Marketing planning is often conflated with growth planning, though they are two different processes aimed at solving different problems. The former focuses entirely on traditional marketing activities: that is, how you intend to reach audiences and promote your product or service. The latter focuses on expansion—of audiences, products, or both—and assumes a more whole-business approach. Yet there are virtually no aspects of a business in the 21st century that marketing doesn’t touch. Your brand is a function of your core identity; your products and services are a response to an understanding of your audience’s needs and values. Soup to nuts, business growth planning IS marketing, and the best marketing agencies understand this and can help you develop and execute a winning growth strategy.

Why plan for growth?

We’ve written elsewhere about the stages of organizational growth, and how a business can remain in survival mode indefinitely. Small business owners who are able to develop a sustainable cash flow find it comfortable or even advantageous to remain in that stage. And more power to them, especially if they can remain in that sweet balance of size profitability.

But there are plenty of reasons that business owners seek to undertake growth planning. Note that growing and planning for growth are two different things. You can’t control all aspects of growth. And growth seldom just happens. You have to plan for it.

So why do some business owners want to grow?

  • Treading water can be tiring, boring, or both. It can also be unsustainable even with positive cash flow since business owners are human and their energy is a finite resource
  • The business has hit a growth plateau without achieving sustainable positive cash flow
    Growth is part of the mission statement
  • The company is bringing new products or services to market, per the initial business plan, or is creating or buying new organizational divisions
  • The founder wants or needs to disengage from day-to-day operations, and needs to establish a brand identity and/or sales strategy that is independent of their personality and relationships

There are other reasons, but these are a few of the biggies. Each situation requires careful planning.

Of course, growth happens with or without planning. Sometimes business owners have to hustle to control costs or manage growth after the fact. Better late than never: growth without adequate planning can quickly sink a business.

What does business growth planning consist of?

Growth planning can be a messy process since it involves thoughtful analysis of your operations, your brand identity, your vision and goals, and the ever-shifting needs and values of your customers. There are a lot of moving parts, and making sense of them requires experience, knowledge, and time.


The beginning stage of any business growth planning is essentially a description of your business. What is your value proposition? What are your mission, vision, purpose, and values? Who is on your team?

Research and analysis

Who are your customers? Who are your competitors? Got time for a SWOT analysis? What are your finances like? The better you understand your business—not how it was originally conceived, but how it functions now—the stronger your growth strategy will be.

Survey of products and services

What are your products and services? What problems do they solve? Whose problems do they solve? How well do they solve them? Are there other people whose problems would be solved by your product or service? Can people get your product or service easily enough?

What is a business growth strategy?

Your growth strategy will be the outcome of your planning. Good news: as messy as the planning stage can be, your ultimate strategy will likely take on just one or two of several possible flavors. There are essentially four main business growth strategies, and they are functions of markets and products (and from here on we’ll just say “product” to refer to products and/or services).

Business growth planning also includes taking a look at capital and staffing needs, but these are factored into your final growth plan and aren’t part of the basic growth strategy.

Market penetration: existing product, existing market

With market penetration, the strategy is to increase your market share within an existing market. You’re not offering new products. You can do this with tactics like direct marketing, social media marketing, or lowering prices.

Market development: existing product, new market

In market development, you’re bringing your product to a new, previous untapped (or even unidentified) audience. This can mean a demographic change (new regions or new customer types), or it can mean a new distribution channel, such as an online store or mobile van.

Product development: new product, existing market

Sometimes business growth planning reveals the need for new and/or improved products. Either your product isn’t meeting the needs of your customers as well as it could be, or your customers’ needs and values have evolved to necessitate the development of new products. Your market remains the same; you’ll just need a go-to-market strategy.

Diversification: new product, new market

This is the trickiest strategy of the bunch, and the most prone to failure. If your planning has uncovered both a need for new products and a need to reach new markets, then a lot of careful calibration is required. Even with planning, diversification efforts are risky. Potential rewards are high, however, if you manage to create a product that people didn’t know they needed until it was presented to them.

A good growth strategy is aligned with both your core identity—your values, purpose, and vision—and the needs and values of your customers. This strategic alignment will ensure the effectiveness of any campaigns or initiatives you undertake in the name of your growth strategy.

How to be sure: partnering with an agency

The problem is, business owners who are looking for a growth strategy are either too busy to do the planning that ensures that the strategy is sound, or they undertake the planning without the benefit of experience or hindsight.

This is where it helps to partner with an agency that does growth planning.

But what do you look for? What is that agency called? If you google “growth planning agency” you probably won’t find much. Especially not if you’re looking for someone in your area, whom you can meet face-to-face.

That’s where your local marketing agency can help.

As we’ve established, growth planning IS marketing. And the better marketing agencies understand this and can offer a range of services beyond the traditional graphic design, advertising, and branding.

Here are some questions you can ask your local marketing agency to suss out if they’ll be able to help you:

  • What is your experience with growth planning?
  • What are your core strengths as an agency?
  • Can you advise on different stages of business growth?
  • What is your approach to crafting a go-to-market strategy?
  • Do you look at finances and staffing when writing strategic marketing plans?

If you have used a marketing agency to write a business growth plan, we’d love to hear about your experience! Send us a note at

If you’re a business owner looking for a marketing agency to help you with business growth planning, we’d be happy to chat with you about your needs. And if you’re in Tacoma or the South Puget Sound region, we’d love to meet up with you in person!

About us

Sands Costner is a marketing and advertising agency that specializes in preparing small businesses for—and guiding them through—stages of major growth. We exist to help companies meet their objectives year after year through strategic planning and effective branding.

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