what's your marketing plan A business plan helps map out the direction for your small business and a well-executed marketing plan helps you understand how to get there. By providing detailed steps on ways to create brand awareness, increase sales and solidify customer relationships. You may not have a lot of time or the funds to create an extensive marketing strategy – but that does not mean you can’t create an effective one. A study by Marketo shows that companies with a documented marketing plan are likely to be satisfied with their marketing efforts. Slightly more than one-third of the companies polled still don’t have a marketing plan in place.

Take a look at these five ways to lay the foundation for a solid marketing plan:

Define your objectives.

It’s very easy for small businesses to place “selling more products and/or services” as their top marketing goal. However, don’t miss out on other opportunities such as building an online presence through blogging and social media, or nurturing prospective customers through excellent customer service.

 Create a customer profile.

An important component of any successful marketing plan is uncovering and creating a detailed profile of your customer. You can do this in a variety of ways, such as by researching buying habits, considering customer’s wants and needs and identifying various social platforms that they visit. You need to know who will buy your product or service and focus on a target population that makes up the bulk of your buyers. Remember to never stereotype and make assumptions about potential buyers; this is one of many roadblocks to growing your business.

Figure out what triggers consumers to buy.

People don’t whip out their wallets for just any product. Something creates the sense of urgency and results in a customer deciding to make a purchase. That something makes this very moment the time for a customer to open his or her wallet. This could be during tax season, so a seasonal reason; it could be for convenience, or maybe a special promotion. Identify the circumstances and the buying criteria that surrounded those circumstances. Does the customer want something fast and cheap? Or is the customer seeking out quality and durability and willing to pay a little extra money?

Establish a timeline.

Take a look at what you are selling and understand the time frame you have to convert a customer. This will help you lay out your marketing campaign to align with your prospects decision-making process. If you are selling food, you need quick sales and assertive techniques. If you are selling financial services, it’s a slower process founded on trust where a “sale” will likely last several years.

Identify where customers find details about your products and/or services.

Find out where your prospective buyers find their information. This is an important step; it points you in the direction to go for reputation building and the opportunity to advertise. Are there websites that allow you to submit your product or service for review? Do your customers head to Facebook or Google to see what others are saying about you? Make sure you know what is being said about your business and take the time to build connections with the press and monitor your social media accounts.

A marketing plan can be written down and followed – but it is never completely finished. Your marketing tactics will gradually evolve alongside the product or service you are selling, so make changes as needed to keep your business thriving.

What steps did you take to make an effective marketing plan for your small business?