How to create a simple small business marketing plan

How to create a simple small business marketing plan

We work with a lot of small to medium sized businesses. You know, family businesses that may be first, second, or third generation companies. Some have a few employees, some of dozens or hundreds. But oddly, even though they span different industries lots of them have one thing in common... they lack a written marketing plan.

I’ve never really asked each why...but I suspect most are too busy running their business day-to-day to sit down and write out a plan. They simply push along and get things done as needed. Fortunately, most of them have done very well, and usually we get the call only when they need something unique or there’s been a slump in sales.

Always have a marketing plan, even if it’s a simple one

Keep in mind, writing down a marketing plan doesn’t mean it’s carved in stone. It’s simply a plan that will likely evolve throughout the year. However, the process of writing a plan forces you to focus on the future, to visualize your goals, and to outline what it will take to reach them. Moreover, it requires you to commit to “paper” the four critical elements of a marketing plan: budget, schedule, deliverables, and success metrics.

Budget (the how): Your budget is how much you’re willing or able to spend. Sometimes it’s evenly spent each month throughout the year, but usually, it’s weighted around events or critical periods - influenced by your business cycle.

Schedule (the when): The schedule determines when your budget will be spent. Your business my be cyclical with peaks and valleys throughout the year - or it may be pegged to industry trade shows. By creating an annual schedule you have to account for holidays, events, and slow and good times throughout the year.

Deliverables (the what): What you need is considered a deliverable. It might be a brochure for sales support, a new trade show graphic, an ad, or a script for a radio commercial. Each schedule marketing activity will require at least one deliverable - and usually more.

Success Metrics (the why): Why you do it all is to be successful; to make money. But it’s more granular than that - each activity and deliverable show have a why - a reason why it was done, paid for, created. This allows you to guage the success and effectiveness of your effort. Generally a success metric will be a number that you want to improve upon.

A simple marketing plan might include methods to address...

  • Lead generation - where are you getting new leads from?
  • Prospect nurturing - how to convert leads into sales
  • Sales support - once they’re hooked, closing the sale
  • Customer relations - keeping customers happy and buying more
  • Brand building & growth - how to build trust, leadership and expand sales

Granted, these are very broad categories of types of marketing, each of which could be segmented and distilled down into much finer marketing slices. But again, since we’re trying to keep things simple, most companies what to find new prospects, convert them to customers, sell more to them continuously, and grow sales overall.

Various activities might include:

  • Online Marketing
    • web
      • content marketing
      • social media
      • seo
    • email
    • adwords
  • Offline Marketing
    • advertising
      • newspaper
      • magazines
      • trade publications
    • direct mail
    • out-of-home
      • billboards
      • signage
      • banners
    • broadcast
      • radio
      • tv
    • trade shows
  • PR
    • traditional press releases
    • event marketing
    • webinars
    • training sessions
    • speaking opportunities
    • social media engagement
  • Opportunity Marketing
    • event sponsorship
    • partnering
    • industry or competitor opportunity
  • Measurement
    • Each activity and deliverable should be measured against a set goal by established metrics.

The exact mix of activity and deliverables will be affected greatly by your budget, time, and staff available. By taking the time to create a plan you can then prioritize what’s affordable and what’s necessary and do your best marketing.

Step One: How do you determine a budget

As described, the first step is to develop a budget. Traditionally, the old rule of thumb was to plan for 3% of sales. The actual figure will be determined by a number of factors - your market, competition, how much money you actually have, etc. But you have to start some place - so pick a number. Make it reasonable and affordable. Let’s assume you have $18,000. Directly, this would translate into $1,500 per month to spend - but it’s always wise to hold back 10% for opportunities that might pop up - so you’d really limit yourself to $1,350/month.

Step Two: Establish a schedule

The simplest way to do this is grab a calendar and a legal pad. Down the left side, write the months, and under each, week 1, week 2, week 3, week 4. These will be your rows. If you want to be exact you can add the dates and add a 5th week to the months that are necessary. But we’re trying to keep things simple - so we can be a tad fuzzy with our weeks.

Now across the top, make columns, with the types of marketing activities: online marketing, offline marketing, PR, Opportunity - then add sub columns beneath each with the more granular types of marketing (i.e., web, email, social, etc.). You’ll probably be able to eliminate some types of marketing activities or channels right off the bat - either because it’s not appropriate or you can’t afford it. So list only the options you think you’ll be doing. And don’t worry, you’ll be revisiting this often.

