Your 101 Guide to Building a Marketing Plan for Your Small Business

Marketing plan for small business owners

So you’re starting your business from home – congratulations! Now it’s time to share what you do with the world and start marketing your small business. Creating and executing a successful marketing strategy is what will help build awareness among your potential audience, prompt them to choose your products or services over your competitors, and ultimately become loyal customers. Let’s begin with this 101 marketing guide.

Establish your goals

The options for marketing your business are endless. A good strategy is about what activities you decide not to do, as well as what you decide to do. That’s why the first step is to get really clear about what you’re trying to achieve. Some typical objectives to work toward are:

  • Build brand awareness
  • Increase sales
  • Increase customer value

Ensure you make your targets SMART goals (goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely). For instance, if you focus on increasing sales, the SMART goal might be to increase sales by 20% within 6 months.

Choose one goal you want to work toward, and concentrate your efforts and budget on achieving that goal. Once you’re seeing traction in that area, you can introduce another goal, and consider activities that may help you achieve it.

Identify your target market

Your ability to clearly define the customers who will buy into your offering is essential to your success. You can determine your target market through both qualitative and quantitative research. Begin by reading market research papers on your sector, which will help you understand the size and whereabouts of your target market. Then, look at your competitors’ customers and consider how you can learn from them – you may check out product reviews, or interview someone you know who’s a ‘lookalike’ to your target market.

Here’s a series of questions to help define your customer ‘persona’, the person that will purchase your product or service. This exercise will inform the marketing channels you choose and your messaging.

  • Define the demographic of your customer. For example:
    • Where is your customer located?
    • How old are they?
    • What’s their gender identity?
    • What do they do for work?
    • What’s their income?
  • Understand your customer’s behaviour. For example:
    • How does your customer make purchase decisions?
    • Who is influential in their lives?
    • What worries them?
    • What excites them?

Conduct a competitive analysis

Before you begin marketing it’s important to understand who else is doing what you’re doing, from a product, pricing, location and promotion point of view. Look at other brands online and look for the following when assessing your competition:

  • What’s the price of the product or service?
  • What’s the quality of the product of service?
  • What are the key benefits that are communicated?
  • What was the experience of interacting with the product or service? How did the business meet your expectations?
  • What customer is the business appealing to and where is their focus location?
  • How is the brand amplifying their message and attracting customers?

Answers to these questions will help you build your business model and marketing plan.

Articulate your unique selling proposition

When you know what other businesses are out there, you can see how you differ – and what you want to highlight that you do differently. This is called your unique selling proposition (USP) – and it’s all about what you can do better than anyone else. You should be able to sum up this proposition in a short sentence. For example, FedEx’s original USP was ‘When it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight’ – highlighting a problem that can be solved with their product. Another example from Tiffany & Co. is ‘The right one is worth waiting for’, communicating romance and desirability in their USP.

This deceivingly simple exercise requires time and attention. Your USP is the basis for your key marketing message.

Develop your pricing strategy

Pricing your goods and services is an important consideration when building your marketing plan. There are three ways businesses typically price their product:

  1. Competition-led: Where do you want to sit alongside your competitors?
  2. Cost-led: How much does it cost to produce your product or service?
  3. Value-led: What is the price your customer is willing to pay for your product?

Your pricing model will determine your positioning within the market. Are you at the higher or more expensive end of the market, where you could focus on the quality and longevity of your product? Or highlight the exemplary attention-to-detail within your service? Pricing your products too high (or too low!) may repel your target customer so choose your price position, and your communication about the price, carefully.

Choose your marketing channels

Where did you say your customers hang out? Are they professionals constantly checking their email? Are they early adopters addicted to TikTok? Maybe they’re baby boomers connecting with old school friends on Facebook, or perhaps they love traditional media like magazines. For examples of brands that get their audience, channel and message just right (and wrong!), check out industry resources like Fast Company’s video series Brand Hit & Miss of the Week.

Choosing your marketing channels is all about understanding where your target audience gets their information, what form it’s in, and what influences them to make a purchase. Here are some marketing channels that you may decide to focus on:

  • Email: Email marketing is sending emails directly to your audience about your product and content that relates to your product or the mission of your business. You can send one-off or automated campaigns with a discount code, for instance, or monthly newsletters.
  • Social media: You can leverage both organic and paid social media posts to communicate about your product and related content, and provide direct links to your website to purchase. Building brand partnerships is a good way to grow your audience, for instance doing a bundled giveaway with your product and other products on Instagram or Facebook.
  • Online search: Make it easy for your potential customers to find you online! You can pay to bump your business higher up on Google search results lists, as well as continuing to post relevant content to the blog on your website.
  • Press: Press can be in the form of online or print in a newspaper or magazine. Press requires cold reach-outs with a great story to share, and building relationships over time for ongoing features.

Plan your marketing budget

After you establish your fixed costs and other variable costs, you can determine how much you can spend on marketing. Typically businesses spend anywhere from 5 to 15% of their revenue on marketing, which may start out higher in the beginning and reduce as you learn how to optimise your channels. A launching marketing budget may consist of a range of content creation, platform fees and amplification or advertising spend, which can vary each month. For example:

  • Product photography (eg. per product and product launches)
  • Content creation (eg. per written blogs, videos, infographics)
  • Email service provider fees (usually an ongoing expense)
  • Social post scheduler fees (usually an ongoing expense)
  • Social ad spend (can be increased or decreased depending on performance)

Each of the digital platforms you use may have options for integration and will have analytics tools for you to assess the performance of your marketing activities. After a few weeks or months of activity you’ll be able to compare your marketing spend to your sales (which defines your ROI or Return On Investment) and ensure the metrics align with your marketing goals.

Starting your own business is satisfying but marketing your business is when you’ll know if you’ve got a good small business idea or not. The clearer you are about your marketing goals, audience and channels, the further you’ll stretch your marketing dollars and quicker you’ll see results. Don’t forget to watch the performance closely, and double down or pivot on what is and isn’t working!