Your Marketing Plan Is Meaningless Until You Assign A Budget

Oh, how you love to talk about planning—your business plan, financial plan, vacation plan and what I think is most often discussed—your marketing plan.  Congratulations to you if you’ve drawn up an official marketing plan for your venture.  But if you intend to transfer your plan from the page to reality, you must assign it a budget.  Somehow, that practical reality is sometimes glossed over.  Ask a Freelancer or business owner what the company’s annual marketing budget is and you’re likely to be met with a blank stare or incoherent stammering.  That is not the ideal response, my friend! So today, let’s learn how to estimate a reasonable budget for a B2B annual marketing plan.

Laurel Mintz, founder and CEO of Elevate My Brand, a Los Angeles digital marketing agency, has developed what she calls “marketing math,” to help her clients determine what would be  a realistic B2B marketing budget range for their organizations.  According to Ms. Mintz:

New companies in business for one to five years would be wise to allot 12 – 20 % of  gross or projected revenues on marketing activities.

Established companies in business for more than five years are advised to commit 6 – 12 % of gross or projected revenues to marketing activities.

Those figures seemed rather hefty, at least they did to me and maybe you agree.   According to Laurel Mintz,  if a new business generates just $35,000 in after-tax bottom line revenues, she nevertheless feels that the owner should devote $4,200 – $7,000 annually to a marketing budget.  Ouch! I mean, how does one pay the living expenses and taxes and health insurance when in the salad days of a start-up?

Think of it like this—no one said that self-employment, whether Freelance solopreneur or entrepreneur, was going to be either easy or inexpensive.  Just like you set aside money for other vital expenses, marketing deserves a budget, too, because without marketing you could wind up presiding over a stunted venture that never gains traction and never fulfills its potential.

Marketing activities, whether innovative or predictable, give the venture a needed push into target markets.  Marketing promotes the expansion of prospective clients who will flow into the sales funnel, distinguishes the organization from competitors, establishes and promotes the brand, justifies the pricing structure and keeps the enterprise at top of mind and positioned to beckon clients and referrers.

Now for the cold water—there are no guarantees in marketing and the ROI is notoriously tricky to quantify.  But realize that marketing is all about testing and that means (calculated) risk.  If you approve a certain sum of money to devote to the year’s marketing activities, you might achieve all of your marketing campaign goals, or do twice as well, or only half as well as you projected

Risk is real in marketing, but it’s mitigated by your awareness of how your clients have been known to respond to the marketing tactics that you can afford.  Research shows that if you conduct marketing  activities that resonate with your target clients and are within budget, then over time,  the marketing campaigns will enhance the bottom line and your brand.  Treat marketing activities as an investment that will surely pay off and allocate funds each year.

Marketing  campaigns are all about planning, budget and execution.  If meager finances make you feel that the budget formula given here is too risky for your venture, then focus on planning and execution and roll out “sweat equity” campaigns that utilize tactics that cost time instead of dollars, such as content marketing, face to face networking and social media.  Just do it.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Director and actress Ida Lupino on the set of The Hitch-Hiker (1953)                    Photograph courtesy of RKO Pictures/ Photofest

 

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Launch 2017 With Strategic Planning For Your Business

Happy New Year! My wish for all my readers is that 2017 will be filled with good health, good choices and prosperity and a year where you recognize opportunities and successfully move forward to attain what will benefit you.

Part of the process of realizing your goals may involve strategic planning. The process of strategic planning encourages business leadership teams to ask (the right) questions about the value that the business creates and sells at a profit, which is a reflection of its vision and mission.  The goals, objectives, business model and guiding principles (that is, culture and values) are likewise impacted by the organization’s vision and mission. Below are six strategic planning and positioning principles to enhance your planning.

Principle 1:  Sustained profitability

Economic value and the conditions for generating profits are created when clients value your product or service enough to pay more than it costs the business (you) to produce and provide it.  Strategic planning is all about Defining  business goals and objectives and devising strategies and action plans with the thought of ROI, in particular long-term ROI, in mind.  Assuming that profits will be inevitable when sales volume and/or market share are the most accurate measurements of success is not the best way to approach the matter.

