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Building a marketing plan for your small business

Two business partners using a tablet to work on their marketing strategy.
Yifat Marcus Director of Marketing
Published at | Updated:

A major part of owning a business involves having customers. No matter what field you work in, if you don’t have people buying what you’re selling, your business can’t really get off the ground.

Every business goes through four phases of a lifecycle: introduction, growth, maturity, and renewal/rebirth or decline. Each stage has its own characteristics and marketing needs. During the growth stage—meaning when your business is experiencing sales growth and you start seeing a profit—your marketing plan must reflect that.

In this guide, we’ll show you how to build a marketing plan and cover some marketing efforts that can be pursued by businesses during the growth stage. Keep in mind we’ll focus on marketing plans for B2C businesses, meaning those who sell products and services to individual consumers as opposed to other businesses.

What’s a marketing plan and why do you need one?

In order to gain customers, they need to know you exist. You don’t have to spend huge amounts of money to make yourself known, but in this day and age, you have to use tactics to make sure your name is out there.

But to do that, you need a marketing plan. That’s what defines your growth in the upcoming year. It’s a part of your business plan and must reflect it. It includes your industry and competitor research, budget, and goals.

By creating a marketing plan, you come to understand your place in the community and the market, set goals for business growth, plan your steps to achieve them, and eventually, better position your business.

Sales plan vs. marketing plan

Marketing is what sets the direction for how you will find and engage with prospective customers. Sales, on the other hand, describes how you will sell to that target audience and turn prospects into buyers.

We can break it down into:

Highlighting the difference between marketing and sales.

Let’s take a real-life example. Imagine you started a restaurant. Now, you want people to come and eat there so you publish a post on Facebook. That’s marketing. Once the client comes in, the waiter suggests that they order a more expensive dish from the menu. That’s sales.

In this guide, we’ll focus on the marketing plan and how to bring those potential customers through the door.


Marketing terms worth knowing

Here are some key terms to familiarize yourself with before diving in to create a marketing plan.


A brand refers to a company or product that consumers recognize by its name. Ideally, consumers’ brand awareness includes positive perceptions of the qualities that distinguish the product from its competition.

Not every business is a brand name but that doesn’t mean it’s not known. Think of the most famous local restaurant in your hometown. When you talk about it with your neighbors, they know what you’re talking about solely by mentioning the name, right? When we talk about a brand, we mean something quite simple: your customers know who you are.


KPI stands for key performance indicators. KPIs are the metrics used to measure the performance of a campaign. When starting a marketing plan, you can set a few very simple KPIs—which are basically goals—like how many people visited your store after you published an ad.


In marketing, leads refer to any individual or organization within your marketing reach who has interacted with your business and therefore has the potential to become a customer.


Search engine optimization, or SEO, refers to the process of improving your site to increase its visibility on Google, Bing, and other search engines. For example, if you own a barber shop in Atlanta, you want to make sure your website shows up when someone googles “barber shop in Atlanta.”

B2C & B2B company

B2C stands for business to consumer and refers to the process of selling products and services directly to consumers who are the end-users. B2B or business-to-business is a type of commerce transaction that exists between businesses. The type of marketing you pursue will be different depending on your audience (consumers or businesses).

Consumer journey

A customer journey is a map of all the interactions customers have with your company or product. It can be sales calls, website visits, or hearing about it at an event. No two customer journeys are the same, yet marketers can project certain journeys, and direct customers to a specific path, which can help increase sales.


USP stands for unique selling proposition. It is a marketing concept that refers to the unique benefit or advantage that a product, service, or brand offers to customers, setting it apart from its competitors. USPs are often used in advertising to highlight what makes a product or service stand out.


Return on Investment (ROI) is a financial metric that measures the profitability of an investment relative to its cost. The ROI is typically expressed as a percentage (as it’s not the profit itself) and is calculated as follows: Cost of investment total return generated ÷ by the cost of the investment. For example, if your business invests $10,000 in a marketing campaign and generates $15,000 in additional sales revenue as a result, the ROI would be 50%.


Retention refers to the ability of a business to retain or keep its customers, clients, or employees over a period of time. It is often measured as a percentage of the total number of customers who stay with the organization over a specified period, such as a year or a quarter. Retention can be a customer coming back for a return purchase or a user that keeps using the company’s service. This is important because it can have a significant impact on the success and profitability of a business. And, retaining existing customers is often more cost-effective than acquiring new ones.

