11 steps to create a marketing plan for your business
Many entrepreneurs know they need to create a marketing plan, but they are either intimidated by the thought of it, or they don’t put the time into it soon enough.
You can hear the voices of protest (and excuses) now…
“But I’m not going to be doing any advertising anyway.”
“I just want to grow through word-of-mouth.”
“I’ve got to get my business up-and-running first and then I’ll figure out the marketing.”
“I’m not a marketing person!”
If you’ve secretly thought of any of these things, you’re not alone.
But the reality is that writing a good new business marketing plan is extremely important and not very difficult.
It’s just outlining decisions about what your business is, who your customers will be, and how you will reach them — and committing those ideas to paper in an orderly format.
A good marketing plan answers questions like “Who are our target buyers?” and “Where will we spend money to attract them?” With these kinds of questions resolved, you’ll be setting your business up for success right from the start.
Where to begin?
Well, let’s start at the beginning.
What is a marketing plan?
A marketing plan is a document that outlines a brand’s plan to attract and retain customers and promote its brand, products, and services.
It includes research, information, and past marketing performance history, and it outlines a plan for creating future marketing and advertising strategies.
Marketing plans are often a section of a larger business plan. But they can also stand on their own.
Why do you need a marketing plan?
A marketing plan helps you put all of your research, ideas and plans in one place. When you go through the process, you can:
- Define your core messaging and positioning to create a cohesive brand voice, vision, and style.
- Set a budget that matches your goals and agenda.
- Deliver a stronger return on investment as you will create tracking processes to measure and optimize campaigns.
- Develop better future plans as you can clearly see what’s working and what’s not.
- Organize and centralize your marketing plans so your entire team is on the same page.
Without an official marketing plan, it’s likely that your business will have a lot of ideas, opinions and plans floating around without much cohesion.
A marketing plan helps you get focused and organized so you can be more coordinated, productive and successful.
When’s the best time to make a marketing plan?
There’s no bad time to create a marketing plan. But the best time to make a marketing plan is:
- At the beginning/end of the year so you can plan out plans for the year ahead.
- When launching a new business so you have a new business marketing plan to help you grow and scale your business.
- When launching a new product, service or category in your business so you know how to capture a new market.
- The moment you realize you don’t have one because it’s never too late to start to reap the benefits of having an existing or new business marketing plan.
If your business fits into any of these scenarios, it’s time to create a marketing plan.
Before you begin
If you have an established business, but this is the first time you’re creating a marketing plan, start by reviewing your history.
You’ve probably had marketing plans in the past even if they weren’t laid out in a formal document. Reflect back on those campaigns and strategies to help create your new plan.
Open up a spreadsheet to start recording an inventory of everything you’ve tried so far to market your business. Note any action you’ve taken (cost, time investment, dates, duration), and categorize everything.
Think about each of these efforts.
Be honest about what did and didn’t work, and what is and isn’t working.
List it all out so you can use it to inform and guide your future marketing plans.
Now, let’s get into how to make a marketing plan for your new or existing business.
How to create a marketing plan in 11 steps
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed as you start to think about creating your marketing plan. But, all you really need to do is follow a simple outline and go through the following marketing plan steps.
- Define your offerings.
- Define your brand mission.
- Define your target audience.
- Conduct a market analysis.
- Conduct a competitor analysis.
- Define your brand positioning.
- Outline your goals.
- Outline your marketing strategy.
- Set a budget.
- Outline offers and marketing tactics.
- Define metrics and KPIs.
Let’s walk through each step.
1. Define your offerings
Before you can create a marketing plan, you need to be clear about what it is that you’re selling.
Create a list of your products and services and outline:
- The features of each offer/product
- How each feature benefits customers
- What makes each offering different from other similar offerings
- The price for each offering
Related: How to write a mission statement you’ll be proud to share
2. Define your brand mission
Now that you know exactly what you’re selling, it’s time to explain why you’re selling it.
Outline your brand mission by answering questions like:
- What is it that you would like your brand to accomplish?
- Why do you want to help your customers?
- Why are your products or services important?
- Why should customers look to do business with you instead of your competitors?
3. Define your target audience
Once you know what you’re selling and why you’re selling it, it’s time to outline who you will sell to.
