Step-by-step online marketing plan: a clear and simple guide for small businesses

Jessica Baldwin / Published December 14, 2023

Online marketing can be overwhelming. Advice is abundant on the internet regarding digital marketing strategies for small business owners, but it's often too complicated or too generic to be helpful. You're left feeling like you don't quite know what steps you should actually take to grow your business online.

Successful digital marketing requires a thoughtful combination of efforts to move your ideal customer from discovering your brand to wanting to buy from you. Identifying and implementing the right mix of tactics can be challenging.

So, we decided to simplify things. This article outlines a proven digital marketing campaign you can tailor to your needs. It's suitable for virtually any type of small business.

It focuses on creating quality website content, email marketing, online advertising, and creating incentives to encourage conversions. This guide is a digital marketing plan template you can follow.

It's a marketing roadmap designed to cut through the complexity and provide actionable steps to generate leads and sales online and advance your business goals.

Online marketing infrastructure

You will need a few digital marketing tools to carry out this strategy.

  1. A website your website is your brand's "home" on the internet. You'll include compelling information about your products and services and valuable resources for your target audience.
  2. Email marketing software you'll need an email platform to send messages to those who opt-in for a resource or updates. Mailchimp, ConvertKit, Constant Contact, and ActiveCampaign are popular choices.
  3. Ad account(s) – this strategy will require online advertising. You'll need to set up an ad account on the platform your target audience engages on – Facebook and Instagram (Meta), LinkedIn, Pinterest, TikTok, etc. Choose one platform to start with. 

7 Step online marketing plan

Follow these steps to engage with your target audience and generate leads and sales.

Step 1: Set your foundation

The first step in any successful online marketing plan is to set your foundation. You need to understand your target audience, define how your product or service helps them, the primary action you want them to take, and ensure that your website meets the needs of your potential customers.

Define your ideal customer

Who benefits from your business? Who would find your products and services valuable? An essential early step is to create a detailed persona of your ideal customer. This persona serves as a comprehensive guide, helping you understand your target market's specific needs, desires, and interests. It's vital in enabling you to connect effectively with your audience and formulate a targeted strategy. By having a well-defined customer persona, you can tailor your communication and select the most appropriate digital channels, enhancing the efficiency and impact of your marketing efforts.

Write your key benefits

Consider what differentiates your product or service and how it helps your ideal customer. What value does it bring? How will it simplify their life?

Your key benefits are the reasons customers should choose your business over others. They should be clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Include the key benefits of your products and services throughout your website, advertising, and marketing messages.

Decide on a primary call to action

Your primary call to action is the specific action you want your customers to take. It might involve scheduling a consultation, asking for a quote, subscribing to your podcast, making a purchase, and so on.

Every marketing strategy you use should guide your ideal customer toward making this intended move.

Create a professional website

Your website is the central hub for all your online marketing efforts and represents your business to potential customers. It should be professional, easy to navigate, and optimized for mobile devices.

Your website should showcase the key benefits that your products and services provide to potential customers.

A professional website is the foundation on which your other digital marketing tactics will be built.

Step 2: Develop core content

Once you've set your foundation, it's time to create the content that will be the cornerstone of your online marketing strategy. This content will be used as the basis for other activities, such as your newsletter issues and social media marketing.

Craft this core content with a focus on assisting your ideal customer. Begin by brainstorming eight to twelve article ideas that cater to their needs and concerns.

Here are a few ways to generate ideas for your blog posts:

  1. Explore frequently asked questions – Delve into the questions commonly asked about your business or industry. This can provide valuable insight into what your audience is seeking.
  2. Leverage Use this tool to discover popular search queries and phrases related to your niche, offering a window into the interests and concerns of your target market.
  3. Examine online discussions – Platforms like Quora and Reddit can be insightful resources. Look at discussions and questions related to your industry to gauge the current topics of interest and concern.
  4. Competitor analysis – Review what your competitors are publishing. You'll get a sense of what resonates with your audience and observe areas they may have overlooked, which you can capitalize on.

These methods will not only guide you in generating relevant content ideas but also ensure that your articles are closely aligned with your target audience's interests and needs, enhancing your content strategy's effectiveness.

Then, write the articles and assemble them in a resources section on your website.

For example, a plant nursery could create articles about plants native to their locale. They could help their website visitors learn about the types of plants that will do well in their local climate.

Developing core content, a collection of articles, will give your visitors quality information to consume, positioning your brand as an authority in your niche. Including keywords relevant to your industry within the articles can also improve your website's search engine optimization. Utilize the article content to develop short-form content for your social media posts. Leveraging your core content in this way maximizes your content's reach and ensures a consistent and cohesive brand message across various digital marketing channels.

Step 3: Create a lead magnet

lead magnet is something you provide to your audience for free in exchange for their contact information. A lead magnet can be an info product like a special report, helpful guide, workbook, exclusive video, podcast episode, free course, and more. It may also be a free product trial, a discount offer, or a free item or service.

