What is a Marketing Plan and How to Create One For Your Home Business

The What, Why, and How of a Marketing Plan

Marketing Plan
Develop your marketing strategy. Credit: andresr | Getty Images

What is a Marketing Plan?

A marketing plan is a business document outlining your marketing strategy and tactics. It's often focused on a specific period of time (i.e. over the next 12 months) and covers a variety of marketing-related details, such as costs, goals, and action steps.

But like your business plan, a marketing plan is not a static document. It needs to change and evolve as your business grows, and as new and changing marketing trends develop.

Purpose of a Marketing Plan

Many business owners create a marketing plan and then set it aside. However, your marketing plan is a road map providing you with direction toward reaching your business objectives. It needs to be referred to and assessed for results frequently.

While some small business owners include their marketing plan as part of their overall business plan, because marketing is crucial to success, having a comprehensive, detailed marketing plan on its own is recommended. If you don't want to make a mini-plan as part of your business plan, you can attach your full marketing plan to the business plan as an appendix to the business plan.

Benefits to a Marketing Plan

The importance of a detailed marketing plan can't be overstated. Marketing is as important as the product or service you provide. Without marketing, consumers and clients can't find out about you. If they don't know about you, they can't buy fro you, and as a result, you won't make money.

A marketing plan:

  • Gives clarity to who your market is. It's easier to find clients and customers if you know who they are.
  • Helps you craft marketing messages that will generate results. Marketing is about knowing what your product or service can do to help a target market. Your messages need to speak directly your market.
  • Provides focus and direction. Email, social media, advertising, guest blogging, direct mail, publicity, and on and on. With so many marketing choices, you need a plan for determining the best course of action for your business.

How to Create Your Marketing Plan

A typical small business marketing plan covers many elements including a description of competitors,  demand for the product or service you offer, and strengths and weaknesses from a market standpoint of both the business and its competitors.

A marketing plan is a tool you need to use daily to help you reach your market and your profit goals. As you make your marketing plan, focus on what you need to understand and reach your market. The basics include:

1. Details about your business' current situation. What is your product or service? What's working and what challenges are you currently having in generating new clients and customers? What issues might you encounter over the next year, such as a move (when you can't work) or new laws that might impact how you do business?

2. Who is your target market?  Who is the most likely buyer of what you're offering? The answer should never be "everyone." To help you define your market, determine how your product or service helps people and then figure out the people who need that solution.

You might have several groups within your target market, often referred to as market segmentation (specializing in specific niche markets or groups). For example, if your business helps people with weight loss, your target markets could be moms wanting to lose baby weight and baby boomers wanting to improve their health. Knowing your market and its needs helps you to create market specific messages and place them where they'll be seen for greater effectiveness.

3. What are your goals for the time period of the plan? Be specific in your goals, such as increase email list by x amount over the next year or find x number of new clients. It's important that you're able to measure the effectiveness of your marketing plan by having a quantifiable goal.

4. What marketing tactics will you use to reach your market and goals? Let your target market be your guide in deciding what marketing strategies you'll use.

Where does your market hangout? How can you entice them to check out your business? For example, if your market spends a lot of time on Facebook, you might consider having a Facebook fan page or group, or perhaps investing in Facebook advertising. If you're a service business catering to other businesses, you might want to write an article for a newsletter or magazine that targets that same business industry.

5. How much will it cost? This is where you make a budget for your marketing plan. There are many free marketing strategies, although they require time, which is a type of expense. Will you do home parties and if so, what will be the cost of travel, mailing of invites, purchasing door-prizes, etc? Will you pay for advertising or for a mailing list service? Of all the places to spend money in your home business, marketing is the priority, as long as you're investing wisely.

Keep Your Marketing Plan up to Date

Like a business plan, a marketing plan is a living, breathing document. Analyzing your results and tweaking or changing your marketing strategies is an important task in keeping your marketing plan up to date and having it fulfill its purpose in helping reach your business goals. Many factors can impact your marketing results and choices including market conditions, demand for your product or service, pricing issues, and new marketing methods (i.e. a new social media platform). It's important you stay aware of all of this and adjust your marketing plan accordingly.

Updated June 2017 Leslie Truex