So, you’ve finished 2008 with great success. 2009 is almost here, have you completed your marketing forecast yet?

It may sound like an ominous exercise and for large businesses, it usually is. But even for small businesses, creating a market forecast which aligns with your overall sales and business goals is a necessary part of the planning process. It ensures that you’ll stay on track, noting the tactical steps you’ll need to implement to get there.

In most situations, the best way to create a market forecast estimate is to find an expert forecast, estimate from past data, find parallel data or apply a model. Yet, we know that these forecasts can be expensive and may not truly apply to the small business industry you’re in.

To help guide you, we’ve compiled some key sources that will help you create your marketing forecast, based on your own individual industry drivers and the exact nature of your business.

Industry Overview Reports & Forecasts You can look for these forecasts in published news reports, on the Internet, in library reference materials, and in trade association publications. Industry magazines usually have the latest detailed forecasted statistics and research on customer trends and market penetration. Business Week and the Economist have a weekly column on business outlooks, and quarterly surveys of industry outlooks.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) If you’re a services provider, this might be the key resource for you. The BLS regularly publishes job outlooks that include forecasts of the numbers of certain kinds of jobs into the future. If your marketing plan needed to project growth in the number of accountants or heavy machinery operators, you could find that at the BLS site. You could also find a projection showing projected growth of computer industry jobs, or growth in specific employee categories.

Past Data Estimates
While the past doesn’t always predict the future, it can indicate trends. Sometimes you can find past data on a market and use that to project into the future. The principle of using past data as a guideline for the future is one of the fundamentals of forecasting. Using past data will give you a good starting point and a sense of reality for your forecast.

Educated Guessing You should apply a level of educated guessing to your data-driven plan, based on your own and others expertise. Association data (or even your local Chamber of Commerce) could give you expert opinions on past and future trends and growth rates. In the qualitative part of your plan, you could explain how these trends are affecting the level of sales you predict or the marketing tactics you plan to use to grow your customer base.

For extra inspiration, we’ve also included a examples of how a few successful entrepreneurs created clear, actionable plans on where they wanted to go. The examples are varied in terms of strategy and risk threshold, but they’re comprehensive all the same. Check out http://www.inc.com/magazine/20080101/new-years-resolutions.html.

While no one has a crystal ball, there are always ways to glean enough insight to get you going down your path of profitable success.

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