The goal of a lead magnet is to get prospective customers into your email list. Once you have someone's contact information, getting your brand in front of them becomes more cost-effective and efficient.

When coming up with the idea for your lead magnet, keep in mind that successful lead magnets are:

  1. Valuable to your target audience
  2. Relevant to the products and services your business provides
  3. Aligned with your business objectives

Once you have an idea for your lead magnet, create it in a suitable format. You can use tools like Canva to create PDFs for reports, workbooks, e-books, etc. Discounts or special offers can be delivered via email.

After you've created the lead magnet, configure a sign-up form for people to complete to receive the freebie. Deliver the resource to subscribers in the auto-responder (the email they receive after they hit the "submit" button).

Include the sign-up form throughout your website and create a dedicated landing page. Add a sign-up form for the lead magnet to all of your article pages. 

Step 4: Compose an email sequence

You can create your email sequence now that you have a lead magnet and blog content. In a sequence, each subscriber will receive the emails in the same predetermined order regardless of the date they subscribe.

When you show up consistently in subscribers' inboxes with helpful information, you increase engagement and the likelihood that they'll want to purchase from you.

Here's where you can leverage your core content: the blog posts you created in Step 2.

Create an email message corresponding to each blog post within your email marketing software.

Within each email message, we recommend writing a short introduction that piques your reader's interest and then linking to the blog article so they can dive into the whole topic. You can keep the newsletter simple and effective while leveraging your blog content to stay engaged with subscribers.

Set the emails to deliver at a predetermined interval. We'd recommend one every seven days. Your subscriber will enter their email to get your lead magnet on day one. They'd receive the following email in the sequence seven days later.

As readers continue to open and read the emails and then follow through to the blog posts, their familiarity and engagement with your brand grows. As their trust builds, the likelihood that they'll want to buy from you builds.

Step 5: Advertising

Now that you have a quality website, core content, a lead magnet, and a functioning email sequence, it's time to get the right people into your email list.

Choose the ad platform on the online marketing channel that aligns with your target audience. LinkedIn, TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, X, Snapchat, Reddit, and other online platforms offer self-serve advertising options. Create your advertiser account, then install any necessary pixels from the ad account on your website.

Create ads for your lead magnet. Test different designs and text to determine what works best. Many platforms offer "lead ads," allowing people to subscribe to receive your resource without leaving their platform. These can often be more effective than sending people to your website to subscribe, but you should test both options.

While organic growth is valuable, actively promoting your lead magnet through ads accelerates the process. Advertising allows you to target specific demographics and interests, ensuring that your content reaches those most likely to engage with it.

Optional: Retargeting

Once your email list has reached a thousand or more subscribers, you unlock a powerful capability – creating a custom audience. Social media platforms such as Facebook, TikTok, and LinkedIn allow you to include these emails in a targeted audience. This means you can display ads directly to individuals the platforms can match with your email list.

These ads can be directly about the products and services you provide.

Displaying ads across the internet to individuals on your list enhances your digital presence among your audience. It fosters deeper engagement with your brand, bolsters top-of-mind awareness, and educates them about your business's benefits.

Step 6: Craft an offer and incentive

After expanding your email list and consistently engaging your audience with quality content over time, you can expect to naturally receive inquiries and conversions from individuals who have come to value and appreciate your content.

Providing incentives is crucial to encourage conversions because it motivates people to take the desired action, whether making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, or engaging in any other desired behavior. Incentives address the fundamental principle of reciprocity, where individuals are more likely to respond positively when they receive something in return.

Discounts and coupons, free trials, samples, extras, exclusive or early access, or limited-time or limited-quantity offers are various ways to add incentives to your offer.

Online merchants often provide a one-time discount on first purchases for new customers.

An effective strategy for service-based businesses could be offering a free initial consultation or a detailed guide related to their services for a limited time. This approach incentivizes potential clients, establishes trust, and showcases expertise.

Limited, exclusive access to premium content, webinars, or educational materials can be a powerful incentive for content creators or educators. This strategy nurtures a sense of exclusivity and value among your audience.

Create a landing page for your offer

Assembling an effective offer landing page is essential for converting visitors into customers. Here's a streamlined approach:

  1. Clarify your offer and incentive: Clearly outline your product or service and highlight the incentive. Whether it's a discount, a free trial, or exclusive content, make it prominent and attractive.
  2. Design for impact and clarity: Use a visually appealing design with high-quality images and a color scheme that reflects your brand. Ensure the layout is intuitive and critical information is easily accessible.
  3. Compelling copy: Write text directly addressing your audience's needs and emotions. Focus on the benefits of your offer and what sets it apart.
  4. Include social proof: Add testimonials or reviews to build credibility and trust in your offer.
  5. Detail what's included: Be transparent about what the offer entails and any terms or conditions. Clear communication helps manage expectations.
  6. Strong call to action (CTA): Make your CTA clear and action-oriented. Place it prominently on the page to grab attention and encourage a response.
  7. Optimize for conversion: Simplify the conversion process as much as possible. An easy-to-use form and a straightforward path to completion can enhance user experience and boost conversions.

