Using Crowdfunding to Help Grow your Small Business

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Why it helps

Starting a new home business can be tough. A popular way to minimize financial drama when starting a new business is to use a crowdfunding website. These websites allow people to make donations that you can use towards starting and growing your business.

Crowdfunding is becoming very popular among businesses, and there are many sites that allow for it. Choosing the right site will give you the best chance of success.

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Crowdfunding sites

There are many crowdfunding sites, each offering a different focus. A few examples are below.

GoFundMe

GoFundMe focuses on the struggles of individuals and businesses opposed to simply business opportunities. They charge 5% of the donations, and if no donation is made, there is no charge.

Kickstarter

Kickstarter allows you to advertise your project and receive funding for it. Kickstarter take a 5% pay from donations. Note that it is entirely up to you to follow through (otherwise you could be legally liable!).

Patreon

Patreon works by allowing a payment to be made on a reoccurring basis. This is beneficial as it can be on the lower end (even a dollar) a month. Patreon is centered on creative projects.

How to give yourself the best chance at success

Give people a reason

Transactions need to be mutual. People generally don’t just give money away (unless there is a genuine emotional appeal). Generally, ‘I need money’ wont work in this world! If this business is important to you, and you believe it is beneficial for society, then let people know that.

You should also let people know what social and environmental benefits your business could bring. This includes any ethical advantages brought about by your business. People will often support things that they believe benefits them.

Offer incentives

People love getting free gifts or incentives, and although they are paying, the trick is to allow people to believe they are getting more than you’re paying

Exclusive access to certain sites could helps you cause, and you could also offer workshops and other giveaways. You can also make people feel like a member of your business by providing loyalty cards and discounts. When people feel included, they may be more proactive in giving back.

Make realistic goals

People will often only help if they feel as though it is in their power to help, and although $100,000 would be nice, it is unlikely anyone will see this as a realistic goal.

By dividing goals into smaller portions, such as $500 at a time, people may feel it is in their power to help assist you. This achievable target can help with both set up and exposure, and have you on the way to starting a thriving home business. You should use your business plan to help do this.

Ethical and Social Responsibility Considerations for a Home Business

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Just because your home business is small, it does not mean that you don’t have a role to play in ethics and social responsibility. Every business, big or small, as with every individual, needs to play their part in ensuring they operate in both an ethically and socially responsible way. This becomes more important when you own a business, as you are likely to work with more people, either locally or globally, and many of the decisions you make are ones you may not be accustomed to. Therefore, this guide will help you to stay on the right path.

Why is it important to be ethically and socially responsible?

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There are several reasons as to why it is important for a small business.

Firstly, it will save you a headache in the future by following correct procedure. Any irregular activity, either through transactions or your tax return will likely be followed up quickly. To ensure that you give yourself the easiest way to operate, you need to ensure your business follows the regulations and guidelines set out.

It will improve the appeal of your business. As a consumer, we want to know that we are doing the best we can. To ensure that your business stands above the rest, you need to set it apart by advertising the socially responsible aspects of your business.

It will result in better customer satisfaction. Your customers are what makes your business, and so it’s important that you both treat them right and make them feel valued. By being transparent and acting ethically, your customers will surely be as loyal to you as you are to them.

How to be ethically and socially responsible

Ensure you have proper registration and licenses

To ensure your business is acting responsibly, you will need to ensure that you hold the required licenses and registrations for your business. This includes registering your business with local regulatory and tax authorities. Depending on what your business does, you may require further permits/licenses (such as for importing goods) in addition to this.

Ensuring you have the proper licenses required for your business will save you a lot of hassle down the road. It will also ensure that you are paying appropriate tax, that you are following the law and operating as a socially responsible business.

When you get proper registrations and licenses, you appeal to your customer as a legitimate business. Your customer will trust your business and follow through. At the end of the day, we all look for security and legitimacy as consumers.

Paying proper wages

Although it can be an attractive option to pay the minimum amount to get work done (such as in freelance writing), this is not always the best idea. Whilst the cost difference may be minimal to you, it may be large to someone else.

