How to Write a Business or Marketing Plan

What is a business or marketing plan? Why do you need one? In a nutshell, a business and/or marketing plan is an essential mix of documents to help you create a clear picture of what your business is about, where you plan to go, and how you will get there. These plans will paint a picture in steps or form a map of your business – your goals, values, strengths, areas for development, finance and ways to market etc

When you start out you will have an idea in your mind as to how you see your business moving forward. This is a positive beginning however unless you get your thoughts and ideas on paper you will have nothing to reflect on as your business progresses. Successful business growth is about planning and this is a critical stage.

It is important to remember that your business or marketing plan is not designed to be set in stone. You will establish goals and objectives however be mindful that the growth of your business will be an evolution. Keep your options open and be fluid in your approach as you and your business learn, adapt, change and evolve.

First we’ll take a look at a business plan and what is involved.

As a start-up, keep your business and marketing plans simple.

Your business plan can include:

  • An Executive Summary: A list of the main highlights of your business.
  • A Company Description: How you started, what type of business you are i.e. sole trader/limited company, and what your plans are.
  • Your Product or Service: What are you selling? Concentrate on the key benefits for your customer.
  • A Market Analysis: Who is your market? What are your customers looking for? Who are your competitors? How will you target your audience? etc
  • Your Strategy and Implementation: Specify your responsibilities including target dates and costs. This will help you track your results.
  • A Web Plan Summary: What is the purpose of your website? What is the cost to build & maintain etc? How will you market your website?
  • Who’s Who in your Team?: How does your organization work? Roles & responsibilities? Who reports to whom?
  • Your Financial Analysis: How will you manage your expenses and costs? Include projected Profit and Loss and Cash Flow tables.

As your business develops you can always elaborate your process particularly if you apply for funding from investors or a bank.

Now onto your marketing plan. This plan involves how you will sell your product or service to your target audience. Like a business plan, your marketing plan will provide a map of your business, however with a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) you will gain a better insight into the market potential of your new business.

Your marketing plan can include:

  • A Situation Analysis: Analyse your market using a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats). Include in your analysis a current market forecast, information about your customer sector, and your market needs.
  • Your Marketing Strategy: Outline your business philosophy and values i.e. your mission statement. What are your objectives, your plan to market and how you can best position yourself?
  • A Sales Forecast: How will you create opportunities to meet your customer, track monthly sales, and follow-up with your customers? Breakdown the elements of your business i.e. sales by your product, area or market segment etc. A forecast provides a strong focus for your business.
  • An Expense Budget: How will you manage your expenses/profits? Preparing a thorough budget allows you to maintain a positive cash flow.

You will notice that there are cross over elements for both types of plan. If you choose to write both a business plan and a marketing plan you will give yourself a very powerful insight into the potential of your business, as you will create a visual representation which you can revisit and reflect on as you progress.

Business and marketing plan templates can be found online if you add “business plans” or “marketing plans” to your search engine.

How to Make Use of a Marketing Plan For An Online Business

The one thing that will separate you from the 90% of other network marketers is the discipline of following a weekly marketing plan for online business. Once you have a plan in place, there is nowhere to go – but up.

This plan is just a list of task that you follow on a daily basis. It may seem tedious at first, however, once you get the hang of it, you can quickly complete your daily tasks. Now you will have more time to work on other aspects of your business.

Developing a systematic method of conducting your business will help you stay focused. You can, also, draw upon your plan to measure your success.

J.O.B. Provides Plan

In a J.O.B., you are given a plan (list of tasks) by your supervisor. This plan has been tested time and time again. I am sure it had to go through several changes before ensuring that the tasks can be duplicated.

Your J.O.B. is to perform these same tasks on a daily basis. Any successful business rely on a marketing plan.

Your business is no different. You must rely on a working plan in order to map your way to success.

Your Business and Marketing Plan

This is your business and you must start to think of how to develop a realistic plan. With all the information and ways to market on the internet, I understand putting a marketing plan together can be overwhelming.

Just remember that your plan does not have to be perfect the first time around. That is why it is called a PLAN, an on going thought process.

Start out slow, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Begin with just one marketing method until you become a master of that method. I suggest you start with Social Media. To help you get going on your marketing plan, I designed a Weekly marketing Plan form. (A copy can be downloaded from the site referenced in the resource box.)

As you develop your skills, you can expand your marketing plan.

