Creating a successful marketing plan

A marketing plan is an operational document that outlines how an organisation will communicate and promote its products or services to its target markets.

A good marketing plan capitalises on the business’s market research and understanding of its unique selling points to better promote and communicate its products and services to a target audience.

Or, to put it simply: It’s a simple step-by-step guide on how and where to market/promote your business.

Remember, depending on your business, it can take 3-6 months for your activity to produce outcomes. Planning will ensure you’re not missing out on time-based opportunities, help you allocate resources, and prepare for quieter business periods.

Marketing plans needn’t be an overwhelming, complex document full of clever marketing terms. However, not having one could be detrimental to your business.

Here are three steps to help you create a successful marketing plan:


1) Create an annual, calendar-based plan

While it’s good for a business to be flexible and adapt quickly to unexpected changes, you still need to have a structured plan for when things do go as expected. Running all your marketing on an ad-hoc basis just won’t cut it.

First, create an annual plan. Outline all the critical dates in the year, such as Christmas, Easter, Valentines Day and Halloween. While some of these events might not affect you directly, they may have an impact on your suppliers and customers.

Next, take a look at previous sales information and see if there are any trends. For example, do you need to account for the school holidays? Is August typically a slow month for sales?

Using this information, you can allocate resources and plan when key marketing activities need to happen. For example, as a flower shop, Valentine’s Day is typically an important event. Therefore, your plan for this event might look something like this:

  • Adjusted stock order complete by 1st December to accommodate increased demand
  • Temporary sales staff interviewed and employed by 25th January
  • Update website 1st February
    • New products loaded to the website by 25th January
    • Promotion codes loaded to the website by 25th January
  • Advertising should start on 1st February
    • Message approved 11th January
    • Designs approved 18th January
    • Printed materials ordered 19th January
    • Digital adverts scheduled for 1st February
  • Email campaign sent on 1st February
    • Email design by 29th January

As you can see, there’s plenty to plan for this event. What you might consider being a simple leaflet, webpage or promotion might require multiple steps that need to start months before the actual event.

In addition to this, if you’re using external resources, such as a design or web agency, you may need to factor in their workload too. Technically, it might only take them a day to create the things you need for your marketing, but they may need a week’s notice for that day. Planning will ensure your marketing activity can be delivered on time.


2) Keep your marketing plan strategic

While you might like to include tactical elements such as ‘social media post published to Facebook on 12th February‘, within your Marketing plan, it’s essential to link all your activity back to your core objectives.

Thinking strategically will help ensure all your tactical marketing activities are focused and support the larger business goals.

For more information on identifying your target customer, please read the first in our How to market your small business series: Organising your customers to grow your business.


3) Take action

As with all planning, it will be a waste of time if you don’t take action on what you plan to do.

Once you better understand your annual plan, you can begin to break this down into more manageable chunks. First, create a rolling quarterly plan, then assign actions and responsibilities each month.

Scheduling monthly planning meetings to assign responsibilities is a great way to keep activity moving. If two or more people are in your team, you could define roles for each task. For example, you may be accountable for the social media post that needs to be published on Facebook on 12th February, but your marketing assistant is responsible for creating the post.


How ETC can help

If you need help creating a successful marketing plan, please get in touch.

If you are new to ETC, why not contact us for a free business review? We’ll spend two hours with you, giving you professional coaching and will leave you with actions for immediate implementation.

How to market your small business

In a highly competitive market, promoting a small business can be a real struggle. Owners and entrepreneurs can face an overwhelming amount of marketing information and advice, and with limited budgets, it can be hard to know where to invest your time and resources.

In this guide, we’ll look at the top eight things a small business can do to successfully promote its products, services and brand.


Step one: Who is your customer?

Market research is essential in understanding who your target customer is. This research will also help you identify market trends and keep an eye on what your competition is doing.

Understanding who your customer is, forms the basis of all your other marketing efforts. Even if you think you know who they are, it never hurts to do some research every now and again; things might have changed.

Learn more about the importance of understanding your audience.


