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Ever wonder what makes some small businesses take off like a fire in a paper factory, growing and innovating year in and year out…even in a bad economy?

What is it about the Dropboxes, Skullcandys and the Menlo Innovations of the small business world that makes them so successful? How did they get where they are? And why is your business where it is this year?

It’s not because you lack fancy charts and high-priced consultants. It boils down to amarketing roadmap that can help you identify your best customers, evaluate your performance, track results and learn what works.

So, are you ready to make 2012 the year you kill it? Then follow these five steps.

Step 1: Position your product

Do you know the difference between promotion, advertising and public relations? Those are called channels, and they’re not actually marketing. What is marketing? It’s basically four things:

  • Product – You have to start with the right product in the right market.
  • Price – Next you have to sell your product at a price your target audience feels is a good deal.
  • Promotion – Then you create messages and campaigns across all the proper channels, like social media, TV spots, events and one-on-one sales.
  • Place – Finally, you must distribute your product in a way your customer is likely to buy it. That could be on Amazon, a brick-and-mortar store or both.

Small businesses that make a killing do so because they figured out how to put the right product in front of the right customer at the right price. But success doesn’t always mean high volume…what’s important is profit.

The right marketing plan for your small business will lead to sales that boost profits. That’s why you need a strategy and a compelling message for your target customers.

Step 2: Brainstorm

Creating a small business marketing plan is not something you should do alone. You’ll have better success when you set up brainstorming meetings with people you trust and can advise you. Think of friends, family, staff and other professionals.

How should you structure these brainstorming meetings? You can keep them casual or more formal, but just make sure you eliminate all distractions during the meetings, and don’t expect to get everything done at one meeting. Here are the things you should talk about:

  • Who is going to use your product?
  • What problems do these people need solved?
  • Is there anyone else in the market doing this?
  • How can you differentiate from the competition?
  • Which marketing tactics will bring attention to your business and product?
  • Where do you want your company to be at the end of 2012?

Even if you are taking notes, it’s always a good idea to record these meetings so you can go back and listen. Make a list of all the best suggestions and start describing your ideal prospect and how your product compares to the competition.

Step 3: Understand your customer

Once you’ve described your ideal prospect, go and talk to that person to learn how they will respond to your product, price, service, delivery, brand and quality.

The easiest way to figure out what your customers think is to ask them. Surveys are a great tool for current customers or subscribers. Survey Monkey and KISSinsights make it really easy to take surveys.

You will probably be surprised by what customers say. Most business people are. As you gather this intelligence, place it in a SWOT chart to see how your business could look:

  • Strength – What do you do really well?
  • Weaknesses – What do you do poorly?
  • Opportunities – Are there opportunities in the market you could take advantage of? Are there ways you could segment that would lead to more sales?
  • Threats – What market conditions or competitors could hurt you?

Step 4: Create the marketing roadmap

You can now flesh out your marketing plan and share it. Keep in mind this doesn’t have to be a formal, detailed proposal, but should at least outline these things:

  • Your vision – This will explain what you expect to accomplish by a specific date. It’s as simple as “4,000 downloads each quarter.”
  • Target Market – List out the ways you plan to segment your target markets, including goals for each.
  • Strategy – For each segment, explain how you plan to go after those markets and accomplish your goals.
  • Marketing channels – Decide the best marketing tools to promote your product and the percentage of the budget they’ll get.
  • Benchmarks – Figure out the industry bests for categories like costs, time and quality. These will help you decide if your marketing efforts are paying off.
  • Competitive strategies – What’s your plan if a competitor challenges you on position, promotion or price? Develop strategies for every scenario.
  • Step 5: Obsess Over Metrics
  • In the end, it all comes down to your results. What’s working and what’s not? You’ll want to figure this out as soon as possible since your marketing doesn’t come for free. Look at each marketing activity and ask the following questions:

  • Did this activity perform well or poorly against your benchmarks?
  • Do you know why this activity performed the way it did? Could you improve it?
  • Can you afford to keep running this marketing activity?
  • Should you kill this activity? Where should you invest the money?
  • What new activities should you evaluate?

By the way, this shouldn’t be an annual or quarterly exercise. Successful business owners constantly monitor their results, which is how they eventually hit that profit breakthrough…and you can, too!

Conclusion

Unfortunately, you and your business may be moving fast, but if you are going in the wrong direction then you will not succeed. Sit down now and figure out where you want to take your business and how to get there by using this simple 5-step plan and you can make 2012 your best year yet.

What steps do you do to create a small business marketing plan?

Social products are an interesting bird. For even the most experienced product designer, social products prove an elusive lover. While there are many obvious truths in social products, there are also alot of ways to design them poorly. Especially when you are deep in the moment making pixel-level decisions trying to remember what’s important, things may not be so clear.

The only magic I’ve found in designing compelling social products that have the best shot at breaking through the noise and capturing people’s time and money is in being extremely clear on how your social product meets a few key design principles.