Digital marketing for small business: a 7-step checklist

Reading time: 14 minutes

Marketing for small businesses doesn’t have to feel like navigating a labyrinth of complexities. Instead, success lies in the simplicity of thoughtful planning and a consistent brand approach.

Our seven-step checklist serves as your compass with lists of actions to guide you through the maze of launching a successful, cutting-edge digital marketing strategy. 

Whether you’re starting from square one or aiming to elevate your current approach, follow these steps to unveil an impactful and polished online presence:

  1. Create a strong brand identity
  2. Build a website
  3. Prioritize great customer service
  4. Establish a social media presence
  5. Activate email marketing
  6. Invest in content marketing
  7. Try online advertising

Step 1: Create a strong brand identity

Who are you? And more importantly, who is your brand? 

Crafting a robust brand identity lays the groundwork for a thriving digital marketing strategy. It’s not just about having a logo—it’s about encapsulating your company’s essence and what sets it apart. 

Before diving into the digital marketing waters, it’s crucial to anchor your business with a strong brand identity. Here’s how to roll up your sleeves and craft a brand that resonates with your audience while standing out from the crowd.

Define your small business’ core values

Begin by defining your company’s mission and values. 

What drives you? What makes your business unique? 

Understanding these core principles will serve as the foundation for your brand identity.

Take stock of your current branding efforts. Assess your website, social media profiles and marketing materials. Are they aligned with your brand’s values and mission? Identify areas for improvement and areas where you’re already shining.

A cloud of core small business value keywords

Example of business value keywords; Source

✅ Checklist items:

  • Brainstorm keywords that describe your small business. Encourage open discussion and brainstorm a list of words or phrases that represent your brand’s ethos and personality.
  • Reflect on your small business mission and vision. Revisit your company’s mission and vision statements. How do they align with the values you’re identifying?
  • Identify what sets your small business apart. Define what makes your brand unique in the marketplace. What values differentiate you from competitors?
  • Consider your small business’ target audience. Think about the values that resonate most with your target audience. How can you align your brand values with their needs and preferences?
  • Prioritize values. Narrow down your list of keywords to the most essential values that define your brand’s identity.
  • Define each value. Clearly articulate what each value means to your brand. Provide examples of how these values manifest in your business practices.

Design a small business visual identity that pops

Your logo, color palette and typography are the face of your brand. Make it a memorable one by investing time and effort into crafting a visually appealing identity. 

Depending on your budget and vision, you can either DIY your brand’s visual identity with online graphic design tools like VistaCreate or hire a professional graphic designer to do it for you—check out 99designs by Vista to find a perfect match for your small business. 

VistaPrint tip: Create a mood board. Gather inspiration from your favorite brands, colors and design styles. Compile them into a mood board to visualize the look and feel you want for your brand. Use this as a reference point when working with designers or creating your own visuals.

Small business visual identity mood board

An example of a visual identity moodboard for a brand; Source

An example of a visual identity mood board for a sports brand; Source

An example of a visual identity mood board for a hospitality brand; Source

Small business visual identity mood board

An example of a visual identity mood board for a restaurant brand; Source

✅ Checklist items:

  • Craft a brand mood board. Compile a mood board of images, colors and design elements that reflect the desired look and feel of your brand.
  • Design a logo. Create a unique and memorable logo that encapsulates your brand’s essence and is recognizable across platforms.
  • Choose a color palette. Select a cohesive color palette that aligns with your brand’s personality and evokes the desired emotional response.
  • Select typography. Choose fonts that complement your brand’s identity and are legible across various mediums.
  • Create visual assets. Develop additional visual elements such as icons, patterns and graphics to enhance brand consistency and recognition.

Maintain consistency across platforms

Consistency breeds familiarity and trust. Ensure that your brand’s visual identity remains consistent across all digital touchpoints, from your website to your social media profiles.

VistaPrint tip:

Document your brand’s visual elements, including logo usage, color codes and font choices, in a comprehensive brand style guide. Share this guide with anyone involved in creating content for your business to maintain a cohesive brand image.

✅ Checklist items:

  • Establish brand guidelines. Develop comprehensive brand guidelines that outline your brand’s visual identity, including logo usage, color palette, typography and tone of voice.
  • Educate team members. Ensure all team members are familiar with the brand guidelines and understand the importance of maintaining consistency across all platforms.
  • Create templates. Design templates for various marketing materials, such as social media graphics, email newsletters and promotional materials to ensure consistency in design elements.
  • Use consistent visual elements. Apply the same visual elements, such as logos, colors, fonts and imagery  across all marketing channels and platforms.

