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Many small business owners start off making decisions, even consequential ones, while multitasking on the fly. In the early going, you might be doing more doing than planning: developing your product or service, raising capital, and other concrete first steps. That’s understandable; those issues are all critical.

Eventually though you’ll need to shift some of your attention into planning mode. One of the core functions you’ll need to address: marketing. You’ll want a comprehensive strategy to get your business noticed, create a buzz, and understand your prospects’ motivations and behaviors. There’s a lot more to it than developing hypothetical ads in your head. What you’ll need is a methodical plan to take your product to market—a roadmap you can follow and tweak as needed.

Developing a marketing plan may not be as energizing or adrenaline-fueled as building a business from the ground up. But painstaking as it is, the detail work is well worth the time and effort. Whatever resources you deploy as you develop your plan, consider these tips for making the most of it.

  • Nail down your flagship product(s) first. Before you invest time and energy in a marketing plan, make sure you have ironed out all the kinks in the product you’ll be leading with. If you’re building your business largely on a single concept, you should have a reliable, proven system in place to produce it at the speed necessary to accommodate demand. With that major detail out of the way, you can develop your marketing plan and flip the switch with confidence.
  • Become one with your target. Do a deep dive to understand your customer. Where does your product fit in to their life cycles? Where do they get their information? What would make your product more attractive than the solution they’re using now? What challenges can your product help them solve? Should you compete on quality? Design? Price? With this intel, your messaging can have a laser-like focus with minimal effort wasted on audiences that won’t respond—and your marketing dollar works more efficiently.
  • Keep it real. Any marketing plan presupposes assumptions about your market. Discover as much of this data as possible for yourself. Do your own research. Learn about your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. Get a feel for unmet needs in your marketplace. Speak with others in your industry to understand what challenges you’ll face initially and in the long-term. With a marketing plan informed by specifics, your insights can be aligned with the realities on the ground.
  • Develop aggressive milestones. No matter what you’re selling, you never want be late with it. One way to keep deliveries on-time is to fake yourself out intentionally. In terms of punctuality, deliver more than you promise. If the customer agreed to a two-week production schedule, have it ready in one. That gives you and your team flexibility in case there’s an unforeseen glitch—and still positions you to deliver a few days early. Unless your product or service requires just-in-time planning, customers appreciate the extra speed as long as they know you’re not sacrificing quality.
  • Embrace the plan. Once you’ve made the effort to create a realistic marketing plan, stick with it. Measure your successes against it. And be prepared to tweak it routinely. After all that effort, it’s easy to file it away as a planning exercise and move on. Or to get distracted by the realities your new business will face. Instead, make a point of referring to your plan, and adapt it to account for any new dynamics that affect your business or your market.

A strong marketing plan is one key element every business owner will need to address—right up there with financing in terms of importance. For more insights into building a thriving business, including our widely acclaimed DreamSpark® plan, get in touch with our small business experts at 1-855-WHY-PANGO (1-855-949-7264).