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I help creative entrepreneurs and service providers create beautiful and effective strategic brands, websites, and email marketing programs.
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I'm Tammy Hooker
A new year is here. Congratulations, you’ve made it through what I hope was another rewarding year as a small business owner.
In an ideal world, you’d have already planned your marketing calendar for the first quarter of this year. But with the craziness that is Q4, carving out time between Halloween and the New Year’s sales seasons – let alone the brain power – to map out your marketing for the coming months isn’t always easy to come by.
But good news! It’s in these first days of the new year when we can all take some time to catch our breaths and re-group before jumping headlong back into our to-do list. And this makes early January the perfect time to sit down and plan our marketing efforts for the year. Here’s how you can build your marketing calendar for the coming year.
But first …
Just as you plan your vacations, you should also carve out time to map out what you’ll be doing to market your business throughout the year. In doing so, you can banish the need to run your business on random acts of marketing – we’re talking last minute, not always well thought out, and therefore not necessarily effective uses of your marketing time and money.
Through a marketing calendar, you can organize and keep track of all of your marketing efforts so you know what’s happening, where, and when. Plus, it lets you see at a glance whether you’re producing content consistently to keep your audience engaged and your marketing engine moving forward.
A marketing calendar is the bulk of a solid marketing plan.
Inside the framework of a complete marketing strategy, your marketing plan defines your HOW – how you will market your business.
At its core, a marketing plan outlines your marketing goals, marketing tactics, types of content, and budget for the coming year. It’s a big-picture look at all of your marketing efforts. However, in larger businesses, a marketing plan is often a very long, dry, and not always helpful document. In my experience, too many hours are spent developing these massive corporate marketing plans that are so cumbersome that they are stuffed in drawers and completely ignored.
However, a good marketing plan doesn’t have to be 50 pages long and read like a legal document. It can and should be short, a few pages of easily understandable and quickly referenced guidance that will help you confidently make marketing decisions. So, every business, no matter how big or small, should take the time to develop even the most basic of marketing plans to ensure you’re getting the most bang for your buck (and your time).
But before you start building your plan, you should have some key information about your business. And if you’ve had a complete marketing strategy done, you should have access to this information. If you haven’t, no worries. No one knows your business and your customers better than you. Until you can get a marketing strategy done, use your insider’s knowledge to guide you.
Here’s what you’ll want to know before going into a marketing planning session:
Now, let’s start building your marketing plan and calendar.
When starting a journey, it’s always important to know where that journey needs to take you so you can steer your ship in the right direction.
For marketing plans, this means identifying key points that will guide you throughout the year, like a map.
First, it’s essential to understand your business and where you want it to go in the next year. So, you’re going to start by setting no more than three primary goals for your marketing.
Remember, each goal should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based). No matter what they are, your goals should be targets that every piece of marketing is working towards achieving.
So, your goals might look like this:
Next, you’ll want to examine your finances and determine how much you can spend on marketing and advertising. To do this, break your finances out into several categories:
Advertising: Funds needed to cover the cost of print and digital advertisements, including pay-per-click (PPC) ads, display ads, and social media ads.
The last step in developing your marketing plan is determining which tactics you’ll use for your marketing and advertising. Inside your full marketing strategy, we’d define this as your WHERE – where you will invest your marketing time and money.
A tactic is a specific form of marketing. Common tactics are:
Taking what you know of your audience – who they are and where you’ll find them – you can now identify the marketing tactics that are best for your industry and your business in particular. Will you use a blog, email, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, or a podcast? Do you need to include offline platforms like magazines, newspapers, or radio?
But before you make any decisions, I want to talk about the foundation of a solid marketing strategy.
There are dozens of marketing tactic options you can choose from. And narrowing them down to a manageable few can be challenging. That’s why I encourage all my clients to start with the bare minimum (a website, an email marketing program, and just one social media platform) and to keep the customer journey map (the process of moving from stranger to customer) in mind when choosing where to invest your marketing time and dollars.
Once you’ve chosen the marketing tactics you’ll leverage, you should determine how often you’ll post to each and on what days and, if necessary, what times. Having this information written down will make it easier to establish your publication schedule when building your marketing calendar.
And that, my friend, is all you need to create a simple marketing plan.
Within a marketing strategy, your marketing calendar contains your WHAT and WHEN. Your WHAT is the content you’ll publish, while the WHEN is – well… when you’ll publish it. Simple enough, right?
In creating your marketing calendar, we start with the What.
Grab a blank yearly calendar layout, and for each month, write down any events you know will be happening throughout the year, like:
The goal is to fill each month with at least two events you can build some of your marketing messages around. List anything that you might want to tap into. No idea is bad here, so jot it all down. Ultimately, you’ll have a big-picture look at your scheduled and possible marketing content for the year.
