type likely to be worth?). Once you know these details you will be able to qualify prospects quickly, allowing you to target your resources more wisely with less waste. Lastly, remember your ideal customer’s details can change over time, so be sure to review them at least annually and adjust based on past customer experience.
The more you know the details of your ideal customer(s), the easier it is to write relevant messages. The more relevant a message is, the more likely your ideal customer will read it and respond. For example, if you are a chiropractor, one ideal customer might be a man in a physically demanding job that is experiencing back pain. Knowing this, good message might be an advertisement of a man with a tool belt holding his lower back that talks about how chiropractic care can fix his back. This is more likely to get attention than the picture of a family and a message about general wellness. Why? The ad both presents and solves a personal need, delivering the right message to the right prospect.
No matter how well-written and compelling a message is, it won’t benefit your business if your ideal customer never sees it. For example, placing the working man lower back ad described above in woman’s magazine or website is not likely to garner a huge response. Likewise, you may have the best website ever created, but if it can’t be found on the first page of search results for topics/keywords relevant to your product or service offering, you are losing customers. A good marketing plan identifies what mediums and places your ideal customers frequent and places the right message in the right place.
You’ve heard it said timing is everything. This is especially true in marketing. Without proper planning, it’s easy to communicate so frequently ideal prospects are annoyed and avoid you or so infrequently they forget about you. Finding the right balance requires not only knowing your ideal customer but planning ahead and scheduling all of your messages across all of the desired mediums at a frequency that keeps you top of mind to your prospects, without driving them crazy.
Without a detailed plan, marketing is often determined as successful or not by simply looking at sales numbers. If sales are up, it must be working or vice versa. With this type of general measurement, subtle shifts in market trends (warnings) are easy to miss and aren’t identified until a drastic change hits and the business starts to sink. A detailed plan identifies measurable outcomes for each type of marketing tactic used to support an overall goal. In a plan, each tactic is measured against a specific expected outcome and the sum of the outcomes determines if the goal is achieved. For example, writing an article for a newsletter is an SEO tactic. The expected outcome of the tactic is to create links to your website. More links should equal improvement your websites search engine rankings. Improved rankings increase traffic to your website, which increases awareness of your brand, which increases sales. By doing this type of detailed goals and measurement, it’s easy to know which tactics are contributing to the bottom line and which ones aren’t. You can then cut the ones that are not and put that money into ones that do. But most of all, when a tactic that has been working suddenly stops working as well, the ocean of possible causes is reduced to a small pond, increasing your chance of determining why dramatically.
If you take the time and create a detailed marketing plan, you will know who your customers are, where they choose to get informed, and what they want. Then you can target all of your marketing efforts to customers who are likely to want your product where and when they want to find out about it. On top of this, it will be clear to know when and when not to continue or adjust a given tactic. All of this leads to being able to use all of your resources (time, energy, and money) effectively. Best of all, effective use of resources almost always yields sustainable success.
Don’t let lack of planning impede your business. If you don’t know how to create a detailed marketing plan, hire a reputable marketing professional or consultant. A reputable professional will pay for themselves in cost savings by stopping what doesn’t work and/or increasing overall sales, assuming you have a good product or service people want. If you don’t have a good product or service, then the sooner you know, the sooner you can either adjust and fix it, or abandon the idea and move on. No matter the outcome, you will save money.