Make a marketing plan Marketing takes time, money, and preparation. One of the best ways to stay on schedule and on budget is to make a marketing plan. It describes the actions you’ll take to persuade potential customers to buy your products or services. Your business plan should contain the central elements of your marketing strategy. Your marketing plan turns your strategy into action. Use these sections in your marketing plan Most marketing plans cover these topics. As always, use what works best for your business. Target market Describe your audience in detail. Look at the market’s size, demographics, unique traits, and trends that relate to demand for your business. Competitive advantage Describe what gives your product or service an advantage over the competition. It might be a better product, a lower price, or an excellent customer experience. Sometimes, an environmentally friendly certification or “made in the USA” on your label can be an important factor for customers. Sales plan Describe how you’ll literally sell your service or product to your customers. List the sales methods you’ll use, like retail, wholesale, or your own online store. Explain each step your customer takes once they decide to buy. Marketing and sales goals Describe your marketing and sales goals for the next year. Common marketing and sales goals are to increase email subscribers, grow market share, or increase sales by a certain percent. Marketing action plan Describe how you’ll achieve your marketing and sales goals. List marketing channels you’ll use, like online advertising, radio ads, or billboards. Explain your pricing strategy and how you’ll use promotions. Talk about the customer support that happens after the sale. The federal government regulates advertising and labeling for a number of consumer products, so make sure your advertising is legally compliant. Budget Include a complete breakdown of the costs of your marketing plan. Try to be as accurate as possible. You’ll want to keep tracking your costs once you put your plan into action. Magnifying glass and checklist Target market Scale and stones Competitive advantage Cash register Sales plan Charts Marketing and sales goals Billboard and cell phone Marketing action plan Pie chart and cash Budget Measure and update your plan Plan to compare your marketing and sales costs to the revenue it generates. You want to make sure you’re getting a positive return on investment, or ROI. Some tactics are hard to measure — like print advertising or word-of-mouth campaigns. Get creative and use others’ advice, but be consistent in how you measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. Marketing plans should be maintained on an annual basis, at minimum. Measuring ROI will help you know which part of the plan is working and which part needs to be updated. Don’t forget about operations Not everyone agrees on the exact distinctions between marketing and sales, but most people recognize they’re connected. The influence operations has on marketing and sales is often overlooked. Simple operations elements like your staff uniform, where your product is made, or the product return process contribute to your customer’s experience. That experience shapes how your customers view your company, and can influence whether they’ll become a loyal customer for life or tell their friends to stay away.