Saturday, November 22, 2008

Business Plan in a Month, Part 5 (Marketing Plan)

Quick links:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Now to Marketing

This is not the big, global, spectacular, everything-you-need-to-know discussion of marketing. For that, see Robin Robins.

We're just going to give a quick overview and throw out some ideas.

Overwhelmingly, when you ask SMB consultants what they do for marketing, the answer for most is "We live off referrals." And when you ask how they get those referrals, there is no clear answer. It just happens.

I hope you see why that's not a plan.

Let's look at what you do. It's probably more than you let on. Get a pad of paper and a pencil. Write down everything you do to promote your business.

Once again, QuickBooks is a wealth of information. If you paid for something, there should be a note in QB.

Brain Storm. What have you done in the last year?

- Web
- Business Cards
- Email newsletter
- Printed newsletter
- Events with Microsoft, HP, Sonicwall, etc.
- User group
- Memberships
- Networking (Chamber, breakfast groups, etc.)
- Mailings
- - lists
- - postage
- - printing
- - etc.
- Press releases
- Mouse pads, cups, squeezy toys, etc.
- Radio advertising
- Having your car "wrapped"
- Newspaper ads
- Listing in various professional phone books
- and . . . [other]

So, putting it all together, what's the plan?

Just as with finances, we'll use the last year to help us plan the next year. But rather than just spend money whenever it seems like a good idea, let's lay out a plan for 2009.

If you haven't done any of the items above, make a list of the few you're going to try in 2009.

Warning: Don't overwhelm yourself. Revamping your web site might be a fast job or a long, involved process. Only you know that. But think realistically. All market-related planning will involve a handful of activities:

- Write up a plan (even 1-2 paragraphs)
- Determine which resources you'll need (tools on hand, envelopes, stamps, etc.)
- Costs. This includes the resources you just listed, plus labor
- Timing. When will you start? When will you finish?
- Evaluation. How will you measure your success?

So, for example, let's look at the reality of doing a mailing.

Sample Direct Mail Campaign

Timing is critical in a mailing. If you write up an amazing letter and send it out, then start working on the second letter, you probably won't have time to get it out in time to make a connection.

Mailings should be close enough together that the reader actually connects them in his mind -- at least to say "I've seen that name somewhere before."

Here's a typical sequence for us:

- Agree on target audience (see previous blog post on targeting clients

- Acquire a list (Zap Data or some place else)
- Note: There's a cost here. The more names you mail to, the higher your cost is for everything. Don't forget the postage.

- Do you need a bulk mail permit? Or does your mail house have one? That will save you money.

- Prepare letter one. Write the letter. Determine your offer (free network checkup, etc.).
- Note: There may be a cost to the offer

- Determine what goes in the mailing (6x9 envelope, 5 page letter, plastic lumpy thing from Oriental Trading)
- Note: There's a cost here

- Prepare letters two and three. Write the letters. Determine your offer (same or different?).
- Note: There may be a cost to the offer

- Determine what goes in mailings #2 and #3
- Note: There's a cost here

- Send out mailing One
- Note: There's a cost here

- Note: always ask for address correction. IMHO, a corrected address is yours to keep and not part of the list you bought. There is a small cost for address corrections. But there's no point in continuing to mail to people who don't exist or are otherwise undeliverable.

- Prepare mailing Two; Send out mailing Two. Should arrive 8-10 days after previous mailing.
- Note: There's a cost here

- Prepare mailing Three; Send out mailing Three. Should arrive 8-10 days after previous mailing.
- Note: There's a cost here

- Start Calling. To the extent possible, you should call every single person who received a mailing from you. This is a huge weakness for SMB consultants.

Just ask yourself this for 2009: Do you want to be comfortable where you are, or do you want to grow?

If YOU aren't the kind of person who calls prospects, find someone who is.
- Note: There may be a cost here

- Evaluate Your Success. How many letters did you send out? Waves two and three will be smaller than wave one. How many contacts did you make? How many wanted more info? How many became meetings? How many became clients? How much did those clients agree to spend?

That's one mailing. Isolated from everything else, it will take an experienced campaigner 8-10 weeks to complete, start to finish. If it's your first mailing, it could take six weeks to prepare and six weeks to execute.

Other Marketing Campaigns

Microsoft has "Ready-To-Go" campaigns you can use for graphics, marketing material, etc. Some involve training or special offers. Go to, find the Ready-To-Go link, and click on it.

I'd direct you right to it, but it will be changed by the time I finish typing this.

