Simplify your small business marketing plan

Every small business has to market itself, but not many small businesses have a marketing plan of any kind. Even fewer have one they actually use. That’s why I developed the Simplified Marketing Plan, back in 2006. It’s high time to update it.

The plan is simple, so you’ll actually do it. There are just four steps.  You can create your plan in any form that makes sense for you: outline, mindmap, notecards, etc. Just be sure it addresses each of the four parts.

1. Name and describe each market.
Every business has more than one market to reach. A restaurant markets to hungry people, but also to event organizers. A local photographer may market to individuals, event organizers, families, schools and many other separate markets. For a chamber of commerce, your markets may be local businesses, people in the community, plus businesses you are trying to attract.

If you think in the broadest terms, a customer is anyone whose actions affect your results. (I borrowed that definition from Steve Yastrow, at If you are not sure about yours, sit down and brainstorm with a friend. 

2. List potential methods you can use to reach your markets.
You may start with listing your traditional methods, including newspaper advertising, word of mouth, or printed materials. Add to that all the online methods you can think of. Facebook Fan Pages are a natural for small town businesses. Other ideas might be participation in local forums, contributing to groups on Flickr, blogging, uploading videos to YouTube, or updating your status and sharing links on Twitter or LinkedIn. The key is to identify the areas where your customers are online.

How do you find out where your customers are online? Ask them. I realize that sounds like an overly simplified answer, but it is the best way to find out.

3. Establish the cost in time and in money, and decide.
Go through your new list of potential methods. Start estimating the cost in time and money to use that method. Blogging might cost 8 hours of your time and $5 in expenses per month. Billboards might cost 18 hours of work to create and have posted, plus $1500 per month. (Those are just wild guesses. The point is to do your own estimates.)

Now, balance those costs against the benefits. Which methods get you more contact with your targeted markets? Which methods generate interaction and deeper connections? Which ones have the best potential to drive sales? 

Finally, decide. Decide which methods to use and which to let go of. Pare your list down to just the most effective and do-able. Unless you are a brand new business, now is the time to get rid of some things you may have been doing for a long time that have lost effectiveness. Recapture that time and money for more effective methods.

4. Integrate it into your daily activities.
This is where things get interesting. You have a plan. You’ve decided on methods. Now use the plan to help guide your scheduling.

Line up your methods, and see where you can multiply your efforts. Write once, reuse or customize many times. Once you write the text for a blog post, it can automatically post to your Facebook Fan page. The same words could be reworked for a printed newsletter or a information sheet for customers. Status updates and links shared on Facebook can go automatically to Twitter and LinkedIn.

Use checklists to organize the work. Once you’ve selected your methods for reaching customers, draw up a daily or weekly checklist for actions to be completed. Here’s a bit more about creating a checklist for your social media marketing actions.

After I presented this plan to the Bartlesville Marketing and Communication Association, David Austin interviewed me about the four parts of the plan. If you don’t see the embedded video, click here for the full post.

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About Becky McCray

Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband own a retail liquor store in Alva, Oklahoma, and a small cattle ranch nearby. Becky is an international speaker on small business.

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  1. says

    I think this is a useful list…it’s just slightly mislabeled. I would call it a “promotional” plan rather than a “marketing” plan.

    The best definition of marketing is still based on the four Ps — product, place, price and promotion. This article does a nice job of organizing one-forth of the task called marketing.

    Marketing is not simply promotion or advertising.

  2. says

    Chris, thank you. Glad it will be of use.

    Warren, you’re right; there is more to marketing. But “The Simplified Promotion Plan” just doesn’t have the same… punch!

  3. says

    I have actually been able to very easily move into the world of marketing. I am a Baptist minister in addition to starting up a business from scratch, and although I’m not a Pastor at this moment, I will be soon. But, the point here is that if you have something you believe in, and are passionate about it, marketing is fundamental. Every single person to me is a potential for ministry. So it is for marketing. Every single person we encounter in life is a potential customer. Yes, you need the plan to establish where to go to find the most potential customers. Still, don’t let yourself be ensnared by the “box” of statistics.

    Case in point. I made a telephone call to a gospel quartet last night in order to book them for our church’s upcoming gospel sing. During the conversation, he asked me what I was doing now. I told him about the company, gave him my URL for our website (, and went on with my description. He interrupted me, and asked me if I had just told him that I managed and promoted Southern Gospel quartets. I told him yes, and I’ll never forget his next words: “sign me up”. Turns out he is a shuttle employee at Cape Canaveral, and is probably going to be laid off in September after the shuttle is retired. He wants to increase his group’s bookings to the point where he can go fulltime. The point here is, of course, that customers are everywhere around you. Just “create the need”, and the rest will take care of itself.

  4. says

    This is a great article and has meaningful advice for small businesses. I especially like your points about becoming involved where your clients are involved. A great, low cost way to do this is through social media and through blogging. Having an internet presence and being able to communicate and engage with clients is the perfect way to establish yourself as a subject matter expert.

  5. Lightworks says

    V helpful post. I like your very simple statement that the best way to find out where your clientele are is to ask them! there’s nothing wrong with asking current customers where they found you, what they like/dislike about your business etc etc. This type of feedback is invaluable I think and often overlooked.