Written by Mark Williams
Many small-business owners in the UK just don’t recognise the value of formal business planning. Research carried out by Barclays a few years ago suggested that only 47% of UK small businesses had a “formal business plan that was written down or recorded”, while 25% had an “informal, verbal plan” and the rest had none. Some commentators believe that formal business plans are a complete waste of time.
If only a half of small UK firms have a formal business plan, probably the same (or more) are without a formal marketing plan. Good business plans normally include a sound marketing plan, of course.
Why is planning important?
According to renowned American time-management author, Alan Lakein: “Planning is bringing the future into the present, so we can do something about it now”. Lakein is also credited with the often-quoted maxim: “Failing to plan is planning to fail”, which is an over-simplification. Successful small businesses don’t always rely on formal business plans. And having a marketing or business plan won’t guarantee success, because things often pan out differently to our expectations or hopes.
However, success can often be more likely if you know what you’re trying to achieve and how you plan to achieve them. Aims that you set for your business should be SMART (ie specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound), of course. Once you have clear aims, you can work out a strategy for achieving them.
Marketing plans can be developed for your whole business or for a specific product, service, market or customer type. A small-business marketing plan need not be complex or lengthy, in fact, the simpler and more concise the better (the KISS principle applies).
Marketing plan – key elements
In very basic terms, marketing is how you get customers (potential and existing) interested in buying your products or services (after that, you’re into selling). The marketing process involves research, (sometimes) creating a service or product, (always) promoting, selling and distributing it.
According to Susan Ward, writing for thebalancesmb.com: “When you’re putting together a marketing [plan] for your business, concentrate on the basics, the four key components of any marketing plan – products/services, promotion, distribution and pricing.” You must offer the right things for the right price in the right way, while ensuring that enough people know who you are and what you’re selling.
Ward adds: “The name of the game in marketing is attracting and retaining a growing base of satisfied customers. Creating and implementing a marketing plan will keep your marketing efforts focused and increase your sales”.
Marketing plan key aims
You can’t create a reliable marketing plan if your knowledge of your market is out of date or otherwise falls short. If necessary, carry out up-to-date market research. Your plan must ably summarise your offer (crucially, your USP) and your market (ie its size, value, trends, etc), your target customers, your competitors and your market position.
Your marketing plan goals could include increasing awareness of your brand, launching and establishing new products or services, targeting new customers, entering new markets, increasing your sales, growing your market share, etc.
Such objectives should be expressed in numbers (eg increase yearly sales by 20% or monthly sales by £2,500), so you have something clear to aim for. Having clear goals will also enable you to judge your performance or possibly realise that you’ve set the bar too high or too low. Your marketing plan should enable your business to achieve its forecasted sales and overall business plan objectives.
Marketing plan strategy
Armed with your marketing objectives, you must decide how you’ll achieve them (ie your marketing tactics). Will you use PR, social media or newspaper ads? What about email or content marketing? Maybe you’ll attend trade events, hand out leaflets or use search-engine marketing? Most businesses use a mix of tactics. If you’re not sure which will work – test, measure and learn.
After deciding your marketing tactics, work out how much they’ll cost, so you can allocate marketing budget (exceed this at your peril). Carefully monitor the success of your marketing plan. Find out if your marketing activity and spend is delivering the necessary results. If something isn’t working – stop doing it. Find ways that work.
Finally, once you have created a business plan or marketing plan – use it. If well researched and considered, it could make a huge difference. As we’re reminded by another popular business maxim – action without planning can prove fatal, but planning without action is futile.
Mark Williams is a freelance editorial consultant, editor, journalist and SME content specialist with more than 25 years’ experience. He has written for The Guardian, numerous leading brands and award-winning magazines and websites. Visit www.markiwilliams.com