How do I build a marketing plan?

This is blatantly and unashamedly about growing your business fast

If the essence of this is to be summarized in one sentence, it would be “the fastest path to the money. This opening sentence may put off a large number of people. And quite frankly, Allan, the author advises you to read someone else business book if you belong to this category of readers. There are business books full of ear-tickling clichés like “follow your passion,” “work hard,” “hire the right people,” blah blah blah on Amazon if that’s what you are after.

There are a gazillion business books there for you on all these airy-fairy concepts and much more, primarily written by professional authors and researchers who’ve never actually built a high-growth business. This book is blatantly and unashamedly about growing your business fast and reaping the rewards of that kind of success.

As Zig Ziglar famously said, “Money isn’t everything…but it ranks right up there with oxygen. Nothing kills a business faster than a lack of “oxygen” aka money).

This is unashamedly focused on the money getting? There are a few good reasons.

Firstly, there’s almost no business problem that can’t be solved with more money. This is handy because nearly every business is full of problems. Money helps you solve the vast majority of things that make a business pain in the backside.

Secondly, when you’ve taken care of yourself, you have a chance to help others. If you didn’t go into business to make money, you’re either lying or have a hobby, not a business. And there is the part about delivering value, changing the world, etc., but how much of that are you going to do if you’re broke? How many people can you help?

Targeting a tight niche allows you to become a big fish in a small pond

When you ask business owners who their target market is, many tend to respond with “everyone.” In reality, this means no one. In their zeal to acquire as many customers as possible, many business owners try to serve the widest market possible.

On the face of it, this seems logical. However, it’s actually a huge mistake. Many business owners worry about narrowing down their target market because they don’t want to exclude any potential customers.

With this type of marketing, business owners are like an archer in the middle of dense fog, shooting arrows in every direction in the hope that one or more of them will hit the intended target.

If that sounds like our disoriented archer, flailing about in the fog, shooting his arrows in random directions, and hoping for the best, you’d be right. However, you might be thinking — if he just shoots enough arrows in all directions, surely he’s bound to hit his target. Right? Maybe, but for small to medium-sized businesses at least, that’s the stupid way of marketing because they’ll never have enough arrows (i.e., money) to hit their target enough times to get a good return on their investment. To be a successful small business marketer, you need a laser-like focus on a narrow target market, sometimes called a niche.

A niche is a tightly defined portion of a subcategory. For example, think of the health and beauty category. This is a very wide category. A beauty salon can offer a wide variety of services, including tanning, waxing, facials, massage, cellulite treatment, and more.

If, for example, we take one of these subcategories — let’s say cellulite treatment, this could be our niche. However, we could tighten it up even further by focusing on cellulite treatment for women who’ve just had a baby. This is a tightly defined niche. Now you may be thinking why on earth would we want to limit our market so much?

Here’s why:

  1. You have a limited amount of money. If you focus too broadly, your marketing message will become diluted and weak.
  2. The other critical factor is relevance. The goal of your ad is for your prospects to say, “Hey that’s for me.”

If you’re a woman who’s just had a baby and is concerned about cellulite, would an ad targeting this specific problem grab your interest? Most certainly. How about if the ad was a general ad for a beauty salon that reeled off a long list of services, one of which was cellulite treatment? Likely it would get missed in the clutter.

Did you know? Targeting a tight niche allows you to become a big fish in a small pond. It will enable you to dominate a category or geography in a way that is impossible by being general.

You need to develop your unique selling proposition (USP)

To start marketing on purpose, we need to look at two vital elements:

  1. What is the Purpose of Your Ad?
  2. What does Your Ad Focus On?

When you ask business owners what the purpose of their ad is, you usually get a list like:

  • Branding
  • Getting my name out there
  • Letting people know about my products and services
  • Making sales
  • Getting people to call in for a quote.

These are all very different, and you cannot possibly do all of these with one ad. In a typical small business style, they’re trying to get maximum bang for their buck. But by trying to do too much, they end up achieving none of their objectives.

A rule of thumb is one ad, one objective. If something in the ad isn’t helping you achieve that objective then it’s detracting from it, and you should get rid of it. That includes sacred cows like your company name and company logo.

Rather than trying to sell directly from your ad, simply invite prospects to put their hand up and indicate interest. This lowers resistance and helps you build a marketing database — one of the most valuable assets in your business.

Once your objective is clear, you need to communicate it to your reader. What exactly do you want them to do next? Do they call your toll-free number to order? Do they call you or visit your website to request a free sample? Do they request a free report? You need a very clear call to action — not something wimpy and vague like “don’t hesitate to call us.”

