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It’s not uncommon to jump into entrepreneurship and experiment with marketing tactics along the way. Perhaps you send promotional emails from time to time or occasionally post to your Facebook account. You may see some success with this approach, but it is difficult to grow your business with haphazard marketing.

Maybe you launched your business without a solid strategy and you’re having trouble promoting your offerings or scaling your marketing tactics. It’s never too late to get on the right track with a solid marketing plan. After being featured on Season 2 of Small Business Revolution — Main Street, Roland and Megan Hems of Hems Truck and Auto in Bristol Borough, Pennsylvania, revamped their marketing approach and are now reaching more prospects than ever. Read on to see how the Hemses (pictured above) developed a successful marketing plan for their business — and how you can do the same.

What’s a marketing plan and why do you need one?

A marketing plan is specifically focused on how you promote, sell and advertise your offerings, and serves as a roadmap for marketing your products or services. Your marketing plan keeps your business on the path to success.

Creating a marketing plan helps you determine:

  • How you’re going to reach your target customers
  • How to communicate what makes your business stand out
  • What you hope to accomplish with each phase of your marketing
  • Which steps you will take and which tools you will use to introduce and distribute your products or services

As you develop your plan, you will begin to see the factors that contribute to your business’s growth. With your plan in front of you throughout the year, you can make strategic decisions based on research and your company goals, rather than simply trying out new tactics at random and hoping that they bring in sales.

What’s the difference between a marketing strategy and a marketing plan?

People often use the terms interchangeably, and admittedly there are some overlaps between the two. But a marketing plan differs from a marketing strategy.

A marketing strategy is where you document your unique selling proposition, your target audience and your marketing goals. What do you want your marketing to actually accomplish? Your marketing strategy should align with your overarching business goals. Use this free worksheet to document your marketing strategy, step by step.

On the other hand, a marketing plan is where you document the actual tools and channels that you’ll use to achieve the marketing goals you laid out in the marketing strategy. If one of your goals is to expand your online reach by a certain percentage, your marketing plan may describe how you’ll use a combination of website improvements, social media posts and updated online listings to achieve that goal.

How to start building a small business marketing plan

Creating a marketing plan can seem daunting. It helps to begin the process by taking stock of your current marketing situation and determining what your marketing objectives are, assuming you haven’t already documented them in a marketing strategy.

Like a lot of mechanics and auto shop owners, theowners of Hems Truck and Auto relied on word of mouth and referrals to promote their services. And while Roland was known in his town for the quality work he did, the shop just wasn’t bringing in enough new customers. After ten years in business, the shop was still experiencing first-year problems. The Hemses were struggling financially and unable to give themselves paychecks or manage their cash flow. They also didn’t have a clear sense of who they were as a business or a brand, and were spreading themselves thin by offering too many services.

Roland and Megan assessed their marketing strategy and acknowledged that it wasn’t delivering the results they were after. So, working with Deluxe they established a series of specific marketing goals that included increasing their online presence, attracting new customers and encouraging existing customers to return to the shop for ongoing maintenance.

In addition to the Hemses’ goals of increasing an online presence, attracting new customers and encouraging repeat business, other common marketing objectives for small businesses include:

  • Building brand recognition: Using tactics and tools such as logo design, branded packaging and social media to make sure people know about your business.
  • Improving customer relationships: Keeping customers satisfied and earning their loyalty by engaging with them online and sending out surveys to find out what you can do to improve customer service.
  • Increasing sales: Finding the right mix of marketing tools and services to get your promotions in front of your target audience, attract new customers and demonstrate why people should do business with you.
  • Increasing web traffic: Using SEO, email marketing, social media ad and other marketing techniques to direct more visitors to your website.

How many goals is too many goals?

The number of objectives you choose to pursue will be determined by your business’s needs and your bandwidth. You may be tempted to tackle every possible marketing goal, but by taking on too much too quickly, you could end up burning out. To set yourself up for success, your goals should be reasonable and you should give yourself a realistic amount of time to accomplish them.

