Q&A: Marketing plans

Contributor - Alan Gleeson

Business partners write their smal business marketing plan

Writing a marketing plan may seem unnecessary for a start-up - but in fact it's a vital tool that can help you focus your promotional activities and measure their success. Marketing consultant Alan Gleeson explains how to write a marketing plan for your new business

What is a marketing plan?

It’s a document that explains how a particular product or service will be marketed. It describes the overall objective, the market, tactics, costs/budget, responsibilities and anticipated sales.

Much like a business plan, a marketing plan usually contains an executive summary, which explains key facts and figures. Business plans often include condensed marketing plans.

Are marketing plans suitable for small businesses?

They can help businesses of all sizes and types. While larger organisations normally have sophisticated marketing plans, even a relatively basic version can help a start-up or small business allocate limited resources.

A marketing plan assesses the most cost-efficient methods of attracting potential customers and how these can be converted into sales. Without a plan, a small business is essentially rudderless and marketing activities are likely to be considerably less effective.

How do I start to draw up a marketing plan?

By assessing your business and its market. There are various frameworks and tools you can use, including SWOT analysis, in which you consider your internal strengths and weaknesses alongside external opportunities and threats.

This, of course, requires good knowledge of your competitors, as well as a thorough understanding of your customers.

Consider whether specific segments within your customer base would benefit from targeted marketing. Taking a ‘scattergun approach’ is often a waste of time and money.

Once you know which customers to target with marketing activities, you can decide how to reach them, and how much this will cost.

How does targeted marketing work?

Think of a local restaurant. Its marketing activities are likely to be concentrated within a three-mile radius of its location, because this is where most of its customers are likely to live.

There’s probably no point in advertising on TV, even locally, because the cost is likely to outweigh the returns. Local radio adverts could work, however.

Stuffing leaflets through letterboxes in the area is well targeted and costs significantly less. The same can be said of advertising or using PR activities to get coverage in a local newspaper.

How can the success of a marketing plan be measured?

The key aims tend to be the same when marketing all products and services: to create awareness, stimulate interest, and convert this into sales. Ensure you set objectives that are SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed.

Plan-versus-actual analysis after the fact is also critical. How did actual results compare to what was predicted in your plan?

Measuring precise return on marketing spend can be problematic. I’d recommend using codes with campaigns, and then asking customers to use these when replying.

At the very least, ask new customers how they heard of your business. This will help you to understand which marketing methods are successful. Some might bring no sales whatsoever.

What if my marketing doesn't work?

Marketing involves some trial and error for new businesses, but it’s important to learn from your mistakes. With time, you will establish a better idea of which methods work well for you.

Above all, it’s important to ensure that your customers are happy. Word-of-mouth recommendations are free, and are the best publicity your business can get.

Written with expert input from Alan Gleeson

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Alan Gleeson

Alan has an MBA from Oxford University and an MSc from University College Cork, Ireland.

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