Exactly what is a marketing plan and why is so important to have one? What goes into the plan and what’s the difference between your strategy and your tactics? Do you need a full document or can you write your plan on flipchart pages?
In this episode
In this 30-minute episode of Essential Business Radio, first broadcast on Radio Reverb but still very relevant for today’s business owners, Dee Blick, owner of The Marketing Gym and award-winning author and Natalie Page, director of Page Marketing tell you how to create a marketing plan that will work for you and your business. Listen now:
Books by Dee Blick:
- Powerful Marketing on a Shoestring Budget: For Small Businesses
- The Ultimate Small Business Marketing Book
- The Essential Marketing Masterclasses for Your Small Business
For more marketing ideas, sign up for our weekly Essential Business Nudges – quick tips to help you build your skills and build your business.
About today’s guests
Julie Stanford: Hello again. I’m Julie Stanford, and welcome again to Essential Business Radio. With me this time to discuss the challenge of marketing your business are two experts – Natalie Page, owner of Page Marketing, and Dee Blick, award winning author and owner of the Marketing Gym. I’ll start with you Natalie. Tell us a bit about Page Marketing and the kind of clients you work with, if you don’t mind.
Natalie Page: Sure, well I’ve been freelance for five years, and I actually did a count up the other day of all the companies I’ve worked with. It’s 80 companies! It’s like, “Wow! I have been busy!”. Complete variety of people from one man bands up to people with quite a few staff. What I love about the businesses is the people within it. That’s what makes a business for me, and that’s who I love working with. Their passion, their excitement for their business just makes for an enjoyable working relationship.
Julie Stanford: Well that’s good to hear, because that means then it doesn’t matter which sector you’re in.
Natalie Page: No.
Julie Stanford: It’s the people that … their passion drives your passion, I suppose in some ways.
Natalie Page: Absolutely, although if there is any people out there that have a shoe company, and they want someone to help with their marketing, I am your woman.
Julie Stanford: So you’ve got a bit of a shoe thing going on, evidently!
Natalie Page: Oh, absolutely. I’d love to match my work with my personal passions one day.
Julie Stanford: So, Dee, over to you. I understand that your book – your first book – is an Amazon number one, and I don’t know anyone else who’s achieved that. What a brilliant advert for your marketing skill.
Dee Blick: Thank you. I’m just lucky that I love writing. It’s sort of a gift that I’ve had since a little girl, and being a marketer and a writer, the two go well together.
Julie Stanford: But what I love about the first book – I’ve not seen your second book, which I believe is coming out – what I love about that first book is the practicality of the tips that you use and the ideas that you have within the book.
Dee Blick: Yeah, thank you. I think there are an awful lot of academic tomes and airline reads for small businesses, but you really need the meaty tips and how to strip out the academic flannel, but also that the integrity of being able to share experience so that businesses can identify with it and think, “Well I can do that.”. So I hope I’ve achieved that.
What exactly is a marketing plan?
Julie Stanford: Well I think from what I’ve seen, you have, and there’s no question that marketing is a really big … It’s crucial in a business. Crucial, and yet so many businesses don’t understand the importance of it or even how to do it. What I want to talk to you today is the value and importance of planning your marketing. Now often when people are asked to put together a business plan, it says within it is your marketing plan. Dee, would you mind just starting us off to tell us what that is? I’ve heard strategic plan mentioned, I’ve heard tactical marketing plan mentioned. Would you just clarify what a marketing plan is, please?
Dee Blick: Yes, certainly. I think our listener should really divide their marketing plan into two. The first part of the marketing plan is simply defining, “Who do I want to communicate with, who do I want to sell to?” and getting as much detail as possible. Then it’s where can I find them, and that’s when you start making your list as to where you can find these people or these groups. Big part of your plan is, “What am I going to offer them? The benefits that I’m going to offer, the products and the services, what’s my price?” Actually working out what your price is going to be, a bit of competitive research, and a little bit about what’s the point of pain of my target audiences. So what’s the marketplace like in which they operate. Are times tough or are times good? Because that’s going to influence the benefits that we push forwards. That’s known as your marketing strategy, but it’s really simply: “Who do I want to reach, why and how, and what with?”
