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It’s tough to harvest if you don’t plant

Imagine how ridiculous it would sound if one of the farmers in America’s breadbasket said “How can I get a new crop of winter wheat to harvest tomorrow / next week / next month?”

Maybe someday the science of farming will allow such a thing, but these days, farmers still have to depend on planting, nourishing, weeding, sunshine, rain and especially – the passage of time – before thinking about enjoying the fruits of the harvest.

Consider all the planning, preparation and investment that has to go into that wheat crop. Even if all you do is lease the land to someone else and take part of the crop as your rent, it doesn’t reduce the effort necessary to produce a harvest.

*Someone* has to do the work.

The same is true in businesses outside of farming.

Despite this, I’m still surprised (not sure why) to find many small businesses running their “farm” without an essential component.

These businesses have no written marketing plan. Or worse, no marketing plan at all.

If they were farming, they wouldn’t expect to harvest without the planting. Yet they operate as if “Build it and they will come” is a viable strategy.

It’s easily the most disappointing situation I encounter when talking to business owners about what’s going on in their business. Fortunately, it is easily corrected. In fact, we’re going to do that today.

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

In the worst of situations, someone’s marketing is driven which ad salesperson next walks in the door.

Yes, some of that is rationalized as “Well, that’s why I came to you”, but that isn’t good enough.

Not in this economy (not in any, really).

*Every single business* should have a marketing plan (presumably part of your business plan), even if it’s a very simple one – way before they get around to needing help from me or anyone else who provides business assistance.

Would you head into the wilderness on foot without a map and compass, or at least a GPS? Probably not.

Lewis and Clark may not have had a detailed map of the Northwest, but they had a plan. And Sacagawea.

Today, you can call me your marketing plan Sacagawea (yeah, I’ll probably take a few hits for saying *that*).

I want *every* business to have a marketing plan, even if it’s a simple one.

Let’s put together a basic one right here, right now.

Heading West

One of the things I do when I start working with folks is give them a questionnaire that helps me understand their business.

It asks them a ton of questions and gives them time to put some thought into their answers, rather than trying to hurriedly gather it during an initial consultation.

Here’s a very simple (and abbreviated) version of it:

What do you do?
Describe what you do in the length of a text message. I don’t want to hear four boring, meaningless paragraphs from the corporate buzzword generator. Even the people who read that stuff don’t know what it means.

Why should I get that from you instead of everyone else?
Not some namby-pamby “because we give great service” (so does everyone else – they think) and heaven forbid “because we have the best prices”. Give me a real, compelling argument to use you and no one else.

What are you doing now, marketing-wise?
Describe in detail your efforts to find new customers and bring back existing ones.

Of those things, what works? What doesn’t?
Self-explanatory. If you don’t know, why are you doing those things?

Who is your ideal customer?
The perfect customer. Describe them. What they do, where they live, what they read, demographics, income, business, you name it. Go deeper than you think you should and keep in mind – it won’t be deep enough. I’ll still have questions about them.

Where are these customers?
As I tell you often, it helps to fish where the fish are. Where are yours?

That’s a massive simplification, but for today, it’ll have to do.

The answers will help you form the core of your marketing plan. Get to work, you’ve got planting to do.