Step 2: Build a website to improve your small business’ online presence

Your website is a crucial part of your small business’s digital marketing. It’s the backbone of your online presence—and often your customers’ first impression of your brand. Even if you’re a brick-and-mortar business that relies on foot traffic, there’s a great chance that your customers are researching you online before they come in. So, it’s essential that you have a professional website.

As you create your website, be mindful of the following elements:

The right domain name. Make sure to pick one that reflects your business name as closely as possible, and is easy to remember. To help narrow down your search, ask yourself these questions: 

Does the name match my brand? Is it memorable? Is it easy to spell? 

Search engine optimization. Search engine optimization (or SEO) plays an important role in your digital marketing strategy. Creating an optimized website will improve your ranking in web searches—you can do this by incorporating keywords into your site content and on the backend.

Engaging web design. Most people are visual, so try to use attractive, high-quality photos (or even a short video) and easy-to-read fonts. Check out the hottest web design trends in our article. 

Unseen studio website design

An example of a trendy and engaging web design; Source

 Curious & Company website design

An example of a trendy and engaging web design; Source

Mobile responsive design. With mobile internet usage now exceeding desktop usage, a responsive website is a must-have. A responsive website will adjust to the screen size of different devices like desktop computers, tablets or smartphones. This helps you reach more customers, provides a better user experience and benefits your SEO ranking—plus, Google now ranks mobile sites above desktop sites. The easiest way to create a mobile responsive website is to use a website builder that offers responsive templates. Always test out changes to your website on your computer and your smartphone.

Static website design vs mobile responsive website design

Static (left) and responsive (right) website design; Source

Easy navigation. Build your website in a clear, simple way that’s easy for visitors to navigate. Potential customers will appreciate being able to find what they’re looking for in just a few clicks.

A small business website homepage with simple navigation

An example of easy website navigation; Source

Helpful content. Add relevant and helpful content such as contact information, an About Us page and clear descriptions of your products and services. Your overall copy should be easy to read, informative and concise.

Consistent branding. Your website should be a reflection of your brand. Visitors should instantly make a visual connection between your logo, print materials and brick-and-mortar location. So, make sure to include your logo on your website and to use colors and fonts that align with the rest of your branded materials.

✅  Checklist items:

  • Choose and register a relevant domain name. Secure a domain name that closely reflects your business name, ensuring it’s memorable and easy to spell.
  • Prioritize engaging design. Utilize high-quality visuals and easy-to-read fonts to create an attractive and visually appealing website.
  • Streamline navigation. Simplify website navigation to facilitate easy access to essential information with minimal clicks.
  • Ensure mobile responsiveness. Opt for a responsive design that adapts seamlessly to various screen sizes, enhancing user experience and SEO ranking.
  • Fill your website with helpful content. Include informative content such as contact details, an ‘About Us’ page and clear product/service descriptions to assist visitors.
  • Implement SEO practices. Incorporate relevant keywords into your website content and backend to improve search engine rankings.
  • Maintain consistent branding. Ensure cohesive branding across your website by incorporating your logo and aligning colors and fonts with your brand identity.

VistaPrint tip:

Include your site’s URL (or a QR code that links to it!) on everything you create—postcards, receipts, brochures, flyers—you get the idea. This encourages customers to take an actionable next step and gives them a place to find more information about your business.

Step 3: Prioritize great customer service

In the digital age, news travels fast. And before you know it, you’ve established a reputation for poor or fantastic customer service. It goes without saying that a good customer support reputation will attract more customers and boost your brand perception.

Taking hours or days to respond to your customers via phone, email or social media will no doubt leave your customers unhappy with your services. Instead, make sure to provide swift, polite, honest and informative customer service to every customer. 

Try setting a goal of replying to everyone within 48 hours, and let them know this is the timeframe they can expect. Some channels you can utilize for this purpose are live chat, phone, social media, email and the FAQ section on your site.

✅  Checklist items:

  • Train staff. Provide comprehensive training to all employees on delivering exceptional customer service, emphasizing empathy, active listening and problem-solving skills.
  • Seek feedback. Actively solicit feedback from customers through surveys, reviews and direct conversations to identify areas for improvement.

Step 4: Establish a social media presence

In the digital age, leveraging social media is a non-negotiable aspect of marketing for small businesses. It’s a powerful tool for boosting visibility, driving traffic and nurturing relationships with customers—all without breaking the bank. Let’s dive deeper into how you can establish a strong social media presence that resonates with your audience and drives results with an advanced social media marketing strategy.

Choose the right platforms

Before diving into social media, it’s essential to understand each platform’s unique strengths and audience demographics. Opt for platforms that align with your business goals and target audience. 

