When you first start thinking about your business, the first thing that comes to mind is your business plan. Your business plan is a vital document as it will assist in getting your financing, and deciding if this business is viable or not. However, your business plan is not the only plan you need. While developing it, you should be simultaneously developing your marketing plan alongside it - after all, your marketing plan should revolve around what you are going to sell, how you intend to attract your customers and, most importantly, how you intend to retain your customers and turn them into that most valuable resource: return buyers.
This plan is very important and must be every bit as detailed as your business plan. It must be factual and contain clear objectives. It must be strategic and contain sufficient detail to get your business off the ground. Your sales goals are important, and the tactics you will use to achieve those goals are just as important. You will use this plan to find those customers, attract them to your business, and keep them coming back.
#1 Know where you are now
It is impossible to plan for the future without a very clear understanding of where you are right now. The buying public has become very sophisticated, and they will expect to have marketing targeted precisely to them. It is irrelevant what industry you are in, whether it be fashion, clothing, food, or earth-moving equipment, the days of ‘one size fits all’ blanket campaigns are long gone.
This situational analysis goes best with an old-fashioned SWOT analysis. This means you must carefully and honestly examine your strengths (S), weaknesses (W), opportunities (O), and threats (T), and write them down on large pieces of paper.
Your strengths and weaknesses are internal. These are characteristics that currently exist in your business. For example, under strengths you should list anything that makes your business stand out from your competitors. This would include products that are superior to competitive products available. What, in your service, makes it superior to other similar offerings? What staff members do you have that are experts in their field? Is your brand well-known, even if only locally? Is your location superior?
Weaknesses are difficult to examine, but it is very important to list these honestly. They could be a product that is dated, inexperienced staff, poor location, or poor processes. Anything that detracts from the quality of your product or service must be listed honestly. Don’t be tempted to shy away from your weaknesses; it will be the downfall of your company if they don't get addressed.
Opportunities are external factors. These are the things you can capitalize on, such as increased market share, moving into a previously unoccupied niche, or upgrading a product to cater to a new need. Be realistic on the opportunities out there. This is not the time to dream; this is the time to be pragmatic about the opportunities available.
The last area to examine is the external threats to your business. These include your major competitors, and new entrants to your niche. Do not forget to examine macroeconomic and political stability, and ensure there are no threats on the horizon.
Now that you have a clear understanding of where your business stands regarding its current status, we need to turn our attention to your customers and what they want from your products.
#2 Know your Customers
Identifying your ideal customer is very important as it will help you define your product better. What does the customer look like that will buy your product or service? What are they looking for? You cannot be all things to all people, so you must define your product to suit the customer base you intend to serve. For example, are you selling convenience, highly-discounted pricing, or perhaps high-quality, luxury items? If you are sure you understand what your customers want, you can tailor your products to meet those requirements.
If your customers are businesses, then look at characteristics like type of business, size of business, business location, and any other characteristics you believe will make a difference.
Take the time to write up a brief description of these customers. If it helps, search for a picture of your ideal customer and put it up in front of you. The photograph represents the person you will speak to, metaphorically, in all your communication. Obviously, do not share this photograph unless you have permission to do so.
You are using this time to define the narrow niche you will serve. What you define here will lead directly into your media campaign, so it is important you get this right. Getting it wrong will cost you a considerable amount of money. At the same time, try to identify which media this type of customer will relate to best.
#3 What are your marketing objectives?
Now, you need to quantify what you want this marketing plan to achieve. Your goals must be achievable and realistic and, most importantly, they must be measurable. These goals should be, for example, a 10% increase in sales every quarter, a new state added to the customer base every six months or 10% of customers are repeat buyers every quarter.
Now you have looked at your business and examined your customers, you can go forward and determine the marketing plan to draw those customers to your business.
#4 Build your plan
You now get down to the nuts and bolts of your plan. You have determined what you want this campaign to achieve, and you have identified those customers that will be your best prospects. Now you need to determine what tactics you are going to use.
The tactics that you employ through the lifetime of your prospects will be different. For cold prospects or those that have never had contact with your business, you will have to turn to advertising or direct marketing to attract their attention. Warm prospects (those who know your business, or perhaps those you have met personally) will respond to permission-based e-mail campaigns, customer loyalty events, discounts, and special pricing.
Your most important hot prospects, those who are close to closing a deal, must be cossetted with personal contact, whether you use the telephone or a visit, or e-mail. You must make human contact to turn up the heat, and close the sale.
For each type of prospect, make careful notes on how you intend to reach them and even draft some e-mails that you can keep. Understand what kind of advertising you want to undertake, and where that advertising will be best placed. Try to determine where your prospective customers turn for information on products, because that is the media you will need to target. Careful placement of your advertising will save you money, and ensure your message reaches those prospects for which it is intended.
#5 Investigate the costs and set your budget
Marketing is an essential part of your startup, and a marketing budget is an important part of your start-up budget. At this stage, your budget will be a portion of your projected sales, but it is so important that you need to set aside adequate funds from your startup capital to ensure this gets financed correctly. There are so many options available to you that you should be able to find something that will work, no matter how restrictive your budget may be.
If you find you have far exceeded your budget, go back and re-strategize your mix of marketing options. Refine your choices until you are in a position to meet your marketing needs.
Need help with developing your plan? Take a look on Freelancer to find a specialist to aid you.
Do not ever stop marketing; it is the only way to draw prospective customers and keep your existing customers. Develop a close relationship with your customers, and eventually, they will do a lot of your marketing for you. Costs are very important for a startup but do not cut corners on your marketing. It will pay you back many times over in the months to come.
Any more thoughts to add? Please share your hints and tips for a successful start-up marketing campaign in the comments below.