4 min read

How To Build A Marketing Plan For Your Small Business

In today’s hyperactive markets, small businesses need to move quickly. They need to be ‘agile’. (My Code Year lessons are sinking in!) And a big part of the ability to be agile today is to plan, plan, plan.
On the marketing side, we’ve been taught to utilize a marketing plan to help guide our upcoming decisions based on previous learnings of the marketplace. In other words, what happened and do we want the same thing to happen in the future?

We’d build the marketing plan with an overview that looked something like:

  • Executive Summary
  • Situation Analysis
  • Marketing Strategy
  • Financial Projections
  • Implementation Controls

Oof, that’s a heavy outline. If you’re a small business or an individual looking to put a plan in place, does this excite you? Yep, it has to get done but holy moly, this doesn’t sound like fun.

What if we were to move things around a bit and rename parts of the plan? We’re really still doing the same work but we’re making it a bit more palatable for those folks who don’t have a marketing VP on staff.

Maybe something like this:

  • The Introduction
  • Our Environment
  • Our Need-To-Haves
  • Our Nice-To-Haves
  • Our Team
  • Our Money

This is adapted from Set Godin’s 2010 post: The Modern Business Plan.

The idea here is to make it a bit easier on yourself to take time away from direct-revenue-generating tasks and plan for your longer-term success. Plus, since you will likely want feedback from your team, and you may need to get buy-in, it makes it a lot easier for your team to review and respond.

I think a few of these are self-explanatory, but let’s take a further look into each one of these topics:

This sets the stage. It doesn’t have to be long, but it must address why you are writing this plan. Remember, you might need to sell this plan to other folks – both inside and outside your company. Using the introduction provides a quick overview why you (you the person and you the company) are building this plan, and why others should be interested.

Our Environment
This is the part that might be the most challenging. What’s going on around us? Who’s doing what? What’s our view on the marketplace?

Many times (read: most of the time), small businesses don’t have this down on paper – it’s all in their heads. Getting this down will help build the rest of the plan, and give you and your team a better understanding of your environment.

A side note: While this might be the most challenging, I’ve found this to be the most rewarding. As the environment is laid out, you’ll start finding little pieces that you can target, either by doing more or less of. This part really drives a lot of the other pieces of your marketing and business plan.

Our Need-To-Haves
This part is fun, but it’s fairly staid. What is it that we have to do? This can include advertising in a trade magazine, exhibit at certain conferences, etc. It’s good to put a range of things here, maybe something like:

  • Core to our company
  • Must do, but can tweak options
  • Can do without

The idea here is to give yourself a little flexibility. A budget of time and resources, so to speak.

Our Nice-To-Haves
Ooh, now we’re having fun! Here’s where we’ll define all the things we’d like to do, regardless of resources. Build a new website, create new logos, speak at the next conference, etc. Find and jot down all the things you think are important to extend your visibility and brand. Lots of fun here!

The idea here is to get this stuff out and start thinking about it. While it might be a nice-to-have our logo painted on the side of an airplane, it likely won’t happen. However, we can start thinking about how we can do something similar – maybe advertise around airports or do some keyword targeting.

The Team
Ok, so you have all this great stuff down on paper. Now, who is going to do it? If you’re a one-person team, it’s a seemingly easy answer. But this might be a good time to tap some shoulders and ask your network if anyone is willing to help out.

While it’s great to be able to provide monetary compensation, money is not the only way to get help with some of your projects. I think you’ll be surprised at how the barter system is alive and well today. The key here is a project plan and communication. Nice that you have half of that done already.

Our Money
With small businesses, budgets are aren’t always (read: hardly ever) put in place. There are a number of reasons for this and while it’s a topic that should be addressed sooner rather than later, this section can look at the costs going forward of the sections above.

The goal here is to find out where your resources are being deployed most productively. Yes, Twitter might be ‘free’ but if you are not receiving any leads, it will become fairly expensive (you know, opportunity costs and all that).


You can see that we still have a lot of work to do. It’s framed a bit differently in hopes of producing a plan that will help you and your team today and in the future. Doing it is the challenging part but once it’s in place, you’ll have a better idea of where to devote your resources going forward.

As for putting this into practice, I’ve used both types of marketing plans. Granted they were for two different organizations but the adapted plan provided more feedback from the team (A LOT more). It helped personalize the plan for the company and for themselves. And because everyone read and provided input to their marketing plan, everyone was able to better understand the position of their company and their competitors.