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if you're thinking about developing a marketing program, you need to begin with a marketing plan. Having been in marketing for more than a decade, I have seen my share of marketing plans. Some are short and to the point, others are hundreds of pages thick and cost thousands of dollars to produce.

When many Small Business Owners define marketing they tend to mix up marketing as a strategy with a tactic like a coupon book in the locale mail.

Here's a little clarification:

A marketing goal is a broad primary outcome:
" I want to grow my Small Business 200% over the next 24 months."

A marketing strategy is the approach you take to achieve a goal:
"I will reach my goal through an aggressive new customer campaign combining SEO, Internal marketing and increased exposure of my holiday sales events."

An objective is a measurable step you take to achieve a strategy:
"I will gain 5 new customers per month."

A tactic is a tool you use in pursuing an objective associated with a strategy:
"I will focus my SEO on customers searching for a profitable product I feature in my holiday events."

The irony is that many of the expensive marketing plans end up on a shelf and rarely get implemented. The simple plans, if researched and implemented effectively, have the greatest impact.

Regardless of the scope of your marketing plan, you must keep in mind that it is a fluid document. Every business needs to begin with a well structured plan that is based in thorough research, competitive positioning and attainable outcomes. Your plan should be the basis for your activities over the coming months. However, you should always be willing to enhance or redirect your plan based on what proves successful.

Marketing Plan Basics

1. Market Research
Collect, organize, and write down data about the market that is currently buying the product(s) or service(s) you will sell. Some areas to consider:

Market dynamics, patterns including seasonality
Customers - demographics, market segment, target markets, needs, buying decisions
Product - what's out there now, what's the competition offering
Current sales in the industry
Benchmarks in the industry
Suppliers - vendors that you will need to rely on

2. Target Market
Find niche or target markets for your product and describe them.

3. Product
Describe your product. How does your product relate to the market? What does your market need, what do they currently use, what do they need above and beyond current use?

4. Competition
Describe your competition. Develop your "unique selling proposition." What makes you stand apart from your competition? What is your competition doing about branding?

5. Mission Statement
Write a few sentences that state:

"Key market" - who you're selling to
"Contribution" - what you're selling
"Distinction" - your unique selling proposition

6. Market Strategies
Write down the marketing and promotion strategies that you want to use or at least consider using. Strategies to consider:

Networking - go where your market is
Direct marketing - sales letters, brochures, flyers
Advertising - print media, directories
Training programs - to increase awareness
Write articles, give advice, become known as an expert
Direct/personal selling
Publicity/press releases
Trade shows
Web site

7. Pricing, Positioning and Branding
From the information you've collected, establish strategies for determining the price of your product, where your product will be positioned in the market and how you will achieve brand awareness.

8. Budget
Budget your dollars. What strategies can you afford? What can you do in house, what do you need to outsource.

9. Marketing Goals
Establish quantifiable marketing goals. This means goals that you can turn into numbers. For instance, your goals might be to gain at least 30 new clients or to sell 10 products per week, or to increase your income by 30% this year. Your goals might include sales, profits, or customer's satisfaction.

10. Monitor Your Results
Test and analyze. Identify the strategies that are working.

Survey customers
Track sales, leads, visitors to your web site, percent of sales to impressions
By researching your markets, your competition, and determining your unique positioning, you are in a much better position to promote and sell your product or service. By establishing goals for your marketing campaign, you can better understand whether or not your efforts are generating results through ongoing review and evaluation of results.

As mentioned earlier in this article, be sure to use your plan as a living document. Successful marketers continually review the status of their campaigns against their set objectives. This ensures ongoing improvements to your marketing initiatives and helps with future planning.
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Inc. magazine, founded in 1979 and based in New York City, is an American monthly publication focused on growing companies. The magazine publishes an annual list of the 500 fastest-growing private companies in the U.S., the "Inc. 500."

The magazine has quickly expanded along with the needs of its readers, equipping entrepreneurs with the critical information they require and demand to grow their businesses.
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