In my work with more than 4,000 start-up clients over the past twenty five years I have noticed a recurring pattern – many of these new entrepreneurs have set a financial goal they want to achieve their first year in business, but they haven’t committed to writing a detailed description of how they intend to achieve this result.
The process of doing so is known in the business planning process as “marketing planning”. Technology-oriented businesses often title this work as creating “the business model”.
Marketing planning can be slighted in the start-up planning process because it is not a “lock and load” organizational task such as legal registration or opening the business bank account, where you are given limited options for taking action. Marketing planning demands some careful thought and evaluation.
Here are three steps you can use to help get started in your marketing planning:
Organize Your Knowledge
You must organize the knowledge you have gained from your past work into “bite sized morsels”. I know that this may sound a bit out of date, but I still find index cards to be a very useful tool here – you write one fact, resource, or strategy idea per card. You can then organize them by category, such as “market research”, “pricing”, “competition” et al. I like to use different colored markers to mark the upper right corner of the card to permit quick identification.
I lay the cards out on a large table and sort them by color code. I have my tablet computer at hand while doing this, with a marketing plan outline open on the screen.
Using the plan outline headings as a guide I type in information from the index cards that correspond to each specific category. I often use bullet points initially in order to quickly get text into the outline. You can easily move around, reorganize and elongate text as you go along.
Add In Market Research
Chances are good that no matter how detailed your knowledge is of your chosen business concept, that you may lack statistical data that helps supports your strategy. For example, it can be very useful to determine how many potential customers there are in your chosen marketplace for the product or service you intend to offer. An example is finding out how many registered drivers there are in your metropolitan area when you are going to offer a high end car detailing service. You can often obtain this type of information from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
Check the Web
No matter what product or service you wish to offer, chances are very good that potential customers search for information on your product or service category by using an online search tool, such as Google or Yahoo.
So, it makes sense that to understand better the value of your existing knowledge you need to compare what you know with what information and knowledge is being shared by other websites focused on your area of work.
Quite honestly, after you have done particular work for many years you can sometimes feel that you grasp everything important to be known about the subject.
A web search can open your eyes to the fact that there are other very experienced and competent service providers out there – and they’re already available online!
Commit an hour or so to surfing the top ten search results showing for your chosen search phrase. Click the search link to reach each website and pretend that you are a prospective customer as you proceed through the site. Make notes on what you see in each site as you go!
What you learn online will give you a new, more expanded view of what you think you already know.
After you invest a few hours in using these three steps and recording the resulting strategic thinking in a word processing document, you will find a real sense of accomplishment that will give you the confidence to keep moving forward with your marketing planning.
One last note – an effective marketing plan is a dynamic document, which means that you are continually fine-tuning it as your try out various parts of your marketing strategy during your first year in business. This is not like a college term paper where there was a deadline to be done with your writing. So, don’t be too hard on yourself if your marketing plan narrative doesn’t flow as smoothly as you would like on your first try. Just return to your written plan from time to time to add new information and new results.