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A marketing plan outlines your marketing strategy, which includes how you’ll attract new customers, retain current customers and promote your products or services. Creating a marketing strategy is key to ensuring you’re making the most of your money while targeting the right people through the right channels so you can grow your business.
When you create your business plan, the marketing plan will be an important component. Within a business plan, the marketing plan helps to explain how your business fits into the market, who your competitors are and how you’ll stand out. Small-business marketing is all about how you will promote your products or services to increase sales through customer engagement.
The first step when learning how to write a marketing plan for your business plan is research. You want to look at your market as a whole, your competitors, their marketing strategies and past marketing strategies you’ve used — if any. Your research will inform who your target customer base is, how to price your products, what marketing channels will best serve your business, how you want to interact with customers and what your marketing budget will be.
While not all your research will be included in your marketing plan, it will help to inform your marketing strategy. The final product will be a much condensed and synthesized version of what you discover from your research.
2. Know your business
To create an effective marketing strategy, you need to understand the ins and outs of your own business. What makes your products or services unique? What’s your company’s mission? Why did you start this business in the first place? Reminding yourself what makes your business special will help you inform your marketing strategy and show potential customers why they should choose to work with you. Plus, looking at your business from the viewpoint of a potential customer may help you uncover some unique selling points you hadn’t previously considered.
3. Understand your customer
Beyond your business and the products or services it offers, you also need to take your customer into consideration when writing your marketing plan.
Understand your customer: who they are, what they like, their pain points, how your product or service solves their problem, how and where they consume media and how to communicate with them. Much of the success of your marketing strategy depends upon knowing and communicating well with your customers.
Identify your target market and narrow your scope to a specific demographic — like athletes or parents, for instance — to help you pinpoint the best way to reach them. If you cast your net too wide, you may come off as insincere and struggle to attract any customers.
4. Highlight your unique selling proposition
Your business’s unique selling proposition, or USP, is the thing that makes you stand out. If you want your product or service to sell well, you need to make sure it offers something your competitors don’t. To do that, you need to find your USP.
You likely have a good idea already of what your USP is, but it’s time to synthesize all of the great ideas you gathered in the previous steps into an easily shareable description. Consider this your elevator pitch. You want to be able to tell someone why your product or service is best in less than 30 seconds. You may also find a catchy slogan comes out of this, as well.
5. Check out the competition
While you need to make decisions that are right for your business based on internal information, you also should have an understanding of what your competitors are doing and how it’s working for them.
Take a look at their products, pricing and marketing strategies. Check out their customer reviews to see what people like and dislike about their business. Then use this information to make your business — and marketing strategy — even better.
6. Know your numbers
A marketing strategy will cost money; however, it doesn’t have to be a lot. In fact, there are plenty of free marketing ideas you can try. However, you will likely need to spend some money if you want to make money in the long run. Understanding your business financials to come up with a realistic marketing budget is crucial before you can decide on your concrete marketing plan.
7. Show, don't tell
If you have any marketing collateral already created, such as logos, ads or social media posts, be sure to include them in your marketing strategy. This will show potential investors or lending partners that you’ve made concrete progress on your business’s marketing plan.
8. Test your strategy and talk to customers
The only way to truly know whether your marketing strategy will work is to show it to real people and get their opinions. While you don’t need to have your entire marketing plan created to get feedback, it’s a good idea to run some general ideas past a focus group to get their input. These can be potential customers or friends and family — just make sure you’re getting their honest feedback. Use the results to tweak your strategy to better suit your customers.
What to include in a marketing plan
Now that you've done the research for your marketing strategy, you need to synthesize it into an easily digestible plan that shows yourself and potential investors that you know how to market your business. You can use the following components as a sort of marketing plan template to organize your research:
Product or service overview. If your business sells products, include specifics like sizes, types, colors, features and pricing. For services, detail what they are, what problems they solve, why they will be in demand and what they cost.
Target customer personas. Who are they? How old are they? Where do they live? How much do they make, on average? Are they married or single? Do they have kids and/or pets? What are their interests, wants, and needs?
USP. Through researching the market, your competition and customers, you know how your business stands out. Be sure you can explain what makes your business unique.
Marketing budget. Outline how much of your overall business budget you’re planning to allocate to marketing. Based on your research, you can also include projections for how this budget will grow your sales.
Conversion and retention strategy. Outline a plan for converting leads into paying customers — and for retaining those customers and getting their repeat business. New customers are important, but so is customer retention. After all, it’s more expensive to find a new customer than it is to foster a relationship with an existing one.
Marketing collateral. In the interest of space, you may want to include just a couple of items within the marketing plan section itself, and you can include the rest in the business plan appendix.
A version of this article originally appeared on Fundera, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.