Paying people properly not only paves the way for ethical behavior, but it also increases the likelihood of receiving quality work. There can be a big difference in even a dollar for many people, so it’s worth considering. If you employ staff, it is important to follow the minimum wage regulations set out by government agencies otherwise you could be liable for penalties.

Giving back

There are several advantages to affiliating yourself with a charity. The main reason is obviously the benefit that it can bring to the lives of others. Even a small donation can make a difference, and although it may not be realistic early on, when the business progresses there will surely be an opportunity.

There is also the benefit of being recognized for your charitable donations. This recognition can increase your businesses identity as a socially responsible player and set you apart in the competitive world of business.

Donating to charities may also have tax benefits, which can increase your savings.

Being authentic

It is always attractive to set yourself apart from the rest. For many people, this is the reason that they get into business. They believe their idea is different, better, and will benefit others, and of course, themselves. However, this can also lead to overly exaggerated claims (which we have all become accustomed to), which don’t necessarily match with reality.

One thing that all people hate is being lied to or cheated. This can destroy your reputation and prevent you from developing a solid business. To avoid this, it’s necessary to be as authentic as possible.

It is very important to make legitimate claims and follow through with them. This does not mean that you have to tell everyone everything, but being upfront and transparent with your customers will save you a lot of hassle in the future.

Being green

Everyone has a role to play in protecting the environment, including a small business. Part of operating a home business means being responsible for the decisions you make, perhaps even things you’ve never had to consider. This could mean scrapping paper for an email-based system instead.

Being at home may increase your emission output, such as by using the air conditioner and heater (although you could argue this is offset by the gas you save from driving to work!). Whatever the case, reducing your usage of these as much as you can will ensure that you are not unnecessarily wasting energy.

Simple steps, such as making sure the packaging you use are not harmful to environment, can make a difference. This could include saying no to plastic bags. Deliveries could also be organized in such a way you that you can collate all deliveries to one area, saving both gas and time.

Being ethically and socially responsible does not end there, are there is always more that can be done to benefit both your business and society.

Investing In The Right Tools

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If you’re working from home then productivity equals money. Simple as that. The more you do the more money you can earn. However to extract the most value out of your work time you need the right tools for the work you’re doing.

Your enterprise and you are worth investing in. Get the right tools to maximise your value and your time,

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Getting Value for Money

That does not mean having the latest and greatest of everything. But it does mean you should make sure you have what you need to do the job as cost effectively as possible. A chef chopping vegetables with a dull knife or a boning knife is going to take much, much, longer than if they had the right type of knife with a sharp blade.

Things To Think About

While the right tools for you will be based on what type of work you do, there are some principles which are common to all types of industries and can be applied by anyone:

  • Look at what you spend the most time doing. For example, pick the five tasks take take up the most time. Is there anything tool or service that will allow you to speed up those tasks….or eliminate them all together?
  • Look for tools that will do what you need, and try not to be influence by features or aspects that are nice to have. If you know you’re not going to use some option/feature/upgrade now or soon (getting back to your plan) then ignore it. Don’t spend money on things you don’t need.
  • Determine how much time a tool will save you against the cost. If a tool saves you 4 hours of work a week at a cost of $3000 a month then the 17.5 hours per month you’ll save need to be worth at least $3000.
  • The most expensive option may not be the best. First look at all the things that are effective – that is will get the work done. From those options perform a cost benefit analysis t(as above) to find the best choice.
  • Don’t be put off by a learning curve. If the tool will save you time and effort once you’ve mastered it then it is worth investing the time to learn, even if means you’re spending more time initially.

Think Of People

Tools aren’t limited to physical things you can hold like a knife or a hammer. Think of things like software applications, especially online tools (software as a service) that can be used on most devices wherever there is connectivity.

A tool could be another person – can you outsource the work? Hiring a firm or virtual assistants can be an option you should consider as well, especially if the task is one that is labour intensive and repetitive without much creativity or skill required. This might mean you need to take the time to define and refine the task so it is easy to pass it off to someone else, but the returns should be worth it over time.

Finding New Ideas for your Business

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If you’re lucky you and your business will be busy. Making money, getting clients or work, you may be too busy to do anything but handle what’s on your plate. However, if that isn’t the case, there are things you can do that can expand on your potential client pool.