HP and other vendors have great programs where you can get really nice marketing materials for free. Some (e.g., HP) also have co-marketing dollars. Check out their partner portals.

Obviously, you could make a full time job out of this. That's why marketing people exist. I think I mentioned before, don't take on too much.

Planning and Money

It should be clear that "real" marketing takes planning. It takes money, in most cases. And it takes evaluation. At the end of the day, marketing is successful when it moves people into the sales funnel. No amount of marketing expertise can sell for you.

But good marketing can make your phone ring; good marketing can make prospects feel they know you; good marketing can get you in the door. Selling is up to you.

As you plan your year, consider which marketing campaigns you want to invest in. Consider some of the most common (successful) marketing activities for SMB consultants:

- Direct Mail (may 3-4 campaigns a year)

- An "event" of some kind. Perhaps a tour of your data center, lunch for prospects, Microsoft Bus visit, chamber of commerce business fair, etc.

- Telephone calling campaign

- Speaking at events (marketing breakfasts, various professional groups, etc.)

Schedule these per quarter and then estimate the cost of each.

Now place those costs into the spreadsheet you've been building (see links above).

Here's the good news: Assuming you have a decent marketing campaign, the result will be New Clients (yeah!). That means you also get to adjust your income UP.

Again, don't overdo it. It is much better to over-estimate costs and under-estimate results. Plan on getting one decent client from each major direct market campaign.

My experience is that the other "events" are not as fruitful. They're good fun, and they warm up people to the fact that you're on the move. So, even if they never attend, your reputation goes up. Anyway, I'd plan on a minor increase in sales from the other events.

Of course your experience will be different from mine (unless you're using the same list, the same letters, and the same events, AND you're doing it in Sacramento, CA).

But you should plan on some increase in revenue for your efforts.

If you don't plan an increase in revenue, then don't spend the time on the marketing!

[Side Note: Your Name On A Race Car]

I love Eric Ligman.

But what the hell?

Have you ever sponsored a Nascar driver? Even if you did, would anyone know?

Boys like shiny objects. My guess is that ZERO female SMB consultants considered the offer to put their logo on a race car.

Remember that last stage in the campaign: Evaluation. How do you tie these dollars spent to that income? Improving your reputation in the community? Sorry, too fuzzy for me.

You need money directly tied to your efforts. That means a prospect calls you and says "I met you at the Chamber (or received your letter) and I want to talk about our network." Bingo. That's a result. Again, sales is up to you.

Unless you've already done a bunch of other marketing, do NOT flush your money down a campaign that only vaguely improves your name recognition.

And don't ever spend a nickel on improving your name recognition outside your core marketing area.

If some good old boy in South Carolina sees my logo on a race car, tracks me down on the Internet, and asks me in for a sales call on his 6 desktop network, I'm going to have to turn him down.

[/side note]

Bottom Line

Most people haven't done much "real" marketing.

Start small, but please do something.

Plan what you do. Don't just jump in and try stuff haphazardly.

Plan the expenses. Put them into your budget/excel worksheet.

Plan the rewards! Get those clients and schedule the revenue in your budget.



  1. Anonymous1:15 PM

    Thinking things through before starting a business is crucial. We've all hear the terrible stats that over 90% of small business owners fail.

    It's not that people aren't smart and fully capable, but many act on an emotional high. They don't really think things through. Too many seek magic bullets that will somehow make them wealthy overnight. This is a very ludicrous and unhealthy way of thinking. Aside from winning the lottery or getting an inheritance, virtually all of us have to work extremely hard for any kind of success. The planning, execution, and mindset that are required for long lasting results is no easy feat, but very attainable.

    The following questions are more general, but are at the very heart of whether someone wanting to start a business will succeed or fail. I strongly advise everybody to answer each one honestly and I am positive statistics will change.

    1) Why do you want to be in business for yourself?

    2) What will you need to do to be successful?

    3) How much time and energy can you consecrate to building your company?

    4) How much sacrifice are you prepared to make (personally, financially)?

    5) How much risk can you afford to take (personally, financially)?

    Any business should be approached realistically. If more dreamers were willing to do everything it takes, even if results don't come quickly (which is almost always the case) we would have many more success stories. Avoid ''get rich quick'' scams and hype at all cost! They never work. Keep your eye on the prize, work hard, work consistently, and work smart. You can be successful. Just brace yourself and know how deep the water is before jumping in.

    Victory to all levelheaded leaders!

  2. Thank you for this.

    Excellent comments. And a great set to questions to ask before one starts a business.

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