Written By: Sharron Senter
Author of Duplicate Yourself: Small Business Piggybacking & Partnership Marketing Strategies
Most small business owners are short on time. Therefore, I’ve organized 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 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 conclude with a 12-month marketing plan calendar.
RELATED: Financial Services 12-Month Annual Content Marketing Calendar. A Grab-and-Go Bank of Blog & Social Media Content Ideas for Financial Advisors.
Planning, Timing & Promotional Hooks
Marketing Plan Strategy
The following marketing plan activities are suggestions, and by no means is my outline 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.
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.
Sample Quarterly Marketing Calendar Activities
12 strategies that’ll keep the phone ringing and draw visitors to your website
(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. What’s more, when compared to all the clutter within social media channels, direct mail is still one of the surest ways your message can be seen. Yes, it’s more of an investment compared to social media. However, your message is far more visible and has a longer shelf-life.
Use Google Offers, Groupon, Etc.
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. Keep in mind that your goal should be to wow this coupon-generated customer and, therefore, retaining the customer for life. What’s more, for geographically-based businesses, most daily coupon companies isolate your message delivery to the zip code. Therefore, many types of small businesses could benefit from daily coupon offers, e.g., hair salons, tire warehouses, children’s playhouse, pop-up retail stores, etc.
Facilitate public speaking opportunities.
If you are comfortable talking in front of people about your expertise, then I highly recommend public speaking as an effective and low-cost way to generate new business. What’s more, once you’ve spoken in front of a group, you can then schedule yourself to return year after year. I’ve written a detailed blog post called: Book More Speaking Engagements – Simple & Effective Strategies to Secure Public Speaking Opportunities & Grow Your Revenue. My suggested strategies will help you book your next speaking opportunity.
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!
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 digital world, a simple phone call easily distinguishes you from your competitors.
Distribute a news brief to the media
and don’t forget about TV!
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.
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!
Implement 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.
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.
Shop your business.
Go to your online store and buy something, or call your brick and mortar and ask questions. Did you enjoy your shopping experience? No or sometimes? Then make it better. When you do, only add automated improvements. This is particularly true when running and marketing 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.
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.”
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 a financial advisor, when prospects join your email marketing mailing list they could select from: “College Planning,” “Understanding Annuities,” “Managing Employer-sponsored 401(k)s” 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.
Also, if you are launching a new business, you’ll find this starting a new business resource helpful.
Weekly or Biweekly Marketing Calendar Activities
The following weekly or biweekly marketing activities are meant to be combined with the above quarterly activities.
- 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. Choose wisely.
- 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.
- 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. [Related]: I’ve written a detailed post regarding: Optimizing Chamber of Commerce & Other Professional Membership SEO Benefits.
- Monitor Help A Reporter. A free resource for media leads distributed via email approximately three times a day M-F (morning/lunchtime/late afternoon). I start my day “quickly” scanning their morning email to see if there is anything relevant to my business or my clients’ businesses. Help A Reporter puts you in touch with reporters who are looking for sources to interview — small business owners just like you! Besides the obvious benefits of publicity, keep in mind that you stand a chance of gaining an inbound link to your website from a possible high-ranking editorial website. A high-ranking (quality) inbound link helps push your website up in search results.
- 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.
Weather Marketing Ideas
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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.
If something seems too good to be true, than it is.
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?
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 20+ 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 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.
12-Month Marketing Plan Template & Promotional Calendar
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.
If you have very little time, then focus your marketing efforts on Christmas, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Easter and Father’s Day. These are the core “holidays” when U.S. shoppers spend the most money. Thanksgiving is a high spending holiday; however, most purchases are food related. If you’re operating a restaurant or boutique food market, then Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day and Christmas should be your primary focus.
New Year’s Day, & 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.
**Launch your marketing messages by the last week in January.**
St. Patrick’s Day
College School Vacation
1st Day of Spring
April Fools’ Day
Daylight Savings Begins
**Popular Gift-giving Time & Food Purchases**
Earth Day & Arbor Day
**Popular Gift-giving Time**
**Launch your marketing messages approximately 3 weeks before.**
**Launch your marketing messages approximately 3 weeks before.**
**Launch your marketing messages approximately 3 weeks before.**
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 in late June.
Christmas in July
Dog days of summer
Back to School continued
Back to School
Marketing messages continue through the second week of September.
Get ready to launch your Christmas and Hanukkah marketing.
Decorations for sale available at major retailers in late October for Christmas and other popular December holidays.
**Extremely high-spending time period.**
Should be 1/4 completed. 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
Small Business Saturday
If you accept American Express, then definitely participate in this “holiday.”
**High-spending time period for food-related products and services.**
Your holiday advertising is in full swing
**The Queen of Holidays!**
**Popular Gift-giving Time**
**Popular Gift-giving Time**
New Year’s Eve
Launch New Year’s message late the second week in December.
Remember to keep an eye on Amazon, Target and other large retailers. When their seasonal or holiday advertising starts, yours should too!