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In this article we’ll consider some of the ways you can come up with news ideas for your business, to help you get more clients and earn more money.

What Is Everyone Else Doing?

Competitor analysis is a great way to come up with ideas for your business. Have a look at what your competitors are doing and see if they are doing something that offers values that you could do, too.

There’s nothing wrong with copying a competitors idea – companies do it all the time. This is ide aparticularly noticeable in industries that have only a few competitors like duopolies. A good idea will get copied lest a competitor gain a market advantage.

You should regularly have a look at what your competitors are doing to see if it gives you any ideas. Or it might suggest something you need to do to remain competitive.

Strengths and Weaknesses

A really great tool to find new ideas is a SWOT analysis. SWOT simply stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threads. Strengths and weaknesses are things you (or your business) do well or poorly. Opportunities are weaknesses in your competition or things to take advantage of in the market in general. Threats are things your competitors do much better than you or things you need to worry/think about. You can learn more about performing a SWOT analysis here.

The purpose of the SWOT analysis is to get you to reflect on your business and your competitors, and think about how you stack up against the rest of the field, and market conditions generally.

If you’ve identified strengths then see if you can turn those strengths into new business opportunities.  Is there something you do well that you’re not offering customers, or letting them know about?

If you see opportunities that match your strengths then you may also have a new idea for your business.

The Many Benefits Of Affiliate Marketing

The Stroller Site

In the new age of technology, affiliate marketing is a surefire way of turning some extra profit for your company. The concept is simple: your company gets paid by referring customers from your online site to an online marketplace where they can buy items. Sarah from www.thestrollersite.com is here to help me explain how she makes an income from affiliate marketing.

The Stroller Site

How Affiliate Marketing Schemes Work

Affiliate marketing schemes are an extremely cost effective tool for your business to make profit. If we use the example of company X, we can break it down in to its most basic components and explain exactly how you could benefit from affiliate marketing.

Company X sells computer mice from their online marketing place. Your business can refer some of your client base via your website to theirs. A commission of 5% will be paid to your company by Company X for every customer from your site that successfully purchases a computer mouse.

Although it’s easy to see how their business easily benefits from increase traffic and purchases, you might wonder how you benefit. You may wonder why anybody would click on the links to Company X – but the premise is simple – Company X is usually a larger affiliate with brand awareness. Your customers are more likely to click through because it is a recognize brand and you are more likely to get the 5% commission on the sales.

Sometimes in return, especially if the two affiliates are newer companies that have smaller customer base, they may reverse affiliate market in an almost tit-for-tat fashion, where both will advertise the other and pay commission for traffic.

How to Become an Affiliate Marketer

With many companies offering deals in affiliate marketing schemes, it has never been easier to become an affiliate marketer and start making a profit. They are often free to join.  You can also communicate with related industry business that may also benefit from inter-business joint marketing and see if you can become an affiliate.

By searching or contacting larger companies, that may offer you a better return and commission, can almost always yield results. Simply by following up on these requests, it is easy to set up an affiliate marketing program between the two of you. If they currently run similar programs with other smaller business, they likely have an in-house team that fully understands how to complete this type of work.

There are certain things you should keep in mind when looking and applying for affiliate marketing programs. Firstly, clearly communicate what you want to get from the scheme; remember that often the proposed company benefits by increased traffic and is more likely to be willing to accept a scheme than propose one.

Also, find the correct affiliate program for your business niche. If you run a tech company, it is unlikely that a knitting company will set up an affiliate marketing scheme with you, as the cost to set one up will clearly outweigh the amount of traffic they gain from a site that has very little to do with their niche.

A Real Life Example of Affiliate Marketing

On The Stroller Site, Sarah has many stroller articles and reviews. These articles then link to the strollers she discusses in Amazon. When someone buys a stroller in Amazon using her link, she makes money.

“It really is quite simple,” explains Sarah. “Probably the toughest part is finding the right things to sell through affiliate marketing online. You need to find a product that people want to buy and read reviews for and build a site that you know will rank well on Google. For example, through research I discovered that ‘best umbrella stroller’ was a relatively easy word to rank for, so I went and wrote some content that was the best that there was on the internet. In this way, I attract people who are looking to buy strollers.” It’s a great example of research discovering weaknesses in your “competitors.”

