Marketing often gets a bad rap. From a customer's point of view, it is often perceived as something manipulative that sneaky marketers do to coerce us into buying things we don't need. From a business owner's perspective, marketing can be expensive, intangible and hard to measure for success or return on investment. Many owners of small- and medium-sized enterprises see it as a function they can do themselves instead of hiring a marketing manager (either in-house or outsourced). Or they view it as a cost they don't want to incur because of the assumption that it involves costly advertising campaigns.
Marketing doesn't have to be any of these things. As a function within your business, it is simply the act of bringing your goods or services to market -- getting the right message to the right consumers.
Regardless of the amount of money you have to invest in marketing, you should have a marketing plan. It can be a comprehensive document that includes a strategic plan, competitive research, market or environmental analysis, and a SWOT analysis (probably best done when a business is launched or relaunched). Or it can be as simple as a calendar of planned marketing activity and monthly costs. Chances are the simpler it is, the more likely you are to refer to it, use it, and update it on a regular basis. A marketing section in your business plan might be sufficient, depending on your business. But often a business plan is written for an audience of investors or lenders. It is not something we keep open on our desktop for daily reference, while your marketing plan should be something you access regularly.
Don't let a formalised marketing plan scare you off. We haven't written in stone since the Paleolithic age. Your marketing plan is a dynamic document that you can update and adapt as internal and external factors around the business change. Its purpose is to guide your activity and to make you plan ahead in order to use your time, money and resources most effectively.
At the risk of using an over-used and unoriginal advertising phrase, a marketing plan really will save you time and money. Writing your plan every six to twelve months allows you to:
Think of your marketing plan as the road map for your business over the next year. Investing time to do the strategic planning required to write it will mean less time you spend day to day trying to find where the sales are going to come from. Like any financial management or fitness plan, if you commit to it in writing you are more likely to act on it, stay on track and on budget, and achieve your objectives.