Updated for 2014
 

Sample Marketing Calendar Strategies
& 12-Month Marketing Plan Template

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Written By: Sharron Senter
Marketing, PR & SEO Content Consultant
Boston | North

We're all short on time. Therefore, I've broken this sample marketing calendar article into three categories, with the understanding that it's okay if you don't have a "monthly" marketing plan. What's more important, is that you have an overall plan. I follow a bimonthly marketing calendar. I prefer the 60-day flexibility. It gives me more time, while still retaining continuity and visibility for my business.

I lead with a sample quarterly marketing plan because it's the most realistic for small business owners, particularly sole-proprietors who are frequently caught up in the minutia of running a business. I've also recommended several resources: some are free, many I wrote myself, while others I could get a commission if you buy something. I list from who at the end of my article.


OVERVIEW
Marketing Plan Strategy

The following marketing plan activities are suggestions. By no means is my 12-month marketing plan template exhaustive. In fact, you'll need to add to it based on your industry-related activities. There are many holidays throughout the year that may be a natural tie-in with your products and services, such as National Book Week in January, if you're an author or editorial-related service, or American Heart Month in February, if you sell health-related services or products, or Spa Week in April or October if you're marketing a salon or spa.

My 12-month promotional calendar focuses on the major holidays, when most Americans have been trained to spend extra money or participate in a ceremonial activity. Tie your marketing promotions to a time when customers have their wallets out. Thus, you're simply positioning your product or service as the perfect gift or solution for the celebrated event. It's more affordable to piggyback on a consumer habit, a.k.a. inspire prospects to purchase your products when they're preparing to purchase something.

Promotional Timing
You can never be too early in preparing your marketing campaigns. For example, in order for the typical small business to prepare for a Valentine's Day direct mail campaign, you'll need to get most of your materials printed and ready to go by the third week in January and in the mailstream by the last week in January, certainly no later than the first week in February. I recommend you plan at least two months in advance. Of course, the more involved the campaign, the more lead time.

What's more, some advertising vehicles have extensive lead times, specifically print magazines that need your camera-ready artwork approximately 6 weeks before publication, (if you're pitching a story idea, then up to 6 months ahead of time for editorial deadlines.) Newspaper inserts also require a reservation approximately 6-8 weeks before publication.

Keep an eye on Amazon, Target and other large retailers. When their seasonal or holiday advertising starts, yours should too.

Unique Angle, a.k.a. Your Hook
Your promotional hook is the key to distinguishing your business from your competition. People are going to buy gifts at Christmas. But what makes your service or product so interesting, that shoppers should hand over their money to you instead of the myriad of other websites and offline stores? Find a creative answer that appeals to your target audience and you'll grow your business.
 

Quarterly Sample Marketing Calendar | 12 Examples
The following 12 strategies will keep the phone ringing for most small businesses. Also, if you are launching a new business, you'll find this starting a new business resource helpful.

  1. Mail a minimum of 1,000 direct mail pieces, ideally a postcard, to your target audience. Direct mail continues to be one of my favorite forms of advertising because you can buy the “exact” name and title of your target audience; therefore, there’s hardly any waste.

    And, when compared to all the clutter within social media channels -- direct mail is still one of the sure ways your message can be seen. Yes, it's more of an investment compared to social media; however, your message is visible and if you're on target, e.g., marketing to the correct audience with a useful message, then your marketing piece has a longer shelf-life.

    3 DIRECT MAIL RESOURCES:
    All created by Renowned Marketing Consultant & Author, Marcia Yudkin. She has written hundreds of sales letter and postcard campaigns and is a highly-skilled wordsmith.
     
    • Secrets of Mouthwatering Marketing Copy -- A comprehensive manual describing powerful copywriting techniques that describes principles for crafting text that forms a bond with readers, earns their trust and causes orders to pour in.
    • Six Weeks to Masterful Copywriting -- A self-study course that helps to improve your writing skills, dramatically. It includes assignments and insightful discussions that guide you through the most critical aspects of persuasive marketing writing.
    • The Mighty Postcard Marketing Course -- A home-study course that covers postcard strategy and making profits, mailing lists, production, delivery, as well as design and copy. There are also case studies that illustrate successful postcard marketing tactics for a range of industries and purposes.
       
