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When running a business, having a marketing plan is crucial to help you move your business forward and on the path towards success. Especially when you are just starting out, a huge component of your success will be determined by how you market your business – that’s why it’s so important to plan your strategy and have an idea of where you’d like to go. These tips can help you begin to get an idea of how to create your marketing plan:

What is a marketing plan?

In order to create a marketing plan, it’s important to first get a clear understanding of what it actually is.

Essentially, a marketing plan is a report that outlines your marketing strategy for a certain period of time, like a quarter or a year. It should include:

  • A business summary – an overview of your business and your current situation
  • Business goals – what key performance indicators (KPIs) will you be working towards reaching?
  • Target market – who is your audience, and what are their needs?
  • Strategies – how you plan on achieving these goals, and in what timeframe

Analyze your current situation and competitors

You’ll want your marketing plan to be backed by plenty of data and research. The numbers can help guide you towards where you want to go.

Take a look at where you stand in terms of the metrics that are relevant to your business. A SWOT analysis can be a good jumping off point to start with the execution by helping you identify:

  • Strengths – what is your business currently doing well, what are you doing that distinguishes you from your competitors, and how can you maintain this level of excellence?
  • Weaknesses – what is your business struggling with, and what do you need to do in order to overcome these obstacles?
  • Opportunities – are there any new developments that can lead to positive outcomes? This can be as small as utilizing a new tool that can help improve workflow, or as big as creating an entirely new product that will bring an influx of customers. What can your business do to seize new opportunities?
  • Threats – are there any internal or external factors that can be a detriment to your business? Types of threats may include a lack of resources, a slow market, or even a new competitor.

It will also be beneficial to perform a competitive analysis to get a better understanding of where you stand against the competition. Start by creating a list of direct competitors, and note what they are doing. Where are they positioned in the market? What is it that customers are buying from them, or why do they return? What do their reviews say? What is the experience using their website? You can use this type of analysis to uncover the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors and find room to grow your business value.

Define your business goals

Once you have analyzed your business and competitors, you can begin to set realistic goals for the timeline your marketing plan has laid out. Identify what you would like your business to accomplish. What obstacles are in your way, and what are the ways around them? Are there any goals that are a higher priority than others? What do your short-term goals look like compared to long-term goals?

When creating goals for your business, a SMART goals template may be a helpful format to keep in mind. You’ll want to make sure that the goals you set are:

  • Specific – clear enough to be able to maintain focus, while also understanding how achieving such will grow the business
  • Measureable – it’s important to be able to track progress to ensure you’re at the right pace
  • Attainable – you’ll want to make sure your goals are realistic – it’s okay if reaching them may be a challenge, but you don’t want to set yourself up for what is not possible
  • Relevant – do these goals make sense to your business or industry?
  • Time-based – create a timeline that can help keep you motivated towards reaching your goals

Determine your target audience

A target audience is key to determining how to bring them to your business. A buyer persona helps you identify who your ideal customers are based on specific segments. Some helpful information to seek out when creating a buyer persona can be:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Income
  • Industry
  • Education level
  • Relationship/parental status
  • Hobbies
  • Interests
  • Challenges

To find this information, you will need to research and understand not only your product or service, but your industry. Conducting surveys or focus groups may help with finding details.

Brainstorm marketing strategy plans

The next step in your marketing plan involves outlining actionable strategies that will bring customers to your business once you have your goals and audience in mind. Strategies may include hosting contests or promotions, creating valuable content, creating ads, or engaging with users on social media – the possibilities are endless. Your strategy should follow the goals you set forth in the beginning of the process, as well as target the buyer personas you’ve set up.

Set your budget

Once you have an idea of what your marketing strategy will look like, you’ll need to create a realistic budget for funding your plans. Determine how much incremental budget will need to be put in place, or how much in total rolling everything out will cost. Does the potential ROI justify what your proposed cost will be?

Set plans in motion

Once you have all of the above steps completed, the fun will begin. When you have set all of your plans in motion, be sure to consistently measure the success along the way so you can adjust your strategies, budgets, goals, or audiences. Following these steps when creating a marketing plan can help guide your business towards using the right tools to engage with your customers and in turn grow your business. By visiting the Nationwide Business Solutions Center, you can find resources to help you build your business each step of the way.