The second part, which is where most businesses dive in is your marketing tactics, and that’s, “Right. I now know who I’m going to reach. What am I going to do? How am I actually going to communicate with them?” And that’s when you start to look at things like direct mail, websites, PR advertising, and so on.
Julie Stanford: Okay, so we’ve got a clear idea. There’s a definite split there, isn’t there?
Dee Blick: There is.
Julie Stanford: To find out more about who you’re going to be talking to. We got a great show as well on marketing research [How to start your market research], which you were both very kind to join me for. So Natalie, let’s think then, let’s talk a little bit about strategy. We did cover how to find out the information about what your potential customer wants. We’ve covered that in another show, but just what would you do with that information for this beginning of the planning process?
Natalie Page: Absolutely. So the way that I look at it and the way that I’ve explained it to people is your strategy is needing to know what your destination is. So once you know where you’re going, you then think you can then check your flights, organize your car hire, whatever it might be. That’s how you think about your marketing. You need your strategy so you know overall where you’re going, what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, as Dee’s just said. But then you got to break it down to actions, and then you actually need to give those actions out to people to do as well. A lot of business owners think, “I’ve got to do it all.” Well no you don’t. You’ve got a team of people. Use them. Find out what skills other people in your organization have got. If there’s someone that likes writing, if there’s someone that likes doing hitting the phone, if there’s someone that’s super organized, work out who can do what. Try not to take it all on your own, because if you say, “I’m going to do it all”, that’s the surest way that you’re probably going to fail, because you need to be running the business, not doing all the marketing.
Julie Stanford: So Dee, why is it so important that you have to plan it? What’s the point of the plan?
Dee Blick: The point of the plan is to get you to where you want to get to as quickly as possible, and to stop you from squandering money by trying to target everybody in the entire universe. I think in picking up on Natalie’s point as well about not doing everything, what I do is try and encourage that a sole trader might not have the luxury of passing out any work to anybody. So what I’ll say is if you can do 90 minutes at a time, 90 minutes stuck in an armchair or at your library tackling one section of your marketing plan at a time, you can make huge leaps. So if you haven’t got the luxury of a support infrastructure, just to be able to sit down and devote to each segment can … I’ve seen people that have had very little marketing expertise achieve quite amazing results. Fundamentally, you need a plan because if you don’t know which direction you’re going to, you could end up anywhere, spend lots of money, kiss far too many frogs to get your prince. Whereas the idea is let’s just get to where we want to get to as quickly as possible, because you’ll lose your passion and your zeal along the way if you’re constantly trying to target groups or people that really they’re not that interested, or if you’re constantly trying to think, “Is this the right way in which I should communicate?”. Start at the beginning with your little plan, 90 minutes each segment a week, if you can.
Julie Stanford: So it’s like a map, really.
Dee Blick: It is.
The marketing plan as a road map
Julie Stanford: It’s a road map you’ve worked out, as Natalie was saying, you’ve worked out your destination, you know where you’re heading, and then you’ve got the map, but then using that map, you’ve got to then think how are we going to do it. Are we going to go by car? Are we going to get a bus? That’s when you start thinking about, as you said, the tools you’ll use, whether it will be direct mail, whether it will be the website or whatever. How you’re going to get to them. So, what I’m trying to get out of you as well is how that goes into a plan. What physically does the plan look like?
Natalie Page: Well the plan can really be anything. It can be a couple of sheets of paper so you type it out. It could be a mind map. I’ve had clients where they’ll have it as flip chart sheets on the wall. It really doesn’t matter. It’s whatever is your preferred learning style, but one thing I will say, because it’s something that I’m quite passionate about, and I’ve worked with thousands of business owners through seminars as well as working with them, is you have to commit it in some sort of format beyond just being in your head. It’s a bit like that to-do list that you write down each day. You’ve got a to-do list, you tick it off. It’s the same with your plan, so whatever format – if it’s a mind map or sheets on your wall – is actually have it there. The point I’d make as well is this is all about practicality. You will make changes to it, but you’ve got to start somewhere. You might plan a campaign, it’s gone really well or it’s not gone very well, and you jettison the next part of it. So it’s not set in stone. That’s academia. Academia says it’s set in stone. You write it for three years. You don’t.
