Don't panic.  Good advice for anyone.One of my favorite books of all time is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy  by Douglas Adams.  Quite frankly, the book is ludicrous, which I guess is why I like it so much.  The book is a cult classic.  It’s essentially the story of how a normal Earth being gets entangled in this nutty story involving aliens and the hunt for the answer to the ultimate question of “life, the universe, and everything.”  Spoiler, the answer is “42.”  To figure out how that fits in, you just need to read the book.

Lessons of Wisdom

A couple of the key lessons from the book that everyone should heed are as follows:

  • Always know where your towel is, and
  • Don’t Panic

As for the towel part, you just have to read the book.  (Author’s editorial comment:  The movie isn’t nearly as good as the book is.)  With regard to the not panicking part, that is generally good advise for virtually any situation.

Now when it comes to marketing, especially in today’s world, it may overwhelm the average small business owner.  Recently, I met with a business manager who was doing just that…panicking.  There is a lot to digest, and if you are not technically gifted — don’t worry, there are more of you than you might think — it can be a lot to absorb.

Bottom line is this:  You MUST have a digital marketing strategy.  No exceptions.

Deep breath.  DON’T PANIC.

Good old paper and pen - as good a planning tool as anything.

Good old paper and pen – as good a planning tool as anything.

Planning Steps to Avoid Panic

There are tons of tools and programs out there, but if you don’t have a strategy in place, you need to get one together.  My suggestion is to lock your door for a bit and sit down a blank pad of paper and start scribbling.  I would advise keeping the thoughts simple and focused by answering these questions:

  1. What is my objective?  Yes, it’s ultimately about growing your business, but break it down further than that.  From your marketing efforts, what do you want to get out of it?  New customers?  What kind of customers?  More spend?  How much more?  Tie numbers to and timelines to your objectives.  And follow the SMART standards – each objective should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.  If an objective does not meet those criteria, go back to the drawing board.  And one more thing…you don’t need 25 objectives…3-5 is a great place to start.  When you revisit your plan, you can add more if needed.
  2. Do your homework.  Identify the data you must have that helps you clearly support your planning steps.  What do you know about your audience, your competition, and the market?  Most importantly, make sure you identify what you don’t know.  During your time with your pad of paper, this is a great opportunity to document the information you have, and the information not currently available to you.
  3. Draft your plan outline.  Once you have your objectives outlined, craft a plan to help achieve those objectives.  This is where reaching out to a professional may help you most with your planning.  They can help cut through the clutter, supply suggestions, and leverage best practices to help you with your plan.  Like every plan, hold yourself accountable to it, but be flexible and willing to adjust as business and market conditions change.  
  4. Get to the Tactics.  Focus on the details.  Based on your outline, how will you execute?  When will you execute?  Do you have resources or support to help?  Draft some timelines, identify what you need to be successful, and figure out how you will execute.  Keep in mind you will need to take steps to be disciplined and patient.  And you need to be aware that you may not see immediate results.  It takes time for marketing tactics to take hold, especially if you are entering a social space or launching a new product to a new audience.  Don’t forget to include some way to measure the results of the tactics you identify…clicks, redemption, sales…how will you know that what you did actually worked?  Part of your planning should be evaluation.
  5. Focus on Content.  The cliché, unfortunately, does apply — Content is King.  Today, you much have great content to get and keep the attention of your target audiences.  It can be imagery, video, or stories, but you need to know what kind of content you can create that will help support your objectives and allow you to execute your strategy.  You need to know up front that this is the most time-consuming aspect of the process.  It can be daunting, but if you break down content creation into manageable pieces, you can develop the content you need to keep your audience engaged.

If you are struggling, let someone help you.  You may need to invest a bit of time and money, but in today’s competitive landscape, a well-developed plan will help you achieve your objectives.  There are also plenty of tools and support resources out there to help you along the way.