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Regardless of how new or established your business is, drawing up an annual marketing plan is a great idea to help you define and focus your marketing efforts. Whether your business is a bike shop or a tech consulting firm, letting your potential customers know that you are out there with the goods and services they need is a key step to growing and sustaining it. 

1. Revisit your business plan

Hopefully, you developed a business plan when you started. It might be a good idea to revisit it and remind yourself what your core values and goals are.  As you develop your marketing strategies, aligning with your business plan – which may include your mission statement, company description, market analysis, operating strategy, etc. – may give you meaningful insights into your overall vision and target audience.

2. Research 

When you started your business, you probably surveyed the landscape – both in the local community and online. Take some of that same knowledge then dive deeper into who you are marketing to and your competition.

Develop marketing personas
Creating a fictional “persona” of an ideal customer can help you in your marketing strategy.  What are their buying habits? Where do they live?  What is their income? What matters to them?  Answering a few of these questions will help paint a picture of your ideal customer.

Look at your competition
Benchmarking is when you compare your business against others within the same field. How do you stack up against them? Depending on your resources, you may be able to conduct in-depth studies and research to gain knowledge about them and identify best practices for your own business.  Otherwise, a simple search on Google can provide a wealth of information about your competitors. This may inform how you develop your own marketing strategy and how you set your business up to be differentiated from them.

3. Go digital

Website. A website is a good place for your business to do business and tell your story. Remember: your website can serve as the centerpiece of your marketing strategy. Every time you post your URL in a piece of marketing or link from a digital ad, there’s a potential customer who may click to learn more about you or make a purchase.  If you need an online store or appointment scheduler, there may be some complicated functionality involved. Just like your business, your website can grow along with it.

Social media. Platforms like Instagram and Twitter may not be essential to begin with, but you might want to at least start with a Facebook page. Once you gather a dedicated base of followers, it will be easy to market to them. Because they’ve elected to follow or “like” you, they’re already interested. 

Email. If email marketing is part of your plan, you can start building your database of contacts on Facebook, your website, or by using sign-up sheets at events or conferences. Once you have some addresses, you can market special offers and promote other content – such as an eNewsletter – specific to your business or industry.  

Online reviews. Reviews are some of the best free advertising you could ask for. Make sure to monitor your business’ online reviews. Unhappy customers may be quick to leave a negative review on Google or another platform to let others know how they feel about your business. If you can respond to the online reviews, reach out to unhappy customers to offer solutions. It’s better to provide an excellent customer experience than to give them a reason to leave a negative review.  

4. Spread the word  

Advertise. Ads in local or national publications of interest, trade magazines, etc., will help get the word out. You might choose to target specific demographics with digital ads on relevant websites, Facebook, or other social media. Don’t forget: paper is still relevant. Make sure your website’s URL is easy to find on any postcard, brochure, one-pager, or mailer. 

Network.  Conferences and trade shows could be ideal places to meet those in your industry, or those who have an interest in what you do. Get some business cards and don’t be shy about handing them out if you attend any. If you have a booth or table, make sure it’s decked out in your brand logo and colors and you have plenty of promotional materials to give away.

Utilize testimonials. What do your customers say about you? A testimonial from a real customer is a great marketing tool to include in print ads or digital collateral.  If you know of a customer who wants to gush about how great your business is, get it on paper or – if possible – video.

5. Get local 

Your community needs you and you need them. Having a strong foothold in the local area, will go a long way for your brand. Start by supporting or sponsoring local charitable organizations, schools, sports teams, etc. Look to join local chambers of commerce, community groups and business associations to strengthen your ties with your community. It’s also a great idea to give away some company swag – t-shirts, mugs, pens. It might seem like small endeavor, but it will boost your local presence.

6. Track your efforts

With any of your efforts, it’s a good idea to track successes and failures. You don’t want to spend time, money, and other valuable resources for nothing.  Website analytics and other marketing campaign tracking sources can give you a big picture view of the interest customers and potential customers have in your business.  You should also be aware of your customer acquisition cost (CAC), which is the cost to acquire a new customer. (For example: A simplified CAC formula equals total marketing costs to acquire new customers divided by the total number of customers acquired – per specific timeframe or campaign period).

Developing a sound strategy to market your business need not be complicated or costly. It starts with knowing who you are, who your target audience is, and what makes you different from your competition. (It's also important to keep your business marketing tactics compliant with the Federal Trade Commission best practices and other organizations that govern your industry).