I disagree with a lot of marketers on this question. I don't believe a business necessarily needs to spend weeks (or even months) creating a strategy.
Don't get me wrong, if you're running a huge corporation with a marketing budget of millions then it'll take time. You'll definitely need to spend a while getting your strategy right before you start implementing it.
But I work with small businesses who want to see results as quickly as possible. Do they need to take weeks out of their business before they can start taking action?
I say 'no'.
A Lean Marketing Machine
For many small businesses I've worked with, we've been able to set a strategy in just a couple of hours. The reason I do this so much quicker than many other marketing consultants is because I work differently.
My methods are inspired by engineering philosophies such as Lean and Agile, which focus on minimising waste. This means we can create a strategy based on assumptions that we'll test and validate through marketing activities.
In a big company this isn't the best approach. It's better to spend a small percentage of your budget on marketing research to verify your strategy, before you spend millions implementing it.
In a small company, spending 1-2% of your marketing budget on research won't give you much data to base decisions on. So you have to make assumptions, and test and improve. This is the essence of "Lean" in engineering.
A small business also has the benefit of being nimble and agile. When an assumption turns out to be incorrect, that knowledge needs to be fed back into the strategy to see whether it affects other marketing activities. In a small business this is usually manageable.
A "minimum viable strategy"
Your strategy doesn't need to be perfect before you can start marketing. It should be constantly evolving and improving while you are marketing. If you're starting from scratch creating a strategy, my advice is to start with something simple and build up.
In his book "The Lean Startup" Eric Ries describes how to create a "minimum viable product", or MVP. This is a simple product that includes the bare minimum in terms of features that people will be prepared to pay for. The goal of the MVP is to find out how customers use the product, gather feedback on what they value, and iteratively improve it.
Small business strategy should be the same. You only need a minimum viable strategy to start with and that first step doesn't have to take long.
How to start creating a strategy
A marketing strategy needs to include 3 things:
With the right process and coaching this doesn't have to take long. One-to-one, I can usually do this in 2-4 hours.
Of course, every business is different and so it's impossible to say exactly how long a strategy will take.
A new business owner who has never done any strategic work will find it harder than someone who's done this kind of thinking before. Strategic thinking is a skill I teach all my clients and it improves with practice.
Having said that, if you're a small business selling one thing to one audience, your strategy shouldn't be too complex.
I created my Kickstart Your Marketing online workshop as a tool for business owners to create a simple, minimum viable strategy and one-page marketing plan.
Continuous strategic development
If you've never done much strategic work before, think of it as a muscle you need to build up. Start slowly and gently and keep working at it.
If you use my online workshop to create your strategy, first watch all the videos straight through without doing the exercises (about 1hr 10mins). Take a day or two (or a weekend) off and then watch them again doing the exercises at the same time.
Working on your strategy in this way gives your brain time to mull it over and come up with some of the answers I in between focused sessions.
Strategy is never "finished" and I recommend my clients rethink and redo their strategy at least every quarter to begin with. To begin with, remember you're only aiming for a minimum viable strategy: enough to base a plan on.
Need more help?
If you need a structured process to create your marketing strategy, take a look at my Kickstart Your Marketing online workshop.
If you'd like some one-to-one help, do get in touch. I'd love to hear from you and see how I can help. Contact me
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If you enjoyed this blog I thoroughly recommend Eric Ries's book, "The Lean Startup". Here it is on Amazon (also available from other good book shops):
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