  2. Try Google Offers, Eversave, Amazon Local or another emailed daily coupon offer. Generally speaking, there are no upfront costs. Still, you must discount your products and services deeply in order to pull in business. However, there are so many of these daily deal companies, I suspect many will go out of business during the next few years. Only a couple will survive all the competition.

    My vote goes to Google Offers and Amazon Local, simply because they're such powerhouses. Still, if there are no upfront costs and you can offer a steep discount to pull in new customers, then do it. Keep in mind that your goal should be to wow this customer, and, therefore, retain them for life. What's more, for geographically-based businesses, most daily coupon companies isolate your message delivery to the zip code. Almost any small business will benefit from daily coupon offers.
     
  3. Mail a note/postcard, etc. to your entire customer base no less than every six months. You've worked hard to acquire your customers. Hang onto them by touching them offline. You and I know that a postcard takes a ton more effort and expense than an email -- your customers understand this too! Thus, this extra effort will reflect well on your business and distinguish you that much more from your competition. What's more, your message will most likely stand alone, since many businesses fail to implement direct mail. A lost opportunity for them; more exposure for you!
     
  4. Call 10 different past customers every two/three weeks. Approximately one out of every 10 will need to do business with you again. What's more, most will not be aware of all your services and products. Educate them. If you're uncomfortable calling, email them instead. However, this is far less personal. In today's electronic world, a phone call distinguishes you from your competitors.
     
  5. Distribute a news brief to the media and don’t forget about TV!
    RESOURCES: Here are two great resources.

    #1 -- 103 Sizzling Story Ideas from July through December
    Former newspaper editor Joan Stewart and TV reporter Shawne Duperon give you their best ideas to pitch to print and broadcast media in a teleseminar format. They cover: back-to-school, Labor Day, summer travel, Fourth of July, state fairs, Halloween and tons more. Don't waste time wracking your brain for some original idea. Just listen to these two people. They've heard it all before and have compiled the best media pitches. I own a copy.

    #2 -- Simple 5-Part Formula for Delivering the Perfect Media Pitch
    A webinar facilitated by PR Guru, Joan Stewart, she discusses more than 27 story angles, the easiest way to get in front of a journalist, how to follow up after you pitch, free ways to research journalists, 6 important steps you must take if you're pitching via email, and tons more.
     
  6. Attend one target audience related networking event. For example, if you're a human resources consultant and you have medical recruiting experience, then you may want to attend the local chapter meeting for the National Nursing Director Association, i.e., a group where your hiring decision-makers socialize. You're busy; therefore, only attend events where your decision-maker or their influencers hang out.
     
  7. Follow up with a call or note to networking contacts from previous interactions. I like mailing notes. No one does it anymore; helping me stand out. Plus, it gets me away from my computer!
     
  8. If it's within your budget, then I strongly suggest an ongoing campaign within a Val-Pak, SuperCoups or something similar. Yes, you're stuffed inside something with a bunch of other advertisers, but it's automated, for very little money -- pushing fresh leads your way. Said another way, a message is always out there about your business, in addition to your website, Facebook Page, etc. If your products or services are high-end, then these advertising vehicles are probably not the best fit.
     
  9. Organize and market an event, (either live or virtual) then submit the details to online calendars such as WhoFish, Gary's Garage, Craigslist, BackPage and CitySearch. Keep in mind that most online calendars let you include your website URL, creating an inbound link back to your website, a.k.a. increasing your website's popularity.

    Why host an event? Event marketing opens up doors for small businesses, including: giving your audience a chance to meet you face-to-face and experience your business without the pressure of walking in off the street and feeling like they have to buy something, and it provides an excuse for you to distribute a news brief to the media. Other than providing refreshments and special offers, the act of hosting a live event can be virtually free, but gain you exposure that you would not normally receive.

    RESOURCE: Joan Stewart, a former newspaper editor, compiled a list of 50+ websites to promote live or virtual events. The list is in webinar replay format and comes with a PDF that lists all the URLs. I own a copy.
     