You should now have a grid, schedule down the left, activities across the top. Now we simply have to determine what types of tools (i.e., deliverables) are necessary for each activity. Though we normally take one extra step before listing our deliverables - we mark on our schedule any weeks that contain holidays or special events that affect our business. So mark holidays and trade shows in their appropriate weeks.

Download Example PDF

Step Three: Determining deliverables

Usually, we start with recurring activities. A quick example is email marketing. We like to send out a monthly newsletter (or promotion). So we go to that column and find a schedule row in each month and write email - and we adjust the schedule time to accommodate any holidays or trade events. Then we repeat this for all our other repeating activities (i.e., blogs, mailers, webinars, etc.).

Depending on your how meticulous you are you may also flush out general “content” or “editorial” ideas for each repeating item. For instance, an email in March my revolve around St. Patty’s Day topics or talk about the upcoming spring season. We prefer to get the plan generalities down first, then we go in and input the details.

After entering repeating activities, we add in other deliverables that will be required by specific events or dates. If there’s a big trade show we know we’ll want to produce an ad, send out an additional email, update the booth, find a specialty giveaway item, and perhaps schedule a mailing “to see us at our booth.” Each of those deliverables would be listed under the week they’re due. Then of course, when we flush out the details, we’d create and schedule the tasks necessary to make each happen. And of course, we’d assign, or rather, use our budget on each item.

The tricky part is that in some companies - when they assign a task and budget amount to an activity and/or deliverable - they neglect to account for the time it takes to manage or produce that item. This is especially true if the task is assigned to an employee as opposed to an outside vendor. An employe gets paid and has other obligations so their contribution should be accounted for when possible. In larger firms their time may be billed back against the budget. But in most small firms, it’s simply enough to make sure they’re able to accomplish the task and don’t have too much on their plate.

Once recurring items are listed and event and holiday items schedule we’ll start to fill out our marketing plan with other needed or required deliverables. Do we need new brochures (collateral) or new landing pages on our website? Each will be schedule when it’s needed or when it can be done without negatively effecting the delivery of more critical items.

Step Four: Measurement, Review, and Adjustment

As we discussed, each deliverable and marketing activity should have some type of measurement statistic so it’s success or failure can be judged. On your website you may be trying to grow traffic, or time on site, or lower your bounce rate. For emails you may be trying to increase your email list (leads), improve your open rate, or when available track activities, such as promo purchases, new sign-ups, etc. Trade show events may be about generating x number of leads or booking x dollars of sales - it’ll depend on your industry of course. But each activity should have some defined measurement statistic.

Then each quarter, recurring activities should be reviewed to determine their effectiveness and adjusted accordingly. If it’s working, it might be expanded, but if it’s not, it should be changed or stopped. The review of each activity’s effectiveness is important. It allows you to assess if things are working and provides a set time to examine the market and your competitors and to adjust your tactics if necessary.

The devil is in the details

Obviously, writing down the broad plan is just a start. You then have to flush it out with details (as we described). If you write down email newsletter each month, flushing it out will mean determining what content will be featured each month. And then assigning the writing of that content to somebody and applying a portion of the budget to pay for it. And this will have to precede the actual sending of the email (which will also be charged against the budget).

The details and project management for each activity and deliverable can be tedious. But by creating a plan you have the outline and it forces you to do it. The one bit of advice we always give though, is to allow even more time than you think it will take because it always takes longer than expected.

It’s also good to invest in a project management system. Writing things down or using a spreadsheet is fine, but it’s not easily shared. And you can’t assign tasks and monitor progress. So you might want to add “investigate and pay for a project management solution” to your marketing plan (and budget). But project management solutions and customer response management (CRM) solutions are another blog for another day.

Keep in mind we’re keeping things very simple

You’ve now created a simple plan, based on a defined budget, with a list of activities. In our experience you’re way ahead of many companies. Through this simple process you’ve crafted the minimum of a plan. It doesn’t necessarily address or target specific marketing challenges - but it keeps marketing activity consistent and geared towards your audience. To be thorough, you can break each activity down into more granular steps and tasks and budget expenses.

Review is also important. You should schedule a review of your activities every quarter at least - adjusting things as necessary. This allows you to adapt to changing market conditions. So go ahead, take an hour or so, a legal pad, and get your simple plan written down. And start marketing!

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Apr 13, 2013

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There are 2 comments for this entry. Leave a comment below »

very helpful

Charles Njue
May 14, 2015

Very helpful.

Apr 25, 2013

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