Most successful companies started small in terms of investments, sales and market turnover. A look at the world leading enterprises highlights different rates of growth, spurred by different business approaches. At the center of all operations, a sound marketing plan holds the key to a successful venture as it guides the company towards satisfying the target market. A perfect tool that shifts businesses from working on schedules to making informed investments. Regardless of the size of the business, you need to take ample time to create well thought out plan that eliminates guesswork.

At the set up phase, most businesses understand the need for a business plan, but only few integrate the marketing plan. Unlike the business plan, a solid marketing plan aims at winning and maintaining customers based on specific consumer needs and the present market rates. The plan factors the numbers, objectives and facts, which helps measure the progress and make the needed improvements. It gives a highlight of the strategies, the target buyers and specific approach you need to convert leads into sales. Without it, you risk losing front in the highly competitive markets, which explains the varying rates of business growth.

The length of the plan varies across businesses based on the level of coverage, the market dynamics and the scope of operation. Large corporations boast of plans with hundreds of pages while small enterprises can work with half a dozen sheets. They can refer to the plan monthly, quarterly and annually to keep track of the performance and adjust with the prevailing conditions.


The timespan

Like a business plan, your marketing plan ought to last within a given timespan. While you could be thrilled to make a long-term plan, think about possible market changes, customer needs and other factors that might render some aspects null. With strained financial resources, small businesses ought to plan for one year, and allow for possible adjustments. They can leave a portion of the document that addresses medium and long-term needs which lasts for 2-4 years. The bulk of the content ought to focus on the spurring the set up in the coming year.

Often, business executives fall for the notion that the length of the marketing plan determines the time taken to develop. On the contrary, most startups lack comparative results, which they can use to vet the present market trends and make accurate forecasting. It helps to take a few months to make a snapshot of your business that forms the basis for the plan. Other than the design phase, the implementation remains the biggest challenge to most business executives. Most plans integrate to the firm’s financial calendar hence likely to kick off in the next financial year.


The people aspect

A solid marketing plan is a good as the people that implement. Often, organizational changes tend to meet resistance, which affects the operational efficiency. The best way to break such resistance is through creating a level of ownership to the strategies and the goals, while training your staffs to execute the tasks. If the plan remains private, chances are that the executives are skimpy or they do not believe the plan holds enough weight to give substantial change. Everyone needs to know the direction of the company, if they are to contribute towards the desired goals.

Similarly, the plan is not a preserve of the marketing department. Other departments ought to get an opportunity to raise issues they have with the approaches, which provides a holistic view of the plan in action. It gives a perfect platform to discuss the content with the key personnel before the launch date, to eliminate areas that could undermine the bottom-line. The discussions yield a realistic touch on the marketing objectives, while opening up marketing opportunities to the tool. Nonetheless, you need to strike a balance between objectivity and specific issues that target to lift a given department without improving the bottom-line.


Integrating with the vision statement

A business plan shows what your business intends to bring in the market, the customers it serves, the location, the financing, staffing, strategic alliances as well as the risks facing the investment. It is rather comprehensive view that goes beyond the product and the client base. The vision is an integral component of the plan that spells out the purpose of the company in emotive terms. It creates an enabling environment for the company to flourish hence duped as the constitution to your business. Actions that fall out of the plan warrants the change of the plan, or mind, if you are to keep trace with your goals. A marketing plan is an integral part of the business plan hence the need to keep the documents consistent with the business purpose.


Benefits of a marketing plan

There is no doubt, the modern consumer’s wants convenience and instant access to products at affordable rates. A solid marketing plan helps you answer major questions about the market, and weigh the existing capacity to compete on different fronts. When it comes to resource allocation, the tool allows you to maximize the output on the spend rather than jumping into the hype without a clear view of the expected results. Failure to establish goals, measures of success and monitoring tool for the plan leaves an empty window that could push the business to a closure. Regardless of the size of the business, or the target market, the plan helps in the following ways:


1. Creates an assembling point

When it comes to marketing, your success depends on the foot soldiers that come into contact with the last point of sale, as they determine the way the customers perceive your business. They ought to feel confident that they are sailing on a stable vessel, and that someone bigger than them understands the direction, the destination and is ready to support when the need arises. A marketing plan, gives a perfect ground for the salesforce to enhance anchor, hence feels confident in what they do.

Your staffs want to take part in your success hence the need to integrate their tasks in your outline. Sharing your vision and business objectives with the employees instills a sense of ownership, responsibility and the willingness to engage in the complicated exciting endeavors. Make them understand where the business is headed in the future, as opposed to driving from a point of ignorance. A look at most of the employees shows little understanding with the financial projections and tabulations. However, a vast majority shows a huge appreciation towards well thought out marketing plans that resonates with their tasks. Consider some fanfare when releasing the plan to the workforce as it improves the excitement.


2. Chart to triumph

Plans are not perfect drivers of your business, hence likely to fail if the conditions do not favor the approach. They provide predictive approach to determining possible outcomes for the coming year, which might change. Does it then amount to time wasting to spend a couple of months to develop a plan? Would you rather use the time to reach more clients and improve your relations? Only in a short-term front. Failure to plan sets the stage for failure; you would rather have an inaccurate plan than has none at all. You would rather sail 10 degree off the destination harbor than spend valuable time and resources wondering in the ocean. Sea captains that lack a chart are yet to discover anything beyond the ocean floor, which is what begets such companies.


3. Provides a point of reference

When it is time to buy a new VCR, you cannot wish away the need for the user’s manual that details the operational instructions. Your enterprise is even harder to run, hence requires a complete set of instructions to drive the operations. Unlike your child’s first bike, you are the manufacturer of the business, hence the person tasked with the role of developing the user’s manual. It provides a systematic guide for growth, hence more essential than the vision statement. It starts with a genuine assessment of the company’s capacity in all departments, to ensure everything works to the intended purpose, before rolling out new strategies. It communicates the business intention for the coming years, and assigns explicit tasks with set timelines, making it easy to track.


4. Captured thinking

It is a standard practice among companies to publish the financial statements across all the departments. Not everyone understands the numbers, but they still get the information relayed through the complex numbers. These reports form a vital ground for assessing the business performance in the form of money. Nevertheless, most firms fail to do the same when it comes to marketing plans, oblivious of the implications that come with it. Chances are that some people will leave the organization and others will take over. Without a written game plan, you risk losing the blue print of your marketing, through alterations that might not be in line with the business plan. A written plan remains intact even when the staff leave the company, hence guides the incoming team on the business direction.


5. Triggers Top-level reflection

Amid rising competition for the same market share, it is hard to wish away the strategic impacts of your decisions and tactics. You are likely to spend ample time rethinking of things that may not directly affect the operations, but affects the long-term survival. It helps to break from the daily routine and put things into perspective. You need to know whether the firm meets your expectations and those of the workforce, whether the products serve the consumer needs, whether there are unexploited opportunities and whether your sale staff meets the targets.

A market plan remains the best tool to drive high-level thinking. Some opt to send management to business retreats or a home where they can think without worrying about the normal routine, or interruption from their colleagues. A serene environment provides the ambience required to make accurate sketches of the business environment and hatch new ideas. With several business plans in your stock, you can evaluate the progress of the set up, and the success rates of each. It provides consummate yet objective look of the past actions over a few years, which might trigger a change of direction. Nonetheless, you have a real world to handle, hence not likely to set enough time for that.

Part 2: Researching Your Market
Part 3: The Key Ingredients of a Marketing