A well-planned, proactive marketing plan is critical to the success and growth of your business. But it’s also one of the first things to fall off your plate when the thousand other priorities hounding you come calling.

But with some up-front planning, plus the right tools & resources, there’s no reason you can’t put more of your marketing on auto-pilot, taking far less of your time with better results. Here are ten specific best practices to get you there.


1. Have a plan

Basic, right? And yet, few small businesses have a proactivemarketing plandeveloped up front. What does success look like for your business this year? How are you going to get there? Having a good marketing plan in place is the single-most important thing you can do to ensure more of your marketing is on target, on pace and working on your behalf.Here are several resourcesto help get you started.


2. Define your sales process

How do your customers buy? Where, how, and for what reason? What stages do they go through before making a decision? Map this out up front as well, and you’ll more easily be able to identify the key marketing levers required to significantly increase conversion rate through your sales process, and do it in a fraction of the time.Here’s a templateyou can start with todefine the lead and sales processstages your customers go through.


3. Know how to speak to each customer

What do they need to hear? What are they dealing with right now that you can address and solve for them? Start by identifying and enumerating their key priorities, pain points and drivers. They figure out how to translate that into your own product and service messages.Here’s a templatethat can help you organize this.


4. Plan content and campaigns in advance

Now that you have the foundation for your marketing plan, take the time to build a schedule of what’s going to happen when. Plan the content you’ll write on your blog in advance, map out all of the events you’ll participate in so you’re thinking about and working on them in advance. Think about the people across your organization that can help you execute if you had more time. Here (again!) is a template of agood editorial calendarthat can help you do this.


5. HootSuite to manage the social Web in one place

The entire social Web can be managed in one place,HootSuite. Sort yourTwitterfollowers based on who’s a customer, a partner, a supplier and so forth. Set up alerts so you can see anytime someone in your market asks for or mentions a product or service you can provide. With just10-15 minutes a day, you can master the social Web and use HootSuite to prioritize conversations and opportunities for follow-up for you.


6. Timely.is to automate your content distribution

Wonder how some people keep an active and growing social presence? Most of them set it up well in advance. UseTimely.istopre-populate contentto be distributed in Twitter and Facebook. Then use HootSuite to monitor responses. An active social presence with just minutes a day, and someone else pressing the ?send? button.


7. eLance to get the little things done

Need a list built? Need to convert a PDF into an Excel spreadsheet? Need to find out anyone online who has mentioned a product or service you offer?eLanceis a fast, easy and inexpensive way to leverage an army of virtual assistants to do administrative or data-entry tasks for you. Pennies on the dollar, and worth every bit of it.


8. Loopfuse to manage early-stage sales opportunities

The majority of your sales prospects will be the right people but not yet interested in buying. You need a system that keeps in touch with them for you, while you’re off working with the ready-to-buy prospects.Loopfusedoes that, for free for up to 1,000 prospective customers.


9. MediaPiston to ghost-write your content

So you’ve identified content you want to write, but you don’t have the time (or the skills) to write it yourself. Post that project onMediaPiston, and you’ll have a professionally written and edited article in about 48 hours. A 600-word article costs about $28 bucks.


10. Trada to manage your search marketing

If you don’t feel like a search marketing expert but want to take advantage of potential buyers on Google, letTradado the work for you. It’s completely outsourced search marketing management for a great price.


11. TimeSvr as your virtual assistant

An unlimited number of 15-minute-or-less tasks for a low, flat monthly price. They can do virtually anything manage your newsletter list, your contact list, look up someone’s contact information, invite someone to a meeting, make dinner reservations. They’re an email away.


12. Dial2Do to capture ideas on the go

PutDial2Doon your speedial, and for about $3 bucks a month you can leave yourself a message, have it translated to text, and sent to your email to do later. Great for taking notes and to-do?s while traveling, in the car, or anywhere you don’t have a pen and paper.

Matt Heinz is president of?Heinz Marketing, a Seattle-based sales & marketing firm. You can connect with Matt via?email,?Twitter,?LinkedIn or his?blog.