Obviously 2020 has been a dumpster fire of a year for many entrepreneurs and business owners. Almost 100,000 businesses in the US have closed permanently, and if you’re one of the lucky (and ingenious) businesses to have started or survived this year, you’re probably looking forward to 2021. The end of the year is the perfect time to start strategizing and planning ahead to set you and your business up for success in the new year. (If you’re reading this in 2021, it’s not too late to start planning!)
Here at The Cultivate Method, we’re planners. We love planning and organizing, but we recognize it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. And if there’s anything we’ve learned this year, it’s that you need to build in flexibility to your plans. We’ve broken down how to build a flexible 2021 marketing plan into 3 easy steps.
The first step to putting together your 2021 marketing plan is to set your goal for the year. Do you want to bring in a certain amount of revenue? Or, are you focused on a certain customer or transaction count? Is there a specific follower count you want to achieve on social media? Was there a goal that you set for 2020 that you want to carry over to next year?
Spend 30 minutes to an hour thinking about this. We find it helpful to jot down our thoughts during this time, and write down anything we learned from the last year that we would want to apply in the future. Don’t jump ahead to how you’ll get any of this done, focus on what your high level marketing goal will be for the year. If you’re struggling with this, ask yourself: what do you want your business to achieve in 2021?
As you’re writing, keep in mind that your goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. This acronym is a great way to remember how to set effective goals. A SMART goal for your 2021 marketing will articulate:
Here are a few examples of SMART goals for different businesses:
You may end up with more than one goal after this exercise, and that’s okay! If you have multiple, you will want to prioritize your goals so you have a primary goal to aim for.
We find it helpful to block out time for this exercise, and get as much done as possible, and then put it away for a few days or a week before coming back to it. This helps us really sit with and think about each goal, figure out if the goal is SMART or not, and figure out if it’s a goal we are really drawn to accomplishing.
Step two is brainstorming ways to achieve your goal. You may have already jumped ahead to this while coming up with your goal or goals, but now is the time to really sit down and map out what could realistically get you there. You’ll want to write down tactics and activities you think would help you accomplish your 2021 goal. Basically, you’re going to start writing a giant to-do list.
To get started, ask yourself: Are there marketing campaigns you wanted to run last year that didn’t happen? Or, are there campaigns you wanted to do better? Are there marketing tactics or ideas you’ve had in the past or seen done by other businesses that you want to emulate?
If you’ve been saving examples of marketing from other businesses, now is a good time to reach for them and use them for inspiration. During this brainstorm you want to get all possible options out there, so don’t limit yourself too much.
This process can take an hour or two, or even longer, and we encourage you to take as much time as you need to list out all your ideas. Once they’re written, you can start to group the ideas into themes. These themes can align with the specific marketing channels you’re interested in using, or they can end up forming a marketing campaign. There’s no hard and fast rule to creating these themes, they’re meant to guide you and how you spend your time.
Once you’ve got your themes, you’ll want to prioritize them and estimate how much time you want to dedicate to each theme. If you have existing data about how your marketing tactics worked this year or in previous years, this is a good time to pull them out.
Typically, we end up creating quarterly or monthly themes for the year, so we know how we’ll be spending our time before the year starts. Not all of your themes will make it into your plan, and that’s also okay. You may want to save them for future plans, or that might indicate that you need to start thinking about hiring some help. Depending on how your business is doing and how much progress you’re making towards your goals, you might also end up shifting around your themes during the year.
You can also use our free 12-month marketing PDF calendar to organize your themes around a recommended structure, too.
Finally, once you’ve got your themes organized, you will want to list out the details needed for each theme. These will be specific actions, tactics and activities that need to get done -- you might have already listed some of them out when you were brainstorming your themes.
In this step, you want to get as granular as possible, so you have an accurate idea of what work lies ahead. You might not have a complete picture, but the more you add, the more realistic you can be with yourself about the amount of work you can accomplish. For example, you might need to do some research about a topic or a new process you want to implement for your business, but right now, you might know how long that will take. Even writing down that you need to do research as part of your 2021 marketing plan will be more helpful than not including it in your plan at all.
If you normally use a planning or workflow tool like Trello or Asana, or even a spreadsheet, this is when you would start inputting your plan into your tool, too. You’ll want to make your goal visible and accessible, and then break down your themes underneath. Under each theme, you can start listing our your details and even adding things like estimated amount of time, due dates, links to documents or websites, and dependencies (eg. if a task relies on another task to be done first before it can be completed).
And voila! You should now have a lightweight 2021 marketing plan. As we said before, plans change, and with this 3 step process, you’ll be able to re-evaluate and adjust your plans as you go. Not only should you do this process at the end of the year, you should also come back to your plan at least once every three months to see how much progress you’re making and if your plan is still right for you.
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