Can you have a decent marketing strategy without an advertising budget?

Is it worth writing a marketing plan/strategy even though I have little to no money to spend on big ads or marketing agencies?


Asking a marketer whether you really need a marketing plan is like asking a personal trainer whether a training routine will really make any difference.


A (good) marketing strategy is not something your small business hopes to have one day when it grows up. It’s something you need now.


It’s a misconception that only big firms need marketing plans and a further misconception that a plan is full of costly activity that you cannot afford. That’s an advertising strategy and you may not need one of those for a long time, if at all.


In fact, many small businesses and start-ups seem to coast along hoping for some lucky break instead of following a plan that makes success look like it came about with a bit of luck.


Sure there’s an element of luck in the rise of many businesses. There’s always going to be someone better connected and better funded than you, but those people will also fail if their idea or execution of that idea is – to put it bluntly – crap.


A well-thought-out brand and marketing strategy says precisely and uniquely what your business stands for; what you offer customers; exactly who those customers are; and how you’re going to reach them.


Of course, it aligns completely with your business strategy. (You mean I need one of those too?)


One of my favourite recent start-ups is the Dollar Shave Club. Founder Michael Dubin seems to have hit the jackpot and found the magic formula all at once. Certainly it ticks every checklist for success:


  1. A great idea: Unbranded, good quality razors from only $1 per month.
  2. A clear target segment: Young cool guys who like to be seen trying new things and are ‘beyond brands’ (though this is actually the cool no-brand brand. I’m sure part of the plan.)
  3. An easy call to action: Buy now for only $1. Cancel any time.
  4. A marketing campaign executed exactly to its target market: Funny, goofy video a ‘la Old Spice man.
  5. Customer loyalty: $1 a month per person rolling credit card payments.
  6. Viral: YouTube video bonanza (almost 10 million views to date).


This whole business concept looks so simple that it’s easy to think it came about with no strategy. But I’m putting money on Michael Dubin having a great plan behind it with a timeline of milestones to hit and exactly how the business responds at each point.


Firstly, his brand and launch strategy to prove the validity of the idea and score serious funding to grow (over $10 million in seed and Series A funding was secured).


Secondly, a plan to build the business by moving into new markets (Australia came very fast, women’s blades are coming) and also expanding into new products such as shaving creams.


And thirdly, pure speculation but I’m sure it’s on the cards, a succession plan that may involve selling the business. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the big brands, Gillette for instance, had made an offer already.


The lesson I keep learning when I see success stories like this one is to train yourself to operate like a big business from day one and that means have a great plan.


So a quick recap:


  1. Yes, you do need a marketing plan.
  2. It needs to support the goals of your business plan.
  3. It’s not the same as an advertising plan.
  4. It needs to be well thought out.
  5. It’s worth spending a few thousand dollars and going over it with an expert.
  6. The tactical outputs don’t need to be costly.
  7. Follow the plan and review it all the time.
  8. Use the plan to tell you what NOT to do as much as what to do.
  9. Think how your business may look to make it saleable and work back from that goal.
  10. Good luck!


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