The Big Picture: Developing Your Marketing Plan in Five Steps

Barbara Kieker

Friday, January 11th, 2013

The biggest roadblock small businesses face when it comes to marketing their services is making the time to implement their marketing plan.

"I tell business owners to organize break their marketing plans into parts and put a timeline to it," said Valerie Touchstone, owner of The Big Picture, a full-service marketing and public relations agency located in Tifton, Ga.  

"Breaking a plan into small bites and scheduling specific activities – like writing a blog entry or an e-newsletter – on your calendar makes implementation easier."

Touchstone opened The Big Picture 12 years ago after working as director of Marketing and Business Development at a regional medical center. The firm employs four marketing and public relations professionals and partners with select vendors for specialty services such as animation or videography.  

The firm's signature service is serving as a virtual marketing and public relations department for small- to medium-size businesses.  It also plans and executes defined marketing projects including custom websites, ad campaigns, marketing collateral and logo designs.  

How to Develop a Marketing Plan

Touchstone shared her thoughts on how small business owners should think about marketing, including the best practices for developing a marketing plan.  There are five steps and five questions to answer.

Step 1: What problem are you solving?

Touchstone advises business owners to take an honest look at their business and define their message.  The question to answer is not what you offer, but what problem you solve.

"When you communicate to prospective customers, you want to have a solution for a problem they are experiencing.  And you want to communicate what you offer in this context," Touchstone said.

Step 2: Who needs this solution?

"Unless you are Wal-Mart or have an unlimited budget, you are not talking to everyone.  You have to identify who your customers are so that you know where to spend your marketing dollars," Touchstone said 

Most businesses will have at least a primary audience and a secondary audience, depending on the size of the business.  For example, a business may sell to males who are 35 to 60 years old and live in a certain geographic area.  In addition to this primary audience, a secondary audience could be women in the same geographic area who shop for gifts around specific holidays. Touchstone advises clients to look at data from past orders or website traffic to better understand their customers.

Step 3: What alternatives does the customer have?

In talking with clients, Touchstone has found that 25 to 30 percent of business owners believe they don't have any direct competitors.  

"I've never found that to be true.  There's always an alternative – even pen and paper can be an alternative to email," Touchstone said. “That example is a bit of a stretch, of course, but makes the point that there is always a another choice.”

Asking what alternatives customers have can help business owners identify what makes them different, whether it's a product, service or the overall customer experience. Customer experience can include convenience, easy of use for a website, friendly salespeople or any other factor that leaves an impression.

Step 4: How do your audiences receive information?

Touchstone recommends businesses segment their customers by gender or age or other relevant characteristics.  Then by talking with customers informally, identify how they like to receive information.  Options include online, print ads, in person at events or in store, television, radio and others.

"It's important to filter out your personal preferences when you talk with customers.  And ask whether they subscribe to a newspaper rather than if they read it because you'll often get two different answers," Touchstone said. “Be curious. Ask questions…and be receptive to all of the answers!”

Step 5: How much money and time do you have to spend?

Make an honest budget of both the time and money available for marketing.   The estimates should be made in total and on a monthly or even weekly basis.

After answering these five questions, business owners will have typically a four to five page document.  It will include key messages and specific marketing vehicles for the business' target audiences.  The development of each marketing vehicle – whether it's a print ad, e-newsletter, website update or event – can be broken into parts and sequenced on a timeline for implementation. 

"Once you get started then you can evaluate your results every quarter.  Look at what worked well, what needs adjusting and what activities you need to drop," Touchstone said.

"Marketing is integral to the success of any business so it's important to operate from a plan and a budget and regularly review your results."

More information on The Big Picture is available at

About Barbara Kieker

Barbara Kieker is a freelance writer who writes on business-related topics for a number of web-based properties. She also provides communications services to Fortune 500 corporations, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.