Marketing Your Business

You need a detailed plan of action for promoting yourself and your services. The marketing plan should have a strategy for delivering and disseminating your marketing message. The concept you have developed for your business is the key to preparing this section of your business plan.

Market Analysis

Here you'll want to discuss the catering business in your area. Use all of the data you collected when you researched your business opportunity. Consider these questions:

  • How large is the existing catering market?

  • Is it growing, and if so, how much?

  • Have any catering businesses recently closed?

  • What market trends will affect your business?

Assess the local market you're about to enter and analyze its ability to support another catering business.

Within the marketing plan, you should have a marketing and promotions budget. In general, marketing and promotions should be estimated as a percentage of sales, broken down by month. As a rule of thumb, plan to spend approximately 5–10 percent of Year 1 sales on the marketing budget for your first twelve months. This will be a relatively high marketing budget, but if you don't spend the money to introduce your services and get the message out, clients won't know about you and sales orders won't come.


The cost of any samples that you hand out should come out of your marketing and promotion budget, not your food cost budget.

One of the most important goals of your marketing plan is to create awareness of your services and your brand. If last month your business didn't exist, then no one knows you're in business now. Your awareness level is zero. Your job is to let as many people as possible know about your wonderful catering services. Whether it's standing outside a busy local rail station a few mornings handing out mini muffins with your catering menus, or paying for printed postcards announcing your business and Web site, it all comes out of your marketing and promotion budget.

Competitive Analysis

Delve a little further into the catering market in your area. Identify the competition one by one and answer the following questions for each one:

  • What kind of catering do they specialize in? Do you see any open niches in the market?

  • How large are they?

  • What are their sales strategies and techniques? How successful are they?

Conclude this section with a few paragraphs on how you will make your business stand out from the competition.

Market Plan

You've analyzed the overall catering market and your direct competitors. Now it's time to explain exactly how your business will fit into the market and deal with other caterers.

Start the marketing plan by defining your strategy. Do you want to conquer your local catering market and become the number one caterer within five years or would you rather find a profitable niche within the local market?

Next, specify your objective. The marketing objective is to generate Year 1's sales goals in your sales plan and to create awareness and generate sales. Specify how many people you're going to contact to let them know about your business and how much of the overall market you expect to capture. For example, if the local catering market is valued at $50 million a year and you want to grab a 1 percent share of the market within five years, that means you'll have to generate $500,000 in sales by Year 5.

Aiming to grab 1 percent of the market may seem easy, but in reality it's not. Catering is a very competitive business, and your competitors aren't going to lose sales to a newcomer easily. From your five-year sales forecast, you'll be able to judge whether a 1 percent market share is attainable or whether it will require explosive growth.


Outsiders will want to know your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). A SWOT analysis will identify your business's advantages and disadvantages and your ability to seize openings in the market and deal with threats. In Chapter 12, you'll do a SWOT analysis. Refine your analysis and include it in your business plan.

You'll be introducing the world, or at least your area, to a new brand. Describe your brand's personality in a paragraph or two, so that readers can get an idea about what your brand will stand for and what familiar brands it will resemble. Include a few photos of your signature dishes and buffet setups, as well as some sample menus, brochures, and business cards to complete the section.

Sales and Promotions Strategies

Map out your plan to catch customers' attention and explain the costs and time commitment involved in your chosen tactics. You can cold call accounts, use past clients or personal contacts, and conduct mailings. You will need materials to send or give prospective clients, and you need to construct a one-minute sales pitch. Advertising is costly, so be creative with your marketing tactics in order to conserve funds.


Building a new business and a brand takes time and effort. At the beginning, unless you have a prearranged agreement with former clients or contracts with new clients, you probably won't have a catering job every week. As you gain momentum, you should have a couple of jobs on the weekends and a job or two during the week.

Once potential clients know who you are, you need to convince them to pick you to cater their event. Invite them to a tasting party and offer discounts or a gift certificate to anyone who refers a new client to you.

Describe how you will come up with new menus and dishes and how you will introduce new services to your clients. Take into account the unique aspects of your particular market.

Strategic Relationships

Investors and lenders will want to know if you have a competitive advantage in the industry. You can gain a competitive advantage by being the first in your area to offer a certain type of catering, one that addresses a demand that none of the other local caterers focus on. You can also gain a competitive advantage from your experience and your relationships with other business leaders.

If you ran the catering operations for the best caterer in town and are now striking out on your own, you may have an edge over someone who doesn't have that experience. If you have strategic relationships or partnerships with event planners, corporate meeting planners, or are closely allied with a company that markets to engaged couples, that would give you an edge when getting new clients. Acknowledge your strengths and play to them.

Your Marketing Tactics Calendar

The marketing plan should be written by month, and you should have several complementary efforts or tactics happening at once. Spend most of your marketing money in the months leading up to your busy season.


If you plan to specialize in graduation party catering, make sure you promote your services to parents by March, since they'll be planning their child's graduation party for May or June. Make sure you're not too early, either. Marketing your Thanksgiving menus to private homes in August, for example, is too early. Better wait until the beginning of October to start marketing your catering items for Thanksgiving dinner.

In order to reach your target, plan on using at least a couple of different avenues. For example, to reach parents of graduating seniors, reach out to local schools and see if you can participate in school fairs or could distribute your chocolate chip cookies along with a printed menu to the senior class. Also try to reach the parents by direct mail, e-mail, or by using your professional contacts. Local florists, photographers, party disc jockeys, and chair rental companies are frequently asked to provide services for graduation parties, and they all make good leads.

Your sales, promotion, public relations, and guerrilla marketing tactics should be planned out and marked on your calendar. Make sure your efforts complement each other and you have time to execute them.

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