You need to be clear on what they should do next and what they will get in return. Also, give them multiple ways to take that action. For example, if the call to action is to order your product, give them the ability to do it online, over the phone or even via a mail – in coupon. Different people have different preferences when it comes to the modality of communication.

Many small businesses don’t have a reason to exist.

Their reason for existence is to survive and pay the bills of the owner who is usually only just getting by or possibly not even. From a customer’s perspective, there is no compelling reason to buy from them and any sales they do make is just because they happen to be there. No one is seeking them out. No one actively desires what they have to offer and if they weren’t there no one would miss them. Harsh but true.

You need to develop your unique selling proposition (USP). This is where a lot of people get stuck. They say something like “I sell coffee, there’s nothing unique about that.

Think about water — one of the most abundant commodities on earth. When you buy this commodity, in bottled form at either a convenience store or from a vending machine, you happily pay 2000 times the price compared to getting it from your tap at home.

You know you’re marketing your business as a commodity when prospects start the conversation by asking you about the price.

Positioning yourself as a commodity and hence being shopped on price alone is a terrible position for a small business owner to be in. It’s soul-crushing, and this race to the bottom is bound to end in tears. The answer is to develop a unique selling proposition (USP). Something that positions you differently so that prospects are forced to make an apples-to-oranges comparison when comparing you with your competitor.

If they can make an apples-to-apples comparison of you and your competitors, then it comes down to price, and you’re toast. There’s always someone willing to sell cheaper than you.

Reaching prospects with social media

Marketing dollars are firepower. You need to use your limited firepower wisely so that you can successfully hunt, come home victorious and feed your family. However, if you start randomly firing in every direction, you’re going to startle and scare off your prey. You need to be targeted and clever if you wish to be victorious.

If you’re a small or medium-sized business, you need to get a return on your marketing spending. Putting your comparatively tiny marketing budget into fuzzy marketing would have the same effect as a kid peeing in the ocean.

With all the hype that surrounds social media, you’d imagine it was a marketing cure-all. Many self-proclaimed social media “gurus” would have you believe that social media is the future of all marketing and that if you’re not dedicating all or most of your marketing resources to social media, you’re a Luddite who’ll soon be out of business.

There’s so much hype that surrounds social media. Let’s see where it fits into an overall marketing strategy.

A successful marketing campaign has to get three vital elements right.

  1. Market. The target market you send your message to.
  2. Message. The marketing message or offer you send.
  3. Media. The vehicle that you use to communicate your message to your target market, e.g. radio, direct mail, telemarketing, Internet, TV, etc.

You need to hit all three of these to have a successful campaign. You need to send the right message to the right target market through the right media channel. Failing at any of these three elements will likely cause your marketing campaign to fail. Understanding this framework helps put things in context.

The time-tested marketing fundamentals don’t suddenly change just because a new type of media comes along. The next thing to ask is — is it the right media for your business?

There are two potential traps with social media.

First, it can be a time suck. Feeling like you have to respond to every inane comment can be draining, and it can suck time away from marketing tasks that can give you a far better return on time and money invested.

Second, there’s the question of ownership. Your social media page and profile are actually the property of the social network. So spending huge amounts of time and money building up a profile and audience on these networks builds up their assets rather than your own.

The author prefers to build his own marketing assets such as websites, blogs, email lists, etc. then use social media simply as a way to drive traffic to these marketing assets. This way, his time and effort go into renovating his own “house” rather than that of a landlord who can kick him out at any time.

Reaching prospects with social email marketing

Email is a direct, personal way to engage with prospects and customers. Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones and mobile devices, pretty much everyone has an email in their pocket or within easy reach.

Building a database of email subscribers plays a central role in your online marketing strategy. A prominent part of your website should be an opt-in email form. This enables you to capture the email address of website visitors and allows you to nurture those visitors who may not be ready to buy immediately but who are interested and want more information.

Lead capture and lead nurturing are two critical stages of the marketing process. They give us the ability to intelligently deal with interested prospects that may not yet be developed to the point of making a purchasing decision. Generally, these kinds of prospects make up the majority of all prospects and are crucial to filling your future sales pipeline.

While email is a powerful media, it does have a few idiosyncrasies that you must be aware of. Here are some of the critical dos and don’ts for email.

