You decide to throw a dinner party. You want it to be the type of dinner party that people remember fondly and talk about for years. Imagine that you will serve an amazing meal and that your guests will rave about the delicious food, the great atmosphere, and the wonderful conversation. Now imagine throwing it all together without a plan. You won’t plan the menu. You won’t plan the decorations. You won’t even plan the guest list.

Instead, you just go to the grocery store and pick up whatever is on sale that day, hoping that you can somehow throw it all together and make it work. You end up with a box of Fruit Loops, three lbs. of chicken fryers, 10 boxes of mac and cheese, Velveeta, and two litres of Hawaiian Punch.

For the guest list, you figure you can just tell one or two people and count on them inviting everyone they know – you’re sure a crowd of the most fun, excellent conversationalist dinner-party-guest-types will come.

Given this scenario, I want you to imagine the type of dinner party it will be now. Do you think you’ll be serving a delicious meal? Do you think you’ll have the best guests – and lots of them? Or do you think your menu will consist of some crazy meal made of Fruit Loops and Velveeta with a few mismatched guests, including the boisterous lady from your spin class who ends up drinking too much and insulting everyone in the room and the neighbor down the street who hasn’t showered in weeks, shows up just for the free meal, and then stands in the corner mumbling to himself all night?

Would you really rely on one or two people to get a bunch of the most fun, outgoing, and best dinner party guests to your house? Would you plan a meal without a menu, a recipe or two, and a shopping list? Of course you wouldn’t. So then, why would you run a business this way?

Yet, that is exactly what small business owners do every day. They have a vision for a business: offering the very best product or service, standing out from the competition, and serving lots of happy, satisfied customers who talk about their business for years. But instead of mapping out a plan for achieving all of this, they go to work every day, work IN their business, deliver the best they can handle, buy whatever advertising is cheap or on sale, attend events because they think they should – all the while hoping to attract the right kind of customers who appreciate their work and are willing to pay a decent price for their product or service. And then they expect those customers to tell anyone and everyone about them, without teaching them how to refer the right kind of customer. (Think dinner party guests!)

Just like a dinner party, you can’t build a successful business without a plan. You need to outline a strategy: who would make the best customers? Whom do you want to invite to do business with you? What will you offer? How will you package it? How will you deliver it? How will you promote it? Buying whatever is easy and cheap and counting on a few people to spread the word might get you some results, but are they the results you want?

AvatarCarolyn Higgins

Carolyn Higgins is the President and founder of Fortune Marketing Company. Her personal mission is to help small businesses stop wasting money on advertising and promotions that don’t deliver and help business owners implement an effective marketing system that will bring in more customers—consistently. For more information about Fortune Marketing Company visit the Fortune Marketing Company website or blog.