How to create a small business marketing plan

When you’re a small business owner, marketing can be one of your biggest challenges. In fact, marketing problems are among the top causes of small business failure. Effectively marketing your product or service might be more complicated than you expect—especially if you’re new to marketing. Here are seven steps to help you build and implement a winning small business marketing plan.

1. Set Marketing Goals

The first step in a successful small business marketing plan is to set specific goals. For best results, select goals that can be quantified and measured. Examples of measurable marketing goals include:

  • Increasing your social media engagement, as measured by number of followers, comments, shares, or leads generated from social media
  • Improving your SEO performance on target keywords
  • Attracting more visitors to your website, lowering your bounce rate, or increasing time spent on your site
  • Increasing the number of leads you attract from your digital marketing activity
  • Improving the conversion rate of opt-ins or sales from your website
  • Increasing your sales volume
  • Increasing your average value per transaction
  • Growing the lifetime value per customer
  • Generating more repeat business
  • Generating more referrals

Use your goals to guide your marketing efforts and to define key performance indicators you can use to track your results.

2. Establish a Marketing Budget

The next step in your small business marketing plan is to set a budget. Setting a budget will help you determine which marketing tactics you can afford. For instance, advertising tends to be more expensive than content marketing, although it can be a faster way to generate leads in volume. If you have more money to devote to marketing, you may wish to devote more to advertising, while if you are on a shoestring budget, you may wish to use less expensive strategies such as blogging, developing your social media channels, and email marketing.

As a rule of thumb, younger companies should aim to spend at least 2 to 5 percent of revenue on marketing to succeed, advises marketing consultancy Nuphoriq. For more established companies, the U.S. Small Business Administration recommends spending 7 to 8 percent of gross revenue on marketing (for those doing less than $5 million a year in sales with a net profit margin of 10 to 12 percent). As you continue to invest in your marketing, you may want to consider seeking expansion financing from a provider who specializes in small business loans and lines of credit.

3. Determine Your Marketing Mix

Once you have a budget, you can begin to determine your marketing mix. A marketing mix should consist of the 4 Ps: Product, Place (where the product is sold, whether online or at a physical location), Price, and Promotion (type of marketing channels you use to promote your product). Depending on what decisions you make about how to promote your product, your marketing budget may need to be adjusted.

Which marketing mix is right for you will depend largely on your target market, since you will need to reach your market where they’re at, and you will need to choose a price point that appeals to them. To get the information you need to select your marketing mix, you will first need to do some market research to discover what type of media your audience consumes and what prices they buy at. A good way to benchmark this is by doing a competitor analysis.

4. Plan Your Promotional Campaigns

After you determine which channels you want to target, you can start planning your promotional campaigns. Doing this involves deciding what message you want to communicate and creating content to deliver that message. For instance, if you’re developing content to improve your SEO performance, you’ll need to research what keywords to target and assign your creative team to develop content such as posts, articles, and videos targeting those keywords.

A key to effective promotions is making sure that your message will achieve the effect you desire. For instance, if your goal is to position your brand against your competition, you will want to review your company’s unique selling proposition (USP) and make sure it highlights how your product is distinctive from what your competitors offer. If your goal is to sell a product, you will want to verbalize key sales items, such as what problem the product solves, what its benefits are, and why it represents a better buy than alternatives. If you don’t have a marketing or copywriting background, you will likely benefit from hiring a marketing agency or freelance copywriter to help you.

5. Schedule Your Marketing Activity

What doesn’t get scheduled, doesn’t get done. A key to successful marketing is planning a marketing schedule and following it strictly. For most marketing campaigns, you will be publishing a series of content rather than a single piece, so you’ll want to schedule publication of each piece of content. You should also schedule any appropriate follow-up actions, such as reviewing and responding to comments on social media posts.

You can manually schedule marketing activity in a spreadsheet program or calendar program. Alternatively, you can use a marketing scheduling app designed for this purpose, such as Hootsuite or Sprout.

6. Use Marketing Automation Tools

A marketing scheduling app is one example of how automation can help you execute your promotional strategy. Running a marketing campaign involves many repetitive tasks, such as publishing posts and videos to multiple social media profiles, so the more you can automate these tasks, the more efficient your campaign will run.

Marketing automation tools range from freeware to premium all-in-one tools that cost thousands of dollars a month. Ideally, as your budget allows, you should seek a platform that lets you manage all your social media profiles from within a single log-in portal. If you work with a marketing agency, they will probably already be using such a tool.

7. Track Your Marketing Performance

In order to evaluate the success of your marketing, as well as to determine how well your marketing dollars are being invested, it’s critical to track the results of your campaigns. The best way to do this is by relating your marketing goals to key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure your success. For instance, if you goal is to increase social media engagement, you should track how much a particular promotional campaign increased your followers, comments, and shares.

Some marketing automation tools have built-in features to help you track your KPIs. You can also use business intelligence dashboards to conveniently display your KPIs. No matter how you decide to track your marketing performance, it’s just important that you stay on top of it.

Get started with creating a small business marketing plan today by reviewing your current marketing performance and identifying some areas where you’d like to improve. Looking to fuel growth by investing in some of these initiatives? Learn more to see if a small business loan is right for your business.

Edited content. Originally written by Katie Tregurtha.*