Here in the Midwest, we're enjoying one of our final weeks of Indian Summer. Ahhh, the leaves are turning to beautiful hews of autumn, while the crispness in the air contrasting with the warmth of the sun--I love this time of year. So, last weekend I suggested that a group of friends get together and take advantage of this brief reprieve before the first frost sets in. I thought we'd just go have some fun - somewhere. So, there we were, the three of us. Hummm. What now? What's the plan? There was no plan, just fun – that was the plan. Of course we always have fun when we're together, but we felt lost and uncertain about the next step and could have avoided an hour's worth of "what do you want to do? I don't know, what do YOU want to do?" How frustrating!

Do you ever feel like that when you think about how you're going to get the next client or customer? What now? I need clients now! What do I want to do? If you're like me, and you're feeling uncertain, you just shut down – or perhaps you spend hours spinning your wheels in frustration? Maybe you hit on something, maybe you don't. This is when my clients say they feel most lonely as solopreneurs; when the "what now" feeling sets in.

Enter – The Marketing Plan. You may not feel that a marketing plan, let alone a business plan is critical to your business. And if you're rolling in work from a diverse group of resources, (that's the key) then perhaps you don't need a marketing plan. From my experience as a coach most small business owners who have tons of work on their plate are either doing work they shouldn't be doing or they have one key client and all of their eggs in one basket. Both are precarious situations. If you're the exception to the rule – you go! If not, you need a marketing plan.

To some, this feels like a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be overwhelming. Divide your plan into sections and brainstorm ideas with friends, colleagues, and family. Write one section at a time and act on one or two at a time. Your plan may be one page long; it may be 25 pages long. The better you know your target market, the more concise and direct your plan will be. Here are a few thoughts to get you going; stay tuned in future posts for more information. Brainstorm around these questions, write down your thoughts, and for the actionable items, create an action plan for each step:

Who is your target market and where will I find them?
Narrow it down as much as possible. Avoid words like "anyone who" and replace them with more specific descriptions like, "retired women between 60 and 70 years of age who…." Or "chiropractors who have been in business for more than one year and do not yet have an Internet presence." When you are specific, your marketing direction is specific. You know where to go to reach your market. You're not going to buy a booth at a medical convention if your target is chiropractors; you're going to buy a booth at a chiropractors convention, right? You'll advertise in Healthy Living instead of Good Housekeeping.

Why is my product or service unique and how will it help my target market?
What makes you and your service/product unique? How do you stand out from the crowd? What problems do you solve for your target market and why should they pay you (and only you) the big bucks to do it? This will help you to narrow down your marketing message. Get specific! "I write powerful resumes for people searching for employment in Fortune 500 companies in the field of Internet Technology." You might be highly qualified because you once worked in HR in such a company and you have statistics showing that your resumes have helped [blank] number of people get their foot in the door for an interview.

Do I have noteworthy achievements that may be press-worthy?
Don't underestimate what your local magazines and newspapers might like to cover. If you've won an award, landed a huge client, moved out of your home to an office to accommodate growth, helped a local "celebrity," volunteered your expertise to help the park district or a local cause, then the press may be interested in you. Write press releases often. Send them to the publishers of local press outlets. They love a local success story!

What do I know and where can I talk about it?
Speaking is a powerful marketing tool. If you are an expert (and you are) people want to hear about you. They want to be motivated and inspired by you. Check your library, city hall, bookstores, PTA, and whatever else you can think of. Leverage these speaking engagements by selling your products in the back of the room, offering discounts on your services, and giving your audience the profile of your ideal customer – tell them why they should send people they know to you. Make sure these do not make up the core of your speech, but are included in a brief summary at the end of your presentation.

What is the most immediate resource for additional clients/customers and how can I capitalize on it?
I often suggest to my clients that their own existing customer base is the most immediate resource for growth. Examine that concept; when was the last time you marketed via email, phone, or mailing to your existing customer base? If you design websites, do your current customers need a blog added to the site? Of course they do! Contact them with a list of powerful reasons of why they need to get on the blog-wagon. If you're a VA, can you help your current clients by creating a new area of expertise for yourself? Absolutely! Don't diminish the value of your skills!

Let me know how you do in phase one! Write the plan, break it down into baby steps, and schedule snippets of time to carry them out. A little bit of clarity goes a long way!