Define your target audience by creating buyer personas that describe your ideal customers and audiences. Outline their:
- Demographics (age, gender, income, education, location, etc.)
- Professional details (industry, job title, company, etc.)
- Psychographics (personality traits, beliefs, attitudes, etc.)
- Goals (what they what to achieve)
- Challenges (pain points, what they’re afraid of or in need of, etc.)
- Influences (favorite media outlets, thought leaders, etc.)
Need help defining your target audience? Check out this guide on What information should you include in your buyer persona customer profile?
Related: Why a target audience matters (and how to find yours)
4. Conduct a market analysis
A market analysis describes the total marketing environment in which your company competes.
When you create a marketing plan, this analysis is an essential section as it answers questions that help you navigate your competitive market’s landscape.
- How many businesses offer similar offerings?
- How many businesses will your brand be in direct competition with?
- How large is the market?
- What are the trends in the market (growing, decreasing, etc.)?
- How much are customers already paying for similar offerings?
- How much are customers willing to pay for similar offerings?
- What does the sales cycle in your market look like?
5. Conduct a competitor analysis
The market analysis should help you come up with the names of a few of your direct competitors.
Now, look closely at those competitors to see how you can differentiate your brand and drive customers to choose you over others.
- Who are your competitors?
- What is their market share?
- What are their strengths, weaknesses and unique selling propositions?
- How can you differentiate your brand from competitors?
Related: How to find inspiration from your competitors (without stealing their ideas)
6. Define your brand positioning
By this step in the process to create a marketing plan, you’ve done a lot of research, and you’ve outlined what you know about your brand, market, and competitors.
Use this information to decide how you will position your brand in the market.
- Outline your unique selling propositions.
- Define what market differentiators you will highlight.
- Specify what market segment you will target.
- Define your brand voice and tone.
Related: A beginner’s guide to branding your business
7. Outline your goals
The goals section is just that — defining your short- and long-term goals. Think about where you’re starting from, and where you want the business to be in three, five and 10 years.
Some examples of marketing goals might be to:
- Attract customers
- Retain customers
- Increase website traffic
- Increase social media following
- Increase online sales
- Increase in-store sales
- Generate more leads
- Improve online conversions
8. Outline your marketing strategy
Your marketing strategy should then outline your approach to reaching your goals.
Look at your goals and figure out what type of marketing tactics will help you get closer to your target objectives.
They might include (but aren’t limited to) the following.
- Online advertising. Pay-per-click advertising, banner ads, text ads on partner sites.
- Email marketing. Sending electronic newsletters, adding subscription tools to your site to grow your email list.
- Print advertising. Newspaper or magazine ads, business cards, direct mail postcards, brochures or flyers.
- Social networking. Maintaining your business profile and engaging with customers and prospects on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
- Blogging. Writing your own blog, responding to or submitting articles or features to other people’s blogs, RSS feeds, etc.
- Online directories. Your business listing on both global (i.e. Google, Yelp and YP.com) and local (i.e. Chamber of Commerce) listings sites.
- Live networking. Handing out business cards, professional memberships, public speaking.
- Search engine optimization (SEO). Tweaking website content to attract organic traffic.
- Trade shows. Sending your team to attend or present at industry conferences and events.
- Public relations. Getting mentions and features about your brand in the news.
9. Set a budget
There are a lot of factors that go into setting a marketing budget. But at this point, you should have some good information to help direct your budgeting.
- What is your current revenue?
- What percent of your revenue have you allocated for marketing?
- What set marketing costs do you have (for software, team members, etc.)?
- How much money will you need to reach your goals?
- What are your competitors are spending on their marketing?
Once you start running strategic and goal-focused marketing campaigns, it will become easier to set marketing budgets. You will be able to use past campaigns to measure costs and your return on investment (ROI) — such as cost per lead, cost per customer, etc.
But, in the beginning, you will need to try a few campaigns to see what works and delivers the best ROI.
Related: 5 ways to build a strong online presence on a shoestring budget
10. Outline offers and marketing campaigns
Now, it’s time to turn your ideas into concrete marketing promotions and campaigns.
Decide what type of offers you can make. What can you offer as a special or deal? A free consultation? Special pricing for new customers or for referrals? Rewards? Samples?
