How to Make a Marketing Plan for Your Small Business

At Bluehost, we love small-business success stories, whether the business revolves around pies, food trucks, minimalism, life coaching, or graphic design. If you run a small business or are considering starting one, we want to help you make your business a success story too. For our “New Year, New Business” series, we’ll be providing insights, methods, and resources for building and growing a small business.We’ve covered how to develop a business plan, how to DIY and delegate basic business tasks, how to conduct market research and build your brand, and how to build a website for your business.

Unless your target audience consists of baseball-playing ghosts, your potential customers aren’t going to come to you you’ll need to spread the word about about your business and what it has to offer. In other words, you need a marketing plan.

We’ve already covered how to conduct market research to understand your key audiences, how to build a brand around your business’s unique value proposition, and how to create a website that conveys your value and resonates with your key audiences. If you’ve tackled those things, you’ve laid the foundation for a strong marketing plan.

Marketing Basics

The definition of marketing can sometimes get blurry, because it overlaps with other disciplines such as advertising and PR, but put simply, marketing is what you do to attract and retain customers.

The Marketing Funnel

Before you dive in, it’s helpful to understand the typical path a person takes on the way toward becoming your customer. This path is illustrated by the marketing funnel.

Marketing funnelThe most well-known version of the funnel is the AIDA model, attributed to turn-of-the-century advertiser Elias St. Elmo Lewis. The steps in this funnel are:

  • Awareness of the existence of a product
  • Interest in evaluating the product’s benefits
  • Desire for the product
  • Action by trying or purchasing the product

The funnel has many variations and modifications, such as the sales funnel, purchase funnel, and conversion funnel, but any funnel-inspired model depicts two primary ideas:

  1. The sequence of steps a person takes to change (or “convert,” in marketing speak) from a non-customer to a customer, or from inaction to action (an action could mean making a purchase, but it could also mean a smaller step like subscribing to a newsletter)
  2. The process of sifting that happens to your audience, as your pool of potential customers narrows down to your pool of actual customers

Why It Matters

The purpose for understanding this sequence is to ensure that the transition between each step is as smooth as possible. It’s natural to expect that there will be some drop-off you can’t please everyone, so not all of your potential customers will become your actual customers. But keeping an eye on how people move through this process, and where people tend to drop off, gives you an idea of how to improve.

For example, did you create an effective online ad that got people’s attention, but when people visited the product page on your website, they quickly clicked away? That means you’re doing well with awareness, but need to improve on interest by making the product page more clear or engaging.

Check out these recommended reads about applying a marketing funnel:

Marketing Approaches

The good news is there are numerous potential approaches for moving potential customers toward becoming actual customers. Here’s an overview of potential approaches and handy guides to getting started with each one. Keep in mind that there isn’t a discrete line between these approaches; they can and should overlap and be used in combination with each other.

Content Marketing

What it is: As defined by Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is “the strategic marketing approach of creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content,” and that in exchange for that valuable information, customers will “ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.”

Start here: A Blueprint to Jumpstart Your Content Marketing Strategy

Tip: How meta is this? This article is, in fact, an example of content marketing! Our goal is to provide you with valuable information whether you’re a Bluehost customer or not.

Social Media Marketing

What it is: Social media marketing uses social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, to reach customers both widely and deeply widely, because posts can be shared quickly and broadly, and deeply, because people can interact directly with the brand and engage with other people around that brand.

Start here: The Golden Rules of Social Media for Business

Email Marketing

What it is: Email marketing is the practice of using emails and email newsletters to communicate with potential and current customers, with an average ROI of $38 for every $1 spent.

Start here: Email Marketing 101

Tip: Treat the invitation into someone’s inbox like an invitation in their house. As this Kissmetrics blog post advises, that means you need to mind your manners.

Public Relations

What it is: As described by The Work Crowd, “PR is about building and maintaining a good reputation for your business by developing your story and a dialogue with key journalists, influencers, and competition.”

Start here: Public Relations Strategies & Tactics

Tip: It’s OK if you’re starting out with no media contacts. Subscribe to Help a Reporter Out to respond to reporters’ requests for expert sources within your industry. And PR is not limited to traditional media. Another option is to find brand ambassadors who will spread the word about your business.

SEO

What it is: As defined by Moz, SEO is a “a marketing discipline focused on growing visibility in organic (non-paid) search engine results. SEO encompasses both the technical and creative elements required to improve rankings, drive traffic, and increase awareness in search engines.”

Start here: The Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization

Tip: Check out this list of 20 handy marketing tools for small businesses.

Advertising

What it is: Advertising is paid promotion, and although it’s technically its own separate discipline, it does support your marketing efforts. These days, running ads on Facebook and Google is just as common as print ads.

Start here: Advertising: The Basics (print or online ads); The Beginner’s Guide to Online Advertising for Small Businesses (online ads)

Integrity

Whatever combination of approaches you choose, there’s one approach that will always apply: integrity. The truth is, a great marketing strategy can’t compensate for a not-so-great product.

If you’ve created a robust, thoughtful business plan, you’re already on the right track. But even then, it can be tempting to get caught up in trying to reel in customers by any means necessary. Umair Haque, writing for the Harvard Business Review, offers this guidance:

“The real question — the one that counts for leaders and institutions today — isn’t ‘How loyal can we compel, seduce, or trick our customers into being?’ It’s: ‘How loyal are we to our customers? Do we truly care about them?’ Not just as targets consumers, or fans. But as people. Human beings. … If you want to matter to people, you must do more than merely win their fickle, fleeting, frenzied attention. You must help them develop into the people they were meant to be. When you do, maybe, just maybe, they’ll reward you. With something greater than their grudging, wearied attention. Their lasting respect, enduring trust, and undying gratitude.”

Your Next Steps

Schedule some time to sketch out a marketing funnel for your business. Then pick several marketing approaches you can take to start spreading the word about your small business. And continue to check out the Bluehost blog for handy tips to help your small business thrive.

Holly Munson

Holly Munson is a writer, editor, and content strategy consultant based in Philadelphia. She has been reporting on business trends for seven years and has also worked in marketing, magazines, and museums.

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