If you’re starting a business or looking to diversify – or if your business is already up and running – then you’ll no doubt have a plan. Business plans are essential for any company, big or small, and there is plenty of information about how they should look and what they must include.

Marketing usually forms a part of that plan. But, many businesses often overlook a specific marketing plan.

A marketing plan isn’t about how you’ll find funding or what your grand plans are, but about how you will get customers; how you’ll get from A to B; and how you’ll start earning money.

But what should you include in a marketing plan? We’ve put together seven essential elements to help ensure your plan is as effective as possible.

See also: Understanding how to reach new audiences with your rural business

  1. Your goals

Before you do anything with your marketing plan, you need to know what you hope to achieve with it.

What’s its purpose? What are your plans for the business? Where do you want to get to with your marketing plan?

As always, try and set goals that are SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. Basically, try and be focused and realistic about your goals – don’t go with over-the-top ambition just yet.

Instead, focus on where you’d like to be in a year or two’s time. What’s possible if you really put your mind to it?

Once you’ve set your goals, make sure you understand them. Think about what those goals mean in purely financial terms, like turnover and profit. And then focus on what the consequences of achieving them (or not) will be.

Will they help you get to the next stage of your business? Will they let you take on additional staff? Will they mean your business struggles for another year?

When you have answers to questions like these, you’ll be focused on getting a successful marketing plan in place.

  1. Your target audience

Next, you need to know who your target audience is – and be prepared to be specific. If you want to market your product or business idea effectively, you’ll need to know exactly who you want to be selling it to.

See also: Identifying your target customer

Focus on the personas of your audience – what is your ideal customer like? What do they do, where do they get information from, what do they think about? If you can identify their pain points and learn how to reach out to them, you’re on to a winner.

Try and avoid saying your audience is ‘everyone’. That won’t help you. Dig deeper, and segment your audience if you have to into age groups, interests, requirements – anything that might separate one group of people from another.

  1. Your current situation

When you’re ready to get started with your actual marketing, how will you know what’s successful and what isn’t?

Before you do anything, you need to analyse your current situation, measure any areas of your business you can, and set benchmarks. If you know how many items you sell in a month for example, or how many website visitors you have per day, you can then track if that number increases or decreases with your marketing efforts.

Measurement is vital for any marketing plan to be effective.

You might want to draw on your business plan here, including any SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) or competitor analyses that you’ve completed. (And if you haven’t done these, they’re a great addition to have in your tool box.)

  1. Your story

An effective marketing plan should also contain information or details about you. You and your business.

Who are you? What’s your personality? Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why do you want to diversify and do something different, and what is it you can bring to the table?

See also: Which marketing channels are best for your rural business

A compelling story will help you stand out from your competition, and a good, consistent tone of voice will help you start to build a strong brand for your business.

A tone of voice is also essential for the next part of your marketing plan.

  1. Your messages

To put your marketing plan into action, you need to know what you’ll be talking about.

What are your core messages? What will a customer get from you that makes it worth their while?

Remember, we’re all ultimately self-interested, and we want to know what’s in it for us. So any messages you use should be focused on the benefits to your customer.

They need to be consistent. Make sure you and all your staff know what your USPs and your main messages are, and how to use them. Knowing how you’re going to talk to your audience will help make the rest of your marketing much smoother.

  1. Your resources

Another essential element of a marketing plan is your resources. What do you have on-hand, and what do you need?

Your budget is going to be important here. Marketing is an investment on an opportunity. It’s not a cost, but there are costs associated if you want it to be effective and successful. So think about what you can spend on marketing, and what that should bring you in return.

Other resources to consider include both time and skills. Think about who will be running or managing your marketing, and whether that will be split into different areas.

Do you and/or your staff have the time to take on additional marketing duties? And perhaps more importantly, do you have the skills to do them effectively?

If not, you might need to include the hiring of someone else in your budget and resources list.

  1. Your actions

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, your marketing plan should get stuck into the strategies and tactics you’re going to use to promote your business.

What are you actually going to do to reach out to your potential audience and sell to them?

You should think about what you might need (e.g. images, product shots, a website, a logo) and how you will advertise (online, in targeted publications, in the post etc.).

Then, as with your goals, you need to get specific about your actions. What exactly do you need to do, by when? Get everything you possibly can into your marketing plan.

Because the main secret to an effective marketing plan is actually just having one and sticking to it.

It doesn’t need to be complicated and you don’t need to spend ages agonising over it. In fact, you should keep it simple. But do spend an hour or two to get everything down onto paper, so you can make it count.

Then you have a solid plan to follow.

We’ve drawn up a simple PDF blueprint of an effective marketing plan for you to use to get started. Just download it here and fill in the blanks.

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