ReportYou need a marketing plan to get clients. That’s the first thing to know. A professional who tells you that he or she has gotten plenty of clients without ever having a plan is either: a) working way too hard, b) not telling you the truth about how many clients they have, c) working a plan that they’ve never written down, or d) one of those rare, incredibly charismatic individuals who seem to draw an audience as soon as they enter a room.

I find that most of the time, successful professionals who claim to not have a plan fall into the “c” category. They are working from a plan in their head. If you can do that, more power to you. Most people — myself included — need to write a plan down in order to keep it straight.

Now, what kind of plan do you need? Here’s the kind you don’t need: the sort of marketing plan that a startup business writes to entice potential investors, or the type a corporation uses to guide the activities of its marketing department. If you Google “marketing plan example,” it’s those kinds of plans that you’ll see. That’s what you’ll find in most books on writing a marketing plan, too, even those supposedly aimed at small business.

Those big-business-y marketing plans include pages and pages of data, analysis, and speculations… and usually no more than one or two paragraphs about what the business actually plans to do to get customers. Even then, those paragraphs typically contain nothing but vague statements like “leverage social media and word of mouth” or “explore relationships with local newspapers.”

No, what you as a self-employed professional — a microbusiness — need is a marketing action plan. Here’s what it should have in it.

  1. Defined goal – In order to get anywhere, you need to know where you’re trying to get. Your marketing plan should begin with a statement of what exactly you’d like to achieve, in immediately measurable terms. For example, “three new full-paying clients,” or “one new project with a budget of at least $10,000,” or “two new weekly appointments.”
  2. Specific action steps – Your plan should state exactly what you’re going to do, as specifically as possible. Examples: “Make two follow-up calls daily.” “Post to my blog once per week.” “Contact two new potential referral partners weekly.” “Spend 30 minutes posting/sharing/interacting on Facebook each day.”
  3. Calendar dates – A plan with no relationship to the calendar isn’t yet a plan. It’s just a list of ideas. Your goal should include by when you intend to achieve it. Your action steps need to have an established start and end date. In other words, when will you begin taking the steps you’ve laid out, and for how long do you plan to take them?

This sort of focused specificity in your plan makes it very powerful. Notice how much more likely it is that you will see results from a plan that says, “attend one live networking event per week,” than from one where you have a list of possible marketing approaches that includes simply “networking.”

I like the marketing plan that I designed and thousands of self-employed professionals use — Get Clients Now! — but you can use any type of marketing plan you like. As long, that is, as you remember to include the three critical elements of a defined goal, specific action steps, and calendar dates when those steps will be taken. Oh yes, and write it all down.

C.J. Hayden

C.J. Hayden, MCC, CPCC, is the author of the bestseller Get Clients Now!: A 28-Day Marketing Program for Professionals, Consultants, and Coaches, Since 1992, she's been helping self-employed professionals survive and thrive. C.J. is the author of five other business how-to-books, and has taught marketing at Mills College and John F. Kennedy University. Find out how you can work with C.J. as your business coach or attend one of her upcoming programs.

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