If you don’t take aim, you won’t hit your target. This, according to Stuart Atkins, author of Small Business Marketing: A Guide for Survival, Growth, and Success, is why it’s essential for any small business owner to develop a strategic marketing plan. “Without a marketing strategy, small business owners will be continuously reacting rather than being proactive,” explained Atkins, who also teaches marketing part time at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF). “Small business owners need to be focused and have objectives, and a marketing plan provides this.”
Atkins recommends five key elements for an effective marketing plan.
A mission statementYour mission statement should be short and concise. Ask yourself: What business are you in? What is the mission and purpose of your company? It should also include a brief value proposition explaining the benefits of your products or services.
A SWOT analysisA SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis is a strategic tool often used in the initial stages of planning. A SWOT analysis is helpful for viewing all aspects of your business objectively—including its competitive advantages and where you need shoring up. Keep in mind that strengths and weaknesses are internal to a company; opportunities and threats are external. Atkins recommends making a list under each category, being especially honest when it comes to your business’s weaknesses (such as lack of capital, poorly designed website or untrained employees), which some folks tend to gloss over.
A list of objectives—not goalsGoals and objectives are different. Goals are certainly important and you need to define them, but at the same time, they’re broader, more distant, and aren’t as action-oriented or immediate as objectives. Objectives are more short-term, specific and results-oriented. According to Atkins, they’re designed to help you reach your goals in stages. And, it’s important to list three to five objectives—what you’re specifically trying to accomplish within a certain timeframe.
A target marketing strategyNext, develop a demographic profile of your target client or customer. This target marketing strategy should define the characteristics of your customers. For example, are they primarily female, male or both? Younger or older? Well-off or budget-challenged? You get the idea. Also, try to develop a psychographic profile of your target—their values, beliefs and lifestyle.
A marketing mixThe marketing mixis your product, price, place and promotion. What are you offering? What is your pricing strategy? Where and how will you deliver this product? Will folks come to you online? Will you have an office or storefront? Will you go to them? Promotion involves how you intend to communicate your product and services from a marketing standpoint.
Implementation, evaluation and controlNow it’s time to really do it—implement the plan, evaluate the results and make changes if necessary. Atkins calls this the “postmortem” of all four of the above elements. It’s an honest, objective assessment of what you did right and what you need to change. He suggests reviewing your marketing plan on a quarterly basis, although the frequency may depend upon the business. This gives you enough time to get results, but it’s also short enough that you can make corrections and tweaks before going too far astray.
“Almost all small business owners are time-starved these days and between this and the battle to get attention, it’s easy to lose focus,” noted Atkins. “A strategic marketing plan will keep you focused on hitting your objectives.”