Principle 2: Value proposition

First, be certain that what you consider to be the value proposition—that is, the most desirable benefits—matches what clients consider to be the value proposition. Be aware that strategy is not about offering services or products that will be all things to all prospective clients.  Businesses are in need of strategies that allow the venture to compete in a way that allows it to effectively and efficiently deliver what clients consider the value proposition.

Principle 3: Competitive advantage

The unique and desirable benefits that sustain the value proposition must be reflected in and supported by strategy that shapes them into a sustainable competitive advantage.  The successful enterprise will differentiate itself from competitors through the products or services offered, how those are packaged and/or delivered, customer service practices, branding, pricing and so on; those unique features and practices will matter to current and prospective clients.  Still, the company’s business model will likely resemble that of its rivals.

Principle 4: Choices and priorities

Resources are inevitably finite and choices about your products and/or services must be made, in order to define what is necessary and possible and therefore, a priority.  Some  product or service features will not be offered, so that the benefits (priorities) that clients have chosen as highly desirable can be optimized.  These priorities are what sets the business apart from competitors and define the brand.

Principle 5: Flow

Choices and priorities must be baked into the strategies that you and the leadership team devise, to enhance and enable the consistent  delivery of the value proposition. These strategies will be both stand-alone and interdependent, like dominoes.  Choices made to define the target customers that the business will pursue also impact product design and by necessity will impact choices that determine the manufacturing process and its cost.  Choices that determine what will be included in a service will be influenced by the expected target customers and will impact how that service is delivered and priced.  Choices about product positioning and branding will impact where the product is sold and the marketing strategy.

Principle 6: Direction

The late style icon Diana Vreeland, who served as editor-in-chief at both Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar Magazines, once said that “elegance is refusal.” A company must define its unique value proposition and that will eventually cause certain potential choices to be declined, because they are contrary to the brand.  The product or service lines can be altered to satisfy customer demands over time and business models can be adjusted to reflect current or anticipated market conditions.  Nevertheless, the vision and mission must be upheld to maintain brand awareness and trust. Strategic direction will guide that process.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Budget Plan: The Unexpected Windfall

Now check this out—what if Santa Claus comes to town and leaves a nice financial windfall under your Christmas tree? What a sweet surprise! You took a chance and competed for a very lucrative assignment and by some miracle, you won.  Along with making sure that you’ll deliver, if not surpass, your new client’s expectations, you should as well think about how you can most effectively utilize the proceeds from the billable hours.

Most often, we approach the subject of financial contingency planning from the negative side and prepare ourselves for unexpected expenses that could ruin a budget or seriously deplete our savings.  But why not manifest prosperity and think about what you can do if your ship comes in? Here’s a sampling of where extra money can be applied:

Erase debt.  Without a doubt, pay down and pay off all outstanding debts.  Interest rates are at loan sharking level and eliminating the burden will increase your credit score and decrease your stress level.  If you are not in debt, then pay ahead monthly installment obligations such as health and auto insurance policies or renewable business licenses and certifications.  Payment of these types of accounts payable is recorded as an asset on your Balance Sheet.

Professional development.  Are there continuing education workshops and courses or certifications that if acquired stand to enhance your stature and brand? Is there a conference that not only provides good business information, but also excellent networking opportunities? Explore how you might be able to raise the bar on your qualifications and make yourself a more employable Freelance consultant.

Business investment.  Maybe your billable hours are sufficiently generous to allow you to buy a new car? Ask your accountant or business attorney if the proposed new automobile can be designated as a company vehicle and permit you to write off some portion of the expenses plus depreciation, so that you could sweeten the investment.  You might also consider computer or other technology upgrades, or office equipment such as a new desk or an ergonomically correct office chair.  Much smaller but still significant branding upgrades include personalized business note cards, holiday greeting cards, stationery and your invoice statement.

Retirement account.  Fund your retirement account to the maximum annual amount with pre-tax dollars.  If you have extra money, open a Roth IRA account in tandem with your primary retirement account and enhance your financial future with after-tax dollars. Verify first the financial guidelines required for simultaneously holding these two retirement funds.

