Make your marketing game plan

In order to get good results from your marketing efforts, it's usually best to operate from a pre-set plan. Of course, it's always a good idea to sit down and plan a good marketing strategy, but chances are you didn't go to college to get a degree in marketing. You may be thinking you don't have the time or expertise to delve into something as ephemeral as "marketing strategy."

But building a marketing plan isn't rocket science, and it shouldn't take too long. Here's some steps I use when creating a marketing plan:

1: Analyze
2: Plan and design
3: Forecast
4: Repeat

So let's go through the steps in detail.

Analyze

This one's easy. You already know where your business is coming from. So ask yourself some simple questions. Where did the majority of your new clients come from in the last six months to a year? How did they find you? What marketing efforts produced little results in the last six months? What worked? What market conditions have changed in your area? Are foreclosures up? Did you get any work from an unexpected place in the last six months?

Take five minutes and write down the answers to those questions. Those answers are clues that lead you in the directions you want to take your marketing. If something is working, build on it. Think about how you get both new AND repeat business, specifically what took place for that to happen. You'll probably write down that somebody referred you, for example. Or they may have found you through a web site or yellow page ad. Or, for example, you may have been asked to do an estate settlement appraisal that you didn't expect. Write down how that client found you.

Plan and Design

Next, take five minutes to write down how you'll expand on the business opportunities you've listed above. For example, if somebody referred you, perhaps a box of doughnuts and a thank you card would be in order. Or better yet, sending a well formatted message to everyone you think could refer you would be effective. If you've noticed an increase in foreclosure appraisals in your area, write down the names of people at banks you know who would help you get in on foreclosure work. You can also find those names on the web, or the phone book. Create the list.

Then figure out how you're going to communicate with them. Effective marketing plans usually have more than just one communication medium. In other words, don't just send an e-mail, or just write a card. Do both, plus pick up the phone. Consider the following marketing media when planning:

* E-mail - to lists of contacts, past contacts who've gone cold, or Thank You's to new contacts
* Web - content pages that explain specific areas of expertise, unique market conditions that you're tracking, or special services you offer.
* Print mail - including Thank You notes, special offers, explanations of items you specialize in
* Phone calls - for follow-ups, status reports, requests for referrals, and thank you's

A good marketing plan will have a mix of the above. For example, you may want to send a postcard to attorneys and banks in your area about how you can help with foreclosure work. Then follow up a few days later with a phone call or e-mail. And don't forget the basic, "good impression" stuff like how your business card looks and what your voicemail greeting sounds like.

Make sure that whatever you send looks and sounds professional, is free of spelling and grammatical errors, and is formatted attractively. I suggest spending a couple of hours per month on creation of marketing material.

Forecast

This is also pretty easy. You know the names and types of contacts you want to go after. You, better than anyone, can estimate how much extra business you could gain.

Take ten minutes and write down specific goals on who you want to gain as clients, and what kind of areas you'd like to grow in. Keep in mind, these are simply goals. The world won't end if you don't reach the goal, but the goal should be something you know is attainable.

For example: if you received a foreclosure order in the past month, it's probably reasonable to shoot for two more foreclosures in the next month. You've already got the list of names to go to for that kind of work. You've already got the content for those contacts ready. It's a good expectation.

Repeat

This is important, and often ignored. It's critical to review on a regular basis. Were the goals met? What pieces worked? What didn't? Review your plan and tweak it as you go. Repeat what worked in the past until it doesn't work anymore, and then modify as needed. To do that, you have to keep track of what's working on an ongoing basis.

Don't be afraid of trial and error. Not everything will work right out of the starting gate. But having a plan is almost always better than shooting from the hip or doing nothing at all. Set some time aside to make your plan, follow it through, and you'll probably find that marketing your business more effectively isn't as daunting as it may initially seem.