If you have a product to sell or a service you provide, chances are you already do some form of marketing. It might be intentional brand building and structured or it may be a bit more organic. Whichever it is, marketing helps to grow your business. It lets potential customers know that you exist and gives them an idea of what you can do for them. Marketing can be a little bit of a scary prospect but it doesn’t need to be. Digital marketing – using email, content and social media and more – is a great way to build your business.

What is digital marketing?

Digital marketing is simply the process of promoting your wares online. Building relationships with new and existing customers and selling your product with the help of digital resources. This includes Search Engine Optimisation through to Pay Per Click campaigns and onto email marketing, with lots of stops between.

Which digital avenue you choose for marketing depends on what digital assets you have set up. Websites and social media profiles are usually at the core. Where you want to go also informs your strategy. You might not have a website but may be planning to launch one in the foreseeable future. Maybe you just want to improve readership of your work on Medium. Or, you have a website and want to improve traffic, conversion rates and engagement.

How to build a marketing strategy

Different resources will give you different steps, but it mostly boils down to the same thing. When you get started on your digital marketing plan, take stock of where you’re at and decide where you want to get to. There is no use in a map if you don’t know the destination.

Once you have the beginning and the end, use your available data to identify how to get from A to B. Figure out what is working, what could do with more effort and what you should abandon or change.

Step 1: Where you’re at, the resources currently available, and where you want to get to. Resources include any or all the following: your online profiles, a website, and if you’ve already started building one an email list. Where you want to go can be as varied as increasing readers to selling your product.

Step 2: Figure out who your audience is and the resources you’ll need to reach them. In marketing terms, this is your buyer personas and the digital platforms you can use to reach them.

Some people go to town on this and give their buyer personas names, avatars and families. Determine your audience by looking at your data and also understanding who is likely to buy or use your product. Where they are, their average age (or type of business), and income are part of this makeup. You also need to understand their goals, challenges, and priorities.

Now you know who you want to reach you have to look at the ways you already get in touch with them. Are your messages being well received? Do you want to, or should you, expand how you reach out?

Step 3: You’ll need to evaluate what’s working on each of your digital assets. Hubspot breaks this into owned resources (your social media profiles, website, and things you have complete control over), earned resources (reviews, referrals, claps and followers), and paid resources (PPC, paid social posts, Google Adwords, etc.).

Step 4: Identify gaps in the current format of things and create a plan to fill them. Also, include more of the things that are already moving you toward the goal you set. This might look like writing more articles on topics that are getting the most play on Medium, starting an email list to further engage with your audience(s) or direct them to online profiles, or boosting some of your social posts to reach people who don’t know you yet.

Implementing your strategy

This is Step 5 of building your strategy and it’s where it gets real. (There’s no point in all that hard work if you’re not going to put it into action). Now you have your plan, start creating and implementing that plan.

Not everyone has the time they need to create the content to support the strategy. In these cases, it’s good to reach out to professional bloggers or copywriters who can create optimised marketing content for you.

But don’t go doing all that in a bubble. To make your marketing strategy work, you’ll need to continue on to Step 6…

Analysing results and tweaking your strategy as you progress

At regular intervals, you need to check your stats for each of the digital resources you’re using. But don’t check them too often because you need to give things time to build some helpful data.

Stats include website visitors, time people spend on your site, and which pages they are landing on. For social that’s going to be likes, shares, clicks. For Medium, claps, fans and follows and where from. For email, it’ll be your open and click-through rates.

Put it all together and figure out what could be doing better or what could change to push things further and faster. You might try A/B testing or it might be as simple as asking your audience what they liked and what they want more of. The key thing with this step is to understand and accept that you don’t simply create your plan and follow it. Your map should evolve as you learn more about your audience and position. Just like an actual map, check you’re heading in the right direction regularly but not obsessively.

Some digital marketing resources are free

Read, learn, plan and then do the hard bit — put in place. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get it 100% right to start off with. It’s a cyclical process — research, analyse, plan, implement, check and repeat. Keep at it and watch yourself move closer towards your goals.

Fortunately, there are lots of free digital marketing resources available. Digital marketing courses, toolkits and resources of all kinds can help. Take some time to look about and use the resources that feel most useful to your business, your brand, and your style.