In order to successfully launch or grow your business, you’ll need to attract and retain customers. Business owners should carefully plan their marketing strategies.
Marketing Your Small Business
Sample Marketing Plans
A marketing plan is a document that outlines the situation or business environment that the business is currently operating within and then lays out the objectives, strategy, and programs to accomplish the objectives going forward. Want to grow sales? Increase your market presence? A marketing plan can help you get there.
Here is a simple outline for the steps to writing a marketing plan.
- What’s the situation, the external environment?
- What is the mission of your organization? Who is the customer, the target market and how will the organization solve their needs?
- What are the objectives that need to be accomplished?
- What is the organization’s strategy?
- What are the marketing programs, the tactics, which the plan will execute? Consider all of the 4 Ps in creating the plan: product, promotion, price and place (channel of distribution).
- Create a calendar of initiatives over time with a budget and expected results. The calendar could be drafted using a spreadsheet and organized monthly and weekly for the year under consideration
Need an example? Mplans.com contains the largest single collection of free sample marketing plans online. Visit their site.
Need more personalized help? Meet with an advisor.
Identifying Your Customer
It can take a lot of time, effort, and money to establish and execute a marketing plan, and small business owners often don’t have enough of those resources to spare. It’s important that each hour and dollar spent works efficiently to produce a return on the investment. Many small business owners waste resources casting too wide of a net.
You may be able to sell your product or service to anyone and everyone, but how much time, effort, and money is it going to cost you to spread the word and retain the loyalty of anyone and everyone. What if, instead, you determined what segment of individuals is going to produce most of your income and devoted most of your marketing resources to reaching those individuals? A greater percentage of your most likely customers would hear about you, and you could nurture those relationships with targeted products, frequent communication, and appreciation.
How to Identify and Understand your Target Customer
- Who is your most likely customer for each product/service segment?
- What is their gender? Age?
- Are they an individual or a business?
- Do they shop in pairs? With families?
- How do they shop? Online? At lunchtime?
- What do they search for online? (Check out Google Trends)
- Do they have a job?
- What do they like to do for fun?
- Where do they go on a regular basis?
- Are they rich? Poor? Middle class?
- How have they reacted to COVID?
- What do they value?
Once you’ve identified who you should be selling to, you can:
- Choose advertising channels they will actually see
- Speak directly to them in your content
- Use images and videos that will resonate with them
- Adjust your products and services to their preferences
Define Marketing Goals
Defining Marketing Goals
Of course, the ultimate goal of any marketing plan is to drive sales, and that does not usually happen overnight. Each of the steps you take in your marketing plan should have a specific goal.
Examples of marketing goals:
- Generating Awareness
…if you are a new business
…if you are seeking new customers
…if you have recently changed offerings or branding
…to communicate COVID safety procedures and policies
…to communicate hours and availability of offerings
…if your customers need to be educated before they buy
…if your product or service satisfies a new need
…if your branding is based on a platform of social responsibility
…to establish credibility
- Driving Leads and Sales
…to make it easy for customers to make a purchase
…to remind people to buy from you, not just to learn from you
- Retention/Establishing Relationships & Loyalty
…to show appreciation for those who spend the money with you
…to add a human element to your marketing messages
Digital and Social Media Marketing
Managing a website, social media, email lists, and other online options can be overwhelming and time-consuming. If done right, such virtual tools can greatly improve your business’ reputation and sales. If done wrong, an online presence can be a waste of time and may even damage your brand. Regarding an online presence, all small business owners should do two things:
- Do not ignore it.
- Do not throw spaghetti at the wall until it sticks.
Consider—but do not necessarily engage with—all options:
- Social media
- Search engine optimization (“SEO”)
- Email lists
- Video marketing
Online Marketing FAQs
There is so much to do, where do I start? One bite at a time! Start with the most effective channel you can get up and running quickly and inexpensively. For many small businesses, this is Facebook. For many Business-to-Business operations, this is LinkedIn. Build on that first channel following 3 simple rules:
- Be consistent with messaging and imagery.
- Connect channels with links to optimize SEO.
- Update frequently, so your online presence does not get stale, boring, or outdated.
Does my business need to be on every social media channel? No! You should focus on the channels that will get you the best return for your industry, objectives, and customer behaviors. (Insert link to Maine SBDC Webinar recording “Becoming a Social Media Expert”—OR just a portion of the recording that discusses channels OR the accompanying PowerPoint.)
Do I need a website? In some industries, if your customers cannot find a website for you, they assume a lack of credibility. In other industries, social media can serve as a viable substitute for a website. Long story short, it depends. What is important is that if you DO invest time and money in a website, you need to ensure your website is doing something for your business.