For instance:

  • Visual businesses thrive on Instagram and Pinterest.
  • Thought leadership and B2B engagement excel on LinkedIn.
  • Quick updates and networking opportunities flourish on Twitter.
  • Video content finds a home on TikTok and YouTube.
A comparison table of different social media platforms for small business digital marketing

Characteristics of different social media platforms for brands; Source

Set up your business accounts on social media 

Choose a unique name that is directly associated with your business. Create a compelling profile that accurately reflects your brand identity, incorporating consistent branding elements such as your logo, colors and voice. Provide essential business information, including your contact details, website link and a concise description of your products or services.

Create engaging content for your small business’ social media

The key to success on social media lies in creating compelling content that resonates with your audience. Here are some actionable content ideas:

  • Share behind-the-scenes glimpses of your business.
  • Showcase customer testimonials and success stories.
  • Run polls or quizzes to engage your audience.
  • Host live Q&A sessions or product demonstrations.
  • Offer exclusive deals or promotions to your followers.

Visual content tends to perform exceptionally well on social media, capturing attention and driving higher engagement rates. Incorporate dynamic visuals such as photos, gifs and videos into your content strategy to captivate your audience’s interest and convey your brand’s message effectively.

VistaPrint tip:

Save time and streamline your social media efforts by leveraging automation tools to schedule posts in advance. Tools like VistaCreate, Buffer, Hootsuite or Sprout Social allow you to plan and schedule content across multiple platforms, ensuring consistent posting frequency and maximizing reach.

VistaCreate Social Media Scheduler

VistaCreate Social Media Scheduler; Source

Make hashtags a part of your social media marketing for small business

Social media optimization (SMO) plays a vital role in enhancing a brand’s visibility and search engine ranking. By optimizing your social media profiles and content, you increase the likelihood of being discovered by potential customers through both social media platforms and traditional search engines like Google. 

Hashtags are a powerful tool for increasing your content’s visibility and reaching a broader audience. Research relevant hashtags within your industry and incorporate them strategically into your posts. Additionally, consider creating branded hashtags to encourage user-generated content and foster community engagement.

Monitor and analyze social media marketing performance

Regularly monitor your social media metrics to gauge the effectiveness of your efforts and identify areas for improvement. Pay attention to key metrics such as engagement rates, click-through rates and follower growth. Use these insights to refine your strategy and optimize your content for better results.

✅  Checklist items:

  • Select platforms. Choose the appropriate social media platforms for your target audience and business goals.
  • Create a username. Select a memorable username that ideally can be used for all your profiles. 
  • Add a bio to your social media profile Craft an engaging bio to introduce your small business to potential customers on social media.
  • Fill out your social media profile. Create complete and compelling profiles with consistent branding elements, including logos, colors and a concise business description.
  • Make your content discoverable. Implement hashtags and keyword optimization.
  • Develop a visual identity for your social media profile. Design social media icons, post and Story templates, etc.
  • Create a content calendar for your brand’s social media. Space out different types of publications evenly and in accordance to your strategy. 
  • Monitor analytics and adjust your strategy accordingly. Keep track of the important social media marketing metrics and react to both positive and negative changes.

Step 5: Activate email marketing

Email marketing is a powerful tool for engaging customers and driving sales, with an impressive average return on investment, or ROI, of $36 to $40 for every dollar spent, according to multiple studies. To maximize effectiveness…

✅  Checklist items:

  • Design professional templates. Create visually appealing email design templates with your logo and contact information.
  • Segment your audience. Divide your subscriber/audience/contact list into segments based on purchase behavior or preferences.
  • Plan regular communication. Establish a consistent email schedule to stay top-of-mind.
  • Add value with content. Provide helpful and relevant content in every email.
  • Personalize your messages. Tailor content to each segment to increase relevance and engagement.
  • Optimize for mobile. Ensure mobile responsiveness for improved readability.
  • Measure and iterate. Track key metrics to refine strategies over time.

Find more information about email marketing for small businesses in our guide.

Step 6: Invest in content marketing for small businesses 

Content marketing is a vital aspect of modern marketing strategies, with 73% of (business-to-business) B2B marketers and 70% of (business-to-consumer) B2C marketers incorporating it into their overall approach, according to the Content Marketing Institute. While blogging is popular, there are other effective strategies to explore:

  • Short articles/posts: Utilize short-form content to share quick tips and updates, favored by 83% of B2C marketers.
  • Videos: Engage your audience with video content, used by 61% of B2C marketers, for product demos or behind-the-scenes insights.
  • Long-form articles: Increase audience engagement with comprehensive long-form articles, a strategy adopted by 42% of B2C marketers.
  • Visual content: Utilize visually appealing elements like infographics or memes to capture attention and convey information effectively.
  • Podcasts: Leverage the popularity of podcasts to connect with audiences through audio content, sharing industry insights or behind-the-scenes stories.