Julie Stanford: It’s got to be a flexible thing.
Natalie Page: Very much so.
Julie Stanford: So Natalie, when you’re working with your clients, are you encouraging them to review it?
Natalie Page: Absolutely. I actually had a company come to me a couple of years ago, and I always do the strategy and then what I call a MAP – Marketing Action Plan. Very simple, but basically what we’re talking about. They wanted me to do an action plan for two years ahead, and I said there is absolutely no point in us doing an action plan for two years ahead. It is far too far away. If anything, I never do it for more than, say, three to six months maximum. Things change. Things should change. Your business should be flexible. You’re going to be trying and testing all these activities to which you then need to respond. So you can’t say what you’re going to be doing in a year’s time, because the universe could be a very different place in a year’s time. Think about five years ago we didn’t have YouTube.
Julie Stanford: No.
Natalie Page: So you’ve got to, I think, just keep it very simple, that you’ll actually implement it, you’ll work with it, and you won’t be afraid to move actions as well. If you don’t do something one month that you’ve put down to do in, say, July, don’t kick yourself over it. Just move it, but make sure you do it.
Julie Stanford: Okay, so we’re thinking then about how this looks. It has to be flexible. It has to be responsive. If it was a spreadsheet, what would you put on there? Would you put the things you’re going to do, the timing, Dee? How would it look?
What should a marketing plan look like?
Dee Blick: What you’re talking about there is a little tactical part. So you know your strategy bit – who I want to reach, why, all the benefits. What I do is a simple table. So imagine, if you will, it’s split into sort of five columns. The left-hand column you’ve got all the different groups you’ve identified in your strategy that you want to reach, so that they’re little columns. You’ve then got the next three months, and you literally write in each month what you’re going to be doing to move that prospect, that cold prospect or that warm prospect further along the line into doing business with you. So you normally plan for three or four months at a time, and that’s because people rarely make the decision to buy at the very first asking, unless you got a very simple product or service that’s bought within seconds. That doesn’t happen most of the time, so you’re planning communications over three to four months to get a flow, to move them from being aware of you to interested, evaluation, desire, and action. You then got your … what’s the response. You’re just mapping out what response did I get from that campaign, what was the cost, how much did it cost me to get those customers on board. They’re the headings that you would have for your plan.
Julie Stanford: Do you build in when you’re saying about getting a cold prospect to be warm to be hot, and buying, as it were?
Natalie Page: Yes.
Julie Stanford: Would you build that in? So would you have some activities that were aimed at the cold prospect, but at the same time in any month you might be doing something that’s aimed at the warm prospect?
Natalie Page: Yes, definitely. Most definitely, and I do this all the time with small businesses, and I’ll tell you it’s a liberating process. I have one MD that was marketing allergic, and he could not get over the simplicity of a tactical marketing plan, because at a glance you can see what you’re doing and when and who to. You know at the back of that there’s a series of little activities as well that need to take place to enable that plan to come to fruition. It is simplicity, and that’s the great thing about it. It’s beautifully simple.
Julie Stanford: You’re listening to Essential Business Radio, and I’m joined by Dee Blick and Natalie Page who are helping me find my way through the maze of marketing planning. If you have a question that you’re burning to ask, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll pass that on.
Natalie, do you do a simple plan with your clients? Have you got this … You’re saying that they have to review it all the time, but do you use a similar method where you have the columns and the timing and everything, because that seems to quite a simple way of doing it?
Natalie Page: Absolutely. I has to be as simple as the client needs it to be, and very much like Dee said, the kind of way I choose to show the information depends on the person. For example, I might put together the plan for them and see they’re not quite getting it or they’re not happy using it, it might scare them. For example, some people are absolutely terrified of Microsoft Excel®. I don’t know why, but they really are like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I want to touch it. It might all fall apart.” So that’s when I might actually just put it in a Word document or something really straightforward. To be honest, I don’t care if they put it on the back of a serviette, as long as they know what they’re doing and they’re coordinating all the activities properly, because that’s where people fall down. They don’t have a good mix of activities, and that is what the action plan makes sure that you don’t miss out anything so that everything is very timely, you know why you’re doing it, you’re not just doing some ad hoc activities here. You’re doing stuff that’s going to really make a difference.