  1. Don’t spam. Never ever buy or compile lists of email addresses where the recipients haven’t explicitly requested to be emailed. Not only is this very poor positioning, putting you in the same category as spammers, but it’s also illegal.
  2. Be human. Don’t write an email like a robot or like you’re writing a formal letter. Email is a very personal media and even if you’re sending the same email to thousands of subscribers, write as though you’re emailing a single person.
  3. Don’t write an email like a robot. Don’t ever use Outlook, Gmail, or any other standard email service for mass email marketing. These services are designed for one-to-one emails, not one-to-many.
  4. Email regularly. If you rarely email your email database, they’ll start to go “cold.” They may have opted into your email database, but they may forget who you are and mark you as a spammer if they haven’t heard from you for a long time.
  5. Give them value. If you only ever email your subscriber database when you want to sell them something, this will quickly get old, and they’ll either unsubscribe from your list, ignore your emails or mark you as a spammer.
  6. Automate. Another great reason to use a commercial email marketing platform is automation. These platforms allow you to set up sequences that automatically get emailed to new subscribers. For example, you could have your email marketing platform automatically send them a welcome email when they subscribe. A day later, it could send them a value-packed email helping them to understand better the product category they’re interested in. It could send an email telling them more about you and your business three days later. A week later, it could invite them to schedule a phone call with you. All this can be done on autopilot.

Capturing leads in a database system for future follow-up is critical to your marketing success

Most business owners are clueless about the purpose of their marketing. They slap the name of their business on their ad with a pretty logo and some meaningless slogan claiming to be the leader in their industry or area. If you ask them what the purpose of their advertising is, most will say it’s to sell their products or to “get their name out there.”

This is wrong! Dead wrong. They may as well be flushing money down the toilet.

In direct response marketing, your advertising aims to find people who are interested in what you do, rather than trying to make an immediate sale from the ad. When interested leads respond, you put them on your follow-up database so that you can build value for them, position yourself as an authority, and create a relationship built on trust.

After doing this, the sale comes (if it’s right for them) as a natural consequence. This will take a mindset shift but is an absolutely vital concept to understand.

Why not try to sell to them from your ad? Some people reading your ad might indeed be ready to buy immediately, but the vast majority will not be ready to make a purchasing decision on the very day they read your ad — even if they are interested in what you do.

If you don’t put them in a database, you’ve lost them. They might have been ready to buy in six months or a year. But since your advertising was a “one-shot,” you’ve completely wasted that opportunity.

Your chances of them remembering your one-shot ad from six months ago are extremely slim. This kind of marketing is similar to farming. It is an investment in your future because as your database grows, so will your business and your results.

What would you guess the average number of times a salesperson follows up on a lead? If you guessed once or twice, you’d be about right.

50% of salespeople give up after one contact, 65% give up after two, and 79.8% after three shots. Imagine that a farmer planted seeds and then refused to water them more than once or twice. Would he have a successful harvest? Hardly.

Immediately after you’ve captured a lead, they should go into your system, where repeated contacts are made over time. These are not contacts where you obnoxiously try to pester them into buying. You build a relationship, giving them value in advance of them buying anything from you and, in the process, building trust and demonstrating authority in your field of expertise.

Accept the fact most people will not be ready to buy right away. Put them in a database — and by a database, this could be email or physical direct mail (preferably both). Mail them something regularly to stay in touch, positioning yourself as an expert in your industry or field.

Like a farmer, you prepare your prospects to become ready for harvesting.

Present your business in a way that conveys trust and confidence

We have covered how to capture and nurture high probability leads to build trust, value, and authority. All this was done to make the sales conversion process natural and easy.

By the time you get them to the point of sales conversion, they should already be pre-framed, pre-motivated, and pre-interested and essentially asking to buy from you. If you have to convince them or put on the hard sell, you likely need to improve your lead nurturing process.

Most salespeople position themselves either as desperate beggars or as obnoxious, pushy salespeople using silly outdated “closing” techniques like ABC (always be closing), the trial close, or the assumptive close.

These techniques have become a joke in selling, and unless you’re selling low-value products like vacuum cleaners door-to-door, they’ll create more distrust with your prospect rather than help you.

Whether you’re selling freshly baked bread, accounting services, or IT support, the way you market yourself will dramatically impact the clients you attract and the amount you can charge for your services. A commonly held belief is that “it’s all about the product,” so people will automatically be more likely to buy from you and pay you more for it if you have a better product or service.

Most businesses try to sell without first creating trust. They either cold call or advertise using outdated methods that no longer work.

The problem with this is that you’re asking your customer to decide when they have no idea about who you are or what you’re about. They don’t know you, don’t like you, and don’t trust you yet. It’s like proposing marriage on a first date — sure, it may work once in a blue moon but do you really want to stake your whole business on a strategy like that? And so you end up with a poor closing ratio of say, 1 in 10 or 1 in 20, and you waste a significant amount of time, energy, and money dealing with unqualified prospects. What’s more, you waste a lot of money on poor advertising.

Suppose you run a small business that puts you at an immediate disadvantage. A customer doing in-depth due diligence on you may conclude that you are trustworthy and provide great service, but most customers won’t go to that effort. They will often take a cursory glance and judge you by your cover.