  10. Shop your business. No joke. Go to your online store and buy something, or call your brick and mortar and ask questions. Did you enjoy your shopping experience? No. Then make it better. When you do, only add automated improvements. This is particularly true when running a brick and mortar. If you have an exuberant amount of tiny details that require a lot of training and your receptionist quits every six months, your solutions are not sustainable.

    It's imperative that you shop your online store and/or visit all your web pages every several months. At minimum, you'll almost always find dead links, as well as new hurdles that your credit card vendor may have imposed without your knowledge. You won't know unless you buy something from yourself. I use my shopping cart no less than once a quarter. If you're an affiliate for someone, do the same thing. The vendor you sell for could have change vendors and, therefore, all your links land on error codes.
     
  11. Expand your pricing. Always have an extremely low entry price, then something higher, then even higher and then out-of-this-world expensive. When a customer first comes to you, be it online or walking into your shop, you have no idea what this person is willing or able to spend. Offer varying price points. For example, "Enjoy a $10 manicure for first-time clients (gratuity not included)" or "Purchase an annual therapeutic massage membership today for $800, saving you $40 each month." Related to your overall pricing strategy is this report I wrote detailing how to increase prices without irritating customers.
     
  12. By implementing the above marketing activities every quarter, your phone will ring. However, sales leads will do you no good if you lack follow-up. And because you're so busy, you need an organized way to receive and manage leads. At minimum, I recommend emailing your customers and prospects once a month with either a promotion or educational message, keeping your business top-of-mind so prospects can find you when they're ready to do business with you.

    I use Constant Contact. It's an easy-to-use, professional email collecting and delivery service. It also provides statistics so you can measure your marketing efforts, and it allows you and your prospects to pick and choose from different lists/topics to join. For example, if you're an accountant, when prospects join your mailing list they could select from, "College Planning & Taxes" or "Retirement Planning & Tax Reduction," and so on. This way, you have a better understanding of what's on your prospect's mind, enabling you to tailor your messages.
     

Weekly and/or Biweekly Sample Marketing Calendar | 5 Examples
The following weekly or biweekly marketing activities are
meant to be combined with the above quarterly activities.

  1. Post, Tweet and/or Blog at least once a week. Notice I said "or." It's extremely difficult keeping up with your content marketing. Don't beat yourself up. Aim to update these social media activities no less than once a week (ideally once a day) and you'll look like an active business. If you can't keep up with these vehicles, discontinue them or hire someone to help. Otherwise, the lack of activity will make you look like you're out of business. Better to not participate than to look closed.

    Yes, everyone is talking about social media. Still, online marketing tools come and go practically overnight.

    RESOURCES: I recommend two resources that will help you keep up with your content. Both were developed by Social Media Guru, Joan Stewart. The first is 21 Ideas for Quick & Dirty Blog Posts When You Don’t Have Time to Write and the second is Twitter for Beginners. Both resources are webinar formats.
     
  2. Update one of your Web pages. Your website needs to change in order for search engine spiders to pay attention. One or two edits will not suffice. They must be substantial changes. I'm frequently in and out of my home page adding new material, since this is the page I want to rank the highest with search engines. This may not be the case with you. Perhaps you have a product or service page that's most important to you. Adding new material to this page on a frequent basis will help. Whenever I add/update a lot of new material to my website, I almost always experience increased traffic and sales immediately after.
     
  3. Brainstorm every organization that you are a member of and take advantage of all inbound link opportunities available to you due to your relationship, including from the organization's website, e-Newsletters, Facebook Pages, etc. to yours. Only link with high-ranking, professional businesses and other organizations. Your goal is to constantly work at creating inbound links to your website, increasing your site's popularity, which then increases your search engine rankings.

    Special Offer from Sharron: Linking building strategies are in constant flux. It's imperative that you understand the latest strategies and negative side affects of your activities. For $99, you may pick my brain while we're on the phone for 45 minutes, about current search engine optimization (SEO) strategies. I can also be looking at your website in real-time, if you'd like. I will bring you up to speed about what's going on right now. Keep in mind that what worked last year is not working this year. Be careful how you go about building inbound links. Contact me and mention that you saw this special offer on my Marketing Calendar Template article.

