One thing that every business owner could use more of is time. Naturally, we all look for ways to save time and be more effective in our business. But when is it smart to cut corners and when is it foolish to try and take short-cuts? At what point do we find ourselves needlessly reinventing the proverbial wheel compared to the other extreme of not putting in enough time to do the job right. It’s a question of customization vs standardization, and in marketing it becomes a question of whether to use a marketing plan template or build a marketing strategy from scratch. Here’s our take at The 5 Disciplines of Marketing. We look at templates similar to outsourcing in a business.
What Should I Outsource?
Most businesses think of outsourcing as strictly an issue for manufacturers. However, almost every single business engages in some form of outsourcing. The term outsource, in it’s most basic sense, just means to source something from outside your business. If your company builds, produces, creates, or develops something internally it’s done “in-house”. But everything else is outsourced. As a business owner I might decide to build my widgets in house, or I could buy them from another manufacturer outside my business. I could hire my own employees internally or outsource my labor through contract employees. I could have my own internal accountant, or I could outsource my accounting services to the local CPA firm.
Companies of all sizes outsource different aspects of their business all the time. Sometimes this works well and sometimes it doesn’t. But what does this have to do with using a marketing plan template? Simple, a marketing plan template is a form of outsourcing. The template was not developed internally but rather by an outside company or organization. This creates a situation where the business has outsourced their marketing plan. Therefore the question becomes is it good or bad to outsource your marketing.
The Rules of Outsourcing
There are essentially two questions to outsourcing:
- By outsourcing, does our business gain a significant advantage?
- Are we outsourcing any of our core competencies?
All things being equal, it is usually best to do things in-house. You have better control and are able to get exactly what you want for your customers. However, in business rarely are all things equal. There are usually significant advantages and disadvantages regarding each and every decision. Therefore, you need to decide if outsourcing creates an advantage. This could be a monetary advantage, increased capacity, improved efficiency, or greater focus, etc.
Be careful. Many times there is a significant advantage for the business to outsource, but it should never be a core competency that is outsourced no matter how great the advantage. Core competencies are those areas of business that define who you are as a company. A web developer can outsource their bookkeeping, but they should do their coding in-house. A restaurant can outsource their trash service, but they need to keep their recipes in-house.
If ever a business outsources a core competency they risk two major consequences. First, once a customer realizes that another business is providing the products or services they buy from you, they want to cut you out of the picture and go direct to the other company. You become an unnecessary expense as the middle-man. Second, once the company providing you the goods and services you need realizes that they essentially are doing your business better than you are, they will likely compete against you to get directly to your customers for a greater profit. In either case you no longer have control of your own company.
Why We Recommend Not Using a Marketing Plan Template
As stated previously, we consider using a template as a form of outsourcing. If that is the case the next step is to ask the two pivotal questions for outsourcing. First, does using a marketing plan template provide a significant advantage to your business? Often times the answer is Yes. It can save you time and provide a road map to follow. However, the second question is more insightful. Does using a marketing plan template cause you to outsource a core competency? Most businesses would initially say no. Most businesses aren’t marketing agencies. But here’s why we recommend not using a marketing plan template. Marketing should be one of your core competencies. If we follow the rule that all sales are a function of marketing, we can understand that every business has to do marketing if they want sales. Think about it. Do you want to use a template for something that critical to your business success? It might be more work, but you’ll do better controlling your own marketing, whether you do it yourself or work with an expert. No one is more concerned about your company’s sales than you. Always take control of your own marketing.