Create Your 2015 Marketing Calendar

Now is the time to plan your marketing programs for the next year. Sound like a daunting task? It doesn't need to be. Follow these 6 steps to get your year organized.

1) Get out a calendar and add every single item or event you may want to market this year.  Think of holidays, trade shows, community events, retail dates like Black Friday. Put down anything with a rough date that you can think of.  Then think of other things you want to market around that aren't tied to a date.  Let's say you have a particular product launch coming up. Pick a time of year and add it to the calendar. Do the same for campaigns to re-engage new clients or any other promotion you're interested in fitting in this year. Don't worry if there are too many. We'll prioritize next.

2) Take your list and review every item and rate it. Put a star next to the items you definitely will do. Put a circle next to the projects you would really like to do--if you have enough time and budget for them.  Place a question mark next to everything that's left.

3) Add lead dates to your items with stars. This is your start date for when you need to begin working on the project. For a direct mail piece you may want to devote a month to writing, printing, preparing your list and mailing.  Attending a trade show means you need to plan early enough to register for your booth. Every project should have an approximate start date on your calendar, so that it doesn't sneak up on you.

4) Now it's time for some detail. If you write newsletters, blog posts, emails, or use social media - the task of coming up with ideas when you sit down to create can put you behind schedule.  Let's solve that. Write down how many pieces you need every month. If it's 3 articles and 1 quote and 2 tweets, put it down each month. Then take a little time to brainstorm as many topics as you can for your next three months. Every couple weeks, look at your list and think of topics to help fill in the next 3 months.  This running list will make it much easier to generate content on time. You'll know what you need when and have the topics ready to start creating.

5) Request media kits and pricing. Decide where you are placing ads, renting space, printing materials, posting online promotions.  Contact those vendors or sites and ask for their 2015 rate cards and schedules.

6) Budget. Use the pricing you just obtained to put a rough number next to every item with a star on your calendar. Total up the budget for your quarters and for your year. Now you can see if all those items with stars are within budget, if you can promote more, or if you need to scale back your plans.

These six basic steps will give you a framework for the year.   This exercise shouldn't replace a marketing plan, but it's a guideline for your year.  Revisiting your calendar every month will help you stay on budget, meet deadlines and set aside adequate time for planning.  Plus, you'll be less apt to take on little spontaneous projects during the year that detract from the bigger priorities you want to accomplish.

Happy planning. Here's to a great and organized year ahead!