That’s why it’s increasingly important to present your business to convey trust and confidence. The strategic use of technology is one way to level the playing field. In times not so long ago, access to business technology tools was cost-prohibitive for small businesses and hence was the domain of large companies. The Internet, software as a service (SaaS), and cloud computing have leveled the playing field.

The following are some inexpensive ways to use technology to help you present your business more largely and professionally.

  1. Website: Your website is probably one of the first places prospects go to check you out.
  2. Do not advertise a Hotmail, Gmail or ISP-issued email address rather, use an email address with your domain. Who looks more trustworthy, [email protected] or [email protected]?
  3. Phone Number: Your phone number can say a lot about you. Using a national toll–free number or a toll–free word or “vanity” number can give your business a national and accessible feel.
  4. CRM. A customer relationship management (CRM) system will help you keep track of customer details and automate and manage follow–up.
  5. Ticketing System: A ticketing system can help you and your customers keep track of requests when dealing with customer support or inquiries. This can dramatically lower the burden on you and your staff to respond to status updates, phone calls, and emails.

Increasing customer lifetime value

Raise your price. One of the most overlooked ways of increasing the lifetime value of a customer is simply by raising prices. Most businesses fear that raising prices could lead to a customer exodus or backlash of some sort. While it does need to be handled strategically, you’ll generally find your customers are far less price-sensitive than you imagine. Especially if you’re positioning yourself correctly and delivering a great customer experience, most customers will happily accept them. Depending on how you transact with your customers, some may not even notice.

When was the last time you actually increased your prices? If it’s been a while, then it may be time to reassess. Here’s the thing — if you hold your prices constant for a long time, in real terms, you’re effectively lowering them because inflation makes the same nominal amount of money less valuable over time. Inflation is the sustained increase in the general price level of goods and services over a period of time.

The key to raising your prices in a way that makes it palatable to your clients is giving them a reason why. Explain to them the increases in the quality of your product or the increased input costs that you’ve borne.

Explain to them the benefits they’ve already received from your offering and how they’ll benefit from your future innovations. Some percentage of customers may leave you despite your explanation; however, they tend to be the lowest value customers. A customer who won on the price will be lost on price. If it’s done right, the increase in profit gained by raising your prices will outweigh any lost revenue from price-sensitive churners.

Upselling. “Would you like fries with that?” is responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars to McDonald’s, and a similar upsell strategy could be worth a fortune to you. Upselling is bundling add-ons with the primary product or service being sold. When prospects buy the primary “expensive” item first, the suggested add-ons feel comparatively cheap.

One thing that works in your favor with upsells is that the prospect was not specifically shopping for your suggested add-ons; they’re much less likely to be price-sensitive to the item being attached. This means much higher margins for you.

Ascension. It’s the ISP selling you the higher speed Internet plan or the car dealer selling you the next model up.

Ascension campaigns should be a constant part of your marketing process. Customers often stay on existing products or services even though they can benefit from and afford to move up. This is inertia working against you.

Other than just making you more profit, ascension campaigns help you combat inertia and can prevent customers from switching to a competitor.

Frequency. Increasing the frequency with which your customers buy from you is another solid strategy for increasing lifetime value. There are many strategies for doing so. Here are a few of them.

  • People live busy lives. They don’t always remember to do things in a timely manner, even when it’s of benefit to them. Send reminders by post, email, or SMS to remind them to do business with you again. The sending of regular reminders can be fully automated, so take advantage of technology to do some of the heavy lifting for you.
  • If you’re like most businesses, you’re sitting on a gold mine in the form of a list of past customers. Past customers have trusted you enough to cross the chasm between prospect and customer. They may have stopped buying from you for any number of reasons, including a poor experience, better pricing elsewhere, moving out of the local area, or simply apathy because you didn’t give them a compelling reason to come back.

This list of past customers is of tremendous value because much of the hard work involved in getting prospects to know you, like and trust you have already been done. Now you just need to run a reactivation campaign to win them back. This is great for getting some quick wins and bringing in “fast cash.


Instead of playing business, you must do business. Winning in business requires you to have a relentless focus on the activities that deliver value. You must fight a daily battle with distraction, interruption, and procrastination. If you allow yourself to be distracted from the value-creating work of getting, retaining, and satisfying customers, your business will struggle or fail. There are always things to do that are more fun or seemingly urgent.

Try this

Create your 1-Page Marketing Plan!

Your view of time affects everything you do in your business. For the entrepreneur, time is not money. Value is money. Time is just one of the inputs it takes to deliver value to the market. Make marketing a daily process. Create your own 1-Page Marketing Plan and, most importantly, implement the plan. Spend time daily doing business and building value.

* Highlighted from The 1-Page Marketing Plan with Headway App