How to Utilize A Marketing Plan for Online Business

An example on how to utilize this plan. On the form provided:

1. Decide how many times you want to perform a particular task.

2. Place this number under Goal.

3. End of the week, add up how many times you completed that particular task.

4. Place this number under Achieved.

5. Subtract the two numbers to get your Net.

For example, if you have a goal of 5 and achieve of 4, in this example, you did not meet your goal. However, do not get discouraged. You always have time to correct your actions.

Now, let us take a look at the next week’s plan. Go ahead and reset your goals and try again. After subtracting Goal from Achieved, let’s say you worked hard and produced a Net of +2. This time you exceeded your goal for that week. GOOD FOR YOU!

Your Measure of Success

Save copies of each your weekly plans. Occasionally, take them out and compare.

Keep persistent in your daily activities and you will see improvement – Revealing your Measure of Success. You do not need to earn a lot of money in order to say that you are succeeding.

Start making out your marketing plan today. The sooner you start disciplining your actions, the quicker you will see the results you seek.

Marketing Plan Software – Will It Work For Your Business?

Marketing plan software developers suggest that their tool will help you create a plan for your company without knowing anything about marketing. All you have to do, they say, is point and click.

So the question is, do they really work for your business? As a marketing coach, I’m inclined to say no. And yes. Let me explain.

Like all tools, you’re going to get out the equivalent of what you put in. This is true both for your investment in the tool and in your ability to use it effectively.

A $100 hammer is the same as a $10 hammer in the hands of rookie carpenter who has never hammered in a nail before. But in the hands of a journeyman carpenter, that same $10 hammer can be used much more effectively. And when you combine the higher quality hammer with the expert carpenter, the output potential is much greater.

But do you really need a $100 hammer and a journeyman carpenter to hang a picture frame? The obvious answer is, “no, you don’t.” But if you’re hanging a masterpiece, you want to be darn sure that it looks great and won’t fall off the wall!

What I’m getting at here is that there are many factors that you need to take into account when you’re trying to determine whether or not to use marketing plan software to create a plan for your business. If you do decide you use software, which version will you use?

What Hammers and Marketing Plan Software Have In Common

A marketing plan is an essential component of any successful business because it describes both the business objectives, core customer base (or target market) as well as the competitive factors that stand in your way.

Since your business requires customers to survive and thrive, and since marketing is about the acquisition and retention of customers, your marketing plan will ultimately determine the fate of your business.

For that reason, the future of your company could rest upon your decision about whether or not to use marketing plan software to create the plan that your business will rely on for the foreseeable future.

Just like the journeyman carpenter who can use just about any hammer to do an above average job, you also need the marketing and business savvy to create an effective marketing plan for your business. When you have that essential knowledge, which hammer you use (your selection of marketing plan software) becomes less important because you’re more likely to produce an above average result.

Of course, again like the expert carpenter, when you combine exceptional knowledge with exceptional tools, the likelihood of producing a masterpiece goes up exponentially.

So, when it comes to marketing plan software, the key lies not in the tool you select, but in your experience and level of understanding of core marketing concepts and principles.

Insurance Agency Web Marketing Plans

As insurance agencies create their marketing plans for the upcoming year, many will focus on insurance agency web marketing as a key marketing driver to generate insurance agency leads. Web marketing is not merely a trend; it is a new way of doing business, and one which agencies cannot ignore. The days of agency growth from a purely referral driven perspective are gone, as more and more communication becomes virtual in nature, as networking moves from handshaking to internet surfing, and younger buyers embrace digital communication over face to face meetings.

Yet what does web marketing mean these days? According to Wikipedia, web marketing “refers to the placement of media along many different stages of the customer engagement cycle through search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO), banner ads on specific websites, e-mail marketing, and Web 2.0 strategies.” This serves as a reasonable definition for our discussion, as we answer important questions relating to insurance agency web marketing: Let’s begin by identifying the key components of an insurance agency web marketing plan:

  • Agency Web Seminar Marketing
  • Blogging and Vlogging
  • Insurance Agency Website Design
  • Insurance eMarketing Campaigns
  • Insurance Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
  • Insurance SEO (Insurance Agency Search Engine Optimization)
  • Pay Per Click (Google PPC, LinkedIn PPC, etc.)
  • Social Media Marketing (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, StumbleUpon)
  • Insurance Agency Telemarketing (augments web marketing)

Arguably, insurance agency web marketing always begins with a comprehensive insurance website redesign, unless the agency website was recently completed and is up to date. An insurance agency website must be graphically attractive, it should have current and compelling content, a blog (and vlog if possible), and industry news to mention a few important elements. Video is becoming increasingly more important as it provides a medium for the quick conveyance of information in a compelling and personal manner. Website video can also be leveraged on YouTube to further increase insurance agency internet presence. Vlogs, which are video blogs, can be very helpful to a website. Vlogs can be a talking head video, recorded PowerPoint presentation or even voice over photographs. They integrate the contextual power of a blog with the enhanced impact of a video or PowerPoint.

