A realistic budget is an essential component of any marketing plan.

“You need to do marketing in order to grow your book and stay relevant,” says Mark Wardell, president of Wardell Professional Business Development Inc. in Vancouver.

“Marketing isn’t just about new business,” Wardell adds. “Marketing is about getting more business from your existing customers as well.”

Follow this expert advice to make sure your marketing plan ends up in the black:

> Find the right number
Before you can create a budget, you need to determine the amount of money you have to spend.

Typically, 5% to 10% of your overall budget is a good starting point in locating a target for your marketing budget, says Sandra Bekhor, president of Bekhor Management in Toronto. But it’s also important to look beyond percentages and consider your specific needs and what you hope to accomplish.

Take a close look at your goals, says Bekhor. If you are just starting out and want to market aggressively, it might be advisable for you to devote up to 50% of your budget to marketing.

> Focus on weaker areas
Decide how to divide the funds based on areas in your practice that need support.

Bekhor suggests using one of two methods to allocate funds in your marketing budget. The first is by audience. If you serve three different niche groups, and two are well established, then you can focus more time and money on the third segment.

The second way to allocate funds is by activity, Bekhor says. Focusing on activities that take place throughout the year can help keep your marketing consistent.

Look at your current marketing initiatives, whether it’s direct mail or a website, to see what needs to be developed or improved.

> Create a spreadsheet
Keep your marketing plan and budget on track by writing out all the details.

Wardell recommends creating a spreadsheet to track your marketing initiatives and the funds allocated to each.

Start out with a spreadsheet with all the marketing initiatives listed in a column down the left side, and the dates across the top. Next, write out the funds allocated to each initiative.

Then, for each activity, you can create a “mini budget.”

> Be flexible, but organized
Staying focused with a marketing plan doesn’t mean you can’t make changes when necessary.

“Planning at the beginning of the year allows you to make logical changes as you go forward with your marketing strategy,” says Wardell. If things aren’t working, you can remove activities and re-allocate funds to areas of your plan that are successful.

Make sure you don’t give up too quickly, warns Wardell. Marketing initiatives often take several months to show results.

>Stick with your plan
Even during leaner years, you should continue to market your practice.

Before you throw out your marketing plan during a tough year, focus on the opportunity instead of the gloom and doom, says Bekhor.

With fewer people in the business, there’s more opportunity for your initiatives, such as networking or direct mail, to stand out.