Five Steps to Writing a Small Business Marketing Plan

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When it comes to writing a marketing plan for your small business, even the most seasoned professionals often find themselves scratching their heads and not knowing where to start. Having worked on numerous collaborative projects, I’ve gained valuable experience and practice in putting together various types of marketing plans. Here I’ll break it down into five straightforward and manageable steps: 

Step One: Research, Research… and More Research!

Determining the most appropriate target market and price for your product or service are crucial decisions that will make or break your business.  Avoid making hasty assumptions when it comes to these (and other) choices and base them on solid research instead.  In other words, use numbers and facts from your market research to back up statements in your marketing plan. This will this save you time, money, and unnecessary frustration in the long-run. Although online data are plentiful and free, don’t limit yourself to only this type of research. Other great research methods include: observational, focus-group, survey, behavioural, ethnography, and experimental. Remember, good marketing research is scientific, creative, non-biased, examines data in the correct context, uses multiple methods, realizes the interdependence of models and data, and maintains a “healthy” scepticism.

Step Two: Organize your Research and Ideas into Sections

There is a wide range of marketing plan templates available online, and I encourage you to look at a few examples before determining how to organize your own marketing plan. Start off with the bare minimum (executive summary, description of your product or service, target market, competitors, distribution channels, marketing activities, marketing budget, potential marketing challenges, pricing strategy, and projections/long-term goals) and build from there. Remember that even though the executive summary is the first section of the marketing plan it should be written last. Try to keep it at no longer than one page and make it interesting in order to catch your reader’s attention and inspire them to read the rest of your marketing plan.

Step Three: Set Measurable Steps

Your marketing strategy should ideally be tangible and measurable (for example, to capture 10% of the market in one year); hence, you should aim to include monthly review, tracking and measurement, sales forecasts, expense budgets, and non-financial metrics for tracking your progress. It is also vital to match tasks to people on your team and hold them accountable for accomplishing what is necessary.

Step Four: Get Others Involved

Whatever the size of your organization, ask for feedback from all parts of your company (finance, manufacturing, personnel, supply and etc.). This step is particularly important because it takes all the departments of a business to make a marketing plan work. Co-workers from outside the marketing department can provide realistic input on what’s achievable and how your goals can be reached or modified. They can also provide new ideas for marketing opportunities which you may have overlooked. If you are currently a one-person company, it will be up to you to look at your marketing plan from the eyes of each function of your business. However, it might be a good idea to get a few trusted friends to look over your plan and provide some input. small business marketing plan

Step Five: Review and Revise Often

A marketing plan is typically written for one year. Conditions in the business environment change often; thus, it’s fundamental for your marketing plan to evolve over time. Certain assumptions will need to be modified and various new marketing opportunities may arise. Actions of competitors may also be influential in your decisions and revisions. You will also find that certain parts of your marketing plan will work better than others, so it’s important to make changes to parts of your strategy that you find are not giving you the desired results. Step three and five are undoubtedly linked: step five is essentially where you compare your actual results to your desired results using the metrics you outlined in step three. When writing your marketing plan it is a good idea to include a date at which you plan to review the document. The frequency you should be updating your plan is at least once a year.

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Writing a marketing plan is not as overwhelming as it seems. Remember to take it one step at a time, get the input of others, and review your plan often. I wish you the best of luck with your business endeavour!

Photo credit Zach Klein and Creator Apps

A Small Business Owners Guide To Twitter

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For the small business owner, learning to use Twitter is akin to learning a new language.  What's a Hashtag or a Re-Tweet?  Although Twitter may not be the best time investment for every small business owner, it can be a powerful marketing and customer relationship tool if used correctly.  Many people are using Twitter to voice their pleasure (and displeasure) for anything and everything, maybe even your business.  Twitter is definatly a large investment of your time so even if your decide not to use Twitter for your business, you should at least monitor Twitter to see if people are talking about you and your business.

Instead of writing a tutorial on how to use Twitter, the folks over at Twiends.com created an awesome, easy to understand infographic on using Twitter that will give you a great visual learning experience

how small businesses can use twitter

Google Adwords Express, An Easy Way To Market Your Business Online

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If you are a small business owner looking to do some local advertising, Google has launched a new program called Google Adwords Express.  While Adwords has been around a quite some  time and small business owners have always had access to it, it can be  somewhat confusing to setup if you are new to online marketing.

Realizing that many small business owners were simply avoiding using Adwords entirely, Google set up a fast and simple program to get small business owners an online advertising presence with very little work.

