A really practical marketing plan for non-marketers

Ah, marketing. That one thing that we all wish we knew how to do better. We know that good marketing generates good leads, and enough good leads result in enough sales. But when you're not trained as a marketer, marketing is difficult. We don't know quite what to do, when to do it, and what will get us the best results. One of the most perplexing things about marketing is the marketing plan. It sounds like a good idea - create a good plan, follow it, and the rest will follow, right? But search the Internet for "marketing plan" and you'll find lots of different interpretations of what a marketing plan is. There are tons of free templates, but most of them assume you have a marketing team, they include things like target market profiles, avatars, marketing objectives, and so on.

When you're running a small business - either as a freelancer, solopreneur or even small business owner with a team - your marketing plan has to be really practical and not take a lot of time to maintain.

Here's how I do it.

The anatomy of a marketing plan

At its most basic, a plan tells you what needs to happen when. And it's no different for marketing plans. You need to know what needs to happen, and when it needs to happen.

So let's jump right in. We're going to take a look at the Tornado Marketing template for a marketing plan (more about Tornado Marketing later). Here's what it looks like:

Start of a really practical marketing plan. Click for a larger image.

The first part is simple: this is a spreadsheet with the months of the year across the top. There are two additional columns on the left; we'll get to those in just a bit.

But first, you need to know about two kinds of marketing.

The two types of marketing you need to know about

A couple of days ago I wrote an article about the two kinds of marketing you need to know about, and how it works. You can read the article here.

If you didn't have time to read the article, here's a very brief summary:

There are effectively only 2 kinds of marketing:

  • Brand awareness marketing is a continuous stream of marketing messages going out to your target audience. It is designed to raise awareness that you exist, you have something of interest to them, and give them a reason to connect with you. Timing is not critical; you just need to show up frequently and consistently.
  • Targeted marketing is for anything that happens on a particular date. In this case, your marketing is designed to create maximum awareness of the event and get as many people as possible engaged. You may be hosting the event or participating in it; in either case there is a deadline involved and the timing of your marketing is critical.

There's more to it of course, but if you understand these concepts we can look at how the plan works.

How the Tornado Marketing plan works

The first three groups of rows are used for the two kinds of marketing you need to do - brand awareness marketing and targeted marketing. The last two groups of rows are used to track what you've done and the key metrics that tell you how well your marketing is working.

Let's start at the top.

Brand Awareness Marketing My first two rows in my plan are for brand awareness marketing. Most of my brand awareness marketing is through content marketing - articles like this one. I also market on LinkedIn and Twitter. I've captured this in the first column of my spreadsheet to remind me what I should be doing:


To help me produce quality content throughout the year, I gave each month a content marketing theme. This theme is there to inspire me what to write about. I also have an additional row for events that I need to be aware of; in this case you will see that I have CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) in January. I'm a geek so when I have time I will visit the show and perhaps write about it.

Promotional and educational events Next up are two or three rows for promotional and educational events. These are events that I host designed to educate potential clients about particular topics; one of the most popular is a free lunchtime workshop titled Introduction to the Tornado Method: how to deal with overwhelm in your business.

I also run promotions to make my subscribers aware that I have other products they may be interested in. These are products that were developed some time ago and if I don't pay attention to them they will end up in the "product graveyard" - so I cunningly call these graveyard product promotions.

This is what it looks like:


Note that I add in dates for events that I host where necessary; this helps me plan my calendar and the marketing for the event.

Revenue-generating events These are events that generate revenue for my business. In my case, there are 3 types of events that generate revenue for me:

  • Product launches: I develop DIY guides and self-study courses, and the launch date for these products is important to get the most engagement (and therefore sales).
  • Workshops: I host occasional workshops and these obviously need a lot of marketing to ensure I fill them up every time.
  • Specials: I run one or two specials for products or product bundles every year; these also need targeted marketing.

This is what it looks like:


(I also generate revenue from consulting and coaching work; this is not shown in my marketing plan.)

Tracking what works Finally, I have two groups of rows that help me track my marketing. Here's what they look like:


The first row is where I note anything that I did that I think may affect my marketing. In the example above, you can see that I started publishing an article every weekday starting on 10 April, and I started trialling CoSchedule on 17 April. These notes help me keep track of things that I did which may affect my marketing later on.

Finally, I have a group of rows for key metrics that I track. For my business, I track the number of subscribers to my mailing list, the number of views my articles get on Medium every month, the number of times a lead magnet is downloaded from my website and the total sales for the month.

How I use this plan

I review and update the plan once a quarter and check it every week (metrics are updated on the last day of every month). Here's how this works:

  • I reserve one day per quarter for doing a review of my business and planning the next quarter. Included in this full day (I block out my calendar for the day) is planning out what workshops I'm going to host and products I intend to launch. These kinds of events require a lot of work, so I typically plan 9 to 12 months ahead and start marketing at least 3 months in advance.
  • Every week (Fridays from 9am to 10am) I check my plan to make sure I'm not missing anything and plan out my marketing for the next week.

For my business (I'm a solopreneur) this is enough. I don't have a team of people doing my marketing for me so I don't need to communicate the plan to a team; this cuts down on the amount of time I need to spend on my marketing plan.

What about avatars, marketing strategy and target markets?

These live in different places. My business model defines my target market; my marketing strategy is part of my overall strategy and avatars (or my version of it) live in my marketing strategy.

The point here is that, as a solopreneur, I have to keep my tools as lightweight and fit for purpose as possible. I have just as much time as you do, but as a solopreneur I have to do everything in my business. So I do only enough in any one area, and with any one tool, to get the job done.

What you can do now

I hope that this brief explanation will help you create a marketing plan that works for you. It is as simple as a spreadsheet, but the key to using it effectively is to use it all the time. Marketing plans that only get consulting once every now and then don't work.

If you haven't read the article about the two kinds of marketing, you should read it now.

I promised a little more about Tornado Marketing. This is a self-study course that I'm developing to help non-marketers design, plan and execute their own marketing. You can get more information about Tornado Marketing here.

Tornado Marketing is part of the Tornado Method - a framework for building and growing a small business. You can read more about it here.

And as always, your comments and questions are very welcome.

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