Content is king on the internet, and insurance agents should take great care in the creation of their website content. A graphically attractive website, short on content, will result in a sub-optimized insurance search engine marketing result, adversely impacting insurance agency SEO efforts and mitigating website stickiness and efficacy. These days, a key aspect of any insurance agency web marketing plan should include an annual review of website content. Further, the content should be of interest to both prospects and clients alike.

Social media marketing incorporates Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and StumbleUpon to mention just a few of the major opportunities, allowing agencies to dramatically expand their marketing reach. Social media marketing offers insurance agencies the ability to expand branding, share content, establish subject matter expertise and participate in discussions. There are many aspects of insurance social media marketing to consider. For example, a simple blog entry can be utilized in many ways to expand reach. A blog can be tweeted, reblogged, ePublished, and incorporated in a newsletter or eMarketing campaign. In this case, one blog is reused five times, though there are methods where one blog can be used ten or more times, dramatically expanding internet reach and enhancing cyber presence and insurance SEO. Why is social media marketing a critical component of an overall insurance agency web marketing plan? Social media marketing creates a cyber foundation for an agency to build upon. Ultimately, social media marketing, if used correctly, can become one of the key drivers for insurance agency leads. For the purposes of this article, we’ll add blogging and ePublishing to the social media marketing category since these are tightly interconnected. Blogs which are repurposed as articles can then be shared on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and StumbleUpon, helping insurance agency SEO.

Social media marketing along with insurance agency SEO help with organic search engine rankings. Another option is paid engine ranking placement otherwise known as PPC or Pay Per Click advertising. At the top and side of the organic SERP (search engine results page) are paid PPC ads. When an internet user clicks on one of these, your agency is charged a fee. These fees can range from under a dollar to $15 or more depending upon the competitiveness of the search term. For example, let’s say that your PPC keyword phrase is New York Business Insurance, and when someone types in that keyword phrase your PPC ad appears. Depending upon your budget and keyword phrase bid, you might appear on the top, and when someone clicks on the ad, you are charge a PPC fee, let’s say five dollars. The great thing about this is that the volume, efficacy and conversion ratio are really easy to track. The negative is, of course, that you are constantly paying out ad fees. Thus the difference between organic and PPC, and predicated on your insurance agency web marketing plan, you may have budget for only one or the other, or perhaps for both.

Web seminar and eMarketing campaigns represent a compelling outbound approach for agents. Agency webinars offer the ability to communicate on a high level with B2B prospects. eMarketing campaigns that offer educational content are much better received than insurance product offers or pitches. A long term approach to agency web seminar marketing can yield significant dividends, though it is important to note that eMarketing and web seminar programs can often take up to 6 months to establish a following.

Lastly, where and how does telemarketing fit in, after all, it is not technically a web marketing solution. Telemarketing, or in this case perhaps appointment setting is a better description, can be an important component of an overall web marketing plan. After all, these web marketing leads need to be followed up upon. If producers are busy with renewals, or if they only have time for warm prospects, the outsourcing an appointment setter can be very helpful to an agency’s overall pipeline building effort. For example, when doing an eMarketing campaign, all prospects who click through to an agency website and all webinar registrants should be called directly after the web seminar to ensure that the agency has taken advantage of their web marketing efforts. If producers don’t have the time to call, the calls should be done with a qualified appointment setter. After all, the primary purpose of any web marketing plan is to drive qualified leads into the pipeline.

X-Ray Vision For Web Marketing

Seeing what others miss
How many small business owners really have an accurate description of their web market?

The reason this question comes up is because the vast majority of business web sites do not even speak to their market. In fact, the only people the web site speaks to are company people such as owners and managers.