Steps to create your marketing plan

Here are the three main steps you need to take to create a marketing plan.

Step 1: Research and analysis

Before you start writing your plan, it’s important to understand your industry, customers, and competitors. Analysis sounds like a scary term, but keep in mind you’re not isolated from your industry. You are part of a larger ecosystem that includes customers, suppliers, competitors, and the broader economic and social context. Knowing what those are can truly benefit your business.

Get to know your existing audience

This will help you know who your customers are and what they want. The more you know about your target customers, the easier it will be to choose marketing practices that will actually work. 

It will also help you better define your target audience to fit your business. For example, if you find that your existing audience prefers to do most of their shopping online, you should consider building an eCommerce site.

As part of the research, look for: 

  • How old are they?
  • Where do they live?
  • What are their interests?
  • What online services do they use?
  • How do they prefer to do their shopping?

You can talk to real prospective customers—and make sure they’re people other than your family and friends (who might give you the answer you want to hear, as opposed to what you need to hear). 

Let’s say you’re opening a beauty salon. You probably have some years of experience and have collected some trusted clients. Start by asking them what it is they are missing today, how they choose what salon to go to, and what’s the main pain point with their current beauty salon.

Economic environment

To understand the economic environment, you can use existing materials that are extremely helpful. You can also seek the advice of financial advisors and experts. Note that these are usually paid services, and should be used if your budget allows it.

Understanding market trends will help you decide how to achieve your marketing goals. How do you do that? For one, keep an eye on changes in consumer preferences and behaviors, such as shifts in buying habits or increased demand for certain products or services.

You should also stay informed about the latest news and insights from industry thought leaders and influencers, such as experts in your field or industry publications. Instagram and TikTok are amazing tools to learn about your industry and customers.


Another important thing to keep in mind is the seasonality of your product or market (if it exists). Let’s say you own a catering company. Do you operate mainly during spring and summer? What about if you have a gift shop for tourists? What are the tourist seasons in your area?

Geographic points to consider

You should also identify where you do business. If you have a store, are your competitors located nearby? What other stores operate around you? If you operate online, where do you ship your products? If you provide a service, for example, if you own a design studio, where are your clients located? These are all important questions that will help you understand how to promote your business.

Competitor research

Now that you’ve done your research, it’s time to identify 3-5 main competitors. For each of your competitors, 

  • Identify their main customer touchpoints and platforms they are active on–meaning where they actually post. If they have an Instagram account but never uploaded content to it, that means it’s not active. 
  • Define their USPs (unique selling point): This basically means–how is their product or service different from others, and what makes them unique? Try to identify how they position their business. 
  • Understand who’s their primary target audience? This is sometimes difficult to identify and that’s ok. If you can get the answer–that’s great. If not, it’s totally fine to skip it. Some things are easy to find out (if your competitor is a fashion boutique, are they targeting women? Look at their storefront, are they targeting younger or older audiences? Do they have a website? Check out their comment section for more info). 
  • Identify how they price their products. You want to make sure your pricing is competitive.  
  • Check out what promotions and deals they offer their customers.

SWOT analysis

Now that you know your industry and your competitors, we recommend identifying the state of your own business. One way to do this is by using the SWOT analysis model.

What does that mean? SWOT is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It is a simple yet powerful tool that can help you evaluate your business, assess your competition, and identify potential areas for improvement.

Strengths and weaknesses involve internal factors like your product’s quality, reputation, team, etc. Opportunities and threats refer to external factors like competitors, market trends, pricing, supply chain issues, and so on.

Check out a few examples of what’s included in each section:

SWOT analysis: Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.


Step 2: Build your plan

Define your goals

It’s crucial to know what it is you hope to achieve with your marketing efforts. Do you want to get your name out there (create awareness), acquire new customers (increase your user base), or increase loyalty? Your goals will help determine the marketing tactic that’s right for your business. Always come back to these goals, and make sure every marketing action you plan and take, big or small, answers or contributes directly to one of your goals.

Know your budget

First thing you have to do is define how much you want to invest in marketing. Make sure this budget is realistic and remember that as a growing business, you do not want to go into debt or hurt your cash flowCash flowCash flow is the amount of cash (or cash equivalents) that go in and out. When more cash is coming in than going out, it’s known as positive cash flow. When the outgoing cash exceeds the incoming cash, it’s called negative cash flow. for this purpose. Your budget has to be defined by your business plan.