General savings. You might also meet with a wealth manager, if you meet the investment minimum and can find someone who can be trusted.  Alternatively,  on your own you can research and invest a couple of thousand dollars in a mutual fund that is indexed to the stock market and watch it grow (and it will, despite some ups and downs along the way).

Splurge.  Oh, go ahead! When’s the last time you took a wonderful vacation? Freelancers work so hard and we worry so much about how we will be able to satisfy our clients, find new clients, win back lapsed clients, generate relevant content marketing, distinguish ourselves from our many competitors and on and on.  I don’t know about all of you, but I am so exhausted it’s absurd.  I’ve been able to take brief local vacations, but I dream of taking two weeks or even more in Marrakesh, Morocco. Or Bahia, Brazil. Or Shanghai. Or Rome. Or Tokyo. Or Buenos Aires. Mmmmm….!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Open Enrollment: Freelancer’s Health Insurance

Open enrollment for 2015 Affordable Care Act health insurance began on November 15.  Individuals who earn maximum $46, 680 and families of four (couples with two dependent children) that generate a maximum total income of $95, 400 are potentially eligible for a tax credit that will help defray the cost of insurance premiums. In tax year 2015,  the penalty for not carrying insurance will rise from $95 to $325,  or 2% of household income,  whichever is greater.

Business entities of 50 or fewer employees and located in Delaware,  Illinois,  Missouri,  New Jersey or Ohio can set up a Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) account by completing an application that determines eligibility and if accepted,  investigate plans and prices and contract with an insurance company.  A 2014 University of Chicago study found that 2013 insurance prices offered through SHOP exchanges in 26 states were on average 7 % lower (about $220) than comparable insurance bought outside of the SHOP exchanges marketplace.

Freelancers and small business owners who did not buy health insurance in 2014 will need information to guide decision-making about the upcoming year.  The Freelancers Union  http://freelancersunion.org,  a New York City-based nonprofit organization that advocates for the interests of self-employed workers,   plans to help its 233,000 members purchase medical and/or dental insurance in all 50 states.

Freelance Union members also have access to retirement plans and disability,  liability and life insurance.  Additionally,  the Union operates two health and wellness centers in New York City,  where members can obtain primary care services at no charge and also participate in classes such as tai chi and yoga.  Membership in the Freelancers Union is free.

I went to the Union website and found that medical insurance is not offered in my state,  but dental coverage is available for $60.77 /month  ($112.32 /married couple and $164.89 /family).  The twice-yearly cleanings are 100% covered as are annual x-rays.  Services such as crowns,  fillings and anesthesia are covered at 80% after a $50 deductible and root canals,  endodontic and periodontal services are covered only after a 12 month waiting period and then at 50 % after the $50 deductible.  The yearly maximum benefit is $1250.

An individual pays about $730 for the year.  I might spend that amount in a year paying out-of-pocket for two cleanings with bi-annual x-rays averaged in.  My gums are not great and I must very soon see a periodontist.  Heaven knows what he will charge but the visits will not be covered,  since only two are allowed in 12 months.  Periodontal work would only be half covered and the maximum annual benefit is only $1250 for a premium that costs $730/year.  In sum,  health insurance is all too often not an advantage,  unfortunately.  Maybe the medical plans are better?  An individual Bronze level plan in New York City will cost $393/month in 2015.

Still,  it appears that Freelancers can benefit in other ways from Union membership (I am not a member).  There are plans over the next five years to open 15 primary care clinics across the country,  including Los Angeles and Austin, TX.  The clinics will not charge co-pays for office visits and will be open to all who purchase health insurance through the Freelancers Union.  There are numerous professional benefits as well.  Maybe I will join before too long.

More good information on health insurance prices is available at the Consumer Reports Health Law Helper,  which walks you through questions to help you understand your options for buying health plans,  with links to marketplace sites   http://healthlawhelper.org.  The American Association of Retired People AARP sponsors the Health Law Answers site,  which provides information for health insurance seekers of any age  http://healthlawanswers.aarp.org/en.  The Kaiser Family Foundation provides the Insurance Marketplace Calculator,  which helps you estimate the cost of health insurance based on your location,  age and income,  along with pricing for various level plans  http://kff.org/interactive/subsidy-calculator/.

Thanks for reading,

Kim