Does It Pay to Be an Affiliate Marketer?

There are some sites that will advertise ridiculous numbers for the amount of profit your company can gain from affiliate marketing (hundreds of thousands). These are often fraudulent and should be avoided. Whilst you can add extra income to your company, remember that affiliate marketing schemes work on a commission basis.

Unless you have tens of thousands of customers every day being redirected from your site who then complete an order on the affiliate website, you are unlikely to make huge mounds of cash from a scheme like this. Be realistic and remember that this is also an invaluable resource that can help your business grow. Otherwise, affiliate marketing can be extremely lucrative and cost-effective.

Getting Out and About

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There’s a lot to enjoy from working from home. There’s a degree of comfort and flexibility that can come from working in a place you’re naturally comfortable in. It’s not for everyone but there’s something satisfying from working in your pajamas or in bed as you much on some toast or make a coffee.

There’s the benefit of not being around other people and having no meetings (or hopefully less meetings) and no distractions. And being able to pick the hours that best suit you.

However, there’s one advantage that is often overlooked by many people, and that is the freedom to work where you want. Working from home does not mean being in your home all the time (unless you need to be). There are a lot of other options to consider.

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Getting Out Around Other People

Some people miss the energy an office can provide, even if they don’t miss everything (and everyone else). If you could benefit from being around some people some more, try working from a coffee shop or a cafe. A local library could be a comfortable place to do some work as well. The benefit of these places is that they often provide wifi, as well as a place to try and get some work done.

If you feel less tied to chairs and tables then you could work in any public space with somewhere to sit down. Busy parks, plazas, town squares – there are a lot of creative options. You might think a lot of these places can be quite distracting with a lot of noise, but that need not be the case. That said, you won’t know if somewhere is for you until you try,

Being Outdoors

You might not need other people – just a change in scenery. Unlike a coffee house or library you are unlikely to get wifi and chairs, but some of my best work has happened outdoors on a picnic blanket in a park somewhere. Being outdoors, getting a good dose of natural light (and vitamin D) and and fresh air can recharge you and make you more productive. Parks  are a great place, and they don’t have to be big, just a nice natural space or somewhere with a nice view.

And this is before you even begin to think of the possibilities like being near a nice lake or even the beach. It’s a great way to get out and explore a little and make work seem a little less like work.

Connectivity

Sometimes the work you do does not need connectivity at all. You can go where you want. At other times you might need some sort of internet connection to be able to get the job done. We’ve talked about places with wifi and for the cost of a cup of coffee, or nothing at all these places could be the solution.

If they are not then it might be worth looking at a good data plan through your cell company. Using your cell phone in tethered mode allows you to go anywhere with cell coverage.

Backing Up Your Business Data

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Businesses, even small businesses, have data. They generate even more data. Much of this data is important, crucial even. Losing data can be a just a setback…or even worse. Not only can it cost you time and money recovering from a loss of data, but it could be fatal if it stops you working at a crucial time.

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The answer, of course, is to keep copies. In other words, keep back ups. Having suffered an incident myself recently, and sadly found my own backups lacking, I have taken some time to investigate what I should have done and what you can do if you haven’t got a plan for yourself.

What type of data needs backing up?

The answer is anything of importance. Things like your business plan are not something you want to lose. Sometimes it can be simply easier to back up everything, especially if you do not have a lot of sources and data, rather than identify things of high value. Assuming your data is well sorted or indexed, then searching through a backup of everything is not hard.

But what if you have a lot of data or data from multiple places, and it is too hard or expensive to back it all up? Then take the time to identify and separate the important things and make it easy to back them up all at once.

The how and the where

You should do two types of backups, or at least have backups in two different places: online, that is on the internet somewhere – aka in the “cloud” – and offline, on a removable media like a USB connected hard drive.

To back up online, you can copy everything yourself to a server (which you have to pay for) or take the easier option of using one of the many programs that will automatically track changes and make uploads for you.

There are several quality options. Some are free or have free account options with reduced capacity. SugarSync is one such option, but I recommend Spider Oak. Their security features make sure no one but you can access your backups and their free account gives you 2GB to use.

