7 Points to Follow when Developing a Business Plan

Whether you are starting a new business, or refreshing the existing one, you will always be short on time and resources. Prepare a business plan for 2018 and beyond to ensure you're not wasting time or money.

Here are the essential components of a business plan that keep the sales pipeline full.

##1. Market research

Research is the backbone of the marketing plan. The Internet is a great place to start, but don't forget about your local library! Reports from Standard & Poor's, IBISWorld.com, or emarketer.com all offer essential data. Identify consumer buying habits in the industry of your focus, market size, market growth or decline, and any current trends.

##2. Target market

A well-designed target market description identifies your most likely buyers. In addition, you should discuss at least two or three levels of segmentation. For example, a language tutoring business might target both students and foreign-born employees who want to improve their English.

##3. Positioning

What is the perception of your brand in the marketplace? For example, if your restaurant sells burgers, do customers see you as the place to go for healthy options, or the place to go for a double cheeseburger with everything but the kitchen sink? The difference in how the target market sees you is your positioning. Develop compelling branding and marketing messages that will communicate clearly how you want to be perceived.

##4. Competitive analysis

You must know who your competitors are and how your products and services are different. What is the price point at which your competitors are selling, and what segment of the market are they aiming to reach? Knowing the ins and outs of your competitors will help you better position your product or service and stand out from them.

##5. Market strategy

Your marketing strategy is your path to sales goals. Ask yourself “How will I find and attract my most likely buyers?” This is the core of what the strategy should explain. It should look at the entire marketplace and then break down specific tactics including such as events, direct mail, email, social media, content strategy, street teams, couponing, webinars, seminars, partnerships, and other activities that will help you gain access to customers.

##6. Budget

Develop a month-by-month schedule of what you plan to spend on marketing. Also, include a “red light” decision point. For each activity, establish a metric that tells you to stop if it’s not generating sufficient return on investment (ROI).

##7. Metrics

Track your marketing success with Google Analytics for website conversions and a simple Excel sheet to compare your budget against the actual ROI. Test programs over the course of a 30- to 60-day period, and evaluate the results. Repeat any programs that are delivering sales or signups to your email list, and get rid of anything that’s not.

Remember, if you’re not bringing in qualified leads, you need better marketing. A sound plan will help you get started.

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