You will need to consider the following in creating an effective website (whether you are building it yourself or hiring a marketing company to do so). Your Maine SBDC advisor can help.
- Website goals
- Appropriate design
- Text Content
- Search Engine Optimization (If possible, insert a link to SEO basics video, podcast, or blog—I’d be happy to do this after the COVID grant madness cools down—remind me!)
Our friends at the New Hampshire SBDC recommend this resource for learning what it takes to create a website: Building a Business Website
The Internet is such a busy place, how do I stand out? A strategy, tenacity, and patience! Check out our blog post about this topic here: Getting Noticed As a Small Fish
Create a wide variety of consistent and engaging content to spread throughout the Web. Learn more about creating content for your online channels here: Maine SBDC Webinar recording “Creating Quality Content That Works”
Your Maine SBDC Business Advisor can help you dig in deeper answering these questions for your business.
There are so many ways to use the internet to market your business. Finding the proper channel to reach your customers is important. Inc. put together a great Business Owner’s Social Media Toolkit.
Other helpful sites for getting started with e-marketing and social media include HubSpot and Social Media Examiner.
Check out an in-person Social Media Breakfast in Portland and Waterville.
"Offline" Tactics-The POWER of Network Marketing
A strong offline marketing campaign does not have to be expensive. While traditional methods still exist, the best offline marketing is often network marketing. In fact, although I’m calling it an “offline tactic”, there are many virtual networking opportunities available in light of COVID.
-Can be inexpensive or free
-Often out of your comfort zone
-Allows you to make strong, long-lasting connections
-Establishes your credibility
-Usually must be done by the owner or trusted manager (cannot be delegated well)
-Helps build trust since people can put your face to your name
-Good chance of establishing many leads outside of your target
-You can learn from your connections in addition to or instead of selling to them
-May be hard to find events to reach the right audience
-Catch potential connections while they are relaxed and out of the office
-Virtual networking expands geographic reach
How to Start Building a Network
Find local events in your area or via an Online platform by doing Internet research or asking around:
- Maine SBDC advisor
- Local SCORE Chapter
- Local Chamber of Commerce
- Municipal Economic Development officials
- Other small business owners in your industry or region
- Friends and family
Step 2—Decide Where to Spend Your Time & Strategize
- Does the event time work for your schedule?
- What sort of crowd will the event attract?
- What is your objective for the event? How many connections do you hope to make (Hint: Shoot for quality over quantity!)
- Will, you know at least one person who could make introductions?
- Will, you make the most of this event or waste your time being a wallflower?
Step 3—Get out of your shell and become a top-notch networker!
- Listen to networking podcasts
- Watch networking tips videos on YouTube
- Read articles from Forbes, Ideas.Ted.Com, Harvard Business Review, or other sites
- Practice with extroverted colleagues, friends, neighbors, family, advisors, etc.
“Offline” Tactics-Traditional Methods
Supplement networking, distribute to places your customers may go
Inform, distribute to places you customers may go
Drive sales, get people through the door, offer discounts, increase awareness
Catch the eye
Give customers an audio-visual experience, catch their attention
Media (News articles)
Highlight events, social causes, or charitable contributions by submitting a press release to all local media outlets
So, you have identified your target market, developed a plan to reach that target market, and begun to execute tactical maneuvers—Good work! However (and I hate to be the one to break it to you), even the most experienced and astute small business owner does not always get it right on the first try. How do you know if your marketing plans are working? Don’t you want to find out it is working before you invest more time and money?
Unfortunately, defining the success of a marketing plan is not usually as simple as looking at the rise and fall of revenue or net income. It can take much time for marketing efforts to affect the bottom line, and many marketing tactics need time to achieve their goals. You wouldn’t dig up a plant because it hadn’t sprouted in a day, but you also wouldn’t continue to water that plant or plant more of the same if it was never going to flourish.
How will you measure the success of your goals? What metrics will you look at to decide if your marketing method is working?
Here are some tracking options to put your marketing to the test*:
- Social media followers, interactions, comments
- Website clicks, Website analytics (Google Analytics is a great tool.)
- Reviews on Google, Social media, review sites like Yelp or Trip Advisor
- Conduct surveys or interviews of existing or potential clients
- Examine financials month-over-month: How do revenue changes correlate with marketing changes
- New customer touchpoints/new leads
- How many emails did you receive from new clients?
- How many phone calls?
*Don’t try to track everything. Instead, determine which metrics make sense for your objectives. Your Maine SBDC Business Advisor can help!
