How to Write a Successful Marketing Plan

How to Write a Successful Marketing Plan

Although having a clearly defined marketing plan makes good sense for any small business owner, it's absolutely essential for budget-conscious entrepreneurs trying to do more with less.

The process of writing a marketing plan requires the prospective marketer to carefully think out the objectives that he or she hopes the plan can achieve. This, in and of itself, forces the planner to consider -- and discard as necessary -- a host of possible goals and thus home in on those that are the most important.

Avoid Costly Detours

In much the same way that a road map or GPS device keeps travelers on the right track, the marketing plan, if skillfully done, can help your business reach its marketing destination in the shortest possible time, avoiding costly detours or potholes.

In "Marketing Kit for Dummies," author Alexander Hiam neatly outlines the general goals of a marketing plan as follows: " . . . to evaluate the situation in your market, align your marketing strategy with that information, and assess how you'll use your marketing tools to carry out the strategy."

Let's Get Started

So much for the overview, you say. How can I get started on the specifics of my marketing plan?

Joe Franklin, a marketing consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area, offers an easy-to-follow framework for a successful marketing plan, which he says should incorporate the following components (or reasonable facsimiles thereof):

Executive Summary: Always begin your marketing plan with a brief mission statement -- an explanation of your business's reason for being and its primary overall goals.

Introduction: List the products and/or services to be sold.

Situational Analysis: In this segment of the marketing plan, you'll collect the information you need to fulfill Hiam's first general goal of the plan, namely to assess the situation in the target market for your products or services. To ensure you cover all relevant aspects of the situation, Franklin recommends that you perform a SWOT analysis, identifying and quantifying your market Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

Goals: Here we get to the nitty-gritty of your marketing plan, the place where you must spell out, as succinctly as possible, what you hope the plan will accomplish. Franklin counsels: "Be ambitious, but realistic."

Marketing Action Plan: This section is clearly the most challenging of all, because here you must lay out action steps that you believe will lead to the attainment of your goals.

Budget: How much will your business set aside to achieve your marketing objectives? Hiam's advice: "Spend only what you can afford on marketing. Your marketing budget should come out of your gross profit. Don't commit to too much spending all at once. Modest growth is far easier to achieve than aggressive growth, so keep your plan affordable and your goals reasonable."

For further guidance on budgeting for small businesses, visit SBA.gov, the online home of the Small Business Administration, or SCORE.org, where you'll find an array of budgeting tools: which ones you need in your toolbox.

Analysis: Set out a systematic plan for periodically assessing the progress of your marketing plan so that your strategy can be evaluated and tweaked as needed. Ideally, incorporate a schedule for assessment and evaluation under this part of your plan.

Franklin's suggested elements -- and their labels -- for your marketing plan are not set in stone and can be adjusted or modified as you see fit to meet your personal needs and preferences. However, it would probably be a good idea to ensure that your plan touches on all the topics addressed by Franklin. Nor are they necessarily all-inclusive. You may find it helpful for your purposes to add additional components to your plan.

Keep Expenses Down

Although it probably makes sense for all prospective marketers to keep marketing expenses to a minimum, for those with limited finances, it's a must.

Although you'll want to take the time to carefully put together all elements of your marketing plan, the two areas of greatest concern to the frugal marketer are Budget and Marketing Action Plan.

For startup businesses, Hiam's advice about funding your marketing budget from gross profits isn't really applicable. You'll have to decide how much to devote to marketing when you're allocating funds to all of the many expenses and investments involved in getting your business off the ground. However, under no circumstances should you launch a business without first writing a marketing plan and allocating sufficient funds to carry it out.

Your Marketing Action Plan should reflect your budget. You obviously cannot fund a nationwide TV advertising campaign with a limited budget. But there is still much you can do to promote your company and brand without spending a lot of money. Maximize your use of social media. Promote your company locally by making yourself or other members of your staff available to speak to community groups. Collaborate with noncompetitive businesses in your area to cross-promote each other's brands. Distribute discount coupons to introduce local consumers to new products and/or services.

Don Amerman is a freelance author who writes extensively about a wide array of business and personal finance topics.