December is National Write a Business Plan Month, so designated to encourage unhappy employees to become their own satisfied bosses. Whether your goal is to own your own business, become a consultant, a speaker or an author, you'll need to start with a business plan.
Even if you launched your business years ago, it's important to revisit and refresh your plan. In recent years, the economy, technology and consumer habits have changed rapidly and dramatically, affecting every aspect of your business. That makes it absolutely vital to re-evaluate your short- and long-term strategies.
One of the most critical elements of any business plan is your marketing strategy. Too often, people don't think through that all-important component with the same rigor they tackle aspects like projected cash flow and long-term goals.
Or, they do put thought and effort into planning for market research, promotion and positioning and then never follow through on their great ideas.
One problem is that most entrepreneurs (or professionals or authors) don't have marketing experience. They may be skilled tradesmen, savvy financial advisers or talented writers, the expertise they plan to build their business around but they're not marketers. Some don't realize that executing a solid marketing strategy is essential to any venture's success; others know it's important but don't know where to begin.
Here's why it's so important: You may have the book that changes the way business is done, or the product that solves a problem for lots of consumers, but if no one knows about it, they can't come looking for it. Marketing is the fundamental building block of any business; it's what drives the business, so it can't be an afterthought.
The marketing component of your business plan should include a budget for time (if you're going to tackle the job yourself) and/or money. You need a timetable and a professional website that attracts visitors and makes it easy for them to learn more about you, your product, book or service and equally easy to purchase what you're selling.
Here are some other points to consider as you're developing your marketing plan:
• What is my message? Your message needs to be more than "My product is great." What's the problem it solves? If you're a professional, what's the value you and your service offer? How are you different from your competition? As an example: At EMSI, we create visibility and credibility for our clients using a pay-for-performance model that guarantees media exposure and sets us apart from our peers.
• Who is my audience? Unless you have a niche product, consider your potential audience in terms of ever-expanding ripples. For instance, a collapsible coffeepot may be just the thing for a college student's tiny dorm room. That's your initial target audience. But his parents and grandparents, who are helping outfit that dorm room, might also be audiences. If they've downsized their living quarters, they might just want one for themselves, too. In fact, it could be great for campers, boaters - anyone living in a small space.
• Which are the appropriate media outlets for a PR campaign? Social media is great for niche products because online forums build communities around common interests. Daytime TV talk shows tend to have audiences with lots of women. Most newspaper readers are now 55 or older. Once you have decided who your audience is, figure out what they're watching, listening to, reading, and doing online, and then customize your message for that medium and audience.
• What's your budget? When you've answered these questions, you should be able to determine how much marketing you can do yourself (if you'll be doing any at all) and how much you'll need help with. If you're handling it yourself, budget for the time it will take to do things like keeping your website active with fresh blog posts once or twice a week; posting content on social media; developing pitches to get print, radio or TV interested. If you plan to pay a professional for marketing services, use your marketing plan to explore the costs and timetable, and budget accordingly.
Whether you're launching a dream or strengthening your existing business, you need to lay a good foundation with a solid plan. If marketing isn't an important component of that plan, your rocket to the moon will likely fizzle and fade.