Some of the benefits of Adwords Express are:

  • Your campaign will be set up and managed automatically by Google, automating most of the work for you.
  • You can start serving ads to potential customers immediatly.
  • You do not need a website, you can drive customers to your Google Places page.
  • You can set your monthly budget and change it whenever you need to.
  • Google will automatically serve ads only to your local market, so you can be sure that people who click on your ads are truly potential customers

Google Adwords Express is a really simple and fast way to start advertising online for your business.  While Adwords Express does not have the full feature list that the regular Adwords version does, small businesses new to online marketing will not need these features until they become more experienced with Adwords.  You can make the switch from Adwords Express to the full version of Adwords at anytime.

Start Your Online Advertising Campaign Today

With online marketing being so important to any small business, Google's Adwords Express provides little excuse not to start an online marketing campaign today.  Make it a point to check it out, you can start driving new customers to your business today.

QR Code Adoption On The Rise According To Comscore Study

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The U.S. seems to be adopting QR codes as more and more Americans are using smart phones.  In a June 2011 report from Comscore, approximately 14 million Americans scanned a QR or Bar code on their mobile devices.  What is a QR code? A QR (“Quick Response”) code is a specific matrix bar code (or two-dimensional code) that is readable by a smartphone by scanning it with a mobile scanning application on your phone.  It works very similar to the scanners they use at the grocery store.

According to the Comscore , “ The study found that a mobile user that scanned a QR or bar code during the month was more likely to be male (60.5 percent of code scanning audience), skew toward ages 18-34 (53.4 percent) and have a household income of $100k or above (36.1 percent). The study also analyzed the source and location of QR or bar code scanning, finding that users are most likely to scan codes found in newspapers/magazines and on product packaging and do so while at home or in a store.”

How can small businesses use QR codes? If you are a traditional brick and mortar business owner, it may be beneficial to start using QR cards on your printed marketing materials.  This helps to bridge the gap between offline and online marketing and allows potential customers to scan the QR code on the spot, directing them to a landing page on your website where you can offer coupons, news on your latest sales or timely announcements.  There are many possibilities on the use of QR codes for your business.  To learn more about QR codes check out this article from Mashable and check out the video below for a quick introduction to QR codes.

You can read the full press release about the Comscore study here

 

 



 

Yelp, Your Online Customer Service Department

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Increase Your Customer Base With Yelp Online

As a small business owner, you are always looking for new and cost efficient ways to market your business and bring in new customers. One of the best ways for new customers to find you is to hang out where they hang out. The internet has become the new Yellow Pages and it’s your responsibility as a small business owner to start creating a presence there for your business. When looking for ways to market your small business online, Yelp is an easy and free customer review site that can help drive new customers to your business.

Online Review Sites Can Draw In New Customers

Online review sites are fast becoming the de facto way for customers to find great products and services.  Amazon.com has built a multi-billion dollar business off of customer reviews. Everyone loves to express their opinion when they have a great, or an awful experience at a business.  In the past they would tell their friends and family about their experience, but the internet has opened up a whole new ball game where one disgruntled customer can influence thousands of customers with a single review.  Talk about a powerful platform for voicing your opinions.

Online review sites like Yelp are built off of Word of Mouth marketing.  Just a few well written reviews on your business, good or bad, can make a huge impact on your business.  If you are not part of the online community, how do you know what it being said about you?  By not being online and part of the conversation, you may be missing important opportunities to thank customers who leave a great review, or to apologize for a customer who had a disappointing experience.  It’s you responsibility to know how your business is being represented online by your customers.   Since the business owner does not have to be the one to create the business profile on Yelp, you may find your business is already listed and people are leaving reviews.  If you have never been to Yelp.com before, maybe you should stop now for a minute and check.

Yelp business dashboard for small business

Yelp Can Help

Yelp is an online service that was created in 2004 to get businesses and people connected. It provides a platform for people to write customer reviews on the businesses they frequent in their local area. Yelp was designed to make the regular customer the expert reviewer and to provide a way for people to tell other people about businesses that they like, and don’t like. Some examples of businesses on Yelp are restaurants, dentists, doctors, mechanics, spas, hair stylists, clothing stores and just about everything else.

How Yelp Works

Yelp can be accessed via computer or through smart phones such as the iPhone and Android via it’s mobile app. When people visit a business, they can go on Yelp and create a review, positive or negative. When other people are looking for that type of business, they can search on Yelp, read the reviews, and when they find a business with good ratings, they may just become a customer. Customers now have the ability to read reviews about your business while they stand outside of it trying to decide where to eat or to shop.

