How many times have you found yourself suffering a nasty case of the “shoulds?” Most of us are far too familiar with how those ruminating thoughts work, especially when we’re new to entrepreneurship or leading a growing company. They sound something like this:
“I know I should have someone develop a better website for my professional services business.”
“I know I should be sending out an email newsletter to my clients and prospects.”
“I know I should have a networking strategy on LinkedIn and other social media platforms.”
“I know I should focus my marketing dollars on one or two ideal target markets.”
“I know I should be growing my contact list.”
“Ugh, I know I should stop procrastinating.”
Yet, as much as we know we “should” do these things, time always manages to have its sneaky way with us. Not only does marketing come to a standstill, even worse, it means our sales pipeline is destined to dry up. There’s nothing ideal about watching our income go up and down like a roller coaster at Six Flags, but that’s exactly what happens when we neglect to strategically plan our marketing activities for the year.
What’s the single most important reason your consulting, recruiting or any other kind of professional services business needs a written marketing plan?
Because failing to plan is planning to fail. Period.
If you want your business to not only survive, but also grow, you need a marketing plan or road map to guide you. It needs to be on paper, targeted, scheduled and committed to above all other activities. I recognize that very few go into self-employment to focus on marketing. It ranks up there with accounting and buying insurance—chores that confuse us at best, and scare us at worst.
But just like you can hire an accountant to navigate QuickBooks, you can hire a marketer to help you plan and execute a marketing strategy custom designed for your business, budget and revenue goals. If you’re up for the challenge, however, I wholeheartedly believe most small business owners can develop their own marketing strategy, and then create a working calendar that holds you accountable to your marketing commitment month after month. The real question is whether or not you have time.
What’s included in a strategic marketing plan?
Unlike a business plan, a marketing plan usually comes together quickly and is often only a few pages long. It starts with a brief description of your services and annual goals. Be careful not to overthink the latter. Just think about this: “If I accomplished X, I’d be really proud of myself and my team.” Once you have a clear vision of the year’s goals, everything else is designed to inch you closer towards achieving them.
The next section of your marketing strategy needs to include an honest assessment of your current situation. Things such as:
- A competitive analysis.
- The company’s strengths and potential weaknesses.
- Your ideal target market(s).
- Any current marketing, branding or promotion strategies and results.
- Your unique selling proposition. What do you offer that your competition doesn’t? How is it better? Can you prove it?
Now that you’re clear on where your business currently stands, and where you’d like it to be, you can develop a marketing strategy that includes:
- Marketing tactics that will drive sales leads to your business such as inbound and outbound marketing activities, advertising, thought leadership, email marketing, social media marketing, etc.
- Client referral and retention programs.
- A strategic partnership program.
- The financial commitment.
- Technology and skill gaps that would prevent a marketing tactic from being developed and executed, i.e. website development.
- The people who are accountable for each program.
The final element your marketing strategy needs to include—unless money is no object—is a plan for measuring results. While some marketing programs are long-term commitments that ultimately increase brand awareness and drive leads, others should bring immediate results or be dropped. Spend wisely.
Without execution, a marketing plan is worthless.
Now that you have a well-written strategic marketing plan, you need to format it in such a way that makes it useful. I suggest a simple marketing calendar using Microsoft Excel. Here’s a sample of one that I use and would be happy to share with you. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy of the Excel file.
Notice that the plan includes the following elements:
- Marketing tactic by category (website, email marketing, direct mail, PR, etc.)
- Frequency of distribution
- The person responsible for the tactic
- The result and ROI for each tactic
While the spreadsheet can turn out to be a beast of a document that you may never print, it does organize your marketing strategy into a working plan that you can simply execute month after month. Goodbye excuses and procrastination and hello brand awareness, sales leads and income.
How do you choose a marketer to help if you don’t want to tackle a marketing strategy on your own?
I’ll admit that developing a marketing plan isn’t rocket science. The information you’ll need is published all over the Internet and in books. But finding time to prepare one and conjuring up creative ideas to get your service in front of your ideal target market, at the right times, in the right ways, isn’t an easy task. If you’re ready to seek the services of a professional marketing consultant, look for one who specializes in your industry. The ideas will be more relevant, which means the chances of success increase and the frustrations of trying to teach an outsider your business decrease.
There’s inherent risk in depending on your business to provide a steady income stream. No marketing strategy can guarantee success, but it definitely makes the ride a little safer when you know you’re doing everything you can to market your services effectively and efficiently.
Need hands-on help with your marketing?
Real go-getters, Traverser Marketing supports start-ups, small businesses and well-established organizations in reaching their goals and fulfilling their missions by developing and executing dynamic marketing programs that deliver. Not an expensive marketing agency, we’re experienced, passionate and creative professionals who enjoy helping people succeed. Call 404.850.0586 or email Kristen@traversermarketing.com.