By Ja-Naé Duane

I’ve seen many beautiful marketing plans. Some are color-coded and laid out nicely in perfectly aligned spreadsheets.

Th­is lovely exterior tempts many an entrepreneur to think, “­is will be so easy.” And maybe it is – at least on paper. What comes next is the tricky part. How do you take that eye-catching marketing plan and turn it into the perfect mix of programs and channels to help you reach your ideal customers?

You start by digging in and building a marketing strategy to help you answer some really important questions about your organization. Throughout this process, never forget that your marketing strategy needs to make the most of your time and money. Using your marketing plan as a baseline, you can begin to identify the best options available to you. In Th­e Startup Equation, we suggest following five steps to build out your strategy.

Start with your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Th­ink of the USP as the heart of your marketing plan. But time after time, I’ve seen business leaders overlook their USP. ­That’s crazy! Your USP captures the “why” that gives people a reason to buy from you and not your competitors. You’ll want to capture this “why” in your pitch, too. So be sure to explain how you solve a big problem for a target audience. How does your solution trump what your competitors have to offer? Finally, what can you promise or guarantee that no one else in the industry can offer? ­Then, take all of this information and use it to produce one, brief sentence that explains your “why.”

With your USP in mind, you’ll now want to list all the benefits that come with your product or service. You might be first to market or you’re prepared to deliver remarkable customer service. Pulling all of your benefits together will give you plenty of material to work with no matter the marketing channels you select.

Now it’s time to think through your product/service positioning. How do you want people to view your business? Th­ere’s a great framework we recommend for working through this exercise:

At this point, you need to decide on your marketing budgeting. ­The total matters, and what matters most is that you know exactly what you have available from the start so you can make smart decisions. I wish I could give you a default amount, but the most common range tends to be 10 percent to 15 percent of your overall budget. Plan to spend at least 7 percent if the 10 percent to 15 percent feels like too much right now.

Of course, I realize you may think 1 percent is all you can afford. I get it. You want to make every dollar count. But regardless of how much you spend, I can’t emphasize enough the need to track results. What campaign works and what doesn’t?

For instance, one marketer I know discovered that Facebook was great for reaching a wide range of people about a new brand, but LinkedIn worked much better for converting the real target, business executives. Don’t make assumptions about what’s working. ­Those marketing dollars (and your time) are valuable resources that you don’t want to waste. Th­is fifth step is one that some organizations try to put first without much success: picking marketing methods. It reminds me a bit of someone deciding how they’ll get somewhere before deciding where they want to go. It’s the modern-day version of putting the cart before the horse.

Th­ere are many marketing channels available. How do you choose, particularly if you have limited resources? Well, it never hurts to start by asking the question. If you have a pretty good idea of who you want to reach, connect with people in your network and explain the personas that you’ve identified. Where does your network think those people can be found? Of course, if you already have some customers, rely on your beta testers and evangelists to point you in the right direction.

Obviously, you can do independent research, too. When I started Wild Women Entrepreneurs, I needed to learn about the demographic and psychographic behaviors of the women I hoped to serve. It helped me understand what was most important to this potential audience.

After you’ve talked to your network, reached out to your evangelists, and completed your research, it’s time to do some segment testing.

You want to find that sweet spot. Be patient, and allow yourself to experiment as you search for the right audience and the channels to best reach that audience. It’s an iterative process that you’ll repeat and refine over time.

Finally, I want to leave you with an obvious reality you may already know firsthand. At the beginning you may not have enough capital to execute on every aspect of your marketing plan and strategy. Th­at’s OK. For right now, the goal is to make informed decisions that help you get the most value from your time and money.

A version of this article originally appeared at StartupEquation.com.

Ja-Naé Duane is Founder of The Revolution Factory and co-author of The Startup Equation. She can be reached at janaeduane@gmail.com.