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How to write a marketing plan

Writing a marketing plan is an essential task for every business of every size and shape. It will detail all the marketing activities you intend to do over a set period of time in order to generate more sales. Having a plan will make it much easier to budget, manage your time, predict sales and know in advance what, how and when you’ll be communicating with customers and prospects. This article looks at everything you need to consider – including a free marketing plan template download. 

What is a marketing plan?

Marketing is the process of converting prospects into customers by: 

  • creating and delivering value – offering something that’s desirable to the customer at a price they’re willing to pay
  • promotion and communications about your brand and products/services
  • building consumer trust and a community of fans

Marketing should no longer be a one-way stream of announcements from business to the consumer but is a two-way conversation. 

“People do not buy goods and services. The buy relations, stories and magic.” 

Seth Godin 

Your marketing plan will set out how you’re going to achieve this – the channels, tactics, timings and budget that you will use – based on your marketing strategy

There’s no set in stone way to write a marketing plan. It will probably be one or two pages long and it might slot into your business plan or be a separate document. Later you may want to split it out into more detailed plans for different channels – for example, a digital marketing plan, an email marketing plan, etc. 

Marketers tend to write an annual plan – January to December, or April to March (alongside the financial year), but it’s up to you what suits your business and sales cycles the best. The most important thing is that you use it, update it and track what’s worked. 

Why is it important to have a strategic marketing plan?

Before you plan how you’re going to get somewhere, you need to work out where you’re going. Your marketing strategy will decide where you’re heading, followed by the marketing plan which will say how you’ll reach it. 

Your marketing strategy will include: 

  • your business/marketing objectives (revenue, number of customers, average spend, etc.) 
  • competitor and market research 
  • customer research and buying personas (and what channels they are most likely to use or respond to) 
  • your strategy in order to achieve your objectives (e.g. increase footfall, increase average spend per customer).

Your strategic marketing plan is designed to execute this marketing strategy and should be done with your brand, market research and customer knowledge at the forefront of your mind. 

What are the five steps to creating a successful marketing plan?

  • 1. Set a budget

    Setting a marketing budget is probably one of the hardest things for small businesses to do as they are determined to spend as little money as possible. But you really do have to spend (at least some) money to make money. If you’re yet to start your business, make sure you take this into account in your finances. A guide would be 1-2% of your forecast top-line revenue. Set a total marketing budget and then split it down by channel and month. 

  • 2. Pick your marketing channels

    Assess the potential marketing channels that are available to you (see the table below) and focus on two or three. Marketing should be about testing which channels work best for you. If it doesn’t work, move on and try another one. But make sure you’ve given a channel a fair shot – you’ll need to commit to a channel over a period of time to see results – by learning how to best use it, growing and optimising it.

  • 3. Create your tactics

    Once you’ve chosen your channels (these are essentially your tools), then you’ll need to decide which tactics to use for each. These will be the campaigns that you’re going to run through each channel and will include your themes and ideas for creative content, relevant messages, offers and promotions.

  • 4. Work out your timings

    Consider the seasonality of your product or services – when would people normally buy them? Are you affected by payday or client budget dates? Also, think about your typical buying cycle. What is the process and how long do people usually take on each part (for example – inspiration, comparison, decision, purchase, post-purchase sharing)? How can you target customers at each stage? Use Google Trends to see when searches for your product are peaking and where searches are coming from.

  • 5. Track and measure

    There’s no point spending time or money on marketing unless you are going to be able to gauge whether or not it has worked. For every channel you use, work out first how you will track and measure. This could be with trackable telephone numbers or links, dedicated landing pages or asking every customer how they found out about you. By attributing customer spend (revenue generated) to a marketing channel you can work out the return on investment (ROI) of that channel. So if you spent £500 on Facebook advertising and it generated £2000 revenue then that channel has an ROI of 4:1 (= £2000/£500 – for every £1 spent you made £4 back). 

What marketing channels can I use?

Review this list of channels and choose a few that seem to suit your business best (this will depend on your products/services, customers, resources, skills and budget). Straight away you can probably pick out the ones that appeal most or eliminate some due to practicality or cost.