Step two: Organising your customers

Once you understand who your customer is, you will need to learn a bit more about them so that you can organise them into groups (segments).

Trying to promote your products and services to absolutely everyone on your target customer list will be extremely expensive and ineffective – even if you believe everyone can use or benefit from your product/service.

Grouping or segmenting your potential customer based on particular characteristics will allow you to focus your marketing efforts – and find that low hanging fruit. This grouping could be based on:

  • Geography
  • Demographics (age, gender, occupation)
  • Behaviour (loyalty, readiness to buy)

Learn more about organising your customers to grow your business.


Step three: Understand yourself

Once you know a bit more about your customer, it’s easy to assume you can jump straight in and start cleverly marketing your business in all the right places. But why should someone buy from you? What makes you different to your competitors?

Sounds simple, but formalising this ‘Know thyself’ stage is often overlooked.

To do this, you need to clearly understand what your unique selling propositions (USPs) are. What makes your business stand out from the crowd. Why do your customers buy from you instead of your competitors?

Once you understand this, you can then develop your marketing message.

Learn more about developing your USP.


Step four: Create a clear message

Your business offering needs to be straightforward and easy for people to understand.

All your communications with clients and prospects should include how your business can solve a particular problem. If you’ve done the research and successfully segmented your customer base, you can start tailoring messages based on each group’s needs.

You should always try to avoid industry jargon and assume the reader is relatively new to the market. For example, we’re business and management consultants. However, we can’t assume everyone knows what that means. So, following this business classification, we elaborate by saying, “we help small businesses grow and become more profitable”.

Learn more about creating a clear, strong marketing message.


Step five: Create a marketing plan

A marketing plan needn’t be an overwhelming, complex document full of clever marketing terms. A good marketing plan outlines:

  • Where you’re spending resources
  • Why you’re spending resources – applying it to your customer research
  • What you’re going to say (message and design)
  • Where you’re going to say it (online, in a magazine, via email)
  • What you expect the outcome to be

For example, your marketing budget might be small, so competing against larger competitors on social media, Google, or on billboards might be too expensive. Therefore, you might want to construct a guerrilla marketing campaign – a low budget means of being creative and an unconventional way of sharing your message. View HubSpot for more information on guerrilla marketing.


Step six: Build a database

Your database is the lifeblood of all your marketing (and sales). Building your own database will help you directly and regularly communicate with your contacts.

Remember, all those contacts you have on LinkedIn or Facebook aren’t yours. If LinkedIn stopped tomorrow, could you still speak to your connections?

Your own database allows you to send things like monthly email newsletters and promotions that will help nurture prospective clients into leads, and ideally, customers.


Step seven: Build loyalty

Your customers are the key to your success, so it’s essential you look after them and encourage loyalty.

Typically, someone who uses your business for the first time isn’t particularly loyal. Their first-time experience with your company determines their return. Developing loyalty and trust with that customer can transform them into advocates, someone who is willing to refer your business to others. And ultimately, you want to develop all your customers into brand ambassadors; those who believe in your business so much they act as an unofficial sales team.

Loyalty is usually earned by focusing on delivering exceptional customer service and exceeding their expectations on multiple occasions. However, you can encourage loyalty by rewarding customers for their repeat business by creating a loyalty scheme (like Costa, Boots, Ikea and Tesco).


Step eight: Monitor, review and learn

It is important to regularly monitor and review your marketing activities to ensure they achieve the desired outcome, such as increased sales.

Ideally, you should review your marketing plan every three months. Today, it can be relatively easy to determine what marketing activity has lead to a sale. Customer Relationship Management Systems (CRMs) can track customer’s behaviour and identify what information they saw before a sale.

Continually monitoring and reviewing your marketing will allow you to build on what is working and change what isn’t.


How ETC can help

If you need help with your marketing and obtaining new clients, please get in touch.

If you are new to ETC, why not contact us for a free new business review? We’ll spend two hours with you, giving you professional coaching and will leave you with actions for immediate implementation.

The importance of setting business goals

Everyone has an idea of where they want their business to be in the future. Your ultimate goal may be to earn enough money to retire early, create a legacy for your children or it could be world domination.

