Small- to medium-sized business (SMB) owners and entrepreneurs are definitely allowed to daydream about taking company success to the next level and beyond. If you aren’t doing at least some “Magic Wand Thinking” occasionally, you might want to check yourself for a pulse. If you are serious, a marketing growth plan can help you get there.
There are few things more intrinsic to the mind and heartbeat of an entrepreneur or SMB owner than to speculate on how to boost productivity, enhance visibility, and beef up the bottom line. Motivations will vary, of course, but it’s common knowledge that daydreams must be translated into plans at some point.
“Failing to plan is planning to fail” has become a well-known guardrail for running a successful business, and for good reason. To ensure that your marketplace success is more enduring than a flash in the pan, you must set aside time regularly to develop, implement, and fine-tune a marketing growth plan.
Perseverance in the Face of Ongoing Change
Some SMB owners and entrepreneurs are tempted to give up on maintaining a marketing growth plan. The pace and frequency of marketplace changes have become dizzying. Planning and adjusting a marketing growth plan can seem secondary to the everyday demands of keeping all the pie plates spinning simultaneously.
There’s no getting around it. All seven of the elements listed below will require the investment of your time and attention. How you find time in any given week to review, update, and inform others will vary depending on the main thrust of your enterprise.
1. Overall Vision and Supporting Objectives
It’s easy for visionaries to keep their “35,000-foot view” of any business undertaking tucked away securely in the recesses of their minds. While acknowledging that entrepreneurs must keep at least some of their cards close to the chest, the primary problem with too much secrecy tends to crop up when employees and other strategic partners come alongside to help implement the vision. If you’re an inventive, free-thinking leader, you can unintentionally believe that other people know everything you do. In all likelihood, they don’t.
Don’t expect your people to become mind-readers. Break out whatever works best for you to get those objectives and plans out of your head. For some, this will mean recording voice messages on a smartphone. Others think best while using a computer and keyboard. Still others prefer to use pencil and paper.
Use whatever helps you crank out your ideas as quickly as possible. As you brainstorm, hold off on judging what pours forth. You can do that later. During this step, your job is simply to see how well you can translate your big ideas into words that others can understand.
Objectives and vision statements don’t need to occupy multiple three-ring binders. In fact, the very best vision statements often take the form of a single sentence. If you can think of your vision statement as a platform, the objectives you come up with to achieve your vision are the undergirding support structure.
2. Niche-Specific Research
Don’t skimp here. This part of the process will likely consume most of the time you invest in your marketing growth plan. In addition to an initial research period, you will want to set aside a chunk of time every so often — weekly, biweekly, monthly, whatever — to review, update, and add to what you’ve learned.
Research doesn’t need to be a drag, either. Yes, some hours might be spent feeling chained to a book or web browser, but there are other ways to discover what the “latest and greatest” in your industry looks like. Who knows? You might even find that you enjoy the process of adding to your personal knowledge base.
Extroverts typically prefer to get out of their routine, meet others, attend conferences and events, and volunteer their time serving the community. (You might be surprised to find out how much you can learn about the local business landscape just by serving alongside others.) All of these represent opportunities to gain knowledge, improve visibility, and perhaps even garner candid feedback about your company that you would be unlikely to attain any other way.
Introverted types can spend long hours with a laptop, trade journals, magazines, books, and other “solo” data sources. What’s more, they tend to thrive in that setting. Another suitable self-driven means of research might be watching or listening to industry-specific podcasts, training sessions, DIY videos, etc. Truly effective ongoing research will draw on both learning styles, but the key will be to find what works best for you and augment it with other forms of learning. The main takeaway here is that to keep up, you need to keep at it.
3. Data-Driven “Best Guesses”
By now, most SMB owners and entrepreneurs have already had it drilled into their heads. The era of following hunches is more than likely in the rearview mirror.
True, there will always be a place for novel insights and unique approaches to problems the rest of us assumed had already been solved. However, the catchphrase for the 21st-century marketplace is data-driven.
Data sifting software solutions are evolving at a rapid pace. Many SMB owners might assume that advanced data analytics are the exclusive province of Big Tech and out of reach for the average entrepreneur. While that may once have been the case, this is no longer true. Witness the rise of an ever-expanding array of business solutions offered under the umbrella of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).
Today, even the smallest businesses capture and generate an enormous amount of digital data daily. Since the onset of the digital revolution, one primary problem has been sifting and sorting through terabytes of information, looking for the tiniest fractions of data that SMB owners can use to hone their products and services to meet genuine needs.
Business owners owe themselves a renewed look at the SaaS services available for every budget. Collecting and analyzing data is in many ways easier today than ever. Armed with previously-hidden insights, you can construct a marketing growth plan that leverages hard facts. And if you want to throw in one of your (data-informed) hunches from time to time, go ahead.