 

ChannelsBest used for…How to track Typical cost 
Digital ads (PPC – pay-per-click)Driving more traffic to your website Google AnalyticsHigh
Search engine optimisation (SEO)Driving more traffic to your website (longer term)Web analytics/keyword tools Low
Email marketing A main channel of communication with customers/prospects and to drive salesEmail service provider analytics and Google Analytics Low
Social media (paid and organic)Growing a community of fansSocial channels analyticsHigh for paid, low for organic
Content/bloggingShowing that you’re the expertGoogle AnalyticsLow
PRNewsworthy storiesUnique offerMedium 
Newspaper/magazine adsSpecific target markets if you know that yours match the publicationsUnique offer/promo code/trackable telephone number or link Medium 
TV adsHigh-value brand awareness and salesUnique offer/promo code/trackable telephone number or link  High
Radio adsMedium value brand awareness and sales – products that can come across well in an audio adUnique offer/promo code/trackable telephone number or link High
Events/exhibitionsPutting your product/service in front of a new audience by exhibiting or speaking at eventsNumber of followers gained/data captured/sales Medium
Printed leaflets/flyersGeographically targetingUnique offer/promo code/trackable telephone number or link Low
TelephoneContacting past customers for repeat purchases if you have their permissionNumber of sales Medium
Referrals/word of mouthEncouraging enthusiastic customers to share their experiences Number of referrals Low
Partnerships Two businesses with similar target markets but non-competing productsNumber of sales/web trafficLow
SponsorshipEnhancing brand reputation by associationWeb trafficHigh

Choosing the best marketing channels for your business

The marketing channels that you choose to use will depend on your products/services, resources, skills, budget, and most importantly, where your customers are. Using a variety of channels will spread the risk so you avoid putting all your eggs in one basket. We looked at different small businesses and found out what channels worked best for them…

The best marketing channels for different business types

What marketing channels are best for dog groomers? 

Pictures and videos of pets make the perfect (or pawfect!) content for social platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Try and create partnerships with local vets, pet shops, kennels and dog walkers for referrals, and then you can share each other’s social posts too.

Find out more

“We have been using social media more and more as we’ve grown,” says Joe Thomason of Green Dog Walking. “Luckily we have a great subject to use…dogs! That does make it a lot easier to engage with people.”

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What marketing channels are best for plumbers?

Trade-based businesses, perhaps more than any other business type, need to demonstrate their credibility and authenticity. This can be done by listing your site on relevant directories and encouraging customer reviews and feedback.

Find out more

“We rely heavily on word of mouth, referrals and reviews,” says David Barnes, Managing Director of Red & Blue Ltd. “Third party website Checkatrade is important to us so we keep an eye on that regularly. We also make sure our own website is up to date with the best contact details, testimonials and project pictures.”

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What marketing channels are best for online stores?

The first position on Google search results on desktop has a 34.36% click-through rate, so clearly being visible in search results is hugely important for any online-based business.

Find out more

“We focus on carefully targeted pay-per-click advertising and improving our SEO,” says Jasmine Willford, Marketing Co-ordinator at Snugs Headphones. “We do this by creating new written content and making sure all product listings are Google friendly.”

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What marketing channels are best for foodie startups?

Events are key for foodie startups, even if you have premises it’s great to get out to new places and get your food in people’s mouths. Use Facebook Events to get the dates in people’s calendars and share mouthwatering photos of your food on Instagram.

Find out more

“A brand’s presence on the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is a must these days,” says Anna Skopets of TreeVitalise. “It’s what consumers are now more likely to look at when checking a new brand out, rather than a website.”

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Download: Free marketing plan template

Download your free marketing plan example and template here. This marketing planning template includes: 

  • your marketing objectives
  • your budget
  • your target customers
  • your brand and USP (unique selling proposition)
  • marketing channels
  • tactics and messaging 
  • responsibilities 
  • timings
  • tracking and measuring ROI.

Download: Please login or register to get your download.

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