The best way to achieve this future is to create a road-map of how to get there: otherwise known as a business plan. However, when you are planning for the future, it’s essential to keep your goals in mind. Everything you put in your business plan should be centred around achieving your goals.

If you haven’t already written a business plan, we recommend you read our Business Planning for 2021 article, which outlines how to structure and write a plan.


Setting goals

When we set goals, business owners tend to solely focus on their business. This is not surprising as it’s what you do for a living, and business goals are vital to maintaining motivation and drive. However, it is essential not to forget our personal goals – where do you, personally want to be in 3, 5, 20 years in the future?

Your business facilitates your personal goals. Therefore your business and personal goals must be aligned, but separate.

For example, a personal goal might be to own a beautiful chalet in the Swiss Alps where you can ski to your heart’s content. To achieve this personal goal, your business goal might be to earn £100k per year and have management staff to run the day-to-day business.

It is the personal goal that motivates and inspires you. The mechanism to achieving this goal is the business goal of earning £100k per year and employing management staff.


Setting achievable goals

Continuing with the example above: If you currently earn £30k per year and your goal is to make £100k in 6-months, you’re probably going to need a considerable business scale-up programme and investment – now, we’re not saying this isn’t achievable, but it’s perhaps unlikely.

Is not hitting this goal going to motivate you to continue? – probably not.

When setting goals, it is important to challenge yourself, but they should be realistic and achievable within a specific timeframe. One proven strategy for goal setting is to use SMART.

Goals should be Specific – make it very clear to you and everyone else what your goal is.

Goals should be Measurable – can you quantify success? You can also try putting milestones (mini-goals) in place to make sure you’re heading in the right direction.

Make sure your goals are Achievable – can you, or your business accomplish the goal? The point of a goal is to challenge and motivate yourself. If your goal is too high, it can cause stress and decrease the chance of reaching your goal. Likewise, if it’s too easy, it will stop you from pushing yourself and doing more.

Are your goals Realistic? – ambition is a powerful trait, but you need to ensure your goals aren’t fantasy. Successful business people don’t just become successful overnight.

Finally, remember to make your goals Timebound – When are you going to have achieved your goals by?


How long should your business goals be?

In business, it is important to have a mixture of short, medium and long-term goals to keep you motivated. What defines the actual length of these goals in terms of time is based on you and your business.

For example, a business start-up with young directors might want to have some goals that stretch as far as 20-30 years. However, someone starting a business in their 50s probably would prefer to be achieving their goals a lot sooner – but, they might want to leave something behind for their children.

If you have ambitious, achievable goals that will take a few years to accomplish, then we recommend breaking those down to become more manageable. We mentioned setting mini-goals (milestones) above in terms of setting measurable goals. Milestones are a brilliant way of keeping you motivated when you’re working towards long-term goals (5, 10 or 20 years into the future) as they create the opportunity to celebrate success and achieve a ‘win’.


Setting goals for 2021

It’s no surprise that many people’s annual goals in 2020 were seriously interrupted or shelved. Certainly, at the start of the pandemic, businesses were operating on a day-by-day basis.

When setting goals for 2021, it is important to have learned from the unexpected, unprecedented nature of 2020. 2021 promises a large deployment of the vaccination and ‘business as usual’ by Easter. It could also bring a different strain of the virus and more lockdowns. Which do you prepare for?

The answer should be both. Throughout 2021, keep reviewing your goals and milestones to check that you are heading in the right direction. You will need to stay flexible and adapt to change. Try not to be stubborn and set rigid goals.

Finally, remember that ‘business as usual’ will be more like it is today than it was in 2019. Technology has dramatically advanced the way we do things forever. Consider the new opportunities now available to us and the new ways of working. As an example, we are more likely to have more meetings over Zoom than face-to-face than we did in 2019 – so, do you want a fleet of business cars anymore?


How ETC can help

If you need help setting SMART business goals or creating a comprehensive business plan for 2021, please get in touch.

If you’re new to ETC, why not contact us for a free new business review? We’ll spend two hours with you, giving you professional coaching and will leave you with actions for immediate implementation.