4. Plans A, B, C, and D
How many successful entrepreneurs or SMB owners do you know are still operating profitably with the plan they came up with decades ago? Chances are good that number is zero.
However, this does not mean that it’s not on you to come up with your single best shot at a workable Plan A. What is the default strategy you will use to prosper and grow? Nail it down.
Many business people like to use (read: overuse) buzzwords such as agility and pivot. OK, feel free to use those terms if you must. Still, the underlying idea is to look carefully at your completed Plan A schematic and purposefully, intentionally look for every weak spot. At every potential breaking point, sketch out a backup plan for adjusting your marketing growth plan.
More than a few businesses still go into total gridlock if the internet goes down. If all it takes to wreck your productivity is for a load balancer to blow at the local power company, start over. Come up with an alternative that includes regular service interruptions and even makes allowances for disaster recovery.
You don’t want to send everyone home and shut down your company’s website if, for example, a pandemic forces you to disperse to remote locations. (Perhaps a far more common disaster would be your competitor getting to market six months earlier than you had projected.) Whatever the calamity, don’t allow your overall guiding vision to be obscured by the unpredictable.
5. Inventory of Strengths, Opportunities, Limitations, and Needs
No one knows your business better than you, right? Who better to compile the authoritative list of your strengths, known opportunities, limitations, and needs? Well, not so fast. An effective marketing growth plan often needs to bring more than just your insights to bear.
There really is no substitute for clear-eyed, impartial assessment than someone with no vested interest in whether your company succeeds or fails. While hiring an outside contractor or agency may not be in your operating budget year after year, you should at least consider bringing in a consultant with a proven track record. Once the confidentiality issue is settled to your satisfaction, give your expert permission to ask all sorts of annoying questions, some of which you may never have considered. Here’s a partial list of what you’ll want them to cover.
Your company might dominate the widget-building industry, but that’s an obvious strength. Non-obvious strengths might include geographic location, unique skill sets of employees, online reputation, employee perks, etc.
Are there markets for your product or service that you may not have previously considered? Have you recently acquired staff with highly specialized skills? Are other municipalities offering incentives that would significantly reduce your operating costs? All of these (and more) should show up here.
Less fun, but listing these out is necessary. If your planned expansion stalled out for lack of capital, that will need to be documented. Are you locked into an unfavorable multi-year contract? Most of us are only too painfully aware of our limitations. However, an objective perspective can help flesh this out, too.
Needs are not the same thing as limitations. This section of your marketing growth plan can be considered more of a “shopping list” than anything else. They are not obstacles in the same way as a limitation but rather assets you don’t have yet. Which line items will you need to add to your budget this quarter? This year? Five years from now?
6. Risk Assessment: Upsides and Downsides
Most of us prefer to live on the sunny side of the street, but you did not become a successful SMB owner by ignoring the potential pitfalls. Your marketing growth plan must consider both sides of the success ledger. Without allowing yourself to get carried off by unrealistic expectations or becoming overly moribund, strive to find the middle way.
Of course, any enterprise’s primary threat these days is the growing risk of hacking, ransomware, and data theft. Digital security is paramount for any business to succeed long-term. Your plan must make allowances for added expenditures to protect both your business and the privacy of those with whom you do business.
Of course, risk management is hardly limited to the digital realm. In early 2019, no one was predicting that a worldwide pandemic would close stores, overwhelm the healthcare field, and send the value of video conferencing software stock over the moon. When conducting your risk assessment, you might find it helpful to open up a casual conversation with your insurance agent and the law firm that represents your firm. One or both of these professionals will likely offer insights you might have missed otherwise.
7. Ongoing Assessment and Revision
In the halls of academia, it’s common knowledge that every Ph.D. student who successfully publishes a thesis is “the world’s leading expert” on that specific topic. However, this claim to fame lasts for approximately one or two days. As soon as someone else publishes another thesis on the subject, that person’s previous work is obviously still relevant but not current.
Keep this concept of obsolescence in mind as you plan and launch your marketing growth plan. You will protect yourself against frustration by beginning the process if you understand at the outset that you will need to update and improve your marketing growth plan.
Preparation and Flexibility Are Everything
The actual launch of a space shuttle takes less than 10 minutes. However, no one in their right mind wheels a hunk of metal onto the pad and straps a few engines to it. Arriving at lift-off presupposes thousands and thousands of hours of intense labor.
Likewise, your marketing growth plan will require a diligent effort, but make sure to have some fun along the way. If you can assume that not everything will go to plan, that’s more than half the battle. Are you prepared to solicit advice and feedback earnestly? If so, you strengthen your marketing strategy by adding the wisdom of others to your company’s portfolio. Dream big, and allow others to do the same on your behalf.