Customers use mobile apps to find your business

Marketing Your Business on Yelp

How to market your small business online with Yelp is easy. Go to biz.yelp.com and set up your business profile. Your business may already be listed, so in that case all you have to do is “claim it” by verifying that you are the owner of the business.  Once you are logged in, you can post photographs, videos, menus, or price lists. You can also set up deals for people to view and purchase, send them out to Yelp users and entice them to visit your business.

What Yelp Provides

When you set up your business account with Yelp, they help you track the progress of your business, providing invaluable customer information that will help you market your business more effectively. Within the business dashboard you can:

  • View charts and statistics measuring the performance of your page.
  • Track the number of people who view your business page.
  • Communicate with customers either publicly or privately.
  • Add photographs, video, description of your business and specialty.
  • Create deals to draw customers to your business.
  • Connect with other businesses.
  • Recommend other businesses.

Get customer data from Yelp

Yelp makes their money through the businesses advertising on the site and they have very affordable options for small businesses. You also have the ability to set up deals that cost nothing to create, and you only pay a percentage of each customer purchase.

Why Yelp is Good for Small Business

According to the most recent information, ‘Yelpers’ have submitted over 20 million reviews. Eighty-three percent of those reviews are positive. That could be 83% of your current customers providing good reviews about your business. Good reviews are going to bring new people through your doors.

Through Yelp, people get to see businesses they never knew existed, offering them the chance to try something new.  The Social Proof of the online reviews helps to make the decision to try new businesses a little easier. The opportunity to share a good experience with others also gives people a feeling of community. When you and your business become part of that community, it will ultimately reflect in a positive way on your business.

Go to Yelp today and see what you customers are saying about you.

 

Create an Online Presence For Your Small Business In Under Five Minutes With Google Places

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Creating a great website is usually on the list for every small business owner, though we all know that those pesky things like time, money and resources can sometime get in the way of our ever increasing list of projects.  What if you could have an online presence for your small business that ranks at the top of Google search results up and running in under five minutes?  What if it was free? I’m talking about Google Places, a Google product aimed specifically at the small business owner.

Google places (formerly Google Local Business Center) is an advanced online marketing tool for small business owners. It integrates with Google Maps and it allows business owners to update and manage information about their business on a customizable business page. Business owners can place and update information about their business including location, hours of operation, street address, product-photos and even post images of your store front so visitors know what to look for when they come visit you.

Google Places Integrates with Google Maps

Google map is searched by millions of people for their daily needs. Google realized the demand of the public and thus introduced Google Places in September 2009. Google places allow small business owners to create a free listing for their business, regardless if they have their own website or not. You can add information regarding your business for free and then Google will show a marker for your business on Google maps when people search for your type of business in their area.  There are also listings alongside the map giving consumers a choice of clicking on your listing to find out more about your business.

small business listing google places

By creating your business listing, you will be able to make your small business visible to millions of people who conduct searches online and you can get a visual marker on Google maps in Google search results.

If you are new to the internet and are new to marketing your small business online then Google places is a great tool for you. It is simple, easy to use and manage, can be up and running in minutes and you don’t need to be a marketing expert to use it.

One of the exceptional features of this service is that it allows people to place their reviews and their experiences about your business. These reviews can prove priceless for your business. Positive reviews will help to create that social proof that you are running a quality business.

Some of the newly introduced and exciting features of this service are as follows:

Update important upcoming events:-

As a business owner you can update upcoming events in real time. It can be a sale or any other important event that your business wants to get out immediately to potential customers.

Geographical Area of your service:-

Some businesses may only offer services at their location and others may deliver or offer in home services to customers, as a small business owner you can show the geographical area in which your services are available.

Free online marketing for small business

Optimized for mobile searches:-

People are now increasingly using the mobile phones to search for their local needs. Google Places is optimized for mobile phone searches as well. This service is key as more and more people are conducting ‘on the fly searches’ for products and services using their smart phones.

Google Places Mobile

Advertise your small business:- 

In some particular cities,  Google Places has an optional paid service where for just $25 per month, you can have a yellow tag placed next to your listing to help it stand out from other listings.  There has not been a lot of feedback yet on the effectiveness of these enhanced listings but I’m sure Google is conducting lots of research as to it’s effectiveness.