Some of these programs can also sync versions of files across multiple devices so you do not have to do so manually.

 

How many backups?

Depending on how many files you are creating or changing and how often, for many small businesses a complete back up needs to happen just once a week. Multiple weekly backups should be kept and maintained. Usually a minimum of four should be kept.

If you have more data or more changes you can do incremental backups regularly or backup multiple times a week instead.

This has two benefits. The first is that it gives you an automatic way to maintain multiple versions if required. Second, it allows you to go back in time if some data has developed an issue, and the bad data has been backed up. These complete backups should be kept offsite as frequently as possible.

When using a program that backs up regularly from your computer to the internet let this back up whenever you make a change. Such programs will usually let you specify how many versions you wish to keep.

Between the two you will be able to recover everything backed up to a certain point in time without an issue.

Backing up what is online

You may have material on things other than devices you use regularly. A great example of this is your website. This should be backed up regularly as well.

Many web hosting companies will offer regular backup options either free as part of your hosting costs, or at a small additional cost. It’s worth making sure your host is backing up your website regularly. However, you should keep your own copy as well.

Something might happen to your host (like they cease to exist) or you might want to move hosts. The easiest option is just to download everything, using FTP or some other means. If you are using WordPress then plugins like Duplicator will package everything up for you in such a way it can easily install itself if you upload it to a new place.

Once downloaded, your website backup should be put onto a device that is backed up as described above. This makes sure your copies are safe for if (or when) you need them.

The Importance of a Good Accountant

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Any business needs quality support. Big businesses can afford to have that support permanently on the payroll. After all, they need those skills all the time.

Small business can’t afford that luxury. However, it is still important to surround yourself with good people who have the skills you lack. And one of the most important is an account.

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Keeping Things in Order

For any business it is crucial to keep an eye on the day to day financial position. This includes your business. Good financial advice is one of the foundations of making your working from home enterprise.

A qualified accountant is the best way to make sure your books are in order. They will help you set up systems to keep track of all things monetary and make sure nothing goes missing. This keeps you focused on the unique skills that make your business  successful without having to worry about the financial side.

Keeping your accountant in the loop will also help with any paperwork you have to do, such as taxes, both state and federal, and regulatory filings (if your state and company structure require them). They’ll know the best way to maximize your tax returns, especially for hard to determine expenses like your home office. This not only offsets the cost, but makes sure you’re safe from penalties arising as the result of bad claims or missed filings.

Planning Ahead

Not only can an accountant help you with the current state of your finances, but the right accountant can help you look ahead. Your business plan does not just happen by itself. It takes resources. This is where your accountant can help.

An accountant can look at your business plan and determine what financial resources – capital, cash flow or revenue – you need at each stage of your plan. They’ll help figure out the best way to get into the right position for each stage of your plan. For example, what level of sales will you need? Or will you need a loan? Do you need to reinvest in the business or should profits be paid out in dividends?

Your accountant can study the alternatives and select the best way forward, taking into account things like tax implications, and anything unique to your circumstances.

Benefits of Working from Home

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The internet has made working from home to be very popular in the recent past. It has made the world to be a global village making it possible for people to work for any company in the world at the comfort of their home.

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Like most other activities in life, working from home has its ups and downs but generally it is beneficial for you and your entire family. Working from home has a number of benefits, some of which are discussed below;

It saves time

There is a lot of time wasted by people who have to commute to and from work on daily basis. It starts with the time wasted during preparation for work, checking how you are dressed; whether it suits the company’s dressing code. Then there is the time wasted on traffic jams, and probably, time wasted while looking for a parking space if your company does not offer one.

If you are using public means of transport, you will be wasting time waiting for a bus or a train, and also walking from wherever you will alight to the office.

All these hours can be saved and used to do something productive if you are working from home.

Working from home frees this time so you can use it to get some chores done around the home before you begin your work, or you can have an earlier start to your work day to have more free time later in the day.

It saves money

If you add the cost of working away from your home, you will be surprised just how much it adds up to.

Just sit down and add the cost of gas, the cost of work clothes that you no longer need, the cost of lunch that you eat out once in awhile, and you will be surprised at how much you would save by working from home. Matters can get worse if you have children in daycare that you are paying for and a house-keeper that you pay a monthly salary.

