All Businesses Need Marketing Plans
Here I will give an example of a marketing plan for a start-up small service business: a landscaping business. However, the general format as well as many specific elements of this plan will be equally applicable to a wide variety of businesses.
You should create a detailed marketing plan for your business overall, as well as for major products or services within your business. Although the end result may be a thorough, polished, impressive-sounding document, don’t get too attached to it! It’s just a starting point! Once you get out there in the real world, marketing seldom works as planned. Some marketing media and approaches work better than others. Some don’t work at all.
Marketing Plans Need to Be Dynamic
Your marketing plans need to be dynamic and change, likely significantly over time. Nonetheless, I believe that you are much better off keeping your marketing thoughts systematically organized in a detailed and cohesive plan. This way you are much more likely to come up with a plan that works together in an integrated, sensible way. You are more likely to rigorously test and try new avenues as required, and in the end, much more likely to be successful.
No Rigid Guideline for Marketing Plans
Especially because marketing plans are designed for internal purposes, not to raise money, you don’t need to worry about having a consistent or systematic format. Focus on what matters. Some marketing plans may end up being three pages of material. Others may be just six short bullet points.
A Comprehensive, Multi-Channel Marketing Campaign for Just $2,000!
I designed the following launch marketing campaign not just to spend as little as possible, but also to try a variety of approaches that I felt might have the best chance of working. But you never know what will work until you try it. Which media? Which message? Which offer?
Until you find marketing venues that work, limit your spending carefully. You might very well find that the media that works best is an inexpensive one anyway. In this sample marketing campaign, many of the marketing items involve no outlay of cash at all. The total marketing campaign cost is just $2,020.
Yes, it will take some careful time and thought to put this campaign together. And like any marketing effort, you should be testing and retrying. But importantly, the cash costs are minimal, so if something doesn’t work at this stage, you won’t have spent much!
Sample Marketing Plan for Landscape Express, LLC
This marketing plan will cover all marketing activities for Landscape Express, LLC (Landscape Express) that we plan to launch on April 1st. It will cover all marketing activities that we plan for the period of March 1st to April 30th (one month before to one month after our launch date).
Business Strategy Summary
Landscape Express will focus on providing cost-effective basic services, such as grass cutting, grass repair/seeding, bush trimming, fertilizing, basic spring and fall cleanup, and snow removal. Landscape Express will focus on the lower middle through the upper middle part of the market that wants cost-effective basic landscaping services and is not interested in more sophisticated or expensive services such as turf replacement, in-ground sprinkler systems, etc. (Hence referred to as the “Wide Middle of the Market.”) By keeping its focus narrow in the range of services offered and only targeting one town, Landscape Express will be able to deliver highly competitive pricing while maintaining good profit margins.
We are limiting are focus to the town of Harbortown only. We want to minimize travel costs, unproductive labor time, and maintain a narrow geographic concentration to service customers better during snowstorms.
In Harbortown there are approximately 10,000 private residences. There are also several hundred businesses and several apartment complexes.
Target Market Segment
Our target market segment is lower middle to upper middle income, private residential customers within Harbortown, which we are labeling as the “Wide Middle of the Market.”
We don’t want to spend energy seeking commercial business or apartment complex customers—at least at this time. Most commercial customers will generally want more services than we plan on offering. With our lack of business track record, we feel our energy is better spent just focusing on residential customers.
We are also not targeting the higher end residential customers such as those who have in-ground irrigation systems or extremely high-end lawn care, such as replacing damaged lawn sections with turf. Nor are we targeting the lowest income customers who would not consider paying for any landscaping service.
We estimate that our total target market segment is about 6,000 private residences.
After speaking with many people in our target market segment, we have concluded that the “Wide Middle of the Market” has very different needs than the high end of the market or the commercial market. In fact, the high end of the market is really much more like the commercial market than it is like the “Wide Middle of the Market” in its desire for services and quality.
Almost all customers in the “Wide Middle of the Market” are very concerned about price. Some, particularly those currently being served by full-service landscaping firms that also serve high-end and commercial customers, feel that they are paying more than they would like for landscaping.
