Create a brilliant marketing plan by answering these essential questions
Writing a small business marketing plan
You've built your small business, developed your products and services and you're ready to make sales: all you're missing, is an audience. Marketing is the stepping stone that lets people know about what you've created and encourages them to buy; for that, you need a marketing plan.
You don't need to be an expert at marketing to create a useful small business marketing plan, you just need to ask the right questions, do some research and create some compelling answers.
Marketing needn't be a 'dark art' and so long as you approach it with an open mind and there are some simple, practical steps you can take right now to put an effective strategy together. This should result in a marketing plan that works, getting you better value for money for your marketing budget and helping you grow your business.
In this article, I’ll share the questions that will help you create a lightweight and effective approach.
What are the benefits of taking this approach?
The main benefits to you and your small business are:
- Understanding your approach to marketing in a simple, structured way
- Thinking about and explaining what your small business offers, to whom and what you want them to do as a result
- Using the answers to inform and define a great marketing plan
- Defining your business, products and services and what they have to offer people
- Clarifying what sets your business apart
- Researching your audience and understanding where they are
- Refining your channels and the best ways of reaching your potential customers
- Clearly understanding what you want customers to do and how they will achieve that
To make things easier, I've split what you need to do into several areas
- Advice on answering marketing questions
- An overview of the questions and how they fit together
- Questions about your small business, products and services
- Questions about the potential audience for your business, product or service
- Questions about interacting and engaging with your audience
- What is the next step?
We'll cover each of these in turn below.
1. Advice to small businesses and freelancers on answering marketing questions
If you want to get the most out of this process, it helps to ask and answer these questions in the right way. In this first part of the series, we’ll look at a useful approach; here are some suggestions:
- Be as specific as you can in your answers – Try to narrow down your focus and think about specialist areas. This will help you target your marketing approach
- Think in terms of niches – It is almost impossible to engage with a ‘general’ market or ‘anyone who might be interested in your product’; the more you can identify your niche, the better
- You don’t need to get everything ‘right’ straightaway – Not everything needs to be exact and fixed. Your approach and answers will change as your business develops and new thoughts come to light
- Prepare to test and refine in future – Revisit these questions regularly as your business strategy, audience and products develop and change
- Your answers will differ based on your type of business – Whether you’re an online business, a freelancer, a physical business or something else, these questions still apply, but the answers will vary greatly!
2. An overview of the marketing questions and how they fit together
You can see an overview of the questions we’ll be exploring and how they fit into your small business marketing plan below.
An example: John's small business
To help you understand how you might answer these questions, I’ve created an example small business owner: John is a coder and developer who had some success a couple of years ago releasing games in the App Store for the iPhone. Since then, he has been a very active member of the development community and has recently been working on a new venture creating online video and audio tutorials for other developers, especially for entertainment software: LearnToBuildMobileGames.com. John wants to know where and how to market his business. John has answered the questions in the right hand grey boxes.
John's Small Business
‘My business provides online video and audio tutorials to teach people interested in learning application development for mobile devices. The main focus is on entertainment and gaming applications.’
'My business is unique because it provides audio and video content in an easily understandable and practical way and teaches proven and useful skills over a number of different lessons on the different parts of developing mobile entertainment software.’
‘In addition to providing expert technical training and skills, the tutorial series will also teach people about how to research what a popular application might be, gives real-world examples of how to promote entertainment software and provides access to a community of other application developers to get help and advice.’
3. Questions about your small business, products and services
It's important to take a closer look at how you define your products, services and audience. Asking these questions will help you identify exactly what you have to offer, who might be interested in buying your products and services and where you might find your audience.
These questions are all about understanding what your small business has to offer your customers, helping you to define your product and service and the unique selling points that make the difference.
What is the specific product or service that you are marketing?
Clearly define in one or two sentences exactly what your business provides, emphasizing your key products and services as a customer might experience them.
What is it about your product or service that is unique or sets it apart?
Explain what is unique about your business offering. Share some detail on your products and services about what makes them desirable and valuable to your customers.
Why would a customer buy your products or services, rather than one of your competitors?
Think about what helps a customer look at your business and understand what sets it apart from your competitors. Explain the value that your business offering provides: you might set yourself apart through providing higher quality services, unique skills, knowledge or experience, better pricing, a different approach, niche solutions, accessibility or greater value for money.
John's Small Business
‘My target market is technologically minded people who are interested in developing smartphone and tablet applications (Android and iOS), especially in the entertainment field. These people might already have some experience with programming elsewhere or they might be new to the industry.’