The marketing plan in practice
Julie Stanford: I think what you’re both saying is, from a business perspective, is so exciting and powerful that you must feel dismay if people don’t realize how useful this can be for their business and how they might make so much more money if they actually did this work, Dee.
Dee Blick: Most definitely. I’ve one particular story that springs to mind is I met a business owner who’d spent £20,000 on random, ill-targeted, I call it ‘shoot from the hip’ marketing. I’ve just started a business, I’ve got no budget, and before I know where I am, I’ve spent 20 grand, and in this case it was on advertising and networking. When we sat down and mapped out a tactical marketing plan, he was almost weeping at its simplicity, but the fact was that when you know who you want to communicate with and you spend a bit of time doing your research, you’ve got much more of an idea of how you are going to reach them, and it might lead you to the conclusion well actually, going for local advertising could be a good idea, or it may not be a good idea at all. It might be … well, we have to try something completely different, and that’s the beauty of this tactical plan is that people actually sit down and think about the right way in which they can communicate. Yes, sometime it’s gut feel. I’m a great believer in having a bit of gut feeling, if it’s backed by a little bit of knowledge as well, which is what we’re talking about here.
Julie Stanford: And in another show, we’ve talked about how you get that knowledge, which is by researching your market and actually asking your customers what they want. I’m assuming then, Natalie, that you would also ask those customers what’s their preferred method of being contacted, because then you’d build that into the plan, wouldn’t you?
Natalie Page: Absolutely. When you’re working with a business, you have to really take into consideration what type of person they are, what type of business they are, how busy they are, because there’s no point in giving someone something that you know they’re not going to use, or if you’re going to give them too many activities. I hear time and time again, “Oh, I’d love to do a bit marketing, but I just don’t have the time.” Well, I think it all goes back to the person – the business owner themselves – because anyone that wants a business to succeed absolutely knows how essential marketing is, and they will make the time for it. They’re the loveliest people to work with. I’ve got a client, and she absolutely took the action plan by the horns, and the next time I met her for a meeting, she’d not only been implementing, she’d been adding to it. It filled me with so much joy, I can’t tell you, because there’s nothing worse than having over a plan that … I don’t know how you feel, Dee, but when I give a plan, it’s almost like I’m giving a child or something that I’ve spent hours putting in, and it’s just a lovely feeling to think they’re actually going to use it rather than just put it to one side, and their business is going to plunk along as ever. If you really want to take your business somewhere, then you really do have to just take a plan forward. Any sort of plan. Like I say, simple, simple.
Julie Stanford: And you’re talking, really, about giving them an underlying structure, which once you’ve got a structure, makes those actions more effective, I would have thought…
Dee Blick: And there’s point to it.
Julie Stanford: …because you’ve planned how to do it.
Dee Blick: They are focused. To give an example, I worked with a number of mums, mums who work from home, they’re magazine publishers, we looked at the importance of the tactical plan, and one area was lapsed clients. How do I communicate with lapsed clients? Just by saying, well, where are they now? We know that they’re aware of you. They may have lost a bit of interest. So let’s look at what we can do over a period of three months to rekindle that interest. So you start to discuss what are the messages, the compelling messages that we think may inspire them to want to not necessarily do business immediately, but at the first stage to be open to an overture from you.
The simple act of having that communication then mapping it down in a little plan saying, “Right, well in June, we’re going to send them this teaser message about how successful advertisers are in the magazine or how great the editorial is. In July, we’ll hit them with a special offer, and we’ll follow up by telephone to say, ‘What did you think about the special? Are we in the right ballpark with you?'” That doesn’t happen if you don’t have a plan, because what they’ll say is, “Oh, goodness me. We don’t have enough business coming in. Let’s fire off an email to our lapsed client database.” It’s an easy thing to do, rather than effective. Let’s imagine the person that’s at the end of that communication and look at what we need to do to motivate them to want to buy from us again, or at least reengage the relationship.
Julie Stanford: And you’re talking there about the client being proactive, not reactive, because people who are reactive sometimes that knee-jerk action is dissipated energy. It’s not focused energy. Both of you are talking about really laser focusing marketing energy, and business owners need to be able to do that, Natalie, don’t they? They’re time poor.