Once you know where you are with your marketing and what you hope to do, you will have a better idea of what tools and resources you should use to promote your business.

Finding the right balance may involve some trial and error, but consider those learning experiences that pay off over time.

Finding the right marketing tools

Now that your strategy is set, what tools will you use? From social media and email marketing to print and promotional products, there are a number of marketing tools and channels available to you. Depending on the industry you’re in and what you’re hoping to accomplish, some tactics may be better suited to your needs than others.

For example, an auto repair shop like Hems would need to make sure that it could be found online by local searchers. Auto service or repair is often needed at unexpected times and in unexpected locations, so many people search online for mechanics based on proximity, using terms like “auto shop near me.” To increase their own online visibility, the Hemses sought the help of a website design and search marketing provider — Deluxe.

The Deluxe designers built Hems a new mobile-friendly website that could be viewed by potential customers from their phones. The shop’s online listings on directory sites like Yelp and Google were also standardized and optimized to better appear on search engines like Google and Bing. That process involved adding their website URL, a list of services, relevant photos, consistent contact information and clear business hours to their online listings, so visitors would have all the information they would need to reach out.

To help meet their other marketing goals, Roland and Megan received professional assistance from Deluxe for creating a social media plan, as well as a newly designed logo that would improve their brand image. Along with that, the Deluxe team provided branded collateral — printed items like business cards and appointment reminders — that would keep the shop top of mind with customers.

Three months after establishing their new marketing plan, Hems had received 4,000 views online from people searching for automotive services. Traffic to the business’s Yelp page has increased and so have the number of inquiries they’re receiving.

When you determine which marketing channels will work best for your business, you may discover that you do not have the expertise or time to tackle everything. In that case, don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals for help. Part of creating an effective marketing plan and strategy is determining which tasks you can handle on your own — and which should be outsourced.

Create your own marketing plan

Now that you understand what a marketing plan can do for your business, begin working on your own. Use the information below to start writing your plan. To get you moving in the right direction, we’ll walk you through the essential elements of a strong marketing plan and show you how Hems Truck and Auto would approach each section.

Executive summary

This is a summary of all of the information in your plan, giving you and any other partners or employees an overview of what you are going to do. Because you will need to include information from the other sections of the plan here, this can be completed last.

Hems’ executive summary would briefly recap their goals: finding cost-effective ways to promote their services, bringing in new customers and earning repeat business. Then, they would give a high-level explanation of the steps they plan to take to reach their goals: expand promotional tactics beyond referrals, improve the brand’s image and build an online presence.

Importantly, this section is where you explain how you will measure success. For Hems, success is measured by the number of new clients, Google views, traffic to their Yelp page and revenue.

Products and services

What do you offer your customers? Are you a retailer? What products do you sell? Are you a restaurant? What do you serve? If you offer a professional service, describe it.

In this section, Hems would not only identify the type of business they are — full-service auto repair shop — but also list all of the services that they offer.

Target customer

Identify your ideal customer, including demographic information (e.g. gender, location, age), psychographic information (e.g. attitudes, interests, emotions) and their needs as a consumer. If you have already created a marketing strategy, this information should be right at your fingertips.

After doing research into the way people typically search online for auto repair shops, the Hemses learned that search terms like “auto shop near me” are commonly used. This helped them determine that their target audience is local — people living in Bristol Borough and the surrounding area. They also wanted to connect with former customers to encourage repeat business, and connect with people who had bad experiences with other mechanics and were looking for a new auto shop.

Competitor analysis

Which companies are targeting a similar audience as you or offering similar products or services? How are they marketing to their customers? Your competitors are already most likely listed on your marketing strategy document. Now it’s time to see what they’re doing with their marketing.