You should define specific timelines to achieve your goals. For example, if you wish to increase sales, you can set a realistic goal of increasing sales by 15-20% in six months. Also, consider looking holistically at your goals and come up with a yearly plan. Short-term tasks can be included in a long-term plan.

Step 3: Create your marketing schedule

Create a list of all the marketing actions you need to take to achieve your goals. We’ll go over a few ideas for tactics you can use in the next section. Divide those actions into “must-haves” and “nice to haves”. 

Create a list of tasks for each tactic you’re using. Include actions like building or revamping your website, holiday promotions, launching new products, and social media campaigns. Try to plan one marketing effort a month. 

Put these tactics onto a Gantt chartGantt chartA Gantt chart is a bar chart that illustrates a project schedule over time. It is most useful when planning a project and defining the sequence of tasks that require completion.. Consider long-term tasks like website building and short-term efforts like a holiday promotion. You do not need sophisticated software to create your chart. Use Google sheets and create a plan that’s easy for you to understand. 

Here’s an example of such a chart:

An example of a Gantt chart, which helps marketing plans come to life.

Start marketing your business (with a small budget)

Even if you don’t have a lot of money to spend on marketing, there are quite a few things you can still do to market your small business.

Build a website and promote it

76% of shoppers check a business’s website before visiting their physical store or location. And yet nearly one out of three businesses still don’t have a website. Even if you have a store, and most people coming in are walk-ins, you can gain more customers and grow your business by having an online presence. And we’re not talking about e-commerce. A basic web page with your business name, details, and short info about your store/business/service, some visuals, and you are set!

You can use existing (free) DIY platforms to build your website yourself. Or, you can use more advanced tools if your budget allows it.

Build your community and brand with social media

Social media is a powerful, very accessible, and inexpensive platform for small businesses to market themselves and keep in touch with their community of customers. In light of that, it’s no wonder that a whopping 96% of small businesses use social media to market themselves. 

And with so many purchases done via social media these days, it’s really crucial for businesses to also be there. See what social media platforms your competitors are using, and join in as well. For help getting started, check out this beginners’ guide

On social media, you can create content and build a follower base without spending money. If your budget allows it, you can also pay for ads to be shared with target audiences across social channels or boost your posts for a small cost.

Start a customer club or loyalty plan

Loyalty programs offer your existing customers a reward for remaining loyal customers. These programs can be run digitally with a loyalty program app or through physical cards or points. For example, you can offer points that will, later on, be redeemed for physical goods.

First, you’ll need to collect email addresses. You can do that through your website, at the store, or via social media.

Send a monthly newsletter to your customers where you encourage customers to refer their friends and family by offering them an incentive to do so. This is a low-cost way to reach a large number of people who have already shown an interest in what you do.

Offer holiday promotions and discounts

Whether you have a store or are selling your products online, you can be creative and use holidays and other special events to make your business stand out. During the holidays, people tend to spend more money and buy more. If you offer a holiday discount—and make sure to promote the deal on social media or through customers—this can increase your sales.

Remember, you don’t have to offer a huge discount on your products. This is actually an opportunity to get rid of stock and clear some space for new arrivals. Any promotion is a good opportunity to post on social media and drive foot traffic to your store or visitors to your website.

Have a storefront? Be creative

Adding a little spice to your shop can help set it apart from the crowd during busy shopping seasons. Whether you choose to decorate for a specific holiday or for the season, don’t be afraid to get creative when dressing up your storefront.

To drive additional foot traffic, you can even offer food tastings, live music, raffles, and other unique, in-person experiences.

Use decorations to promote your special offers for the holidays, special occasions, and seasons. If you’re having a sale—make sure a big sign lets people know about it.

Use marketing to grow your business

There comes a time in the course of a business’s life when you are ready to grow. A strong marketing plan is crucial for the success of a business, particularly in stages of growth and expansion. There are many things you can do on your own, but hiring a professional can go a long way. The money and time they save you will be worth it and the success you could gain—is priceless.

Looking to build a marketing strategy?Start here

*This guide is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as financial advice.
**Melio does not provide legal, tax or accounting advice, and you should consult with a professional advisor before making any financial decisions.