What is a marketing plan and why is it so essential to the success of your business? Firms that are successful in markeeting invariably start with a marketing plan.

Large companies have plans with hundreds of pages; small companies can get by with a half-dozen sheets. Put your marketing plan in a three-ring binder. The plan should cover one year. For small companies, this is often the best way to think about marketing. Things change, people leave, markets evolve, customers come and go. You can’t do a marketing plan without getting many people involved. No matter what your size, get feedback from all parts of your company: finance, manufacturing, personnel, supply and so on–in addition to marketing itself.

Your marketing  plan spells out what your business is about–what you do and don’t do, and what your ultimate goals are. It encompasses more than marketing; it can include discussions of locations, staffing, financing, strategic alliances and so on. You should allow yourself a couple of months to write the marketing  plan, even if it’s only a few pages long. Developing the plan is the heavy lifting of marketing. While executing the plan has its challenges, deciding what to do and how to do it is marketing’s greatest challenge. Your company’s business plan provides the environment in which your marketing plan must flourish.

People have differing views about the import of marketing  plans. I’ve even heard some venture capitalists say they’re not worth the paper they’re written on. Instead, they prefer just an executive summary. Builders and property managers are business-to-business prospects, while owners fall under the banner of consumer marketing.

Many entrepreneurs market to both businesses and consumers with great success, though the effort can be somewhat more costly and time consuming than just focusing on one of those markets. Initial contact with consumers, on the other hand, is usually made through marketing communications.