By Stephen Pegge, Head Of External Affairs, Lloyds TSB Commercial

There’s no such thing as a perfect marketing plan and yours will evolve with your business. It’s important to be thorough but don’t waste time agonising over every point in your plan.

Here are a few tips for getting started with your marketing plan:

- Set aside time to write your plan – to make sure it gets done as a priority, treat it as a piece of real, billable client work.

- Write your opening statement last – once you’ve gone through the planning process you’ll find it much easier to summarise your goals.

- Develop a contents list so you know exactly what your plan will contain

- Write the easy bits first – if you’re confident about the tactics you’ll use, get going with that section of the plan while you wait for any research work to be done.

- Be strict on deadlines – include deadlines for each of your targets within the plan and set an overall deadline for completing the marketing plan itself.

Where is your business right now?

To move your business forward, you need to understand where you are now. This is a vital part of your marketing plan and the results can be surprising.

Analyse your internal situation using a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). This should take all elements of your business into account including:

- Your financial situation

- Your existing customer base

- Your product range

- Your potential to develop

- Available technology

- People and skills

- How you stand in relation to your major competitors

- Your pricing policies

You also need to look at any external factors influencing your business. Carry out a detailed SLEPT analysis to identify the major opportunities and threats in your marketplace. This will look at:

- Social factors –including demographic changes, cultural attitudes and changing lifestyles which influence how your customers will buy your product

- Legal factors – regulations and legislation affecting your business

- Economic factors such as the economic climate, interest rates, exchange rates (if trading overseas) and banking policies that influence your activities

- Political factors – political stability and government policies that are relevant to your business

- Technological factors – the impact of internet growth on your business, the emergence of new materials and rapidly changing technologies in your sector

What are your marketing objectives?

Your marketing objectives must be focused on sales and should always be SMART:

- Specific – for example, one of your objectives might be to get 30 new customers

- Measurable – you must be able to check whether you have reached each objective (or not) when you review your plan

- Actionable – you must have the people, technology, time and money required to achieve any objective you set

- Realistic – make sure you set targets that are achievable

- overly ambitious targets can be demotivating and counter-productive

- Timely – set a timescale for any objective. For example, don’t just aim for 30 new customers, set a target of 5 customers each month over a 6-month period.

Plan your marketing tactics

Now you’ve set your objectives, you need to think about how you’re going to achieve them. Think about the marketing mix in relation to your business and you’ll get an idea of what will work best for you:

- What are your costs?

- How much will your customers pay?

- What does your price say about the quality of your product?

- What do your competitors charge?

- How and where will you sell your products?

- Can you sell over the internet?

- Do you need agents or will you manage your own distribution?

- Do you plan to export your products?

- Does your product meet the needs of the consumer?

- What are its benefits?

- How does it differ from what the competition offers?

Most businesses use a mix of promotional techniques to sell their products. Typically they include:

- Direct selling

- Exhibitions and events

- Sales promotions

- Direct mail and email

- Advertising

- Sponsorship

Think about what suits your target market and what’s most cost-effective for your business.

Setting budgets

Marketing costs can mount up quickly. To keep costs under control:

- Decide what you can afford at the start and stick to your budget

- Evaluate your marketing spend based on the amount of business each initiative might generate

- Monitor each initiative regularly and assess results

- Keep what works and bin the rest

Putting your marketing plan into action

Your marketing plan will form the basis of your future business activity. It needs to be more than just a wish list of what you would like to happen – it should include details of every step of the marketing process including:

- Deadlines and key dates

- Key personnel and responsibilities for each task

- Budgets for each relevant step

- Resources needed at every stage

- Control measures including responsibilities, review dates and analysis procedures

- Contingency plans – not everything you propose will work, so try to anticipate alternatives

Finally, once your marketing plan’s complete, don’t file it away until next year. Schedule regular meetings to review your progress and don’t be afraid to change your plan along the way if you find something isn’t working.