Exporting & International Trade
Looking for new markets to sell your products or services? Considering exporting? Register on Export.gov and take their free readiness self-assessment.
SBA Export Resources: The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has a wealth of resources available for small businesses considering exporting. Visit their site for more info.
Maine International Trade Center: The Maine International Trade Center (MITC) is Maine’s leading source for international business assistance. They offer customized counseling, trade missions, and resources to help Maine small businesses explore international trade. Visit their site for more info.
Selling to the Government
Do you want to sell your products to the government? Your business must be:
- Financially sound
- Ready and willing to perform
- Computer/internet capable
- You must have resources, time, patience and tenacity
Check out this handy Introduction to Government Contracting presentation.
Think you are ready? The Maine Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) is the place to start. PTAC helps Maine businesses who are interested in selling their products and services to federal, state or local government agencies. Visit their site for more info.
Good customer service leads to satisfied, repeat customers. The University of Maine has created a Welcome Maine Quality Service Training certification program. Visit their site for more info.
Technology Commercialization & Accelerator Programs
In addition to the Maine SBDC, the following organizations can help you make your innovative idea a reality. Contact a business advisor now.
Maine Technology Institute:
The Maine Technology Institute (MTI) is a private, non-profit corporation that offers early-stage capital and commercialization assistance for the research and development of technologies that create new products, processes, and services, generating high-quality jobs across Maine. Visit their website for more info.
Maine Center for Entrepreneurs:
Maine Centers for Entrepreneurs (MCE) provides a broad array of relevant programming, quality mentorship, world-class training, and expertise to encourage sustainable, Maine-based entrepreneurship. MCED helps entrepreneurs re-invent the Maine economy by providing them with resources to build innovative world-class companies. Visit their website for more info.+
Upstart Center for Entrepreneurship:
The University of Maine’s Upstart Center for Entrepreneurship provides everything an innovation-based company needs to achieve its goals. It offers business coaching for startup companies from the early-idea stage to products on the shelf. Visit their website for more info.
Other Programs / Associations
Maine Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC)
PTAC helps Maine businesses who are interested in selling their products and services to federal, state, or local government agencies. Visit their site for more info.
Maine Technology Institute (MTI):
MTI is a private, non-profit corporation that offers early-stage capital and commercialization assistance for the research and development of technologies that create new products, processes, and services, generating high-quality jobs across Maine. Visit their website for more info.
Maine Center for Entrepreneurs (MCE):
MCE provides a broad array of relevant programming, quality mentorship, world-class training, and expertise to encourage sustainable, Maine-based entrepreneurship. MCED helps entrepreneurs re-invent the Maine economy by providing them with resources to build innovative world-class companies. Visit their website for more info.+
Maine Products Marketing Program (MaineMade) – The Maine Products Marketing Program (MPMP), a program of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, builds recognition for hundreds of exceptional Maine made products, their producers, and Maine’s industries in general. MPMP is open to all qualified Maine producers. A selection process is in place to ensure that high quality, Maine products from reliable producers are part of the program. Visit their site for more details.
Local Chambers – Your local chamber can be a great marketing resource. Chambers throughout Maine provide opportunities for Maine businesses for promotion, visibility, and networking. Many chambers offer great training programs and events as well. Find out more information about the Chamber of Commerce in your area.
Trade Associations in Maine:
Environment & Energy Technology Council of Maine – www.e2tech.org
Maine Aquaculture Association – www.maineaquaculture.com/
Maine BioScience – www.mainebioscience.org
Maine Brewers’ Guild – www.mainebrewersguild.org
Maine Built Boats – www.mainebuiltboats.org
Maine Campground Owners Association – www.campmaine.com
Maine Composites Alliance – www.mainecompositesalliance.org/
Maine Crafts Guild – www.mainecraftsguild.com
Maine Forest Products Council – www.maineforest.org
Maine Grocers & Food Producers Association – www.mgfpa.org
Maine Innkeepers Association – www.maineinns.com
Maine Maple Producers Association – www.mainemapleproducers.com
Maine Marine Trades Association – http://mainemarinetrades.com/
Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association – www.mofga.org
Maine Potato Board – www.mainepotatoes.com
Maine Pulp and Paper Association – www.pulpandpaper.org
Maine Restaurant Association – www.mainerestaurant.com
Maine Tourism Association – www.mainetourism.com
Maine Wood Products Association – www.mwpa.org/
Manufacturers Association of Maine – www.mainemfg.com
Retail Association of Maine – www.retailmaine.org
United Maine Craftsmen – www.unitedmainecraftsmen.com
Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine – http://wildblueberries.maine.edu/