Business and self-employment (21)

The basics of creating a marketing plan

We all know marketing is key to small business survival and success.

And these days we’re so inundated with marketing platforms and tools that it can be overwhelming to know what to do to be an effective marketer.

by Rieva Lesonsky for

What you need is a marketing action plan so you can lay out a path to follow. First though, warns Hal Shelton, a business executive, SCORE board member and author of The Secrets of Writing a Successful Business Plan, you need to define your company’s buying cycle.

business-watercolors-dream-do-live-love (4)As an example, Shelton offers this cycle:

  1. Awareness. Potential customers know about your business, but aren’t sure you have the products or services that fit their needs.
  2. Discovery. The research stage when consumers try to learn more about your company.
  3. Engagement. Potential customers take some action that may (or may not) lead to sale. It’s important at this stage to get some customer contact information, like an email address.
  4. Active customer. The prospect has become an actual customer and made a purchase from you.
  5. Successful customer. The consumer has become a regular, loyal and satisfied customer.
  6. Referrals. When customers are so happy with you and your business, they’re willing to share their good experiences and offer testimonials and referrals.

Now you can move on to creating a marketing action plan. Shelton says make sure you include steps in your plan that “focus on customers in each of the steps of the buying cycle.” And he adds, “While some of the ‘instruments’ might be the same, the messages may be different. For example, in a direct marketing campaign to gain awareness, you might want to steer potential customers to your website, but for active customers, you may offer a store coupon.”

So what should your action steps consist of? Of course, they’ll vary depending on your type of business and stage your business, but here are some steps you might consider making part of your marketing action plan.

Market research. Market research isn’t something to do only when you start your business; you need to continually stay on top of your target customers’ demographics, needs, desires and lifestyles. Draw from your own experience talking with your customers, as well as any customer data you have—sales records, website analytics, social media interactions — to see what they are researching, browsing, doing and buying. Also use third-party sources of research such as Census data to keep up with trends in your target market, and contact media properties where you’re considering advertising to see who their readers/viewers/listeners are.

Develop a marketing plan. Once you know what your customers want and where they are spending their time, you can develop a marketing plan that reaches out to them where they live — whether that’s outdoor advertising, social media, radio ads, online pay-per-click ads, public relations and more. Focus most of your budget on the avenues your research suggests will be most effective and affordable. Your marketing plan should cover the coming year and should include specific goals.

Create a marketing calendar. Break down your marketing plan more specifically into a calendar that shows what type of marketing you will do each month, each week and even each day. This can include ad placements, PR campaigns, social media posts and more. By putting your plan on a calendar, you’re committed to carrying it out and things won’t fall through the cracks.

Measure results. To make sure your marketing efforts deliver ROI, you need to track the results of each type of marketing you do. For example, you could put a code in an online or print ad (“Mention code TREAT1 to get a free dessert!”) and keep track of who mentions the code. Online, you can use analytics to see which ads or mentions attract customers to your site and to track which customers end up making a purchase. Regularly (once a quarter, at minimum, or ideally once a month) assess which marketing methods are driving sales and which are not.

Shelton says other marketing action steps might include email marketing, using affiliates and distributors, building a website, direct mail, buying ads in assorted media outlets (newspapers, radio, etc.), social media and web marketing.

About the author: Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and President of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at and visit to sign up for her free TrendCast reports. She’s been covering small business and entrepreneurial issues for more than 30 years, is the author of several books about entrepreneurship and was the editorial director of Entrepreneur magazine for over two decades. This article was provided by

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