Small business marketing plan:
A step-by-step guide

Every business should have a strong marketing plan. From setting goals to identifying customers, your marketing plan can act as a blueprint for success for your business. Here’s how to write yours, step by step (including a template to get you started!)

woman setting up the displays in the front of her shop

20 MAY 2024 small icon of a clock13 MIN READ

What is a marketing plan?

A marketing plan is your roadmap for navigating your small business. It can be used to help with organising and strategising, as well as tracking your overall progress. No two marketing plans will be the same, as it’s not a ‘one-size-fits all’ process and will be individual to your business’ needs. Bringing together your goals, aims and objectives in the one place lets you see the bigger picture of what you want to achieve, and how to do it.

Do I need a marketing plan as a small business?

It’s all well and good having the perfect product or providing a standout service, but it means nothing unless your customers can find you. That’s where having a strong marketing plan comes in. A well put together marketing plan can help you define your goals, identify your target audience, and set your overall strategy for success, no matter the size of your business.

What if I don’t have a marketing plan?

Without a marketing plan in place, you might struggle to see the bigger picture when it comes to setting your goals and objectives. With a lack of clear direction, you may find that you’re wasting valuable time and resources on activity that doesn’t help achieve your overall aims. The more you know about your target audience, the better equipped you are to offer them a product or service that meets their customer needs.

How to create a marketing plan?

Getting started

Sitting down to write out your small business’ marketing plan may be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first go. To keep things simple, we’ve put together an easy to follow step by step guide to get you started.

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Setting your goals

Start simple. Ask yourself: why are you marketing your business? What do you want to achieve? Use these answers to help identify your main goals but be careful not to bite off more than you can chew. These goals will be the building blocks for creating your marketing plan and should appear at the forefront, giving context to everything that follows.

illustration of someone ticking items off their checklist

If you’re struggling with this, try to think of two main targets. Once you’ve got them, it’s good practice to have three to five supporting aims that will help achieve them. Make sure that your goals are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely), so you can easily track their progress.

These goals should form part of your daily operations, with it being standard practice for your team to work towards achieving them. As your business grows and evolves, it’s important to regularly review and revise these in line with your vision.

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Time to get researching

Your goals are in place, now you just need the routes to reach them. But how?

The good news is you don’t have to be a marketing expert to find the information you need to take your plan forward. Below, we’ve outlined different methods you can use to research and analyse the next steps for your business.

SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis helps you identify your business’ strengths, weaknesses (internal influences), opportunities and threats (external influences). This method really gets you thinking through your business in detail. You may have already carried out a SWOT for your initial business plan, why not try one from a marketing perspective? And if you haven’t used this before, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered.

SWOT analysis will help you determine your:

What’s special about your business? List your key selling points. From your expertise to the talent you have onboard, what make makes your business stand out? Once you’ve identified these key selling points, ensure that your website or social media channels highlight them. Remember, what makes you different makes you interesting, don’t shy away from promoting what makes you unique.

Whether it’s a lack of reach or brand loyalty, get to know your business’ pain points. For new businesses starting out, often these weaknesses are simply down to a lack of experience. Once you’ve identified the areas that you’re not as strong in, consider how marketing can help you work on improving these weaknesses.

These are external factors that, although out of your control, you’re able to use to your advantage.

For example, you’re a small deli owner and a new housing development opens nearby your shop.

Q: How can your business use marketing to make the most of this situation?

A: Through social media and advertising. Use social media promotion and leafleting to make sure everyone in the new housing development knows about you, and the products you offer.

It’s likely that at some stage as a small business owner you will face threats to your business, whether it be in the form of competitors or an over-saturated market.

For example, you’re a small deli, and a large supermarket is set to open down the road.

Q: How can you compete?

A: By making the most of your USPs of personal service and local products. Marketing materials such as discount flyers can help you promote the benefits of your products while retaining your footfall.

green icon of a statisical chart
green icon of a statisical chart

Competitor analysis

Who are your main competitors? Who offers a similar product or service to you in the same market?

Carrying out some competitor analysis is a good place to start. Searching your business type and location can help you gain some initial insight. Try to analyse at least four of your main rivals. Look at what they offer, their price point, their reputation and any USPs they may have. Do they provide extra services (free delivery, after-sales service)? How do you compare? What makes you stand out?

Knowing this information early on can help your business stays competitive, as well as allowing you to adapt your own product or service offering to reflect the current market.

green icon showing someone thinking
green icon showing someone thinking

Buyer persona

A buyer persona is a fictionalised version of your target customer. Although fictional, the persona is based on extensive research of your target audience. You may have heard the terms ‘customer persona’, ‘marketing persona’ or even ‘audience persona’, these are one and the same. It can help to envision this buyer persona as a real person with their own interests, likes and dislikes and behaviour traits. This will help you to craft your marketing messaging and customer voice to help target them, specifically.

You may have different personas for different elements of your business. For example, a hotel may offer a roast lunch with a special rate for older customers. In the evening, that same venue may then host live music from an up-and-coming local band. Different audiences respond to different messaging. Think about which type of customer needs the most marketing attention.

By gaining an in-depth understanding of your customers, you can better target your marketing spend and energy.