Prepare your business for a change in lockdown restrictions

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, governments are introducing new lockdown restrictions to keep everyone safe. The introduction of the new covid three-tiered lockdown system in England aims to avoid national lockdown by classifying areas based on the rate of infection. And in Wales, the short, sharp “firebreak” lockdown returns the country to nationwide lockdown for over two weeks.

Throughout the pandemic, there has always been a warning before a change in restrictions. However, this notice is usually days, and as a business owner, this poses the question: How prepared is your business for a change in lockdown restrictions?

Depending on your area’s circumstances, you may need to turn services on and off quickly to comply with social limitations.

Here are four simple steps to preparing your business for a sudden increase in COVID-19 restrictions.


1. Flexibility

Planning ahead and developing flexible operations could help keep your business running through new lockdown rules.

Office-based business
It’s likely travel restrictions will limit access to your premises. Ensure your business can run remotely. Focus on protecting staff (both physically and mentally) by implementing quality remote working solutions now. Poor internet connection, file accessibility or restricted access to vital systems can hinder productivity and damage employee morale. Streamlining procedures and investing in quality equipment and applications can connect remote workers and help you deliver excellent customer service. For example:

  • Do you have a customer relationship manager like HubSpot to ensure notes on a client are logged
  • Project management tool like can help keep track of team tasks
  • A virtual assistant like I’m your PA can help manage calls and your diary

Public-facing business (shops, bars and restaurants)

Footfall is likely to drop, or stop. Therefore, you’ll need to evaluate how best to deliver your services in the most efficient way possible.

  • If your shop shuts, do you have an online store? Is this optimised for conversions and upsell?
  • As a pub or bar, do you serve substantial meals? Could you operate a takeaway service? Have you considered an app to limit customer and staff interaction and speed up delivery?

Personal note: I heard a story about a client who went to a pub and waited over 40mins to receive their first drink. The pub was operating table service and the staff were run off their feet delivering menus, taking orders, serving both food and drink and taking payments. As winter approaches, having customers wait this long outside is not ideal. As a result, the client admitted they wouldn’t go back.

A simple, low-cost solution to this would be to provide quality WiFi and a QR code that links them to an online menu and order form. A better solution would be to offer an app to handle the whole order and payment process, allowing the bar staff to focus on delivery and customer service.


2. Promote COVID-secure

Regardless of your local restrictions, or what type of business you are, you should be promoting your business as COVID-secure. All your communications should enforce this message.

Let customers know you are safe to do business with.

As restrictions and local guides are different, there is usually some confusion about what your customers or employees should be doing. Therefore, ensure your message is clear and visible. Make it easy for people to follow the rules.

  • Place signs up around your place of business for both visitors and staff
  • Use your website to explain any changes your business is making to keep people safe
  • Send email updates and evidence of any changes to your customer list
  • Use social media to demonstrate how you’re safe
    • Why not use videos and pictures of people in PPE delivering services?
  • Include information with posted packages to reassure customers you’ve taken extra precautions


3. Act COVID-secure

Working hand-in-hand with promoting that you are COVID-secure, is acting COVID-secure. This is absolutely vital to your business.

Keeping customers and staff safe is imperative and can help avoid a business shutdown. If a member of your staff tests positive, you will have to close your business. If they spread the virus to other members of the team, you might be closed for a long time. Not to mention the loss of faith or trust customers will have in your business.

If you say you’re going to keep customers and staff safe, make sure it’s obvious you’re doing so, any advice is simple to follow, and the rules are enforced. For example:

  • Create large, simple to follow guides for any visitors
  • If you operate a one-way system, use signs and tape on the floor and place do not enter signs for anyone approaching the other way
  • Have hand-sanitising stations
  • Use perspex dividers
  • Encourage masks or appropriate PPE (whenever possible)


4. Focus on customer service

At this time, quick, efficient service delivery is what’s going to see you through any changes in lockdown restrictions. Systems, processes, and operational mechanisms should all focus on exceeding the customer’s expectations.

