Do you have a marketing communications plan? Rather than haphazardly deciding how to communicate your product or service, spend the time to be sure you are reaching the right audiences with messages that will resonate with them.

What are the elements of a good plan? The place to start is with your audiences. Think about all the audiences you serve and list them. Who are your customers or clients?

Next ask, “What are the key messages I want to share about my business, product or service?” Once you compile this list, decide which key messages should be shared with each audience. There should be several overall messages that are shared with all your audiences, such as your mission and vision statement, your philosophy of doing business, your corporate culture and a concise statement about what you offer.

Only after these steps have been thoughtfully completed should you start to think about the marketing tactics you want to use and which tactics are best to reach each of your audiences. Some of the tactics you choose will be influenced by your marketing communications budget, which should be planned in advance for the coming year.

One of the communication channels you may want to consider is media relations, including sending ongoing press releases to the media on news about your company or pitching feature stories on something new or unique in your business. You may want to position yourself as an industry expert to a print, TV or radio reporter on a story s/he may be writing or express your opinion in a letter to the editor or op-ed.

Having an attractive, informative and user-friendly website is essential for a business today, as well as considering communicating through social media, whether it is Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Learn how to use these cost-effective tools to tell your story.

Consider what types of printed pieces you need, whether a brochure, annual report, newsletter or rack card or direct-mail postcards. Do you need these pieces printed or are you going to send them out electronically to your customers? This comes back to knowing your audiences.

Based on your budget, there are several advertising venues to consider, from print ads in newspapers or magazines to outdoor advertising (billboards and transit cards), radio and TV ads and direct mail. And do not forget digital advertising, which can be targeted and extremely cost-effective.

And finally, never underestimate the value of networking and the personal touch, whether it is going to networking events, inviting people to tour your facility, giving or participating in seminars or just calling your customers to say thank you and be sure they are pleased with your services. The more direct contact you can have with your customers, the better.

The last section of your marketing communications plan should deal with how you are going to measure the results of your marketing efforts. Is it the growth in the number of customers served, the increase in your gross or net profit, or the satisfaction level of your customers?

So before you spend your hard-earned money on marketing, spend some time developing your marketing communications plan — it will pay off in dividends.

Bonnie Heneson is CEO of Bonnie Heneson Communications, a full-service marketing communications agency with offices in Columbia and Owings Mills. She can be reached at 410-740-5657.