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The buying cycle

Once you’ve established the personas, think about how they may respond to your business. The buying cycle explains how a customer makes their purchasing decision. This typically consists of three stages. Awareness, consideration, and finally, purchase.

At the awareness stage, you don’t want to be too specific about the facts and figures just yet. Your first aim is to make your customer thinking about wanting your product, whether it’s a sandwich/haircut/clean windows.

Next, the customer considers how they might meet this need. Help get them invested by making sure there is readily available information about your product or service. For example, on your website or social media.

And finally, once at the purchase stage, you want to give your customers plenty of reasons to pick you above your competitors. This is where highlighting your USP mentioned during step two starts to pay off.

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Define your strategy

So, you’ve got your buyer persona and have carried out background research. Now it’s time to tackle your strategy.

Keep those goals from step one, as your strategy should provide framework to achieve and measure these.

A brand is a name or visual feature that distinguishes your business from others. But it’s more than ‘just a name’, it’s what your customers think of when they think of you. It’s what your business, and customers, say about you. Your brand can become one of your strongest assets, so it’s worth spending time getting your name right and investing in a good design. A strong brand plays a big part in building your brand image, and ultimately sets the tone for your business from the get-go.

Be consistent with your brand. Use your logo and colours across your website, printed materials, packaging, signage, and even your employee uniforms! Make it easy for your customers to identify you.

Getting your business online can be a daunting thought, but with online sales reaching record highs, it’s more important than ever that small businesses build an online presence. Not only does it open you up to a wider customer base, but it’s an opportunity for to showcase your product or service.

And the good news is, building a website isn’t just for the tech savvy. There are plenty of free online resources to help you, and with platforms like WordPress and Wix - there’s no need to call in the experts.

Don’t know where to start? Our handy guide has you covered for everything from setting up, to getting to grips with SEO.

Having quality content helps boost your position on search engines, raising your visibility to potential customers. However, it can be easy to fall into the trap of making content for the sake of having it. You want content that speaks to your customers. Keep it lively and engaging, and relatable to your buyer persona. Think quality over quantity.

Use your website and blog to establish your business as a go-to resource. A hints-and-tips or behind-the-scenes blog helps position you as an expert and gives you original content for social sharing.

Where will you share this unique new content? Will you send out an e-newsletter? (If so, be aware of the GDPR regulations that cover data collecting and processing.)

What social media channels do your customers use? Make sure you’re posting regularly to encourage engagement. Get the targeting right, and it’s a cheap and responsive way to reach a wide audience.

If you’re using printed materials or advertising, build these costs into your marketing budget.

These days, tactics like ‘keyword stuffing’ will be penalised by search engines. Quality content is the way forward. However, it can help to include a few commonly searched-for words and phrases. Use a keyword research tool such as Google’s keyword planner to help you find the right terms.

It’s an advantage to have a URL that’s as close as possible to your business’ name. Also consider having a keyword in your URL (‘florist’, ‘café’, ‘garage’). Run the name through a domain checker such as 123-Reg. A memorable URL helps and keep it as short as you can.

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Define KPIs and measurements

When you’re setting up your plan, build in a means of testing whether your marketing activity is working. What are your key performance indictors (KPIs)? These could be performance measures such as ‘increase sales by 10% year-on-year’.

However, it can be hard to quantify exactly how much certain marketing methods contributed to this.

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How do you work out whether an advert on the back of a bus has been worth it? The answer is, not easily – but you can survey your customers to find out where they heard about you or your offer. If your KPI is to increase custom from a certain buyer persona, measure demographics to see if it’s working.

Some marketing methods are easier to measure. You can track social media engagement by seeing how many of those who see your posts click onto your website. It’s similar for e-marketing, as you can track the clickthrough rate to your landing page. Google Analytics can give you lots of helpful intelligence about your online presence.

In the simplest terms, you should try to track business income alongside marketing spend. If there’s no real increase after a set period, try revisiting your marketing methods. Any decrease could be due to other factors (as analysed in your SWOT exercise), but this is where you can start to target and review your marketing in response.

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Create tactical plans

Having outlined your business goals in step 1, it’s important to consider which tactics you can use to help achieve these.

Each business will have its own unique aims and goals to reach. Therefore, there’s no standard set of tactics you should use, but instead you should focus on specific marketing activity suited to each of your goals. If your goals are the ‘what’ you want to achieve, then your tactical plans are the ‘how’ to achieve them.

Some examples below:

Increase the number of visitors to your website
Marketing tactic – Carry out an SEO audit

Invest time into reviewing your website to see what you’re doing well, what you could be doing better and work on any areas for improvement.

Raise brand awareness
Marketing tactic – Offer customer referrals

Customers listen to other customers. Think about the last time you were in search of a new product or service to use. Whether it was a new restaurant to try or a book to read, it’s likely that you asked someone you know for their recommendation. Boost your brand’s awareness by encouraging this type of word-of-mouth promotion through customer referral schemes.

These plans aren’t set in stone and may need to be adjusted to suit your business’ needs. As your business grows and develops, it may be the case that you need to tweak or change these tactical plans entirely. To make sure that your plans align with your goals, it’s worth reviewing and re-assessing these throughout the year.

If getting the word out about your small business feels like a challenge, why not download our free template? This easy guide is designed to help get you started on developing a strong marketing plan to suit your business. (DOCX, 170kb)


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