Your marketing plan is the heart of your business plan because it answers pivotal questions: What is it that I can do? Who cares (your target customers)? What am I going to do about it?
Address the eight key elements of a marketing plan in this order:
1. Value proposition
This is a statement of what your business really is. What are your capabilities, and for whom do your capabilities have value by supplying a need, fulfilling a desire or solving a problem? And it identifies how your product or service is differentiated and defended from potential competitors.
2. Environmental scan
The scan is an assessment of the world around you and how actual or potential changes could impact your business. Is there a change in your customers' need for your products or services, plans for new roads, new retail or housing developments? Are there changes in your competitors' strategies? Are there legislative or regulatory initiatives that could impact your business?
Successful businesses understand and retain their customers, who connect them to new customers. Can you characterize your current customers and why they do business with you? Do they have needs you don't currently serve but could? What needs might they have in the future? Can you identify prospective customers? How can you reach them?
A healthy business is constantly refreshing its product portfolio, improving products (or services), adding new products, retiring products that no longer fit the model and keeping price strategies updated. Product portfolio changes must be driven by clear objectives, including enhancing the value proposition, filling holes in the portfolio, responding to changes in the business environment and outmaneuvering competition.
Getting your message to your current and potential customers is clearly vital. The communications plan looks at available options: social media, website, press releases, trade shows, articles, newsletters, referral motivation and press/media advertising, then decides which of them to use and how to most effectively get your message to your target.
6. Financial goals
The marketing plan leads directly to key financial goals: revenue and gross margin. Depending on the size of your business, you may or may not have control over the below-the-line costs that determine profit. But examining the gross margin your revenue forecast produces tells you a lot about managing product mix and where you need to work on product cost. Finally, you need a sensitivity analysis: What happens if a particular long shot works out or if a key sales goal is not achieved? How does this impact the numbers?
7. Action plan
Having done all this work, you now have pages of action items. You can't do them all, so it's time to prioritize and reduce them to a manageable list based on margin impact and strategic positioning impact.
Complementing the action list are metrics: What will you measure, and when will you measure to assess progress, ensure early detection of incipient problems and implement corrective action?
8. Exit strategy
Every business at some time is faced with the dilemma that something is not working, and it's not going to work any time soon. Be ready for this. Develop exit criteria, strategic and financial metrics so when it happens you can act decisively and at the right time to sell or close, and not waste the precious time you need to drive the business you can win.