9 steps to creating your first digital marketing plan

Find new customers where they live

Small business owners rarely get the time to sit down and create any marketing plan, let alone one focusing on digital marketing. But as we enter a new decade, it would be a mistake to continue ignoring this very effective way to interact with both existing and potential customers.

The problem though is that digital marketing can be seriously confusing if you don’t know what to do or how to do it.

That’s why I’m going to give you a brief step-by-step summary of a basic digital marketing plan. These are steps that any business could follow, regardless of size or industry.

Follow this digital marketing checklist

It makes perfect sense that you should promote your product or service online — after all, people spend a lot of time there. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Identify your goals.
  2. Get to know your audience.
  3. Build a website (and hire a copywriter).
  4. Produce and promote content.
  5. Gather customer reviews.
  6. Get busy on social media.
  7. Start collecting emails.
  8. Keep an eye on your numbers.
  9. Test and tweak.

Let’s dive into our list.

Step 1. Identify your goals

Digital Marketing Man Writing Notes

The first step is to set some goals. What do you want to achieve through your digital marketing efforts? For example, is your goal to:

  • Create a community of existing customers so you can share information and strengthen your brand?
  • Attract prospective customers and generate new sales?

Either way, you should clearly outline your broader digital marketing goals as a vision, while establishing some specific and measurable objectives so you can judge your performance.

Step 2. Get to know your audience

Who is your customer? This sounds like a simple question and one that every entrepreneur should be able to answer, but it’s not that straightforward.

I mean you should really understand who they are, not just whether they’re male or female and aged between 18 and 35. You should know more about them, including:

  • Where they spend time online, so you know where to reach them
  • What problem your product or service solves for them, so you can craft more appealing messaging

The better you know and understand your customers, the more convincing your website, social media posts and email newsletters will be.

Related: What is a target market?

Step 3. Build a website (and hire a copywriter)

No matter what your digital marketing goals are, it just makes sense to have a good business website. There are:

  • Customers who already know you and need information
  • Potential customers who have heard about you and want to learn more
  • Those who don’t know about your business but are actively seeking the service or product you provide

A good website will help you to meet the needs of all those different types of customers.

A few must-haves

It’s important to understand today’s consumer expectations when it comes to their online user experience. Your website needs to:

  • Be easy to use
  • Deliver all the information that your customers and potential customers need
  • Work well on mobile devices
  • Have fast page loading speeds

The one thing I would add is to ensure that you deliver your message accurately and succinctly. For this reason, I would strongly encourage you to hire a professional writer who understands how people browse website content.

Step 4. Produce and promote content

Digital Marketing Man Behind Video Camera
Content includes everything from written blog posts to video.

You’ve likely been told already that you need to blog. But first you need to learn if your target audience is researching your products or services. If they are, there’s an opportunity for your website to present them with the information they need.

For example, if you’re a retailer selling running shoes, you know there are people wanting to learn which running shoe is best for them.

If you produce the most valuable resource on that topic online, then you have the opportunity to engage with them long before they’ve begun looking to see where they will buy their shoes. This puts you in a terrific position to nurture them to the point where they won’t bother looking elsewhere.

But simply writing a great blog article isn’t enough. Just publishing it online doesn’t mean that everyone interested is instantly made aware of its presence. You need to promote it. And guess what? You should promote it online where you’ve identified your audience will be (Step 2).

Step 5. Gather customer reviews

There is one thing for sure in today’s online world and it’s that your customers will at some stage search for reviews of your business or products.

You can either leave it to chance that your existing customers will leave positive reviews for you, or you can be proactive and ask for them. Encouragingly, BrightLocal’s Consumer Review Study found that “76% of consumers who were asked to leave a review went on to do so.”

Step 6. Get busy on social media

This is the digital marketing step that creates the most confusion among small business owners. Which social media platforms should you be on?

Understanding your goals and your audience (Steps 1 and 2) are crucial in getting this right.

You first need to identify the few platforms where your target audience spends most of their time. Then you need to choose those that:

  • Will help you achieve your goals
  • Are best-suited to the type of content that you want to share

For example, Instagram and Pinterest won’t drive a lot of traffic to your website, but both are terrific if you want to share highly visual content such as fashion tips.

Step 7. Start collecting emails

There are two good reasons to start emailing your customers. While it’s not as cool as Instagram or Pinterest, you own your email list and it’s more effective. Let me explain both of those points.

Whether it’s Facebook changing its algorithm or a platform shutting shop without notice, you do not own your social media followers — your community can literally be taken away from you overnight. Email subscribers can unsubscribe of course, but no one is going to rip your email list away from you.

Facebook’s organic reach has also been reported to be a lowly one to five percent in recent years. In other words, if you have 1,000 Facebook followers, your post will reach an average of just 10 people!

However, with email you can expect an open rate anywhere from 20 to 40%.

If you have 1,000 people on your email list, 200 to 400 people will open each message.

It’s important to build and nurture your email list. Come up with a reason for your audience to hand over their email addresses to you. Then present that value to them on your website and across social media.

Editor’s note: Start emailing customers in minutes with this complete email marketing toolkit.

Step 8. Keep an eye on your numbers

Digital Marketing Woman Working at Laptop
The great thing about online promotion is that it can be tracked and measured.

One of the greatest advantages of digital marketing is its ability to provide you with useful information. For example:

  • How people find and behave on your website
  • The characteristics of your Facebook followers and how they engage with your content

These insights are readily available for you to analyse, you just need to get in and access the data on a regular basis.

Step 9. Test and tweak

You can use this information to test different digital marketing tactics and measure them to find those that are most effective. Refine and make improvements wherever you can, based on your digital marketing performance.

The bottom line

The key to implementing a digital marketing plan for your small business is having a strategic direction to guide you. Too often we’re blinded by the shiny lights of digital marketing, but without the right direction, those tactics will do nothing more than waste your time and money.

Make sure that you clearly state your digital marketing goals at the outset. Then learn as much as you can about your audience so you can deliver what they’re looking for. And finally, constantly monitor your digital marketing performance and look for ways to improve.