It doesn’t make sense to offer early bird specials if your target audience is college students grabbing late-night burgers.
Then, consider your marketing strategy, goals, offers and budget to lay out a few concrete campaigns. Outline the cost, time and tactics for each campaign.
Examples of marketing campaigns
Increase awareness with business cards
- Cost: Less than $20 to print custom business cards with a service like Vistaprint
- Time: 10 minutes to two hours per week
- Tactic: Carry business cards with you at all times. Share them with anyone you meet who shows an interest in your business, whether you’re at a client meeting, your Rotary Club, or a party where the topic of what you do for a living comes up in conversation. Give each person multiple cards, one for them and another one or two to share with someone they know who might also be interested in your services.
Drive traffic to your website with a banner ad
- Cost: About $200/month (costs will vary from $0 to thousands, depending on where you choose to place your ad)
- Time: 3 hours
- Tactic: Banner ads are those rectangular ads you see in the margins of just about every website. When someone clicks on a banner ad, they’re typically taken to the advertiser’s website, where they can redeem the offer or shop for whatever is advertised in the banner.
Promote your business with email
- Cost: Starting at about $10/month for an online email marketing tool
- Time: One to five hours per month
- Tactic: This assumes you have a list of email addresses to start with. If so, subscribe to an email builder and customize one of the email templates. Start by sending one information-filled email every 10 days to two weeks (“Check out our latest offerings.” “SAVE 10% now through Thursday!”, etc.). Track customer responses. Resend emails that work and stop sending those that don’t.
11. Define metrics and KPIs
The final step as you create a marketing plan is to decide what metrics you will use to evaluate your campaigns.
Better-known measurement options like surveys can be useful, but you’ll also want to understand things like the cost of customer acquisition (for every new customer you get, how many marketing dollars do you have to spend?) or market share (out of the universe of your potential customers, what percentage do you have, and is that growing?).
Look at your marketing campaigns and decide what metrics will be best for showing results tied to your goals.
As mentioned earlier, having the right set of metrics will allow you to make more informed decisions about your budget as well as make adjustments to strategies as you go.
Check your new business marketing plan, iterate and improve
Now, you know how to make a marketing plan, but your work doesn’t stop here.
Use the framework to go through the marketing plan steps and start writing your plan. Then, review your finished marketing plan with fresh eyes and make plans to continue to update and improve your outline.
1. Ask questions of others to check your thinking.
It’s easy to get in your own head and substitute your judgment for your customers’ because you’re passionate about your business.
You might think “I’d prefer receiving a coupon rather than a sample; a coupon would make me more likely to buy.” Run that by some people who fit the profile of your target market before you decide which way to go. You might be surprised.
2. Don’t try to think of everything yourself.
Look at your competitors and learn from what they do well. But don’t forget to look at other industries, too.
There’s no reason you can’t steal a trick from a different kind of company facing the same issue. It will save you time, in the long run, to test tried-and-true methods in addition to your own brilliant, unique ideas.
3. Stick to the plan — and keep changing it.
I know this sounds contradictory but do both. Being true to the decisions you’ve made in your marketing plan is key to remaining focused.
If your business is growing faster than expected, if your customers give you feedback you didn’t have before, if your competition changes, then these are all good reasons to make adjustments.
Don’t be afraid to tweak your marketing plan or even make substantial revisions.
The document should evolve along with your business. Don’t just put your marketing plan in a filing cabinet never to see the light of day. Use it. Share it with your team.
A marketing plan, like any tool, is good only if it’s used. And when it is, it’s a powerful guide for running and growing your business, from startup to wherever you’re headed.
Bring your marketing plan to life
You now know what a marketing plan is, why you need one and how to create a marketing plan in 11 simple steps. You’re ready to start outlining the path you will take to launch, market and grow your business.
Go through the marketing plan steps outlined in this post and then, make it easy to execute your plan with GoDaddy’s Websites + Marketing service. It supports your plan by helping you build a professional website and market your business everywhere online.
This article includes content originally published on the GoDaddy blog by the following authors: Andrea Rowland and Jennifer Friedman.
Image by: Daniel ÖbergviaUnsplash.