Friday, January 25, 2008

Successful Planning: Key Elements

Does the thought of planning out your marketing and business growth strategy for the coming year have you holding your head in pain and agony? Well, it shouldn't! Creating and then executing a sound marketing plan will pay huge dividends throughout the year, not only in terms of greater sales and stronger relationships with customers and prospects, but also for the simple fact that you can sleep a little better at night knowing that you're operating from a written plan and not "flying by the seat of your pants."

O.K., so what should go into a marketing plan? The marketing plans I help my clients develop are 1-2 pages in length, and focus on these big-picture areas:

1. Develop an overall "theme" for the year. This can take many forms, such as: A new product launch or a new focus on X. I strongly recommend that you develop a theme, which will give you a launching-off point for your marketing.

2. Develop a specific revenue target. Again, this usually is something like: We want to increase sales 15% over the previous year.

3. Develop a series of related marketing activities. Just like you can't eat a single meal and never be hungry again, marketing is not a one-time thing. The best marketing plans feature a series of related activities over the entire year. I usually like to think in terms of: one major marketing event per quarter. And ideally, each of these marketing events will be tied to your overall theme for the year.

4. Focus on an ongoing communication program to your best clients. Too many business owners focus, in my opinion, on landing new clients...and forget to market to their existing clients. I believe you should contact your clients ideally once a month, and at the worse, every other month.

5. Try at least one new "thing." Again, this can be anything from launching a new product (such as, for example, a blog to help business owners [!]) to trying a new marketing tool, such as an email newsletter. Trying new things keeps your ideas fresh and your juices flowing, and also sends a message to your clients and prospects that you are fresh, current, and cutting-edge.

6. Always be thinking about the following year. Is your web site getting outdated? Do you want to mount a major PR campaign? These things take time to develop and launch. If planned in advanced, however, they can be developed creatively, with as little disruption to your current activities as possible, and with the costs spread throughout several months.

Again, these are big-picture topics. Your marketing plan will have specifics, too. Yes, planning takes time and energy, but it is worth it. A sound marketing plan will point you in the right direction this year, and the following year. If you don't plan, however, you'll fall into the trap which Yogi Berra once so elegantly described (as only Yogi could!): "If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there."

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