Every time I return to the house I grew up in, I look out to our wooded backyard and smile as I am reminded of the power of imagination. What is now just a small wooded forrest was once home to castles, forts, magical lands and the like.

Imagination is a beautiful thing. When it comes time to create an effective inbound marketing strategy, imagination needs to be met with a fair amount of rationality.

With so many marketing options available to get the word out about one’s business, how do you decide which to choose? How much time do you spend doing each? What should you outsource? What’s worth investing in immediately? What should be invested in at a later date? effective inbound marketing strategy

These are all questions you should ask yourself before implementing an effective inbound marketing strategy. For each business the road map is going to look a little different.

I suggest starting with inbound marketing in the first place because it has proven to deliver reliable and measurable results at a lower cost than other traditional outbound marketing tactics. In fact, 41% of marketers say inbound marketing produced measurable ROI in 2013according to HubSpot.

When setting up any marketing strategy, the following steps are recommended:

1. Determine your objectives. Are you trying to raise awareness? Are you trying to do an intense launch of a product getting a set amount of the products sold? Are you trying to drive traffic to your website?

2. Select potential tactics. Once your objectives are determined, determine any and all marketing tactics that will help you achieve your objectives. While you may end up only selecting a few it helps to visualize all the options available first.  Here are some examples I see many smaller businesses implement for the launch of their marketing campaign:

Tip: if you are lost at what tactics could help you meet your objectives, it may be wise to start the outsourcing here and hire a marketing professional to help you out.

3. Evaluate cost and time. Next to each tactic, realistically estimate costs available for each. Also, estimate how much time you are willing to invest in each if you are confident you can handle said marketing tactic.  This is an important step.  In my experience, for example, I have found that most people don’t realistically understand how much time social media alone takes! (In 2012, 59% of marketers were using social media for 6 hours or more each week.)

Do you realistically have 6 hours a week to do social media while running a business?

Another good tip is to take some time trying to get started on one or more of these tasks. While that may seem like a waste of time at the start, it may end up saving your hours, and your marketing strategy, in the long run. Sit down and write a few blog posts.  First off, can you write a concrete post with valuable information? How long did that take you?

4. Decide what and where to outsource. After evaluating what you are capable of doing in house, you need to determine what you are going to outsource.  When deciding what to do in house verses what you should outsource, think of what you can do best and/or what only you can do.

For example: Maybe you want to write your company blog in house. A blog can be a personal thing to a company, one that reflects the lifestyle and the brand of that company. This may be something you want to keep coming from the company founder(s). If you handle the blogging and then you outsource the social media, chances are the person handling your social media can read the blog posts and understand more about your business (which will ultimately help them in their marketing efforts.) Furthermore, it will give them material to share on social.

5. Commit to your tasks. Whatever you determine you will do, you need to commit to doing it. Seems obvious right? You should commit an allocated amount of time a day to it. Whatever you decide to do, remember marketing is a job.  Take your tasks seriously. Include it into your daily routine.

For any small business just starting out, creating an effective inbound marketing strategy may seem like an overwhelming task at first. By following these steps it’s breaking down that daunting task, taking it step-by-step and getting organized.