Let’s take a moment to review what’s already on your calendar. How’s it looking?
Hopefully, your calendar is starting to fill up.
With your yearly overview mapped out, you can start defining your monthly content anchors.
I love working with content anchors (or themes). They’re a great way to focus your marketing around a specific topic. And those topics can range from a common customer pain point to a product or service.
The idea is to define a subject you can discuss on all your marketing platforms – from your blog to your emails and social posts. This does three things: 1) it allows you to dive deep into a topic that’s important to your customers, 2) you’ll know in a glance what topics you can discuss every month without having to stop and figure it out, and 3) offers the opportunity to develop and repurpose longer-form content across multiple platforms, which can extend the reach and shelf life of your content, not to mention, it’s a great way to speed up content creation time.
Going back to our author’s example. If you wrote “Read a New Book Month” in the block for September. A potential content anchor for that month could be “Book Discovery.” And ALL of your marketing for September would focus on how people discover new books.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t discuss other topics, share random quips on social, or promote other products/services. You absolutely can. The purpose of the content anchor is to put a stake in the ground that helps you develop targeted, valuable marketing content ideas, especially if you have nothing new launching that month.
Now that you know what you’ll discuss each month, you can start outlining what each piece of content you publish will cover.
So, with a blank sheet of paper in hand, take 15 minutes to review your yearly calendar ideas and content anchors and take notes on how you’ll promote that anchor. Don’t filter your ideas. Write down anything that comes to mind that’s relevant to your brand and your customer’s needs.
Next, mine your brainstorming list and pull out the best ideas. But don’t throw anything away! Just look for the ones with the most significant relevance right now. Oh, and I recommend starting with ideas best suited to long-form content, like blogs and emails.
Here’s how this might work for an author who’s chosen Book Discovery based on “Read a New Book Month” in September. You could create a:
Et voila, with one idea, you’ve generated a potential blog post, an email, and a series of social posts. Depending on the scale of your marketing publication schedule, this one topic could potentially cover an entire month’s worth of content!
Let’s build each month of your marketing calendar!
Using a blank monthly calendar spread, for each month, start by noting any holidays or special observances you need to remember, even for a single social post – like a simple Happy St. Patrick’s Day message.
Next, note any of your product or service release dates and the timeframes of any pre-planned sales events. In keeping with our author’s example, if your new book hits shelves in May, you’ll want to start promoting it in March (if not sooner). And as your release date draws near, you’ll want to ramp up how often you promote it.
Now, start filling your calendar with how you’ll share your content anchor pieces throughout the month. Note the days and topics of each blog post, email, and social post you plan to publish.
Compared to the rest of your calendar, your social presence can be the most fluid of them all in terms of what content you post and when, so if you find yourself working with social posts on a weekly level instead of monthly or quarterly, no worries. Do what works best for your schedule. Just be sure you’re still planning far enough ahead to give yourself time to create graphics/videos and write text as needed.
Remember to mix up the types of content you publish.
What you don’t want to do is constantly be asking your audience to buy from you. That’s the fastest way to drive a customer away. Instead, you want to create a healthy mix of content that provides value more often than it asks for a sale.
A good general rule of thumb to follow when determining your content is the 80/20 Rule. This rule says that 80% of your content should be inspirational, informational, or educational, and the last 20% should be sales-based. So, for every ten pieces of content (on a single platform), eight will be helpful content, and two will contain sales promotions.
Another common ratio you can try, especially on social media, is the 411 Rule. This rule states that for every six pieces of content, you have four that you curate from other sources that your audience will find relevant, one original piece of content from you, and one piece of promotional content. Another way to use this rule is to create four original posts related to your industry (again, think inspirational, informational, or educational), one with content specifically about you or your business, and one sales post.
Congratulations, you’ve built your marketing calendar! But this is just the beginning of your marketing calendar journey. As Napoleon Hill said, “Plan your work and work your plan.”
So go and put your plan into action!
Keep your calendar close so you can reference it each month to ensure your marketing gets done and keeps moving your business forward. And don’t be afraid to make changes – nothing in a marketing calendar is carved in stone (not even your product launches). So, expect detours on this journey and adjust your calendar as needed to accommodate anything that pops up that needs to be part of your marketing message.
Remember to always plan and think ahead. That’s the key to keeping your marketing engine moving.
So, as you near the end of each quarter, sit down and review your marketing plan again. Go over your yearly plan and map your content for the next three months.
Need some help outlining your marketing plan and calendar? I’ve got you covered.
Download my free Marketing Plan & Calendar Workbook! The bundle includes:
Book a Marketing Planning Session today and I’ll help you map out your marketing for the next three months!
let's do this!
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