If you want to grow your business, you have to plan for growth. That starts with crafting a comprehensive marketing plan.

While several companies offer marketing plan development software for purchase, many small businesses don’t need, or have time to learn how to use, these overly robust applications. This is especially true when marketing funds are limited. Instead, you can take advantage of these free tools to create a formidable marketing strategy:

1. Vital Design’s comprehensive guide to creating a marketing plan

vital logoFor the business owner who hasn’t worked with a marketing plan before, Vital Design’s step-by-step guide may be the best place to start. This comprehensive guide, true to its name, explains the process of completing a marketing plan in methodical, easy-to-follow prose. There’s also an accompanying slide deck that breaks down the information in bite-sized pieces. Vital’s guide includes tips on:

  • Researching and structuring your marketing plan
  • Setting goals
  • Understanding your unique selling proposition (USP)
  • Measuring success by tracking key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Understanding when to adjust your marketing plan

Vital heavily stresses the importance of research when creating a marketing plan. As their guide says, “If you don’t know who you are, what you’re selling or who you’re selling to, you’re going to have a pretty hard time convincing people to buy your product or service.”

2. Marketing Donut’s marketing plan template

marketing donut logoMarketing Donut is part of a larger suite of resources Donut makes available to businesses across multiple industries. Through how-to guides, feature articles, checklists, Q&As, FAQs, case studies, video content, blogs and downloadable resources, UK-based Donut helps businesses start up and run smoothly. Their downloadable marketing plan template is a comprehensive tool designed to walk you through the following:

  • Understanding your market and identifying market opportunities
  • Determining the best marketing channels to use
  • Creating and reviewing a marketing action plan

3. Brainrider’s B2B marketing budget planning tool

Brainrider logoSetting your marketing budget is a key part of creating an overall marketing plan. This free, downloadable tool, developed by marketing automation expert Brainrider, incorporates key marketing benchmarks as set by Forrester Research. (Businesses must submit their contact information to download the tool.) By default, the interactive tool allocates your marketing budget along generalized parameters. Change your annual revenue or any of the marketing line items to adjust your budget accordingly. Although the tool is not specific to any particular industry, the guidance is valuable for nearly any business developing a marketing plan.

4. Marketing Plan NOW’s guided marketing plan template

MarketingPlanNOWlogoMarketing Plan NOW is a full-featured website that empowers you to create a complete marketing plan for free. It also offers several resources such as a marketing plan glossary. The guided marketing plan template walks you through the process of creating a marketing plan, step by step. Along the way, videos and other tools help explain the process. Once your plan is done, you’re able to share it with the Marketing Plan NOW community.

5. Smartsheet’s marketing plan template

smartsheet logoSmartsheet is a cloud-based spreadsheet tool that boasts much of the functionality of Microsoft Excel. It’s free to set up an account and create multiple spreadsheets that you and your team can share and collaborate on. For entrepreneurs who may already have some experience with creating a marketing plan, Smartsheet’s one-page template makes it easy to plot out a new plan, tally its projected costs and track results. The template includes a variety of marketing channels:

  • National and local advertising
  • Public relations
  • Content marketing
  • Social media
  • Various digital marketing channels

For additional convenience, the template is available on Smartsheet’s cloud-based platform or as a downloadable Excel file.

By taking advantage of these free resources, a small business owner or marketer with even the most limited budget can begin strategizing and marketing like a seasoned professional.

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.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and relevance.

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