A lot has been said about the importance of creating a marketing plan, but the task at hand often appears so daunting that many business owners and executives never get down to the business of tackling this challenge. Instead, they choose to simply approach things on a day-to-day basis, functioning in reactive mode rather than proactive mode. While this may seem to work for awhile, ultimately operating without a plan can hurt the bottom line — one way or another.

Start with a budget

Before putting pen to paper to create a marketing plan, business owners and managers need to set aside a budget for marketing.  The general rule of thumb is anywhere between 3 and 10 percent of gross revenues. For a new business, the budget should be closer to 10 percent (or more), as in the early stages of business you will need to invest more money to establish your brand and attract customers or clients. As you become more established, you can actually consider cutting back, as word-of-mouth will hopefully kick in. Once you know how much you will have to work with, you can determine how to best allocate both your time and your money.

Setting goals

The planning process need not be overwhelming or enormously time-consuming, but it does require some thought about what the company’s goals are. What is it you want to do? What are the top three to five things you would like to achieve this year? Goal setting should actually occur all year; and everyone in the organization should know what the goals are and their role in contributing to the company’s success.

Where to invest

Next, identify what marketing and/or communication efforts will directly support your goals, what they will cost and who will implement them.

Technology has opened the door to many new tools in our marketing mix. Choosing what to include should begin with who you are trying to reach. Where do your customers get their information and what do they like to do? Marketing action items can include print, radio or TV ads, direct mail, e-mail and newsletters, trade shows, sponsorships, employee contests, customer-referral programs, giveaways, events, website, social media and SEO.

You can keep things simple by putting together a spreadsheet showing the months of the year at the top and the marketing activities you wish to do in the far left column. Then, mapping out the activities of the year and the investment required allows you to quickly see what needs to be done and how much you will need to do it.

Adjustments required

Before making any changes to your plan, keep in mind that it takes time to build momentum. That said, throughout the course of the year, it is important to review and evaluate the results in order to determine if any adjustments are necessary. You may also want to consider adding something to your marketing mix to enhance something else you may be doing — like a seasonal event.

A clearly outlined marketing plan gives you the planning power to integrate what might have been individual communication tools into a complementary plan where activities work together, helping you increase overall effectiveness and truly get the biggest bang for your marketing dollars.

Spending money without a marketing plan can make the difference between seeing your business flourish or closing your doors.