The second most common concern of customers is consistency of service. Several of these customers complained that their lawns were being cut either irregularly or that the regularly scheduled day was sometimes missed. Others complained that after snowstorms they were only serviced after larger customers, particularly after commercial customers. After especially bad snowstorms some of them would have to wait two to three days to get plowed out.
The third most common concern of customers was the lack of communication with their landscaping service. One of the larger landscaping services refused to even give customers their cell phone number, and never answered their landline. Nor would they use email or a website or any other technology.
Finally, what was most interesting was what customers in the target market did not complain about. They seldom complained about the quality of the work itself. We know by observation that the landscaping work performed by many of these competitors is nothing special, but for customers in the target market it appears that the key needs are 1) price, 2) consistency, and 3) communication.
Our marketing strategy is to quickly get new customers and also build a brand identity as the landscaping service for the “Wide Middle” of the market in Harbortown. Specifically, we will emphasize that we will meet the three major needs of our customers, each of which is not being well served by all current competitors:
- Reasonable price
- Consistency and dependability
- Easy communication
Unique Selling Proposition
In our unique selling proposition we really want to deliver the message that we are competitively priced, while still being professional. We do this by using the phrase “fair and square.” We also do it by simply emphasizing “lawns and snow removal” rather than a phrase such as “full service” which might infer a higher price.
Note that we are choosing to particularly emphasize the price need of customers as opposed to the consistency and communication needs. It is more important that the unique selling proposition get across one important message clearly and with an impact, rather than several messages with less impact.
Our Unique Selling Proposition or USP:
“Lawns and Snow Removal, Fair and Square.”
One of the first marketing initiatives we will take on is constructing a website. We will build it ourselves using a free build-it-yourself website that offers easy-to-use templates. We will make the website look professional by adding a few relevant images and spending some time trying different arrangements of images, headlines, and text.
We will include the USP and a description of our services on the website. We will also include any current special offers for new or current customers. Our website address will be included in all of our advertising. We will not incur any costs in constructing the website. We also will not spend any money on website hosting. We will use a free website-hosting service (that makes its money by posting advertising on hosted websites).
We will capture emails on our website, including from prospects, and keep a separate database of current customers and prospects. We will plan on emailing each every month with news about what landscaping activity is appropriate that month and any special services or special offers we might have. Initially the cost will be zero because we will have just a few names, but eventually we will outsource the emailing.
Our advertising budget is relatively small and likely to have much more impact at certain times of year, such as in late March/early April, when the snow has typically melted away, and in late fall, when the first snow storms are hitting the area.
Local Newspaper Advertising
We plan on placing a very small service directory ad in the paper and run it every single week. We believe that some residents, especially older residents, turn here from time to time to find service providers.
The cost is only $30 per week if we sign a yearlong contract, or $40 if we have no contract at all. However, even if we sign the yearlong contract we can always cancel advertising at any time and just pay the onetime $40 rate for any ad that ran. We will not place any display advertising in the local newspaper because we do not expect it to be cost-effective. The cost for March through April, nine weeks: $270.
Local Advertising Circular
In addition to the local newspaper, there is a local advertising circular that is distributed in Harbortown as well as two nearby towns. This publication also has a service directory, but the same size ad that cost $30 in the local newspaper would cost $70 in the local advertiser because it has a higher circulation. However, much of the circulation has no value to us, so we will be more cautious in trying advertising in this publication. We will plan on trying four ads, each running on alternate weeks during our first eight weeks in business. We may try more ads if they prove cost-effective. The cost for a planned run of four ads: $280.
Internet Search Engine Advertising
We will test Internet search engine advertising using different combinations of keywords, different headline copy, and different text copy. Primarily, we will focus on people interested in landscape services in the town of Harbortown.
We will test keyword advertising for lawn services in the March/April time frame and snow removal in the November/December time frame. Our initial budget will be $1,000 for March/April.