Customers are more open to change than ever before – so long as it keeps them safe and doesn’t put barriers in their way. 

A simple way to identify barriers is to talk to your staff and customers directly. Understand their ‘pain’ points and look to resolve them. Feedback should be welcomed and encouraged.

You can also use this feedback to convince others to use your product or service by turning them into online reviews through Facebook or Google My Business (an essential element of SEO). Even bad reviews, when addressed, can be a positive thing.

At a time of uncertainty, be the clear guide and focus. This will help to delight your customers.


How ETC can help

If you need help creating a comprehensive plan to help prepare your business for a change in lockdown restrictions, please get in touch.

If you’re new to ETC, why not contact us for a free new business review? We’ll spend two hours with you, giving you professional coaching and will leave you with actions for immediate implementation.

The key to ending your business lockdown

The UK is slowly reducing restrictions and ending lockdown. However, things aren’t going to return to how they were pre-COVID-19, and businesses need to prepare for a new ‘normal’.

The number one priority at this time is to re-open or return to work safely. A second lockdown, as seen in Victoria, Australia or local lockdowns as seen in Leicester, is a real possibility. And, as in the case of Leicester, local lockdowns could mean no special financial support from the Government – BBC News.

Government advice and changes are happening fast and planning for change is critical. To help prepare your business for these changes and for leaving lockdown, we have created an essential three-step guide:

1. Marketing should be your focus

Marketing is an essential element of bouncing back. 75% of consumers say that brands should inform people of what they’re doing.

There is still a lot of uncertainty around what businesses are doing. With some sectors still closed, your customers may need reminding that you’re open and ready for business.

There are many tools in the marketing toolbox, but at this stage, we advise that you focus on PR (public relations). This involves re-engaging with your target audience and rebuilding your relationship.

PR requires you to share your message through media channels, both traditional (press) and non-traditional (social media). The ultimate goal is to build awareness of your brand, reinforce your business values and demonstrate why customers will like doing business with you. This can include things like:

  • How you’re re-opening your business (making sure you focus on what’s important to your customers, not your company)
  • Case studies of post-COVID-19 business and success
  • How you’ve supported your local community

For more information on how to market your business, re-read our previous marketing guides, or contact us and let us help you bounce back.

2. Let customers and employees know how you’re keeping them safe

Public health is at the forefront of everyone’s mind at the moment and informing your customers and staff about your ‘safe’ re-opening can be a compelling message.

Messages about ‘safe’ have become more important as lockdown has eased. Larger brands are opting for a clear, positive, inspirational, and helpful tone over humorous, witty, or casual.

According to a study by Econsultancy: one in five consumers have actively stopped purchasing from a brand because of its response to the coronavirus outbreak. This included not providing a safe working environment for its employees.

In the same study, 62% stated that they were more likely to spend money with companies that prioritise the health and safety of their staff.

The full study can be found here: coronavirus impact on marketing, ecommerce & advertising

3. Be consistent in your message

After you’ve invested in PR and promoted your ‘safe to return’ messages, you should always ensure you follow through. It’s great to have handwashing stations and social distancing in place, but if these aren’t clearly visible people may become anxious about what the protocols are.

If you have been into a retail shop recently, you’ll have seen the answer to this yourselves: large signs above sanitiser stations and 2-metres or 1-metre plus signs on the floor.

Without these highly visible, tangible changes to improve safety, all your PR and messages will be wasted – and potentially counterproductive as it may appear disingenuous.

Finally, on a more serious note, the importance of these COVID-19 safe measures cannot be stressed enough. If COVID-19 gets into the workplace, everyone exposed will need to isolate, which may include some difficult conversations with customers.

To protect your business, get your cashflow going again and rebuild customer trust, don’t just give COVID-19 safe the lip service – it’s the key to ending your business lockdown.

How ETC can help

If you need help creating a comprehensive ‘bounce back’ plan to reduce recovery time, take advantage of new opportunities ETC can help, please get in touch.

If you’re new to ETC, why not contact us for a free new business review? We’ll spend two hours with you, giving you professional coaching and will leave you with actions for immediate implementation.