    RESOURCES: I've written a free, detailed article regarding
    Optimizing Chamber of Commerce & Other Professional Membership SEO Benefits. I've also written a special marketing report called: Make Money While Sleeping: Learn How to Increase Your Website's Popularity and Increase Sales. Both resources describe how to increase your website's popularity through search engine optimization strategies, which also includes generating inbound links.
     
  4. Monitor either Reporter Connection or Help A Reporter. Both websites distribute free media leads via email. I start my day "quickly" scanning their emails to see if there is anything relevant to my business or my clients' businesses. These two websites put you in touch with reporters who are looking for sources to interview. Besides the obvious benefits of publicity, keep in mind that you stand a chance of gaining an inbound link to your website from a very high-ranking editorial website.
     
  5. Pursue current events and weather-related publicity opportunities. The simplest form of publicity to obtain is piggybacking your business to current events and the weather. The latter is the easiest. If there is horrendous weather outside your window, and your business is somehow affected or is a solution, then you have an elevated chance of getting in the news. Why? Because when weather turns treacherous, no matter what type -- hurricane, blizzard, heat wave, drought ... the media must cover it because it's news.

    Almost all reporters welcome weather-related story pitches. I was a reporter. I dreaded writing the weather story for the front page. As a New Englander, severe weather is not foreign to me, but having to generate a unique angle for a snowstorm, time after time, quickly got old. This is where you come in.

    RESOURCES: Publicity Hound, Joan Stewart, has written an excellent report (#37) about how to tie your product or service to the weather. I own a copy. I refer to it often when there's extreme weather. She's also written, How to Piggyback Your Story Ideas onto Holidays (report #14) and How to be the Local Angle to National Stories (report #35).
     

MARKETING PLAN SUMMARY
I subscribe to several advertising and marketing truths. I encourage you to ponder these as you develop your annual marketing and promotional plans.

Truth #1
If something seems too good to be true, than it is.

Truth #2
If someone tells you they make millions of dollars doing XYZ and "so can you after you buy this thing from me ..." I always assume it's untrue. I base my assumption on one simple fact. If you're a millionaire, then way are you working so hard to get me to buy your stuff? Why aren't you in the Caribbean sipping a margarita?

Truth #3
If a salesperson tries to sell you something, e.g., a coupon book ad, radio spot, banner ad at a "popular" website, etc. -- ask them to answer the following questions in detail. If they can't and/or if their answers don't match the desires of your target audience, then don't buy their advertising.

Remember, there will always be alternative advertising vehicles and a new social media tool, app, etc. drummed up at any moment. Don't get caught up in hype or be bullied, a.k.a. "You've got to be there, your competition is." This is one of the lamest sales pitches. I tell clients not to share the spotlight. Instead, go where there is no competition. There are thousands and thousands of advertising opportunities for your small business. It's perfectly fine not to share space with your competition when you're advertising, in fact, I encourage it!

Questions to Ask Advertising Sales Reps:

  • Who is your target audience? For example, who is your reader, listener, viewer, visitor, etc.?
  • How many people will see or hear my message? And how often?
  • Share with me some of your advertisers' success stories? Ideally you want actual statistics. For example, if I buy an ad in your coupon book, approximately how many of my coupons will be redeemed? If I buy your online banner ad, how many click-throughs will I receive?
  • Is there an extra fee for you to create my ad? Why?
  • Do I need to sign a contract? May I cancel it at any time without a penalty?
  • How will I measure the effectiveness of your advertising vehicle?
  • How long have you been working at your company? How do you (salesperson) get paid?
  • Who are your competitors? Why is your company better?
  • Is my competition advertising with you? Who?
  • What will you do with my customers' information? For example, if you hand over your customer list for a direct mail company to clean and then mail out a direct mail piece for you, what assurances do you have that they won't use your list for their personal use? [Yes, I'm a skeptic. I've seen some interesting things in my 17+ years of marketing.]

