Build Your Business:

Mark Your Calendar

October 20, 2015

There are many things small business owners should do, but don’t because they “don’t have enough time.”

Establishing an annual marketing calendar is one of those things.

Nothing happens without a sale and there’s not much debate about that. But a deeper look reveals that the most common approaches to sales and marketing are the oyster method and the hunter-gatherer method.

In the former, a decorator waits for any work that “floats by.” This approach is driven by the most common sales method: word of mouth. The issue is that you can never predict what is coming, when it is coming and if it will be a good fit for your business.

The hunter-gatherer method is more assertive and proactive. It involves targeting prospects or specific niches and going after them. The hunter-gatherer gets better until he slays “the woolly mammoth,” or the huge client. For the next few weeks — or even months — the shop feasts off the big win.

Most often, a big client starts occupying more of your capacity by demanding more resources, time and effort. Inevitably, the relationship changes and the client goes away. What’s left behind is a huge hole and no momentum to fill it. All of your time, effort and resources were dedicated to keeping that client happy. Many a healthy business has made this mistake, and it’s often fatal.

After such a disaster, one of my clients realized there had to be a better way. We began mapping out a solution thatbecame the framework for a marketing plan and calendar.

The objectives were simple:

1.    Develop a proactive marketing plan that could be controlled.
2.    Smooth out the production peaks and valleys throughout the year.
3.    Minimize the exposure to one or two “big fish.”
4.    Target and control the types of clients and work they wanted to do.
5.    Grow existing client business compared to the previous year.

One way to free up your time from unnecessary, unproductive work is to take control of your activities. The marketing calendar does this and helps protect your existing accounts by staying ahead of them.

The underlying idea is to ensure you do more business with your existing clients by selling to them more often and selling increasingly bigger orders. This is important because finding new customers is seven times more expensive than doing business with current clients.

Remember, a customer is someone who hasn’t developed trust with you, meaning they have little to no loyalty. A client is someone with whom you have a loyal relationship and who trusts your professional guidance.


The starting point for your marketing calendar is your customer list. From your bookkeeping program, print the job-history report — by month — for the last two years. As you go through the list, highlight the big jobs in each month.

On a separate spreadsheet, note each client and job in each month and whether it is a one-time or annual job. List the sales amount and the percent of total sales for that month in the columns after the job name. Focus on the annual events.

Conditional cell formatting will automatically color the cell to alert if a specific value has been exceeded. No client or job should take up more than 20% of a given month. This is ideal, but you may find examples of huge events that take up 50% or more of the revenue for the month. That’s a big red flag. Also, highlight one-time jobs because those sales will have to be replaced for the next year. The worst combination is a big, one-time event.

Once that’s done, sort your customer list from biggest to smallest account based on all the jobs you did for them in a year. Look for the 20% limit again. In all likelihood, you will find one huge account, several big ones and dozens of tiny, once-a-year jobs. The latter takes up a tremendous amount of your time and effort.

Think about it this way: How much free time would you have if each client was 10%-15% of your monthly volume? That means you would only be working with seven to 10 clients a month and far fewer jobs, yet still make the same — or more — profit.

Look for patterns in the sales data. Some clients, such as high school booster clubs, are seasonal in nature. They may have several decent-sized orders during a three- to four-month period. Others are steady for most of the year with an order every month or quarter. An example might be a popular local sports bar that does promotions around the Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four, NBA Finals and World Series. These may be generic images that capitalize on the momentum of the events without any copyright infringement or licensing issues.

With the sale and job information in hand, you can start filling in the calendar. There are many calendar programs you can use. On a Mac, there is iCal. On Windows-based computers, you can use Microsoft Outlook. If you want this to be cloud-based, Google Calendar inside of Google Docs will allow you to log in and look at any activity from phone, tablet or desktop.

Create a specific calendar for your work — perhaps one for screen printing and one for embroidery. You also can create specific calendars by niche, like schools, leagues or interest area (e.g. 10K runs, car shows and so on).  

Put the exact event or promotion date on the calendar for the coming year as the hard event date, then back up one week and make that your job-delivery date. Now, back up 10 weeks from the job-delivery date and tag that day as your initial client contact date. This will be in advance of the time most clients think about ordering their garments.

It is important to be first in this process because you will immediately learn if there have been any changes in who does ordering or how the program will be managed. If there is a committee involved, you can determine the timing and process for making the decision and placing the order.

This simple method will help to preschedule direct marketing activity based on the prior year. You can use this calendar on a weekly basis to plan presentations and other strategies to gain client attention and trust.

Don’t stop with just your work. Use the same process to schedule events and clients you did not win this year. I use a different color for these to signify they are potential prospect events. How many times have you lost an event because a competitor got the jump on you when you were too busy? Wouldn’t it be nice if you got the jump for a change?

There are many ways to expand your marketing calendar. One of the most popular is a monthly newsletter. Use the same process based on when you want to send it out. Back up two to four weeks as your “start-writing” date. It helps to have pre-assigned categories like local events, new products, company updates, upcoming events, industry trends and so on.

Use the calendar to schedule any participation at trade shows, open houses, fairs, festivals, and seasonal or sponsored events. Move forward from the event date to schedule follow-ups for new leads you gathered while participating.

As you become more versed and comfortable with the calendar, you can further expand your presence. Schedule your social media posts, tweets and blog entries. Many platforms will allow you to write an article and break it up into multiple parts. You can preschedule the publication date so your content is automatically delivered without your involvement.

Finally, add any email marketing campaigns to the calendar. This is a two-step process just like the social media and blog posts. You can preschedule content to be published or you can create and publish a broadcast mailing manually. This is ideal for things like the local high school moving from league champions on the road to the state championships.  

Having the visualization of multiple opportunities is key to making the calendar work. The whole idea is about minimizing your time and avoiding crisis management because someone forgot to order. Regular emails keep your name in front of your clients, and many of them genuinely enjoy hearing about your shirts in the community, as well as the charities and nonprofits you support.

Mark A. Coudray has been an active member of the Academy of Screen Printing and Digital Technology since 1989, and has written for Impressions since 1978. For more information or to contact Mark, email him at