We can all see the company clearly in any business design, but our market is not interested in our company. They have their problems and they have no need, right now, to know what wonderful people make up this business web site.

If our market cannot see how the web site is trying to help them then help is not there. If our intention is to build a relationship with our market then the help we offer needs to be the first thing our market sees. They love this and they want this and it is the best part of our marketing.

How do small business designs block their own market?
A good analogy is found when we meet someone that only talks about themselves. We get bored instantly when we realize they have nothing of interest to offer us.

I remember growing up as a young kid and with friends we would sometimes run into this older character that bragged about his rich uncle that had a Cadillac a block long and he had to take it to the airport to turn it around.

We weren’t fooled but we got a good laugh. At least he was entertaining even if he wasn’t helpful. And after the second time there was nothing new and we got bored by his bragging because this guy didn’t care who he talked to as he just kept telling the same stories.

Isn’t this just like a typical small business web site?
Not once on the page is there any recognition of who the web market is. Not once does the web site mention a problem their market experiences and the causes for the problem. Not once is there a sense that the web site cares about the market and wants to serve that market.

No, all that the web site shows is that the only interest is in selling us something whether we need it or not. That’s their story being told over and over.

The bottom line about customer relations
As small business owners we get in our own way and totally block any communication with our own market when we focus on our product or service. Nobody is interested in us talking about ourselves and what we have to sell.

Read any business home page and it tells you about the company and why you should be impressed with the company, but you cannot find a clue as to the market. Not even with X-ray vision can you find who the market is.

Our market wants to know how we can solve their problems and we totally ignore the issue while we talk about product features and benefits. We actually think that a product description is real content – but no one cares about our product description, in fact, no one even cares about our product until they know it really has a solution to their biggest problem.

How does it feel?
How does it feel when someone ignores you?
How does it feel when someone asks you to buy?
How does it feel when someone asks us how they can help?

The last of those 3 questions is what attracts us the most. It captures our interest and our curiosity. It is just like getting a free gift because that is what it is, and we are going to benefit by learning something we never knew before.

How did we get here in the first place?
How did we come to build such poor marketing web sites? We got here by listening to web designers instead of thinking with a business mind. Web designers paid a lot of attention to us and our business and it all felt good and so we thought we were on the right track. The end result is that our web site pays a lot of attention to our business and zero to our web market.

Lesson learned
We cannot let our web designer be the one to design our web site. All we want our designer for is to do the technical aspects of building a web site. It is our job as small business owners to figure out what our web market wants and how to serve them best.

Okay, so you want ideas on how to display your helpful information and a web designer could help if they forgot all about their trendy design packages. It is going to take something different in web design to put your helpful information first, but in bite size chunks.

Navigation for information is going to take some thinking. Hypertext lists may work. Paragraph intro with hide and click drop down information may work. Hover text with slide in info may work. The real job of a web designer is to help you find and use the best means of providing information to your market.

Seeing your market
I challenge you to go look at your home page, or any other business, and see if you can figure out who the market is. Almost all small business web sites fail to identify their market and you can’t build a relationship by saying, “Hey you, look at what we have!” But you might sell if your web site said, “Hey farmer Jones, would you like a fence post that lasts 100 years?”

How do you get X-Ray eyes?
To acquire x-ray eyes you just need to look inward, that’s where you find all your insight. It’s not difficult at all and if you’ve ever been caught daydreaming then you are using insight.

We need to pretend that we are the market. We are the homeowner with a leaky pipe, or the guy with a hole in his shoe. Whatever we sell we need to be that market and wrap ourselves up in the problem that this market has. If we don’t feel the pain then we can’t talk about it, and we want to talk about that pain and how we are going to solve the problem that creates the pain.

When we then put our eyes back on our own web site we can see through the filler we thought was real web content. We can see as our market sees and we will find lots of things in need of change.

Using logic and foresight
Analysis and logic can confirm, or it can contradict the feelings and insight you have about your market. I recommend using insight and if logic doesn’t back it up then toss out the logic.

Why toss out the logic?
The web does not work with factual data like demographics. Instead, web marketing works best with psycho-graphics where beliefs, habits, Likes & dislikes, and shared values play a big role in defining a market. These are intangible and emotional values that are difficult to back up with logic.

We need to go with our emotions and intuition because they are the same tools we use when developing social skills, and our web site is sorely lacking in social skills.

Before we even think about connecting with social networks we need our web site to express its own social attitudes.