Marketing & Sponsorships

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Building a Small Business Marketing Plan

1 Jul, 2020

By: Ashley Whittaker

Marketing. Most small business leaders, such as event owners, are a “one-man-band” or are working with a small multi-disciplinary team and don’t have the luxury of a dedicated marketing person.  For many, marketing often feels like a big, amorphous vacuum of time and energy that never ends. 

It’s filled with questions like “Should I be on Twitter, SnapChat, Twitch, Facebook, and TikTok?,” “How much should I pay for SEO or how do I get ranked on Google?,” “What should my marketing budget be?” so unsurprisingly, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the possibilities. 

The first step to resolving these questions, concerns, and pain-points is to create an annual marketing plan. The plan creates the roadmap for your time, budget and activity so you can achieve your revenue goals. When beginning the process, start with your revenue goals. All of your marketing activity should be built to support that goal. Break that big goal down into smaller components and time frames that drive your daily, weekly and monthly actions. Root your plan in this data: 

  • What is your total annual revenue goal?
  • What is your average sale price (e.g. team registration price)?
  • How many sales/registrations per event do you need to meet your revenue goal?
  • What is your conversion rate from qualified prospect to customer?
  • What is your conversion rate from contact to prospect?

With this information in hand, you can set your monthly or event sales goals, identify the number of qualified teams or prospects you need to meet and come up with a number of how many people you need to reach with your marketing efforts to achieve revenue targets. 

Rooting your marketing plan around this data ensures your campaigns and tactics are aligned and have measurable goals. Now to the fun part – the budget. A good benchmark for your marketing is between 6.5 percent and 10 percent, according to the Gartner CMO Spend Survey for 2019-2020. As a small business or event owner, seeing the marketing budget number may make your heart skip a beat. For instance, 8 percent of a $2 million annual revenue goal is $160,000.

Now we get to the really fun part – planning how we’re going to spend that cash. According to the same Gartner survey, 77 percent of marketing budgets are inclusive of employee cost – so don’t forget to factor in your or your team’s time and salary in that equation. New events or businesses will often be on the higher end of the spectrum due to lack of existing brand awareness and prospect/customer database.

As you think about applying your marketing budget, here are a few things to consider:

Invest in some good tools. This can be a huge time saver later. One of the best investments you can make is in a CRM with marketing automation. Companies like Salesforce/Pardot and HubSpot dominate this market on the high end and offer the most options in terms of connectivity between platforms, flexibility, reporting and marketing automation such as lead nurture email campaigns. 

Campaign Monitor, Mail Chimp, and Constant Contact are e-mail marketing platforms that also offer CRM and some automation capabilities. Some of these platforms, with all the bells and whistles, may require an investment of 20 percent of your marketing budget. Don’t be afraid! If you are willing to invest the time and money, setting this up will save you dividends year after year. 

For you event owners out there prospecting teams manually and making hundreds (if not thousands) of cold calls, consider how much time would be saved if you could leverage an inexpensive monthly social media budget to generate leads through your website that are dropped into an automated e-mail campaign that drives toward a team registration online which then sends you a notification so you can reach out personally. This. Will. Save. You. A. Lot. Of. Time. 

While this may sound too good to be true, it’s not. The catch is it takes thinking through the marketing funnel and making sure you have every step covered – and then investing significant time to map your customer journey, set up workflows, craft e-mails and landing pages, and creating conversion points. But it’s worth it.

Another expensive – and key – component to marketing is activation at industry or regional events. For the industry veterans, conferences may seem more social than strategic, but for the newcomer, it’s a chance to get your event or brand in front of a very qualified audience. Conferences, sport association events/shows, coaches’ shows or showcases are a great way to jumpstart your marketing efforts. If you’re a great business developer, it may just be a matter of attending and networking to make a great impression on your desired audience. Others may require or desire a bigger “bang” and decide to exhibit, speak or sponsor. 

As you plan other marketing expenses, consider and define your target market. Think about your audience from demographic, behavioral and geographic perspectives. How do they get their information? Are they most likely to Google regional tournaments (SEO strategy), find a great referral through social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), or to discover your business through a trusted industry resource (co-op blogging, influence marketing, industry publications)? In the current digital age, we have the luxury of experimentation in a lot of our marketing. Give it a try, monitor progress and adjust over time.

As you put the proverbial pen-to-paper (more like cursor to spreadsheet) to craft your plan, try to resist the urge to dive into all the latest and greatest social media platforms, attend every conference, write hundreds of blog articles, create lasting partnerships and industry relationships…all at once. Keep it simple. Too many people create an extravagant plan that is simply not executable with the time, resources (human and financial) and energy available, particularly for a small staff. An overly complicated plan only creates frustration and a sense of failure. Better to be a Facebook champion than have poorly managed accounts on seven platforms. 

As you kick off your plans, establish a regular reporting structure. Measure how each activity produces results – do they create new contacts (good) or qualified prospects (better)…or move quickly into customers (best)? Always be thinking about how you can move your contacts to prospects to customers through the marketing and sales funnel. 

For events, brands or businesses just starting out, there is no luxury of word of mouth referrals or repeat customers yet. New businesses should focus on building their database of qualified and interested prospects. Filling a tournament with 200 hundred teams is a lot more realistic when you have 1,000 – 5,000 – or 10,000 teams in your database. Simple reporting should be done weekly to measure your efforts with a more detailed analysis month over month. What channels produce your best, highest converting prospects? What e-mails receive the most opens and clicks? What social posts yield the best interactions and conversions? In general, all your metrics should be growing over time – database, website visits, e-mail clicks, shares, likes, etc. should increase monthly.

And finally, evaluate how it’s going. Did that conference generate sales? Did that magazine ad create awareness? Did your press release generate new website visitors? If not, don’t cut it right away! First take a moment to evaluate if the results are due to a component of the channel, a miss in messaging, bad timing, or some other variable you can change or control. Sometimes increasing conversion on a social ad is as simple as swapping a bad image for a good one. 

In the end, marketing for your small business, sports tournament or emerging brand is about engaging your target audience with compelling messaging so you can bring value to them through your products, experiences, and services. Your belief in your brand will carry the messaging, your heart as an entrepreneur will inform your action – and your marketing plan will keep you on the right path.  SDM

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