Natalie Page: They absolutely are, and your marketing is an absolute commitment, and I think that’s where people don’t go or lose their way with their marketing. For example, when you start up in business, you got all this enthusiasm and passion. You’re excited, and you go marketing like crazy. You’re out there, you’re talking to people, you’re moving and shaking, and then at some point it’s like other things take over. You start getting busy, and the marketing just slowly falls down the list, and then you suddenly see that you’re sales are dropping, and they’re like, “Oh, we better do a bit of marketing.” And that’s really the wrong way to think about your marketing. Don’t do it in an ad hoc kind of boom-bust way. Make sure it’s consistent. Make sure you’re doing it all the time. Just a little bit all the time, and then you haven’t got such a mountain to climb, and then you’ll start seeing the results that you want, and you can either increase it or decrease it depending on how much business you want.
Julie Stanford: You’re sowing the seeds of future growth, aren’t you, by doing this? It’s almost like using your idea, Dee, of having this sheet of when you’re going to do it. In each time you’re doing something, you’re putting a little seed in the ground which may grow in three months or five months, but it’s a continual activity.
Dee Blick: Definitely. Definitely, and I think the one thing I would stress as well is it’s not written in stone. I’ve worked with businesses where we’ll get campaigns going. It might bomb. We don’t get the desired results. It might go so spectacularly well that we have to really delay the next campaigns to be able to handle the sheer volume of business that’s coming in, and that, to me, is marketing in the real world as opposed to the marketing of the academic text book. This could be one guy or one woman that’s handling all this business or just a couple of people. So don’t be afraid to fine-tune and to change it, but at least you’ve got something to work from.
What activities should your marketing plan contain?
Julie Stanford: So let’s think now, if you wouldn’t mind, about the types of things. I know that we are broadly talking about planning, but what sorts of activities could people be considering, because there is a … we all have this simple list of what we might use, but there are so many other ways of reaching potential clients, aren’t there?
Dee Blick: So what we’re looking at here are really the basic channels like, for example, local advertising. Is that what you’re looking at? What roots have they got to …
Julie Stanford: What might go on. I’m just thinking about what sorts of things would go on this plan.
Dee Blick: I think what I say as well is don’t just go for one hit. I was taught as a young lass about the power of three, about at least three communications. I know that doesn’t hold true where maybe you’ve got a formal tendering process, so you’re trying to get business from a business that requires a certain etiquette, but try and think in terms of grouping things in three and planning over these three months. But there’s a blend of things, simple things, like picking up the phone, sending an exquisite sales letter on your headed paper that’s cost you buttons to produce, maybe then following it with a bit of a teaser message as well. That could be another letter. It could be a very nice, an extremely well written email. It could be looking at ways like, for example, going to a networking group and following up the people at the networking group that have really inspired you that you think, yes, there is something there, to go out for lunch or coffee, sending them a really nice newsletter. There are lots of different ways in which you can engage the people that you want to buy from you, but there’s got to be, going back to our early discussion about market research, is having a feel for what would motivate them to respond.
Julie Stanford: Natalie, do you find that … is it your clients that tending towards the new media, the social media, the Twitter, when actually traditional media can be effective as well?
Natalie Page: Yeah, absolutely. This has driven me quite nuts lately, actually, because everyone’s all, “Oh, social media, social media. Twitter’s going to save my life, and if I just do nothing else except that, my business will flourish” and it’s like, “Oh, no, please.” It’s frustrating, actually, because I think people just need to not see social media as some miracle cure. Yes, for some businesses it’s worked incredibly well, and it provides amazing responses, but for most small businesses, it just needs to be part of all the different things you’re doing, and without a doubt, if you’re time-poor, cash-poor, you’ve got to focus on the most direct route to getting to your customer. So as Dee said, my super favorite is literally just writing to your customer with a targeted message that absolutely hits them between the eyes, because things such as sending out a press release and doing some PR, et cetera, they’re all nice, but they’re what I call ‘icing on the cake’. Your cake is more your direct marketing, et cetera, and that’s what gets you actual real sales in quick, fast, whereas these other activities can obviously just … they’re great for brand awareness, et cetera, but they’re a slow burner. So think about what you can actually afford to do, both in time and actual money.
