Do you really need a marketing plan?

When we opened our first business in 2000, I had no marketing plan. Really, I didn't even know I needed one.
I imagined that on our first day when we opened our doors, we would be flooded with customers. And because we were the coolest coffee shop in a 450 mile radius, we would have no problem getting customers.
Ummmm yeah…so that didn't exactly go as planned. We had a little trickle of customers for about a month…sure we were excited but it was not exactly the “line around the block” that I had pictured in my head.

We finally realized that the ONLY people who knew we existed, were a few customers from the place I used to work and a couple of people who drove by our shop on their way to work.

I was continually shocked every time I went somewhere and found that people had never heard of our shop. What do you mean you've never heard of us??!!

Honestly, I don't know why we were surprised, we hadn't done a stitch of marketing. Luckily we had amazing coffee and a cool atmosphere and word started to spread. But it took forever and we eventually did have to start advertising. Now this is in the olden days (pre-facebook) and we had none of the tools available to small business owners today. We had to give away free products, network like crazy and spend lots of money on print ads. We had no idea how to reach our target customers or who they were. Even our ads were random and sloppy.
So we started targeting specific groups of people, we reached out to the musicians, artists and poets. We marketed to people who shopped at the gourmet stores, people who appreciated hand roasted coffee. And it worked. Pretty soon we had a line out the door. Our Friday and Saturday nights were crazy, so busy that I had to schedule extra staff just to keep up. In a word…awesome.

Knowing who you are talking to and what they care about is so important. Which is why you need a strategy and a plan.
What can you do to get started?

No matter where you are in the life of your business…start with a plan.
Pre-Launch: If you are not open yet…start to build some buzz around your new business idea.
Launch: If you have been open a few months…it's time for you to go out and network. Meet everyone, get involved in your industry. Make a plan for how you will develop those relationships and what media channels you want to use to market your product or service.
Post-Launch: Or if you've been open a while and still aren't getting the traffic you want…make a plan. The more you strategize, the better your marketing efforts will be. Make use of your connections, past customers…get testimonials from people who have bought from you. Convince others that you are worth their hard-earned money.

Now none of this stuff comes easily and a marketing plan could take a few weeks or months to start seeing results. But stick with it, you will reach people when you strategize, make intentional decisions about partnering with people and using the tools available to you.

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