Marketing Your Business

By Nanette Levin

Creating Effective Marketing Action Plans takes 'Out of the Box' Thinking

Once again, youíve made a resolution Ė to become more efficient in your marketing activities. So, whatís going to stop you this time?

More than likely, the many excuses are just creative ways of avoiding the real issue Ė procrastination. Why not redirect some of this inventive energy to the task at hand? Granted, serious business planning can sometimes be tedious, but since this process is essential for consistent business growth, how about finding a way to enjoy the activity?

Try to make it a fun project by being outrageous. Itís your action plan, and no one else ever needs to lay eyes on it Ė or you as youíre developing it.

The best marketing ideas come when youíre singing in the rain, laughing, playing a childís game or participating in other nontraditional business activities. Whatever works for you Ė find it and exploit it.

Commit to getting the job done Ė not this year, but this month.

Thereís a big difference between action plans and business plans so quit worrying about all the time youíll need to devote to your action plan. Business plans are developed primarily for those interested in obtaining financing for their businesses. They include reams of information pertaining to the company mission, vision, organization, objectives, employee needs, market analysis, financial projections, etc. etc.

An action plan doesnít have to be that detailed or laborious. Instead, think of the tool as a road map for the next 12 months of marketing initiatives Ė the route to your grand vacation.

A misconception of many small business owners is that being all things to all people brings additional business to the door. When it comes to marketing, however, using limited resources to send multiple and conflicting messages about what you do only serves to confuse prospects.

Explore ways your competitors are failing to satisfy their customersí needs, then devise a niche-oriented strategy to use your strengths and exploit your competitionsí weaknesses. The strategy will provide the foundation for all the marketing programs you launch in the near future.

In positioning your business, toy with the idea of finding a consistent but unusual way to communicate your product or service. Remember, it takes five times more resources to

gain a new client than to maintain an old one. Current and past clients are also great sources for referrals.

Some of the greatest marketing ideas are off the wall. Donít stop yourself from considering something that hasnít been done.

This brings us to the tools and tactics of the action plan. These involve everything from accessing the media for free exposure to creating unique three-dimensional mailing campaigns. Let the child in you help uncover your ideas and make a game of developing the concepts.

Tools and tactics are the outreach components of your action plan. These are the promotional strategies that communicate your identity and activities to clients and prospects.

Knowing when and how youíre going to launch specific programs, with clear objectives, is critical in planning for business growth.

Setting up this aspect of your action plan requires careful consideration of time lines, costs, and anticipated returns. Ignoring this planning phase will result in hit-or-miss marketing programs that are ineffective at best.

Clearly, the more creative you are in inventing your prospecting tools, the further youíll stretch your dollars. Of course, keeping basic marketing principles in mind as you develop your action plan is of paramount importance. Getting a little wacky once you develop the principle structure of your marketing strategy, however, will make your message memorable and your business stand out from the competition. Reaching prospects faster will save you money.

The best kidsí games involve others and thatís true for action plan development too. If youíre determined to manage this aspect of your business without a marketing professional, at least enlist the help of friends, family or business associates as you brainstorm for ideas. They can help you get more creative, enjoy the task and gain a clearer perspective.

Consider this passage from Peter Jenkinís A Walk Across America when you feel omnipotent and compelled to handle all marketing aspects of your business alone:

"I remember an evangelist who walked up to a man in the congregation one night, and the man had a big olí frown on his face. He looked as if someone had stuck a prune in his mouth. The evangelist put his hand on the manís shoulder and asked him if he wanted to become a Christian. The man growled back at the evangelist, ĎIím a deacon in this church!í And the evangelist said, ĎDonít let that stand in your way.í"

You may think you know your business better than anyone else, but chances are, youíre not objective. Lonely business pursuits that exclude input from friends or professionals can lead to a grudging routine where your business becomes a chore. Donít lose the fun and excitement of running your business or you might lose sight of the reason you started the venture. Let others play your marketing game and youíll be amazed at the grand ideas you develop and the fun youíll have doing it.

Nanette Levin is President of Fulcrum Communications, a Rushville, NY marketing firm that specializes in helping small businesses increase sales through strategic planning and savvy implementation. She can be reached at FulcrumCom@aol.com.

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2001 The New Jersey Small Business Journal