Marketing ideas for small business that make a difference


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Every business owner knows that having a business plan – one that outlines your offering, the competitive landscape, and your financial situation – is critical to creating a path for success. But what many people don't realize is that developing a plan for marketing your business is equally important. Not only will it help you focus on your audience, but it will allow you to narrow down the virtually endless array of tools and tactics available to you – and ensure that you're using the right solutions for your business and your audience.

Of course, creating a small business marketing plan takes work – and insights from those who understand your business, your competition, and how to market a business properly. So, even if you're a one-person shop, it's important to seek counsel from consultants, mentors, friends with experience in marketing and advertising, and trusted online resources – because you won't operate in a vacuum, and you won't succeed in one either.

This may all sound a bit overwhelming, but it's not as complicated as it seems. With just a bit of help from those you know, and some simple, accessible tools, you can develop the best marketing ideas for your small business, create a plan for implementing them, and give yourself a roadmap to success. There will, of course, be changes along the way, but by creating a plan and setting specific goals, you'll know exactly how to adjust as you go.

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Before Getting Started

Although creating a marketing plan is a highly individualized process, virtually every marketing plan template will include the same type of information, so start by working within the standard framework. It will help you focus and stay organized.

  • Situation Analysis: Define your company, products and services for yourself – and your cadre of experts. Be sure to outline your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
  • Target Audience: Define your primary audience, as well as your secondary and tertiary audiences. Describe them in terms of demographics and psychographics (who they are, how they live, what they're like as people).
  • Sales Plan: Outline how you'll sell your products and services (online, in a brick-and-mortar shop, via trade shows, etc.), and explain how your customers will make their purchases.
  • Marketing Goals & Action Plan: Jot down a rough idea of your marketing goals – and some of the tools and tactics you might use to reach them.
  • Financial Analysis: Gain a firm understanding of your financial situation, and provide information on how much of your budget you can and/or may be able to allocate toward marketing your business. (You may want to include your entire financial report as an addendum – just so your inner circle can see where you're at and make suggestions if need be.)

Brainstorming

With your basic marketing plan template complete, you can (and should) gather your advisors to help refine and brainstorm. Give them each a copy of your rough marketing plan, then gather everyone in a room or conference call and refine it. At this point, no ideas are bad ideas – and what you included in your template is simply a starting point. Encourage everyone to speak up, speak their mind, and see where the conversation leads. And after the meeting wraps, give everyone access to a shared digital space where you can all continue to collaborate.

Refining Your Plan

With all your ideas gathered, meet again as a group (in person or via a shared digital space) to further refine and define your plan, then use the template you've been working from to create a more formal document that will guide your small business' advertising and marketing work.

Defining Your Tools & Tactics

Because the devil is in the details, spend time alone – and with your advisory council – to address the tools and tactics that are critical to your plan. If you're using traditional media (and not every business does), separate print, TV, and radio from your digital marketing plan, and focus on each area individually.

For traditional media, work with those who sell it to understand how each format can fit within your budget and help you meet your business goals.

Unlike traditional media, digital marketing for small businesses is often done by the business owner or a very small team of people, so creating a more detailed plan, including templates and guidelines is an important step. Not only can this ensure that your content is optimized for the platform that you’re planning to publish on, but it will help you stay focused, create uniform messaging, and make more thoughtful, informed decisions. So, work with a social media expert or advisor (or simply do what you can to learn the best practices on your own), and create a social media asset template for your company. This template should be broken out by platform and include:

  • Goals (for each platform)
  • Follower snapshot (brief demographic and psychographic details of your followers so you can craft your messages to speak to them)
  • Posting guidelines (length of post, tone, legal considerations, etc.)
  • Linking guidelines (dictated by the platform or you)
  • Image guidelines (size and aspect ratio to help you avoid zoom and image crop errors on some devices, number in a carousel, legal concerns, etc.)
  • Video guidelines (legal concerns, length minimum/maximum, etc.)
  • Sharing guidelines (define the types of information you may/may NOT want to share from your own company or other sources)

Note: These guidelines can, and should, be distributed to everyone who touches your social media accounts, and should be updated as platforms grow and change.

Create a Social Media Editorial Calendar

To help you stay further organized, your digital marketing plan should also include a social media editorial calendar. This can help you track messaging based on sales, holidays, national or international events, trade shows, etc.

If you're a one-person shop and handle your own social media, you can use a standard calendar to track your social media needs. However, if you have two or more people who manage your social media presence, it's best to use a collaborative workspace or app to help keep everyone informed about what's been posted and what's scheduled next. In addition, many of these tools give you areas to brainstorm on future posts and can help you gather the best ideas from your entire team.

Review Your Performance and Optimize

To ensure that your posts are performing against your goals, be sure to use a reporting template to compile data that shows each post's daily, weekly and monthly performance. This way, you can alter your messaging approach (and possibly even your social media asset template) in order to reach your audience more effectively.

Marketing your business is an on-going process. And as the competitive landscape, economic conditions, and your own business changes, your plan will change, too. However, none of this is something you have to do alone. With powerful tools and the support of your advisory council, as well as free resources from organizations within your community, like the Small Business Administration and SCORE, you can get the help you need to develop a marketing plan that sets the stage for success.

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