Have you ever tried to put together a desk or other piece of “easy to assemble” furniture? Now, have you ever tried to put it together without the instructions? If so, you probably ended up with something that resembled the desk pictured on the box (if you’re lucky), but it was likely much wobblier and possibly even a bit cockeyed. And then there were those two handfuls of “extra” pieces that didn’t seem to fit anywhere. You hoped their absence didn’t mean the desk would completely fall apart one day. But you weren’t very confident of its stability.

This is what it’s like to try to run your business without a written marketing plan. And how much more complicated is your business than a plywood desk?

Your written marketing plan is the instruction manual for the marketing aspect of your business. It ensures that you’re putting all of the pieces together correctly to construct the business that you want. It relieves you from having to rely on your memory to decide which piece goes where and prevents you from wasting your time and money doing the wrong things to meet your goals.

1. Start with the end in mind.
The first step in creating your marketing plan for the year is to focus on your end goal. What do you want to accomplish with your marketing this year? Do you want to find new customers? Increase customer retention? Boost first-time customer sales? Generate more repeat business? Capture a greater number of referrals? What is the dollar amount you’re shooting for in terms of individual product sales? It’s ineffective to try to determine what type of marketing to employ if you haven’t identified the specific reason for your marketing effort.

2. Revisit the past.
Once you’ve established your marketing goals for the current year, evaluate your past marketing efforts. What has been successful? What seemed to be a waste of resources? Is there something you need to tweak? For example, you may have found that your print ad in the local newspaper hasn’t been as effective as you think it could be. Why is that? Do you need to rethink your message? Is your call to action clear? Would a change of ad size or placement enhance your response rate?

3. Consider something new.
Next, think about the marketing tools you could be using. Take a look at your competitors. What marketing strategies seem to be working for them? How could you incorporate similar efforts into your business? Also take into consideration market research and information you’ve gathered from seminars or training sessions. What are the current marketing trends? Have you tried an electronic newsletter instead of a paper one? How can you utilize technology to help you bring down your marketing costs and increase your ROI?

4. Put your plan in writing.
Finally, write it all down. Just as you wouldn’t want to try to memorize the set of instructions for your desk, you don’t want to try to keep all of your marketing goals and your 12-month strategy in your head. The act of writing things down forces you to focus and reduces clutter. It makes you get specific instead of drowning in vague generalities, such as “Get more sales,” which won’t induce action or results.

Research shows that writing things down translates into success, whether it involves your marketing plan, your daily to-do list — or even your diet. In fact, a study was just published in the August 2008 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that revealed that a person can double their weight loss just by keeping a food diary. The lead author of the study remarked, “Those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records. It seems that the simple act of writing down what you eat encourages people to consume fewer calories.”1

Take the pressure off yourself, and don’t try to create and organize your marketing plan in your head. Give it the thought it deserves, and then get it down on paper. You’re much more likely to end up with the business you want at the end of the year instead of just taking the chance that you’re putting all the pieces together correctly, and hoping for the best.

Footnote:
1. http://www.middleeasthealthmag.com/cgi-bin/index.cgi?http://www.middleeasthealthmag.com/nov2008/lab.htm