We will print and distribute a simple one-page 8½” x 11″ flyer promoting our services. We will first test distributing 1,000 flyers to homes in the middle income neighborhoods that we think are most likely to be customers for our service. We will do the distribution ourselves. Cost of printing 1,000 flyers: $50.
Posting Flyers on Bulletin Boards
We will post our flyers on every public bulletin board we can find, including at the public library, at the local coffee shop, at a local café, and at the community college. We will do the posting ourselves, so no cost.
We will print up 500 business cards that will include our USP and our web address in addition to our phone number. We will aggressively pass them out and use them as an aid in “talking up” our business with everyone we meet in town. Cost of printing 500 business cards: $20.
We will be using two used trucks for the business. One is older and fairly beat up looking, so we will not attach any signage to that truck, because it will not help reinforce a professional-quality image. On the truck that is in good shape, we will have a professional truck painting service paint our logo and phone number onto the cab doors. Cost: $400.
We will open an account and set up a page on Facebook. We will post similar information on Facebook to that included in our monthly email, such as any special deals that we may offer. Cost: $0.
However, if we can find the time, we would like to post to Facebook every week—including perhaps comments on the weather and how it may be impacting landscaping, some simple gardening tips, and suggestions for improving the appearance of one’s landscape.
During the winter months we plan on using Facebook to update people on winter storms and our progress on plowing. We plan to monitor Facebook at least every business day to respond to any possible posts.
We plan on trying Twitter, but not until the winter storm season comes around. We think some clients might appreciate getting an update when we expect storms, and especially updates on our plowing, such as at what time we plan to begin plowing, when we expect to finish plowing, and whether we plan more than one round of plowing. Also, for lighter snowstorms, we will notify customers whether we plan on automatically plowing or not. If we decide the accumulation will be too low to plow, then we will still give customers the option of tweeting back to us that they would like to be plowed out anyway. Cost of Twitter: $0.
We will seek publicity in locally focused media. We will send a press release announcing our new service, along with tips for good landscaping practices, to editors at the local newspaper, the producers of the local cable television shows (which might possibly air an interview), producers of the local talk radio shows, and editors of local websites. We will follow up with phone calls. We will emphasize that we could help create a great story or interview about how to better care for your lawn and about landscaping tips in general. Cost for do-it-yourself publicity: $0.
Free Give-Away/Nonprofit Promotion
We will also offer “free landscaping for the entire season” at a local nonprofit event bidding auction that we will seek out around the time we are starting our services. Marketing cost for giveaways: $0.
We know it is really hard to get users to respond to advertising and publicity, especially when you are trying to get them to leave an existing supplier, and especially for a new business. So we will start with a very aggressive initial offer of “Try One Month Totally Free!” To add power to this offer we will call it a limited time offer for the first 100 customers only. Later, we may try a scaled-back offer such as “Try Two Weeks for Free!”
Measuring Results and Reevaluating Marketing
We plan on asking every single inquiry how they heard about our Landscape Express. We will record this information on spreadsheets, tabulate it, and then determine the cost of every lead for each media. We will also separately tabulate which media brought in people who actually initiated service with us, and we will also determine the advertising cost per sale of each media. Then we will adjust our media plans accordingly. However, we will not necessarily just put all of our money into one media, as some repetition and variety allows us to hedge our bets and keep experimenting and learning. For example, as we try new offers or advertising copy, different media may perform much better or much worse.
After the initial results are in, we will undoubtedly shift around our marketing and may at that time focus more heavily on a particular media. As we build up a customer base, we will focus on marketing more to them, building satisfaction and trying to get referrals from them.
Summary: What a $2,000 Marketing Campaign Gets Us
Our marketing plan calls for targeting our customer base as specifically as we can, showing that we can meet their needs and providing a compelling call-to-action. Importantly, we are planning on using a wide variety of marketing avenues, but will spend very little money initially on any one. The entire marketing launch budget is just over $2,000.
As you can see, marketing will take some time and effort—in fact, quite a bit of time and effort—but that’s the nature of the beast. If you want to succeed in business, you’ve got to put time, mental energy, and creative thought into your marketing!