‘The people that use my product will benefit by gaining a thorough understanding of modern development methods for mobile entertainment applications and allow them to conceive, create, market and sell their applications. Popular applications can create a significant income stream for developers.’
‘My audience gathers in a number of different places, some of the main ones being: The ‘developanapp’ website, the ‘Entertainment Applications Now!’ newsletter and the iOS devbeloper magazine. There are also forums for developers including ‘applicationhints’ and several others.’
4. Questions about the potential audience for your business, product or service
These questions help you to identify and understand your audience. They will help you decide where your potential audience is, who they are and what they want.
Who are the audience and target market that your products and services are targeted at?
Identify the people or businesses that are most likely to be interested in what you have to offer. The more targeted you can make this, the easier this will make things. Remember that it’s much more effective to market to specific niches rather than to the market as a whole.
What does your audience want or need, what is the benefit to them?
Clarify what it is that your target audience specifically requires from your business, product or service. There should be a clearly explainable benefit of what is in it for them as a result of purchasing what you have to offer.
Where does your audience hang out?
Use your experience to think about where your audience are likely to be. There might be popular forums or websites, or perhaps there are magazines or newsletters dedicated to serving the niche your business is serving. Again, the more clearly you can define this, the better as you will be able to target your marketing more effectively.
The key questions you need to ask
Define your offering
Understand your audience
Approaching your audience
What are your specific products & services?
Who are your products & services aimed at?
What are the most effective ways to reach them?
What is it about your offering that makes it unique?
What is the benefit to your audience? What do they need?
How will your audience engage with you?
Why would a customer buy from *you*?
Where do they hang out?
What action do you want them to take?
John's Small Business
‘I will initially try to reach my audience through advertising in the ‘Entertainment Applications Now!’ newsletter, through a very focused ‘Pay-Per-Click’ campaign’ and through sharing experience and insights on the more popular development forums.’
‘My audience will engage with me through visiting my website, LearnToBuildMobileGames.com. When they are there they will have the opportunity to read about the course and download a free, sample lesson after providing their email address. I have tested the site and it is easy to use and find what you want.’
‘When people reach my site, I want them to download the free lesson and provide me with an email address. I will then follow up with them via their email address to let them know about the benefits of the course and how it can help them. This will then lead to more interest and sales of the tutorials.’
Related products from Amazon
Next, we’ll examine one of the most important aspects of marketing, the ‘Call to Action’. A call to action is the step that you want a potential customer to take when they interact with your small business. That might be making a purchase, contacting you, submitting information or something else.
Whatever it is, engaging with your audience effectively is critical to winning new business and the quicker and easier you make it, the more success you will have.
5. Questions about interacting and engaging with your audience
These questions are all about engaging with your audience and the customer action that you want them to take as a result of seeing your marketing and advertising.
What are the most effective ways / channels to reach your audience?
Based on where your audience hangs out, brainstorm the most likely ways that you might be able to reach them. There are numerous ways including: advertising online or offline (hard copy, media, radio etc.), social media (Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, Google+), advertising on specific websites, forums or newsletters, pay-per-click and display advertising, posting to forums as an expert and many more. Spend some time researching the many and varied channels. It will be well spent.
How will your audience engage with you?
Assuming that people do reach you, think about how you will engage with them. If it is via a website, ensure that the website is setup to handle their visit and guide them to the information they need. If you’re going to speak to them either face-to-face or over the phone, make sure that its easy to reach you. Think about how you can make contacting your business as easy, quick and painless as possible.
What action do you want people to take?
Known as the ‘Call To Action’, this is one of the most vital parts of marketing, defining what you want people to do as a result of them seeing your message and engaging with your business. This might be signing up for a free account, making a purchase from you, getting in touch for further information or something else. This is the next step in the process from converting them from being a potential customer into an actual customer.
6. Final Question – What is the next step?
Answering all of these questions will provide a strong basis for a simple and effective marketing plan. Once you know what you are offering, who you are targeting, how you are targeting them and what you want them to do as a result, you’ll be in a much stronger position. You can then use this information to build compelling messages and calls to action that get you customers, build your brand and lead to a successful business.
I hope that you’ve found this article helpful and that it's provided some fresh perspectives and a slightly different approach for developing your marketing needs.
What marketing questions and approaches have worked for you? Please share them in the comments.
Creating a marketing plan
If you found this article useful, interesting or informative, please do check out my other guides for small business owners here.