Before Buying Any Advertising, Remember To:

  • Google any potential advertising vehicle. Go beyond their home page to see what else shows up in your search. What are the advertiser's customers saying?
  • Call some of their current advertisers and ask if they like the vehicle.
  • Check if they have any valid testimonials at their website.
  • Check to see what their website's Google ranking is. If they really are a good advertising vehicle, then others will link to their website, reflecting a 5+ Google ranking.
  • Check if there are any Better Business Bureau complaints.
  • Check online reviews at Google, Yelp, etc. If most reviews are good, then the advertiser is probably professional. Disregard any flagrant one-off negative reviews. That reviewer is most likely a troll.

REMINDER: The following 12-month calendar is meant to be a guide. Be sure to add your industry's unique celebrations. For example, small businesses selling products and services to dog lovers might include National Pet Week on their May promotional calendar.

12-Month Marketing Plan Template - Promotional Calendar

Holiday Marketing Event Message Timeline
**Denotes Popular Gift-Giving Time**

JANUARY

 
New Year's Day, and the proceeding two weeks Launch your marketing messages the last week of December.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Although not a popular gift-giving time, this is a great time to spread a non-profit message.

FEBRUARY

 
Groundhog Day  
Super Bowl  
Valentine's Day **Launch your marketing messages by the last week in January.**
President's Day  
School Vacation  

MARCH

 
St. Patrick's Day  
College School Vacation  

APRIL

 
April Fools' Day  
Daylight Savings Begins  
Good Friday  
Easter **Popular Gift-giving Time**
Earth Day & Arbor Day  
Administrative Day  **Popular Gift-giving Time**
School Vacation  

MAY

 
Mother's Day **Launch your marketing messages approximately 3 weeks before.**
Memorial Day  

JUNE

 
Father's Day **Launch your marketing messages approximately 3 weeks before.**
Graduation

**Launch your marketing messages approximately 3 weeks before.**

JULY

 
Independence Day/4th of July  
Back to School

Although not a holiday, it's certainly a popular time to find wallets open and increased spending, particularly by moms and teenagers. Start your marketing messages late June/early July.

AUGUST

 
Dog days of summer  
Back to School continued  

SEPTEMBER

 
Back to School Marketing messages continue through the first week of September.
Labor Day  
Patriot's Day  
September 11th  
Grandparent's Day  
Holiday Get ready to launch your Christmas and Hanukkah marketing.

OCTOBER

 
Columbus Day  
Halloween **Popular Gift-giving Time**
Holiday preparation Should be 1/4 completed, seriously. Launch your first holiday message immediately after Halloween. This message will generally go to your current customer base, offering them an exclusive early-bird holiday special to expire in early November.
Daylight Savings Ends  

NOVEMBER

 
Election Day  
Veteran's Day  
Small Business Saturday If you accept American Express, then definitely participate in this "holiday."
Thanksgiving  **Popular Gift-giving Time**
Black Friday Your holiday advertising is in full swing

DECEMBER

 
Christmas Eve  
Christmas  **Popular Gift-giving Time**
Hanukkah  **Popular Gift-giving Time**
New Year's Eve Launch New Year's message late the second week in December.

About the Author
Sharron Senter is a Boston marketing consultant, writer and founder of Senter & Associates, a marketing communications firm that helps small businesses deploy low-cost online and offline marketing tactics. Senter is well known for her free emailed monthly marketing tips.

ARTICLE REPRINT PERMISSION   
You may reprint this article in your electronic/print newsletter or post it to your website; however, please include: my byline, About the Author and keep the article intact. Also, if you post to your website, please provide a hyperlink back to mine, use: http://www.SharronSenter.com and anchor text "Grow Your Small Business." I retain all copyrights.

Disclosure: I'm an affiliate for consultants Joan Stewart and Marcia Yudkin. I could receive a commission if you purchase something from them. And I could receive a referral fee if you join Constant Contact.

www.sharronsenter.com
© Copyright 2000-2014 - Senter & Associates

 



Sharron Senter, MBA
 
BOSTON | NORTH
 
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