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updated 1/4/2013 11:18:36 AM ET 2013-01-04T16:18:36

For those who dream of escaping cubicles to pursue a passion, drafting a business plan is the first step. One of your plan's most critical elements is your marketing strategy. Too often, people don't think through that all-important component with the same rigor they tackle aspects like projected cash flow and long-term goals.

Or, they do put thought and effort into planning for market research, promotion and positioning -- and then never follow through on their great ideas.

One problem is that most entrepreneurs don't have marketing experience. They may be skilled tradesmen, savvy financial advisers or talented writers -- expert in the niche they plan to build their business around -- but they're not marketers. Some don't realize that executing a solid marketing strategy is essential to any venture's success. Others know it's important but don't know where to begin.

Related: A Data-Driven Reality Check for Your Marketing Budget

Here's why it's so important: No matter how ingenious your product or service, no one will find it if they don’t know it’s there.

The marketing component of your business plan should include a budget for time, if you plan to tackle the job yourself, and money. You need a timetable and a professional website that attracts visitors and makes it easy for them to learn more about you, your product or service -- and equally easy to purchase what you're selling.

Here are some other points to consider as you're developing your marketing plan:

• What is my message? Your message needs to be more than "My product is great." What's the problem it solves? If you're a professional, what's the value you and your service offer? How are you different from your competition? As an example: At my marketing firm, we create visibility and credibility for our clients using a pay-for-performance model that guarantees media exposure and sets us apart from our peers.

Related: How to Craft a Business Plan That Will Turn Investors' Heads

• Who is my audience? Unless you have a niche product, consider your potential audience in terms of ever-expanding ripples. For instance, a collapsible coffeepot may be just the thing for a college student's tiny dorm room. That's your initial target audience. But his parents and grandparents, who are helping outfit that dorm room, might also be audiences. If they've downsized their living quarters, they might just want one for themselves, too. It also could be great for campers, boaters -- anyone living in a small space.

• Which are the appropriate media outlets for a public-relations campaign? Social media is great for niche products because online forums build communities around common interests. Daytime TV talk shows tend to have audiences with lots of women. Most newspaper readers are now 55 or older. Once you have decided who your audience is, figure out what they're watching, listening to, reading and doing online, then customize your message for that medium and audience.

• What's your budget? When you've answered these questions, you should be able to determine how much marketing you can do yourself, if any, and how much you'll need help with. If you're handling it yourself, budget for the time it will take to do things like keeping your website active with fresh blog posts once or twice a week, posting content on social media and developing pitches to get print, radio or TV interested. If you plan to pay a professional for marketing services, use your marketing plan to explore the costs and timetable, and budget accordingly.

Whether you're launching a dream or re-evaluating your existing business, it all starts with a solid plan. Marketing should be fundamental part of that plan. It's what drives the business, so it can't be an afterthought.

Related: The Five Broad Strokes of Marketing
 

Copyright © 2013 Entrepreneur.com, Inc.

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