Where’s the Roadmap?
Many small business owners do not have a formal business plan. It’s like driving from point A with a vague notion of where point B is. What happens? You get lost, you take dead ends, make wrong turns… you get the picture. Maybe at some point you get to your destination but you’ve wasted a lot of time, energy and resources doing so. To make matters worse, once you arrive, you’re not sure why you made the trip in the first place. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense – does it?
A business plan may seem like an unnecessary formality or something you do only when you’re a start-up; and hopefully that’s not you. Think of a business plan like a roadmap for your company. It serves as an ongoing guide answering three important questions that every company (of all sizes) must clearly and continually answer: What is our present situation? Where do we want to go from here? How are we going to get there?
Before we go any further, I want to point out that I emphasized the word “continually” above because a business plan is not a “once and done” proposition. All plans are partly proactive and partly reactive. Here’s what I mean. Plans are typically developed proactively based on what we know about the current conditions in the environment (e.g. economic, technology, innovation, competition etc..) and as we all know, these conditions are constantly changing. If your plan doesn’t adapt to these changes it will quickly become obsolete. It’s like someone moved point B and you’re still using the old map.
Developing and maintaining a business plan may seem daunting. If you haven’t created one, you’ll likely be surprised by how much of the content is already in your head. You may also be alarmed by what you should have been thinking about, but haven’t. That’s one of the great benefits of the planning process.
As you go through the planning exercise, the answer to the “how are we going to get there?” question defines your company’s strategy. Your strategy should guide every decision you make, including how you are going to compete, attract customers, increase profitability, grow your business, etc...
Now let’s focus on how this ties into your marketing strategy.
Create Your Plan and Develop your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
Part of the business plan exercise will be to figure out how you will compete, what value you will bring to your customers and how you will deliver that value better than your competition. This is your unique selling proposition (USP). As you think through your USP, define the benefits of your product or service clearly:
What makes your product or service different than your competitor?Is it a guarantee, a feature or aspect of your service, a specific skill or knowledge?
Do you do something better than your competitor? Are you faster, friendlier, cheaper, more comprehensive or have a wider selection?
Do you service a unique segment of the market – for example a particular demographic?
Link Your Business Plan and USP to Your Marketing Strategy
Whatever your USP, your marketing strategy should revolve around it. Don’t assume floating ads describing your services and periodically offering discounts alone will drive leads. Sometimes that may work to a degree. But many times it doesn’t. Why? Because your competitors are doing the same thing. And many are likely doing a better job of communicating their own USP in their advertising.
As you create and iterate your plan, you’ll need some analytics to understand how your competition is positioned and how your USP stacks up. This doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, but it should be thorough in the areas of product, pricing, placement and promotion (the marketing 4 P’s). Remember, your business plan will drive your USP and your USP will drive your marketing strategy, so this is an important step.
Once you find that competitive advantage, you’ll want to exploit it in your marketing communications. After all, what good is a competitive advantage if you don’t capitalize on it right?
A winning marketing strategy starts with a solid business plan. That’s the linkage to success. A good roadmap will help you make good and purposeful decisions. Don’t try to get to point B blindly.
Is your business plan driving your marketing strategy?