Working from home will give you time to take care of your children and at the same time eliminate the need for a house-keeper, this will be a great saving for you.

It reduces sicknesses

Working from home will make you have less sick days. When you work from home, you will not be around so many people and that means you will not be around as many germs. Certain diseases spread through handshakes in work places or by being close to workmates who sneeze or cough. While at home, you can eliminate all these.

But in case you fall sick, you will realize that it is easier to work from home than from the office. A simple disease like a common cold can be quite embarrassing to deal with when you are in the office. Working from home will also ensure that your children do not fall sick so often since you will be around to take care of them rather than having them in daycare which exposes them to other children who might be sick.

It allows you to work in a comfortable environment

The environment in which you are working determines your productivity. While working at home, you can design your workplace to fit your taste and make it as comfortable as you wish. You can also choose to work in the house or even under a tree in a cool environment.

It allows you to balance you work and your life

Staying at home with your family is one of the main reasons people decide to work from home. It gives you more time to spend with your family. Many work-from-home jobs are also very flexible. Once you have set your workload per day, when and how to complete it will be up to you. There will be no one breathing on your neck to complete the work.

This means you will have control over what you do and at the same time be available for your family. Your children need to bond with you and the time spend with them will really benefit them psychologically.

Here’s some ways to convince your boss to let you work from home!

The Importance Of Small Business Marketing Planning

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In the immortal words of the American Statesman, Colin Powell, “There is no secret to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure”.

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Small businesses more than any need to have a business plan, and need to be able to plan ahead; unlike larger well established industry leaders they are not as well insulated to the fickle nature of markets. One of the most important considerations is marketing. Bad marketing can break a company and ensure it never gets past the first stage whilst good marketing can hitch your business to a rocket heading to the top.

How do you effectively use the many marketing strategies out there to maximize the positive exposure you need to develop and grow your business? The short answer is through planning, and the long answer is through marketing planning.

Why Should a Small Business Have a Marketing Plan?

Like I said above, marketing can lead to business boom or bust. Here I’ve outlines the top 5 reasons you should defiantly consider starting market planning:

5. Budgeting

Although marketing doesn’t need to be expensive, often a large majority of a company’s expenditure will go on adverting and brand management. As such, a marketing plan can give you an idea of how much you will need to successfully market your business.

4. Focus

As with a business plan, a marketing plan can help you keep focus on how you plan on developing your business and your brand

3. Deadlines and Timelines

It’s important to include how long you expect to continue marketing strategies and help keep track of what projects you currently have. How long will you fund that billboard on route 12? Do you even still remember you’re paying for that?

2. Outline and Direction

As with a business plan, a marketing plan can help give direction to the development of your marketing strategies and help you understand how to keep them dynamic and able to change as situations change.

1. Investment Attraction

Having a marketing plan alongside your business plan will help to reassure potential investors of how well organized and on top of everything you are and how their investment will be used wisely and should result in a return.

What Should a Market Plan Include?

A marketing plan needs to be carefully considered. It should consider and be based on three main ideals or principles.

Firstly, the plan should direct marketing personnel. It should be comprehensive and outline just what strategies will be used, for how long and to what end. Having an idea of this outline will help them build upon and adapt your thoughts into the most effective iteration it can be.

In this way you should have a marketing department that is not only efficient but also understands what you want from them. For a small business, this task can be outsourced to an appropriately trained freelancer – the premise either way is the same.

Secondly, it can outline future goals you wish your marketing strategy to achieve and like all plans can seriously contribute to adding direction to development when your business starts to expand.

Lastly, a marketing plan should include initiatives for funding. Attraction of investors is a good start, but you need to understand exactly what certain marketing measures will do for your company and whether they are worth it. What has a better cost to benefit ratio between a radio advert and a TV advert?

How Researched Should the Marketing Plan be?

As I’ve hinted at above – very extensively. It’s no good having a plan and strategies but having no idea how they’ll work out both in the short term and the long run. Keep in mind the idea of marketing strategies and the cost to benefit ratio. Consider what your market research says about certain ideas as well as how these work together for a greater marketing and brand presence.