You can begin this process by doing a simple Google search. Hems would look at competing auto repair shops in the Bristol Borough area. Then, look at their website and online reviews. What colors are they using in their logo and website design? How are they communicating to prospective customers? How are they being described in testimonials or on Yelp? What seems to be working for them and what isn’t? Describe all of this information here as it will inform your own approach to promoting your business. Once you’ve done that, you may even want to visit your competitors or give them a call and ask about their offerings. For Hems, it was important to see which services their competitors were offering and how those services were being described, so that they could build an online presence that would capture the attention of their target audience.

Unique selling proposition

What makes your business stand out from the competition? How do you serve the target customers you identified above? How will you communicate that? Again, this can be lifted directly from your marketing strategy document. Here, you’ll be using it to guide the way you communicate your unique selling proposition via your various marketing channels.

Hems was able to identify a few differentiators that made them stand apart from other auto repair shops in the area. In addition to offering friendly, affordable service, they are certified to work on hy-rail vehicles and they perform fleet maintenance and repair.

Pricing and positioning strategy

How will you position your business in your market, and how will your pricing complement that positioning? If you’re positioning yourself as a luxury brand, for example, your pricing shouldn’t be too low.

It was important for Hems to position themselves as an affordable auto repair option for the community. But they also needed to make sure that they were generating enough revenue to continue operations and live comfortably. They developed a pricing strategy that wasn’t exorbitant — which they determined by researching industry standards — but that accounted for the high-quality of service they offer.

Marketing goals

List specific and measurable goals, such as increasing web traffic, generating leads or increasing email subscribers.

The goals listed in the executive summary will be expounded upon here. For example, Hems wants to improve their brand image. In this section, they would get more specific about describing that goal, explaining that they want to design a new logo that would appeal to their target customers and could be used across all of their marketing materials.

Distribution channels

This is the heart of your marketing plan! Which sales channels will you use to reach potential clients? What have you tried in the past that worked? What new marketing channels will you add? Examples include social media, a website, and email marketing.

Here, write your marketing roadmap that guides all of your marketing efforts. Which marketing channels (such as social media, print or events, to name a few) will you use to communicate with your target audience? What have you used in the past that you will continue leveraging?

Hems had originally been relying on referrals alone to promote the shop. Now, they would include referrals (which are still a source of business), but go on to describe the additional channels that they planned to use going forward: a business website and online directories.

Hems’ distribution channels would focus on using Facebook, Instagram, a new website, online listings and branded collateral to deliver their marketing messages to prospective customers.

Yearly marketing budget

How much money will you devote to marketing? This will differ from business to business, but a younger business will likely need to spend more on marketing than a more established business that has been operating successfully for five or more years. Generally, new businesses should be spending 12-20 percent of their gross revenue on marketing while older businesses typically devote 6-12 percent of their gross revenue to marketing.

If you don’t know how much to budget for marketing, consult outside help. The Hemses determined how much they should be spending by getting help from a financial adviser.

Action steps

How will you execute on your plan? Along with your distribution channels above, the action steps are one of the most crucial parts of your plan. List the immediate and longer-term steps that you will be taking and your timeline.

For Hems, these steps included:

  • Design a new, eye-catching logo
  • Build a website that showcases the company’s brand personality and services
  • Update online directory listings, making sure all contact information is accurate and optimized
  • Print branded collateral such as business cards, pens and keychains that can be given to customers to encourage repeat business and word-of-mouth-buzz
  • Update social media pages and optimize all copy and images

They planned to assess where they were and what they had accomplished after three months.

Don’t rush it

Filling out your marketing plan will take time and careful consideration. But when you add structure to your marketing efforts, it will be easier to see what’s working for you and what isn’t, and what you need to do to generate more sales or attract new customers. You may also find that having a plan changes the way you view your business. After upgrading their marketing, Megan says that Hems is starting to feel like a “real shop, and customers, vendors and locals are treating us accordingly now, too.”

It’s time to do the same for your business.

Not a marketer? Not a problem.

This downloadable guide covers marketing in 8 easy-to-understand sections — each filled with professional tips and advice you can put into practice right away.