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So, what’s more important when you’re building a house? The foundations or the architect’s plans? Both, you might quite rightly say… why the question? Let me explain my thinking.

A little (long) while ago, when I was fresh into a new role as Marketing Manager at a brand new law firm, I was asked (by a keen-eyed partner) “So, come on then… what building blocks do we need to get our marketing really working?” I looked at him blankly. “Well, what tools do we need to get organised before we start?” Still blankly. “We need a website, a brochure, some business cards…”, he went on. Ah, the penny dropped and I responded in the only way I know how… directly. I explained that unless we’ve first agreed where we’re going… what we want to achieve… how can we possibly know what tools we need to help us get there? He didn’t agree and I soon found myself planning a brochure (sometimes you just have to do what you’re told), but it’s an approach that has subsequently stood me in good stead with other businesses and firms.

You see, I don’t like wasting money on marketing. In fact, a large number of the people I work for get me on board specifically to work out how they can rationalise their spiralling marketing spend and make it work more productively. In the vast majority of cases that means identifying ways to directly link marketing activity to measurable sales or lead generation targets. In short, working out what they want to achieve and then pulling the tools out of the marketing tool-kit to make that happen (and refusing to be distracted by any marketing ideas that can’t directly be linked to objectives, targets and goals). It never ceases to amaze me how many people get it back to front, though. That take the same route as the partner mentioned above… putting the foundations down without first working out what the house will look like.

Those of you that read my blog will know that I do not hold much time for those consultants that have built their business on writing glossy marketing plans based on models and theories. As far as I can see, what most businesses need is a practical set of actions that they can complete to get them from A to B. And in almost all cases the plan needs to demonstrate how they’re going to convert the activity into pound signs… very few people are in business just to maintain the status quo.

So, what are the key steps to go through?

  1. Who are you and what are your strengths/weaknesses? I’m not necessarily suggesting a long-winded SWOT test* but it is worth taking some time to articulate who you are (your business) and what you’re about.
  2. Who are you talking to? I’m a big fan of writing out personas so that I can visualise my targets… that means creating ‘real’ people, with names and information about their lives, so that I can test my marketing activity against them, in terms of ‘how would Janet respond to this’.
  3. Agree your timescales. Is your plan for one year or 3. Personally I can’t see how you can accurately plan marketing activity past about 8 months time without the need for serious reviews. My plans tend to cover one year in detail (with 6 monthly reviews) and a further 2 years in overview.
  4. Set a goal. In previous blogs I’ve covered this in more detail but I like to set one overall goal (this is usually financial and relates to a global picture of what the business wants to achieve).
  5. Set some objectives. Thinking about your strengths and personas, what do you need to achieve to meet the overall goal. Set some objectives that, if completed will equal a met goal.
  6. Overview marketing plan. The next stage, for me is to do a brief overview of the marketing ‘tools’ I’m going to employ to meet all of the objectives. It doesn’t need to go into pages of detail but it does need to give an at a glance coverage.
  7. The action plan. In reality, the most important part. What are you going to do next. Immediate actions are key, supported by a month-by-month action plan. There’s something very satisfying about ticking things off the list.
  8. Review it. I do this every time I read the document. For me a marketing plan is a working, living document. You have to check, every time, that it is still relevant and working towards those goals. Are there any new ‘tools’ that you want to employ?

*Incidentally, if you do like SWOT tests (see 1 above) then something I’ve used to great effect is the Action SWOT. First you set out your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Then you go through each and ask yourself ‘what am I going to actually do to turn each of these into an action towards meeting my goal’. It can be a great way of identifying activities and opportunities for meeting your goals, especially when you think you don’t have any ideas!

Above all, though… there comes a point where you have to ‘just do it’… where you have to admit that the planning is done and it’s time for action. This is where the approach outlined above comes into its own. You see, by keeping your plan short, linked to targets and based around clear action-planning, it should simply be a case of following the instructions. You should know exactly what you’re meant to do and the outcome you can expect. It’s why this approach works so well for me, rather than those glossy, theoretical marketing strategies.