Write a Marketing Plan
So, you’ve gone through the first 7 steps for starting a small business and are ready to operate your business. Well done! Now it’s time to work on attracting those customers. Before you go wild on the marketing, I recommend you write a marketing plan first.
I’ve talked about scattered shot marketing in previous posts. Basically, this type of marketing is like throwing mud at the wall and seeing what sticks. Even when it is effective, it’s typically costly. Most small business owners and entrepreneurs, don’t have the kind of money it takes to see a return on your investment with the scattered approach. This is where market research comes into play. There are quite a few options you might use to conduct your market research.
Surveys. If you already have an idea of who your target market is, you might consider surveying them. Many times yours prospects will already have experiences with the products or services you’re providing. Or perhaps they haven’t used your particular products or services, but may have experienced a problem for which you have the solution. Asking your potential customers about the products and/or services they seek, can be a great way for identifying products and services.
Industry Data. Consider using industry data. The web is full of data that’s been collected from recognizable sources. Take advantage of that data to determine trends within your industry.
Internet Research. I like to think the internet had EVERYTHING. Of course thee’s limits to the internet. However, there is quite a bit of information that could help you determine your target market. If you’re willing to take the time to sift through a nice chuck of information readily available, go for it.
Channels. One of the activities I’m fond of is teaching social media classes. Those who attend multiple classes often as me how they’re going to keep up fresh content on all the social media sites. My advice to attendees is don’t. It’s important to pick and choose based upon where your clients are looking, how much time you have, the purpose of your marketing (other than to make money), and your personal commitment. For example, if you enjoy Twitter and blogging but not Facebook, there’s no reason you have to use Facebook. The big thing is to be good at what you’re doing, regardless of the platform.
This same idea works the same with advertising in general. Pick and choose what you want to do and be effective with the options you’ve chosen. Some potential avenues you might choose to use are radio, newspaper, trade shows, social media, mailings, etc.
Market Segmenting. There are two approaches you can take to targeting your market segments. One is geographically. The idea to geographic segmenting is to carve out your bit of the market based upon your area. For example, I live in Southwest North Dakota. If I were to do geographic segmenting, I’d want to hit those venues that target SW ND specifically.
The next method is customer segmenting. Customer segmenting relates to targeting those individuals most likely to purchase your goods and/or services. Using Backbone America as an example again, my target market is entrepreneurs pre-startup and small business owners (particularly those in the first 2 years of business). So, I’ll want to find ways to target those individuals at specific points in the business process.
Keep in mind, you don’t have to pick one or the other segmentation method. In fact, it’s in your best interest to use a combination of both. To really plant my stake in the ground, I’m likely going to want to create a name for myself locally, while also targeting entrepreneurs and small business owners. Also, even though my examples target a particular geographic area or customer segment, I would still pick and choose the venues based upon what works in my area and what’s attainable for me.
A common term used in marketing is the “marketing mix.” This refers to utilizing key components to attract customers effectively. Rather than concentrating on one particular area of marketing, you’ll want to use a mixture of the four Ps, which I’ll talk about next.
Products (and Services). When I think of products or services, I think of having a niche. That is, what specifically about your products or services makes your company unique. In an earlier post, I talked about differentiating your company. that’s where this comes into play.
Promotion. I talked a bit about this above under channels. This refers to which venues you’re going to use to market your products and services. You’ll also want to consider the best times to reach your customers. Researching the methods your competitors use might provide a bit of insight for how you’ll want to also target consumers.
Price. One thing to keep in mind when it comes to price, large corporations can typically underbid you in pretty much everything. Small businesses can and should compete with large corporations and larger businesses. However, typically not when it comes to price. Small businesses have to be smart about attracting customers.
It’s okay to charge a higher price than competitors. However, small businesses need to offer something in return for those higher prices. This might mean that extra personal touch, being able to be the face of the company, etc. Always keep in mind that you are selling benefits, not features. The benefits are what justifies your prices, not features.
Take for example LivePlan, which is a business planning software I’m quite fond of. Some of the features are the ability to integrate with accounting software, develop pitches, create business plans, etc. The benefits aren’t what it can do, but rather what the end results are for you. For example, when you go to the bank or an investor, you’ll be able to deliver an awesome written pitch or business plan which will help you obtain funding and achieve your dreams of starting a business.
When I worked as a financial advisor, customers would ask why they should use my particular company. My answer was because they get me. I would be working with them personally to help them achieve their goals. If they talked about vacationing, I would show them products which would generate the revenue they wanted to take those vacations. If they wanted to retire by age X, I would show them products that would help them continue to generate revenue during retirement.
It wasn’t the product converted them. It was the benefits of having me help them, and the benefits of having a particular product (the vacation, the retirement, etc.) The same goes for your business. What are the benefits of using your company’s products and services?
Place. Another word for place is distribution channels. Where can customers purchase your products and services? Do you have a shop, office, virtual office, online store? How are you making your products and services available to customers?
There are a lot of elements that go into creating a successful marketing plan. However, if you chip away at each piece, rather than trying to accomplish the big picture in one go, you’ll do fine. Start with researching your market. Once you understand your industry, you’ll have an easier time working through the other pieces.