QR Codes:-

Business owners in U.S. can download a QR code from the dashboard page which is unique to their business. You can place these QR codes on your daily newsletters, business cards or on other advertising material. Consumers can scan these QR codes and can get direct access to the mobile version of your business place page.

Having a Google Places is also important because they appear towards the top of organic search results and allows you to compete directly with much bigger companies in your market.  A well designed Google Places page can defiantly help equalize the playing field for a small business owner.

Traditional marketing venues for small business owners like the Yellow Pages, newspaper advertisements and even direct mail for certain areas and industries, seem to be out of favor with consumers.  Online marketing allows you to reach a large, targeted consumer base at a manageable, and sometimes free, budget.  If you haven’t set up your free Google Places page yet, what are you waiting for?

Why Small Business Networking Sometimes Doesn’t Work

Small Business Networking

As a small business owner with a traditional storefront there are numerous avenues for promoting and marketing your business.  Many of the obvious ones such as newspaper ads, direct mail and radio/TV spots all share a common problem, they usually cost alot of money and there is usually a mediocre return on investment.  Networking and cross promoting with other small businesses can be a great and inexpensive way to get the good word out about your business.  Other small businesses may not feel the same zest for marketing success as you do and this is what I wanted to discuss in this article.

When I opened my first small business I was dizzy with all of the marketing possibilities available to me.  I dreamed about forming key partnerships with other like minded business and dreamed how we would all ride our wave of success straight to the top.

I made a list of about 50 local businesses that I would go and visit during the first few weeks after we opened.  I devised a great introductory letter introducing myself and my business and how we could both help each other achieve success through join promotions and networking.  I remember setting a schedule where I would visit 5 businesses a day until my task was completed.  I remember my first day building my “Networking Empire” fondly.  The owner of the first business owner I spoke with was very nice.  She listened with a smile as I told her about my ideas and said it sounded great and she would look over all of the information.  I was ecstatic as I left thinking about when I would make my follow up visit.  As I got into my car I saw her at the front counter as she ripped up my letter and tossed it into the waste basket.  I felt like I just got dumped.  As I drove off I dismissed her as an oddity and moved onto the remaining 4 businesses on my list.  To make a long story short, not one was interested in any kind of networking and some treated me with disdain like I was an encyclopedia salesman or something.

So what happened?  According to all of my business books, blogs and presentations I have seen, every small business owner wants to build a successful business.  Why wouldn't someone want to join forces with another business to share customers and grow their business to new heights?  I have learned 3 things about small business owners, especially ones with traditional brick and mortar businesses.

#1  Many of them do not read and study about small business success, leadership, marketing or anything else.  Not everyone has a passion about learning new ways to grow their business or how to be a better manager or anything for that matter.  It sounds strange but it's absolutely true.  Many people go into a new business venture knowing what they know and they think that's all there is to know.

#2  Many small business owners who at one time showed a passion and enthusiasm for their business have since lost it through the daily grind of work, bills, boredom, disappointment and so on.  It's easy to become cynical and jaded when what you dreamed your business to be looks nothing like the one you show up for every day, and take home with you every night. There is never time to set aside for a new marketing venture or a course in great customer service because they are too busy minding the store making sure nobody steals anything.

#3  Customer service is a foreign language.  Many small business owners identify their business with themselves, if you don't like the business then you don't like me.  They treat every complaint as a personal attack and usually respond in kind.  The attitude, “If you don't like it then go somewhere else” is prevalent  in many small businesses.

So what can we learn from this?

#1  Your small business can't grow unless you are growing too.  Keep educating yourself and be open to trying new things.  Don't let yourself become the biggest roadblock for your business.

#2  Stay optimistic.  Your going to have high and low points in your business.  Sometimes it's stomach churning, that's why owning your own business is not for everyone.  Building a successful business is really hard, which can be a good thing because if it were easy then everyone would have one.

#3  Your business is all about customer service.  It doesn't matter if you sell tires, mop floors or deliver newspapers, your in the customer service business.  Your business will grow in relation to how you treat your customers.  Treat them well.

To end my story, out of the 50 local businesses I visited, only 4 were interested in any kind of networking.  Over the next 2 years I created several joint promotions with those 4 businesses that led to lots of new business for all of us.  In one business, their  best customer became mine and it led to several thousand dollars in sales, through them and the referrals they brought in. Networking can take up alot of time and effort. It may be frustrating and time consuming walking around and knocking on doors and most will have no interest in what you have to offer.  Just keep in mind that for every 10 small business owners who have no interest in your offer, there may be one who is ready jump in and try something new with you.