By diversifying your content marketing efforts and catering to various content preferences, you can effectively engage your audience, drive brand awareness and achieve business objectives. Tailor your content strategy to align with audience interests and consistently deliver high-quality content to build trust and loyalty over time.

✅  Checklist items:

  • Research keywords and topics. Conduct keyword research to identify relevant topics and keywords that align with your audience’s search queries and interests.
  • Develop a content calendar. Create a content calendar outlining the topics, formats and publishing schedule for your content. Ensure consistency and variety in your content mix.
  • Create high-quality content. Produce compelling and valuable content that addresses your audience’s needs, whether it’s blog posts, videos, infographics or podcasts.
  • Optimize content for SEO. Incorporate relevant keywords into your content and optimize meta tags, titles and descriptions to improve search engine visibility and ranking.
  • Promote content across channels. Share your content across various digital channels, including social media, email newsletters and industry forums, to maximize reach and engagement.
  • Encourage engagement and sharing. Prompt audience interaction by asking questions, encouraging comments and incorporating social sharing buttons into your content.

Step 7: Try online advertising

Venturing into online advertising can amplify your small business’s digital marketing efforts and drive targeted traffic to your business. 

Online ads are designed to generate more clicks and traffic, which will significantly boost your visibility and, ultimately, your sales. There are so many platforms you can use to place your ads in front of your audience—Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and LinkedIn all offer paid ad placement. 

The common types of PPC (pay-per-click) ads include:

  • Search ads: Text-based ads displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs) based on relevant keywords entered by users. Commonly used in platforms like Google Ads, Bing Ads and Yahoo Search Ads.
  • Display ads: Visual ads (such as banners, images or videos) displayed on websites within a network of publishers, targeting specific demographics, interests or behaviors. Offered by platforms like Google Display Network, Facebook Ads and LinkedIn Ads.
  • Shopping ads: Product-based ads that showcase specific products along with their prices and images, typically displayed on SERPs or within relevant shopping platforms. Prominent on Google Shopping and Bing Shopping.
  • Video ads: Video-based ads displayed before, during or after video content on platforms like YouTube, Vimeo or social media channels. These can be skippable or non-skippable and range from short clips to longer-form content.
  • Social media ads: Paid advertisements displayed within social media platforms that target specific audiences based on demographics, interests or behaviors. Includes formats such as sponsored posts, carousel ads and story ads on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and TikTok.
  • Remarketing/retargeting ads: Ads targeted at users who have previously interacted with your website or content, encouraging them to revisit and complete desired actions. Utilized across various PPC platforms, including Google Ads and Facebook Ads.

Paid online advertising can also be in the form of a podcast sponsorship or an influencer collaboration.

✅  Checklist items:

  • Choose the right platforms. Select advertising platforms that align with your audience and objectives, such as Google Ads, Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads or Twitter Ads.
  • Research keywords for your ads. Conduct thorough keyword research to identify relevant search terms for search engine advertising campaigns. Use tools like Google Keyword Planner or SEMrush to discover high-performing keywords.
  • Create compelling ad copy. Write persuasive ad copy that highlights your unique selling points and encourages clicks. Test different headlines, descriptions and calls-to-action to optimize performance.
  • Design engaging visuals. If applicable, create eye-catching visuals for display, social media or video ads. Ensure visuals are relevant to your message and adhere to platform specifications.
  • Set budget and bidding strategy. Determine your advertising budget and select a bidding strategy that aligns with your goals, whether it’s cost-per-click (CPC), cost-per-acquisition (CPA) or cost-per-thousand impressions (CPM).
  • Define targeting parameters. Utilize advanced targeting options to reach your desired audience, including demographics, interests, behaviors, location and device targeting.
  • Create landing pages. Develop dedicated landing pages that align with your ad content and offer a seamless user experience. Optimize landing pages for conversions and track performance with conversion-tracking tools.

Don’t overlook digital marketing as a small business.

Digital marketing offers immense opportunities for small businesses to thrive in today’s competitive landscape. By following the steps outlined in this article, you will lay a solid foundation for your digital marketing strategy and pave the way for long-term success. 

Remember, progress is key, and it’s perfectly okay to tackle these steps at your own pace. 

The important thing is to start and stay committed to your goals. With a clear sense of direction and an actionable plan in place, your digital marketing efforts will evolve and flourish over time. 

So, take it one step at a time, stay focused, and watch your small business grow in the digital realm.

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