What’s Your Game Plan?


It’s funny how clearly you see in an emergency. Monday morning, after about four weeks of ear infections, our one year old son was vomiting and had a nasty bout of diarrhea. All of you parents know this can spell trouble for a little kid. We were worried enough to take him to the doctor, who promptly told us that either the antibiotics or a stomach bug had caused him to become dehydrated and that he was sending us to the hospital straight away.

Any time you check into a hospital they run a barrage of tests, they put in an IV (which let me tell you, it is a nightmare holding your infant son down so a nurse can stick him in both arms, both hands and finally a foot to get a vein), and in general people are just running around doing a lot of stuff.

My wife hates it when I do this, but I always ask, “So, what’s the game plan for our kid? What are you looking for and what does he need to do in order to go home.” I just want to know what’s going on. Unfortunately, it’s frightening how many times I was told, “The doctor knows what to do.” That’s great; I fully expect that he/she does, but can someone kindly tell me?!?!

Then for whatever reason I connected the dots between a few unrelated client and prospective clients’ conversations. For most small businesses, marketing is no different than dealing with these medical professionals. Most of the time there is no marketing game plan in a small business. If you have a written marketing plan, chances are it’s collecting dust on the shelf. Not to mention that if there is a plan, most of the time the people responsible for executing and tracking the activities don’t understand how to build individual campaigns or programs that support the grand plan or strategy. But the reality is that most small to medium sized businesses do not even have a marketing plan.

When a business owner begins to feel the pain of an economy slowing down or the referral stream starting to trickle, they always try something. They may send out a direct mail postcard to a group of clients or to a particular zip code. They may pick up the phone and start dialing for projects. They may attend a networking event and try to close everyone for an appointment. They always try something.

But guess what; that’s not a plan. That’s a one-off activity – done in desperation – that results in nothing most of the time. And then a funny thing happens, the owner will look up and say, “Well, it’s obvious that marketing doesn’t work! I tried a postcard and I went to two Chamber networking events and didn’t get a single phone call. I just wasted a few hundred bucks and a couple of evenings with my family that I can never get back.”

It didn’t work because it wasn’t done strategically. It wasn’t done as part of a greater plan to purposefully grow business. And 95% of the time, it doesn’t work because it was half-arsed. There’s no follow up; there’s no call to action; there’s nothing that tells the prospective client how you will solve their problems. It doesn’t work because it’s all about you and the desperation you feel.

Until you totally understand and internalize the principles of marketing, stop wasting your time, energy and money with tactics. There is an entire industry of promotional shops, mailing houses, and ad agencies that love to “get your name in front of your audience.” You might as well throw your money out of the window. I’m not saying that promotional items, direct mail and marketing communications won’t work. They work great when used strategically as part of your overall marketing game plan. But YOU have to own that. You cannot expect an outside agency to give you a plan for your business.

You have to understand who you are, what your strengths are, where you’re going, what your client’s struggle with, what it would be like for them to solve their issues, and how you’re best equipped to do so.

There are thousands, if not millions, of marketing tactics that you can employee to grow your business. But if those tactics are not founded in Seven Marketing Principles AND if they are not aligned with your marketing game plan, you’re putting success at risk.

Stop blaming one-off tactics for your lack of growth. Take a little time before year’s end to write out a game plan for your business.

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  1. I agree with Nick, I’m not quite sure how beneficial a standardize marketing plan would be for small business.

    I do gain business from marketing though just in different forms. My business relationships are very important to me. I use http://www.referralkey.com/ to exchange referrals with other complimentary professionals.

    Its not the most elaborate method buts its a proven and successful way of serving new clients.


  2. Not John Chow says

    Well written post Nick!

    You are right in that the small business, the “business” is an extension of the household. Many households do not have a budget or an organized plan on how to function. The best most families do is to plan what to do with the annual tax refund or bonus check.

    Many business owners take that attitude to work and fail to plan for their future.

    Thanks for the great insight.

  3. I use a very simple format with my clients to build their marketing plan. Here’s the items we fill in the blanks for:

    1. Vision – Within the next 2 years, how do you want to be seen or perceived by your audience. This also is a good spot to incorporate organizational values.

    2. Mission – Ultimately what do you want to accomplish. Why is this venture in place?

    3. Objectives – How will you measure success using the S.M.A.R.T. format.

    4. Strategies to achieve Objectives – There are 11 marketing strategies to work consistently in professional services. Choose the top 3-5 that help you reach your objectives. (I can provide the list of strategies if you ask nicely)

    5. Plans – detailed action steps using the aforementioned Strategies to accomplish the stated Objectives. Each step must have a due date associated with it.

    And that’s it. In five sections, we’ve defined the big picture direction and purpose of the business, determined which overarching marketing strategies will be used to reach goals and generated a list of actionable items with due dates to get started.

    This is more than enough of a plan for 99% of all businesses. If you really put some thought into the answers, objectives and plans, you’ll have a roadmap to meet your stated goals.

  4. Great post Nick. And if I said I’d never been in that situation, I’d be lying.

    We have been in positions before, where we’ve been too busy to market the business. And you really do suffer further down the line.

    I bet many of us get in the same situation you did with the postcards when they’re desperate too.

    Your points are great – have an overall marketing strategy. And, as I’ve learned by my mistakes – don’t stop marketing, even if you’re completely snowed under.

  5. Nick,

    Nice article! You hit the nail on the head.
    There’s alot of businesses out there doing
    “band-aid” marketing and I’m just as guilty.

    Thanks for your insights!


  6. One more question. Just wondering if you would
    be willing to share the “11 marketing strategies to work consistently in professional services” that you
    had mentioned.

    Thanks in advance,


  7. Sure, in fact I’m planning another posting specifically around these. Each of these are “big bucket” strategies with dozens, if not hundreds, of different ways to implement. I refer to implementation as “tactics”. Sometimes the vocabulary can get confusing.

    Some work better than others, but each has been proven effective in growing business. (in alphabetical order)

    1. Advertising (paid placement of message, incl. sponsorship)
    2. Articles & Publishing
    3. Direct Outreach (one-to-one direct mail, email blast, phone calls)
    4. Keep In Touch (newsletters, auto-responder email)
    5. Networking (events, lunches, committees, Board of Directors)
    6. Online (search optimization, banner ads, webinar, blog, comments)
    7. PR (earned media/press mention)
    8. Referral (word of mouth, viral marketing)
    9. Speaking, Presentations, Workshops
    10. Special Events (industry conferences, open house, customer events)
    11. Strategic Alliance / Joint Venture

  8. Thanks for the list Nick. I’ll be looking for
    your post based around these strategies.