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You may think creating a marketing plan is one of those tasks best left to the professionals, or you simply don’t have the budget right now. However, a marketing plan is something companies of all sizes need to deal with head on in order to grow their community and increase revenue. It doesn’t need to be a headache — just think of it as a short list of goals and a to-do list to accomplish them. We’ve asked Marketing Manager Niall O’Loughlin from 99designs to help us draft up these 6 steps to building a winning marketing strategy.

Step 1: Tackle your positioning
Before you get into nitty-gritty marketing tactics, think about how your small business fits into the competitive landscape in the UK. Start by a brainstorming exercise – you can use these questions as a guide to start you off.

  • Who are you selling to?
  • What do your customers need?
  • Who are your biggest competitors?
  • How can you differentiate your product from your competitors?

Once you’ve defined your competitive advantage, take a minute to identify some details about your target customer.

  • Demographics: Try to segment your customers in terms of age, gender, location and marital status?
  • Psychographics: What are your customers’ interests, hobbies and values?
  • Are your customers mostly online? Do they read magazines or newspapers? Which ones? Figure out the best avenues to reach your audience so you can save money elsewhere.
  • If you’re not sure, ask them. You can send a simple online survey through Survey Monkey to gain valuable feedback on your target audience behaviours and buying patterns.

Step 2: Define your goals

Whether your focus is increasing brand visibility or increasing sales and revenue, setting specific goals for the year ahead will help you create a dedicated roadmap to follow. Make sure to attach numbers to each goal. As part of your goal to successfully launch a new product, for instance, you may decide to host an event with the goal of 200 attendees and aim to be published in at least 5 local media outlets. Think about the best way to activate your target audience to take the actions you require to reach your goals. Identifying these actions will help you define your main marketing message to communicate to your target audience.

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Step 3:Perform Market Research – Listen carefully to your the market.

Performing market research is of vital importance to your business’ initial success. A competitive analysis allows you a data driven method on how to determine and improve your strategy. You don’t have to be a huge corporation to perform Research can be done through a variety of ways that may include focus groups, surveys and the internet. You can learn a lot from analysing your competition. Take time to visit their store, analyse their customers and checkout  their social media messaging. How successful are they? Can the market sustain your business and theirs? Is there a noticeable weakness that you can capitalize on to increase your sales?

Step 4: Determine your budget

As a general rule, a small businesses should plan to allocate 7-8% of their revenue to marketing activities. This can vary depending on how long you’ve been in business and other factors. If you are just starting out, you may have to invest significantly more in order to drive an initial volume of users to your product/service. Paid search is a fast to market solution for reaching your target market in your businesses early stages. The trick is to spend your money wisely on a tailored marketing plan aimed at fulfilling your company’s goals. Don’t forget you’re your marketing activities will have a direct bearing on your overall sales and revenue – so its time to act wisely with the budget that you have.

Step 5: Set strategies and tactics

Once you’ve determined where to reach your customers, and how much money you have to do so, it’s time to create a detailed plan of action. Consider including the following marketing channels.

  • Paid Search – Allow a small budget to reach your community through Adwords, Facebook, Linked in.
  • Organic Search – Ensure your site is SEO friendly. Start reaching out, building links and driving traffic to your site.
  • Content Marketing – Launch a blog, newsletter, infographic and communicate your message to the world.
  • Social Media Marketing – Ensure your social media messaging is informative and engaging to your target audience.
  • Affiliate Marketing – Find partners to help sell your product or transform customers into ambassadors with loyalty schemes.

These are just some of the many strategies and tactics that will help you to map your marketing plan and start acquiring quality customers to your business. Plan to review your marketing metrics monthly, tracking your leads, page views, conversion rates and links. Your marketing plan should continue to evolve along with your business growth. Don’t worry, some things will work better than others – so prepare to make adjustments along the way. Share your marketing stories with us in the comments. We would love to hear from you! Good luck!