Your company needs a marketing plan. It doesn't have to be an elaborate document. In its simplest form, the plan is a single sheet of paper on which you have planned the entire year's activities and that you look at every month. It can be posted on the wall as a reminder. I suggest that you create it in a spreadsheet program such as Excel. If you are using your business plan to obtain a line of credit or additional funding, this sheet can be used to explain your activities.

The marketing activity sheet is created by putting all of the activities that you will do for the year along the Y axis, and the months of the year along the X axis. Divide the marketing activities that you plan to do into four groups: residential prospective customers, commercial prospective customers, current customers, and employees. Some activities such as newsletters, you may use for both prospective and current customers. Here are some suggestions for your marketing activities. This is not a complete list of every marketing action you can take; it is simply meant as a guideline to help you plan your activities.

Different plans, different people

For your residential prospective customers, I suggest spring and fall door hangers, seasonal postcards, referral programs, Yellow Page advertisements, radio, broadcast and cable television, daily and weekly newspapers, billboards, public relations activities (press releases, articles for the media, donations to charitable organizations and schools, etc.), Web pages, e-mail notices, manufacturer co-op programs and following up by telephone.

I would handle commercial prospective customers this way: Send service agreement letters, seasonal postcards, referral programs, engage in public relations activities and contacting the customers by telephone.

For current customers, in addition to the telephone, I suggest newsletters, calendars, flashlights (commercial customers), magnets, holding an open house, using e-mail and starting a referral program.

It helps employee morale if you offer service agreement and replacement sales contests, hold a company gathering and use a bonus or profit-sharing program.

Place an "X" under the month that you plan to do each activity. For public relations activities or media purchases in radio, television, or newspapers, it is helpful to put the planned activity on the X axis as a reminder to you. There are some activities such as telephone calls or Yellow Pages ads that you will have an "X" under every month. That is OK.

Once the marketing sheet has been completed you can put it on a wall to remind you of what you have to do each month. Or if you delegate this responsibility to another employee, it is a quick way of reviewing activities and their results.

Your homework assignment is to do the simple Excel spread sheet listing your marketing activities.

A gift from the government

A law was recently passed in the state of New York that says most homes sold, whether new or not, must have a carbon monoxide detector. Similar laws have already been passed in Rhode Island, New Jersey and West Virginia. Laws have been on the books in Chicago and St. Louis requiring carbon monoxide detectors in homes for years.

For those of you in these states, this is a marketing opportunity. Send direct mail, either postcards, letters or put the information in your newsletters. It is a reason to go into your customers' homes and check for carbon monoxide as well as install a monitor. Make sure your technicians talk about it too. Customer education is critical. It is the technician's responsibility to look for the carbon monoxide detectors as well as ask questions if he doesn't see one in the home.