When I ask entrepreneurs and small business owners, it is not unusual for not having any marketing plan. I once read that Sir Richard Branson never had any marketing plan when he started the 1st Virgin business many years ago. In fact in one study of entrepreneurship (I couldn't recall the name of the study) was that as much as 50% of entrepreneurs and business owners don't have a business plan and marketing plan when they first started the business.
Gathering information: this stage is based on the concept of marketing audit. After performing the audit of the macro_environment by analyzing the STEP factors (social, technologic, economic and politic), we should turn the focus upon the immediate extern environment (the micro_environment) and analyze the competitive environment, the costs and the market. Finally, we will conclude with the SWOT analysis, by this way we will have a general view upon the internal environment compared to the external one. The SWOT analysis combine the two perspectives, from the inside and from the outside, because the Strengths and the Weaknesses are internal issues of an organization, while the Opportunities and Threads come from the outside.