Remember, the goal of your landing page is to make a solid first impression and guide visitors toward taking action.

Step 7: Promote the offer to your email list

Once your offer landing page is ready, the next step is to promote your offer to your audience. Having consistently delivered valuable content and nurtured a trusting, engaged relationship with your audience, you are well-positioned to generate leads and sales effectively.

Create a series of emails to promote the offer to your email list. Build anticipation, provide valuable information, and guide your subscribers towards converting on the offer. Here's how to structure the series:

  1. Teaser email: Spark curiosity about the upcoming offer a few days before launch.
  2. Announcement email: Introduce the offer with its benefits and a clear call to action, sent on the day it goes live.
  3. Value-Add email: Share testimonials or case studies highlighting the offer's value, sent 1-2 days after the announcement.
  4. Urgency email: Create a sense of urgency by reminding subscribers of the limited availability sent midway through the campaign.
  5. Last chance email: A final push emphasizing the offer's imminent end, sent 24-48 hours before it expires.

All of the above emails should link to the offer landing page.

Target your email list with ads

Running targeted ads on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn to your custom audience, comprised of the contacts on your email list, can significantly amplify the reach and impact of your promotional efforts. When combined with your offer email sequence, this strategy can improve results with reinforced messaging across multiple touchpoints.

  1. Custom audience creation: Utilize your email list to create a custom audience on the chosen platform. This allows you to target ads directly to individuals who are already familiar with your brand and have shown interest.
  2. Ad design and messaging: Align your ad's design and messaging with the content of your email series. Consistency in visuals, tone, and message reinforces recognition and trust.
  3. Ad timing and frequency: Coordinate the timing of your ads with your email sequence. This ensures that your audience receives a coherent and consistent message, increasing the likelihood of engagement.
  4. Variety in ad formats: Use a mix of ad formats (like carousel ads, video ads, or story ads) to keep your audience engaged and cater to different content preferences.

Why Combining Email with Ads Improves Results

  • Reinforced Messaging: Repeated exposure to the same message across different channels increases brand recall and strengthens decision-making.
  • Increased Touchpoints: Combining email and social media ads increases the number of touchpoints with your audience, creating more opportunities for engagement and conversion.
  • Higher Conversion Rates: People who receive both email and ad communications are more likely to convert as they receive consistent reminders and reinforcements of the value of your offer.
  • Data-Driven Insights: Running ads alongside email campaigns provides valuable data on customer preferences and behaviors, enabling more precise targeting and personalization.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Targeting your existing email list can be more cost-effective than broad targeting, as these individuals are already warm leads.

You create a cohesive and comprehensive promotional campaign by strategically aligning your email marketing efforts with targeted ads. This integrated approach not only extends your reach but also significantly enhances the effectiveness of your overall marketing strategy, leading to better results in promoting your offer.


  1. Set your foundation – Understand your target customer, define your unique selling points, and ensure your website is optimized to meet customer needs.
  2. Develop core content – Create valuable, SEO-friendly content on your website that addresses the needs and concerns of your target audience.
  3. Create a lead magnet – Offer something valuable for free in exchange for email sign-ups, like a guide, discount, or exclusive content, to build your email list.
  4. Compose an email sequence – Use a series of emails to nurture leads by providing valuable information, building trust, and guiding subscribers toward your primary call to action.
  5. Engage in targeted advertising – Set up ad accounts on platforms where your audience is most active (like Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn) and use ads to promote your lead magnet.
  6. Craft an offer and incentive – Develop attractive offers with incentives like discounts, free trials, or exclusive access to encourage conversions. Design a landing page that clearly outlines your offer and includes a strong call to action, compelling copy, and social proof.
  7. Promote the offer via email and ads – Use a series of emails to introduce and promote your offer, and run targeted ads to your email list to reinforce your message. 

The journey to meet your marketing goals requires a well-structured digital marketing plan. You can create a powerful online presence by embracing digital strategies encompassing everything from a robust content strategy to targeted advertising and effective email campaigns.

A successful digital marketing plan is not just about sporadic efforts; it involves a strategic and consistent approach. Your content strategy plays a pivotal role, serving as the foundation of your digital efforts and helping to establish your brand as an authority in your niche.

Remember, the ultimate aim of your digital strategies is to align with your overarching marketing goals. Whether it's increasing brand awareness, driving sales, or engaging with your audience, each element of your plan should contribute towards these objectives.

By following the steps outlined in this guide, you are well-equipped to navigate the complexities of digital marketing. Stay focused on your goals, be adaptable in your approach, and continuously refine your strategies based on performance data. With dedication and consistency, your digital marketing plan will be a crucial driver in the success of your business in the digital realm.

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