Successfully marketing a product or service is one of the most complex problems all entrepreneurs face. Every type of entrepreneurial enterprise requires marketing to compete and survive. How does an entrepreneur begin? Before you can decide on which marketing techniques to implement, you must develop a marketing plan.

A marketing plan consists of two primary elements: goals and strategies. Goals will determine the scope of your ambition in a particular time frame and allow you to allocate your resources appropriately. Quantify your goals whenever possible-for example, increasing market share by 10%. Strategies should be specific, measurable, and time specific.

There are many items to take into consideration before developing your marketing plan. Study the growth trends of your industry, evaluate your competition, analyze your key customers, and appraise the realities of the current-marketplace. Begin market planning by clearly identifying all the market segments to which you intend to sell. The next step is to arrange the identified markets in order of priority. Target marketing is the fundamental strategy used by successful businesses.

Next, examine the market segments that seem most attractive and target them for penetration. Develop special marketing tactics for each target market-a strategy known as market segmentation. Target your markets and then develop a marketing program for penetrating each one. Your business plan should explicitly identify all markets and then provide the basis for your selection of target markets.

If you have not yet written a business plan, go back to square one and develop it. Each of your identified target markets should be considered almost as a separate marketing program. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs start their ventures without proper research and without writing a business or marketing plan. Then, when sales stagnate or decrease, they begin to look for solutions. A marketing and business plan can help you devise a strategy to increase sales.

The foundation of your marketing plan will be the marketing mix, which includes such elements as promotion, advertising, publicity, direct mail, sales training, pricing, positioning, and customer service. Many entrepreneurs feel that placing a few ads or using coupon mailers constitutes a marketing plan; then they wonder why they do not achieve better results. When someone mentions marketing, people automatically think of advertising. Instead, new start-up ventures with limited marketing dollars should concentrate on publicity and promotion. There are many inexpensive ways to market products and services.

Deciding how to penetrate each target market is truly an art and takes much planning and experimentation. The difficulties involved in attempting to reach just one market can be overwhelming, especially when there is limited money to spend on marketing products and services. When putting together your marketing plan, consider potential pitfalls and how you will deal with them. If you know ahead of time what to expect, you’ll be better able to surmount obstacles as they arise.

It is essential that you be able to track the effectiveness of your marketing plan and measure how well it is working. Then you can allocate your resources to the activities that have the best payoff for your venture.

How you measure the effectiveness of your marketing dollar varies. If you want to find out if an ad brings in new customers, count your current customers and then count the number of new customers after the ad appears. If you want to determine whether a trade show increases customers, track new leads and/or total sales from these leads.

A good technique is to include a response mechanism in your marketing efforts-for example, an invitation to bring an ad in for an extra discount or a free gift. The key is to track the efficiency and return on your marketing investment. Determining which media and what message is working is critical, since this information indicates where to direct your marketing dollars and what to say.