Julie Stanford: Essential Business Radio is available on iTunes through the podcast, or you can download it direct to your desktop to get to hear these two wonderful marketing minds and all that they have to offer. So Dee, let me … I want to talk to you now about … You’ve both touched on the fact that you know that business owners have only so much time in the day. How do you advise your clients not to just get worn out by it all, because it does feel – we know it’s crucial, but it feels as if it’s so much work?
A marketing plan helps you focus your energy
Dee Blick: I think that’s because the perception of the business owner is, as Natalie was saying earlier, that they’re like whirling dervishes to start with, doing all this energy they’re putting into random ill-targeted marketing. Nothing motivates and inspires a small business person more than knowing that they’ve got a very small list of focused activities in a plan, and I just speak from experience of working with small business that suddenly marketing becomes more attainable. It’s not such a … this esoteric thing that’s out in the mist that we’re a bit frightened about it. In terms of time, there’s no quick win. There’s glib answer on this one.
I’m a small business owner, too. I’ve got a full-time business. I do my marketing primarily on a Sunday morning. I get up at 6 o’clock and put 6 hours in on a Sunday morning. I’ll also do evenings. A lot of the MDs I work with, I will encourage them to switch their phone off, to get out of the office for half a day. Again, have 90 minutes with pure focused, undivided attention on your marketing. I’ll get business owners to diary time away from their iPhone, their laptop, their business, and it really does work. I think it’s they’ve got to get into a discipline. Nobody can discipline you but yourself, but if you really … I always say you love your business. It keeps you awake at night. You’re passionate about it. Don’t short-change it by not doing your marketing. Make time for it, even if it gives you a pain.
Julie Stanford: So, and that’s great advice, and one thing I am aware of it that we’re really coming at it from the perspective of businesses who are working with professionals such as yourselves, and I always ask to end up on tips. I think what would be handy is for you to say how someone can do it themselves. Great if they have the wherewithal to work with experts, but not everyone has. So Natalie, would you just give us some ways that people can do that themselves?
Natalie Page: Absolutely. Take advantage of the resources that are out there. There is so much brilliant information online, I can’t even begin to tell you. There’s a lot of people out there, and Dee’s got a brilliant blog. Lot’s of people have blogs, fact sheets that you can download, et cetera, that give brilliant, straightforward information on just key things that you should be concentrating on. So as we’ve been saying the whole time, keep it simple, keep it direct, and then you’ll get the response that you want. Also, I think you’ve got to think about where you want your business to go. How serious are you about your business? Do you want to grow? Do you want to stay the same size, because then if you do want to grow, if you do want to take it forward, then do think about getting some help, whether it’s getting your mum to help you with your [admin 25:51], or whatever it might be. If you want to grow your business, you’re going to have to think about the other things you need to be doing along side the marketing to be able to cope with actually getting busy.
Julie Stanford: To free you up to be able to do the very important marketing. So Dee, it falls to you to give us some tips of ways that we can do our own marketing.
Dee Blick: I think what Natalie said … I always say if you want to get ‘match fit’ for marketing is to read. There’s some decent basic marketing business books that just get your head around that. A couple of decent books, so you got an understanding of what marketing is and its relation to your business. Devote that time, get a pad and a pen, and start with the basics. Who do I want to reach? Write as much information out as possible. Why? What are the benefits that I’m offering? What are my competitors doing? Have these all as headings, then start to think about that bit of market research that we spoke about earlier that there’s really no substitute for that amount of time of being a little bit of marketing ‘match fit’, but you can’t ignore it. If you can’t afford a marketing professional, and most small businesses can’t, then you really are going to have to get marketing savvy, and that’s reading up on it. There’s no quick fix around that. If I want to know how to fix a leaky tap, and I’m not willing to bring a plumber in, I’ll have to get a book that shows me how to do it. I’ll look it up on the internet, and it’s the same with marketing.
Julie Stanford: And they have to do actually, and then you’d have to fix the tap, and the people, they have to read the book and then do the work.
Natalie Page: Yes.