So, you think you don’t need a marketing plan. You’d rather be spontaneous. Well think again, because flying by the seat of your pants may be costing you dearly.
In my opinion, one of the most important strategies that small business owners should steal from big business marketers is thinking about marketing as a long-term proposition rather than something that happens in quick bursts.
Many soloists have told me that they’d rather be spontaneous and reactive in their marketing than put a plan in place and stick to it.
Obviously, having clarity about the marketing you intend to do in coming months puts you in a better position to allocate an appropriate amount of time and/or money for its development and distribution.
That’s a no-brainer, but in my experience (and that of many of my clients) there are many hidden dangers to marketing-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, many of which you may remain blissfully unaware of if you never give the longer-term approach a rock-solid go.
Here are six of the most important, along with some ideas to help you determine whether it really is time to get serious about your marketing plan.
1. Planning forces you to be more strategic
There are times when a short-term, tactical approach to marketing is absolutely warranted. For example, if you’re struggling with cash flow issues, you might want to come up with a quick-and-dirty promotion to get some urgently needed sales in the door.
But, as a general rule, being strategic about your marketing tends to yield better results, while also helping you feel more in control of your business and where it’s headed… it may even enable you to smooth out those bumpy sales and make cash flow problems a thing of the past.
Ask yourself: What are the big issues facing my business right now? Can I address them with a short-term focus, or do I need to take a strategic, long-term view?
2. A longer lead-time leads to more powerful marketing
Not all marketing material is created equal.
Some types of material require a longer production lead-time than others, and if you don’t allow time for that in your schedule you’re likely to rush its development, with negative effects on its impact.
Worse still, if you leave everything until the last minute, you may end up having to forfeit some promotional opportunities altogether, simply because you haven’t gotten your act together in advance to be ready for them.
To my mind though, one of the most dangerous consequences of marketing-without-a-plan is that it doesn’t give my brain the time it needs to puzzle over different ways to achieve my goals.
In my own business, I consistently find that my most creative and effective ideas occur when I give myself the mental space to allow an issue or a project to potter about in my subconscious while I get on with other things.
Unfortunately though, when I’m making decisions on the fly or trying to execute a project on the run, deep thinking and creativity are usually the first casualties.
Ask yourself: Are there any marketing assets that my business could benefit from, but that I haven’t initiated yet because they require deep thought or a long development time?
3. Plan now and you’ll be less likely to faff about later
Another of the casualties of being a short-term focused marketer is that it puts you in a situation where you spend time deliberating over what to do every time you do anything.
That means you’re repeatedly going through the same mental processes and having the same internal conversations about what your priorities are and how you’re going to move forward with them over and over again.
Furthermore, I’ve noticed that when I know exactly what it is I need to produce, it’s almost a given that I’ll sit down at the allocated time and spend time creating marketing material.
If my goal is vague though (e.g. “Write a blog post,” or “Do some marketing”), it’s all too easy to give myself a leave pass and not spend any time on marketing at all.
Instead, I aim to spend a day or two every few months on planning, where I make decisions that I know my future self will thank me for down the track.
Ask yourself: How much of my marketing time am I spending deciding what to do? What would happen to my productivity levels if I knew what I wanted to do in advance?
4. Planning streamlines your production processes
Having clarity about your plans will allow you to create efficiencies by tackling certain aspects of your marketing activity in batches.
For example, in one of my businesses I send our retail stockists a flyer each month detailing our special offers. It takes me about 20 minutes to put one of the flyers together – but, because I’ve planned out my promotional schedule in advance, I’ve been able to create a whole year’s worth in a couple of hours, effectively halving the time spent on the task.
Much more significant than the time saving though is that every time I pull one out and send it to print, I feel a deep sense of relief that there’s one less fiddly job taking up space in my brain and on my to-do list.
In effect, those two hours I spent on this exercise back in January have freed me from having to think about this task at all for months to come.
Ask yourself: How could you streamline your marketing production? Are there any tasks that can be batched together now to save time later?
5. Planning opens up outsourcing opportunities
Many soloists tell me that it’s difficult for them to outsource aspects of their marketing because they need things done quickly and there simply isn’t time to get someone up to speed.
But if you’re thinking and planning in advance, that issue disappears, and a world of outsourcing opportunities opens up for you – often for much less than the money you’ll earn by focusing on income-generating activity instead.
Ask yourself: What am I doing in my business that someone else could do just as effectively with enough lead-time?
6. Planning breeds consistency and builds your brand
Your brand is about so much more than your logo. It’s the sum total of all the qualities that people associate with your business – and that’s never achieved in one fell swoop.
Instead, think of your brand like a Sara Lee strudel, built up layer after layer, and conveyed to your audience in a multitude of subtle ways. (Think the tone of voice of your copywriting; the topics you talk about in your blog posts, newsletters and social media; and the words, colours and images you put together to create them).
Ask yourself: What do I want my business and my brand to be known for? Is that reputation something I can build and sustain on an ad hoc basis, or would consistent dedication to a longer term marketing vision help me convey that impression to my target market more effectively?
While you can’t plan for every eventuality, having a broad-brush stroke plan based on your marketing objectives gives you the space to be flexible and the time to be effective, and most importantly will help you to make strategic decisions about how you take your business to your market.
When it comes to marketing, are you a planner or a pantser? What do you see as the business benefits of your preferred approach?