Email Marketing: 8 Basic Tips for Small Business Owners

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Are you wondering which online marketing method will benefit your small business the most? The case is strong for email marketing. With little to no initial investment, you can have direct access to loyal customers, new customers and future customers. Each of your email subscribers wants to hear from you, which makes them a powerful group of people.

Figuring out what to say and how to say it isn't too hard once you understand to whom you're talking. Beyond the creative aspect of email marketing, some small-business owners feel a little daunted by the logistics of collecting and organizing email addresses and designing an email campaign. Fortunately, it's quite easy in practice, and there are software tools that streamline the process even further.

1. Take Advantage of a Low-Cost Option

Compared to other forms of digital marketing, email marketing is a low-cost way to routinely reach people further into your sales funnel. It only takes one well-timed promotional email or discount code to increase sales from email marketing because your target audience is typically already loyal to your brand or is highly interested in making a purchase. Therefore, if you craft a persuasive email marketing campaign, you can enjoy a significant return on investment with this method.

Before you generate that ROI, what kind of initial investment should you expect? In theory, you can send email campaigns for free by blind carbon copying the email addresses and crafting the email in your business's typical email host. However, consider using email marketing software to add personalization (greeting each customer by his first name, for example), easily design eye-catching email templates, create marketing automations and track the email's performance. These email marketing tools are typically less than $20 per month, so you just need to make a few sales each month through email marketing for the tools to pay for themselves.

If you're a decent writer and are comfortable using beginner-friendly software, there's no need to hire someone to create the emails for you. You might already have someone on your staff who is interested in spearheading this project. If not, you can hire a copywriter on an as-needed basis to create your email campaigns. Alternatively, consider contracting the work to a marketing agency for a completely done-for-you solution about which you never have to think — except when adding up your increased revenue!

2. Follow Laws Pertaining to Commercial Emails

You know you need email addresses to get started, but before you start adding every email address you come across to your master list, be aware that some federal and international laws affect commercial emails. For example, the Global Data Privacy Rules established by the European Union are wise to follow even if you're not in an EU country because they protect all EU citizens who may very well become your customers. Among other considerations, these rules state that you have to get an individual's express permission to send her marketing emails.

Only sending emails to people who choose to receive them is also good business sense because it will increase the rate in which your emails are opened and reduce the number of people frustrated with your "spammy" brand. Depending on the email marketing software you use, you may be limited (until you upgrade, of course) in how many email addresses can be in your account, which also makes it smart to keep your list small and focused.

As far as federal laws in the United States, the Federal Trade Commission's CAN-SPAM act outlines how businesses can legally send marketing emails. Key takeaways include the need to have opt-out options, clear and accurate "from" information and a subject line that implies the email is an advertisement.

3. Understand the Logistics of Online Email Collection

In addition to collecting emails on paper at your brick-and-mortar store, one of the best ways you can grow your email list organically is to have a prominent sign-up section on your website. It doesn't have to be elaborate: just a name, an email address and a "yes, I give you permission to email me offers" checkbox will do the trick. Consider adding a CAPTCHA box to keep spam entries at bay. You've probably seen websites that have pop-ups encouraging email sign-ups, but if you don't want to be so "in your face," you can position the email sign-up area in the header or sidebar.

Make sure the email sign-up form has its own landing page on your website as well, which means you can easily share a link that takes people directly to the sign-up area without having to tell them to "wait for the pop-up" or "look in the sidebar". Use your existing social media following to your advantage and share the link to this landing page on all of your platforms to encourage new subscribers. Finally, add an email opt-in checkbox in your checkout process so that anyone who purchases from your online store has a chance to receive future emails from you.

With all of these different avenues for collecting email addresses, you'll want to know which ones bring in the most sign-ups by using an analytics program to track each email opt-in form. Data will always help you make more strategic marketing decisions in the future, so don't be shy about tracking as much as you can.

In addition, you can also segment your emails based on customer behavior — such as the types of products they typically purchase, how many times they've purchased from you and how often they use discount codes — in order to create a highly targeted and goal-based email series. For example, people who have never made a purchase might appreciate some emails that introduce your brand and your philosophy, whereas frequent buyers would probably like to see discount codes when they open emails from your company.

4. Use Email Marketing Software for Design

If the thought of designing a newsletter or sales email makes you sweat, definitely check out some user-friendly and drag-and-drop email software options like Mailchimp, ActiveCampaign or Constant Contact. Typically, you can select a pre-made template and just add your photos and text. As long as you have the content, the email marketing platforms will take care of the layout, font styles, etc.

To maximize engagement and capture attention, you'll want to make sure each of your emails has some sort of visual element, whether it's a photo next to the text or just a cute background. Stylized emails should have a "view as plain text" option, which will help people using screen readers or older devices or browsers to still access the text in your email. To analyze some examples of what you like and what you don't like in terms of design, take a look at the email newsletters currently in your inbox.

You don't need to go crazy with a bunch of columns or worry too much about showing off your design chops. A basic formula to follow includes large and declarative header text followed by a photo or your logo. Add a little more detail about your offer via text and then feature a large and clickable button that displays your call-to-action text, such as "shop now!" Finish with a footer that has the opt-out button and your company's contact information.

5. Preplan Content Ideas for an Email Series

Successful email marketing campaigns are mapped out in advance with a clear goal and strategy in mind. Remember that you want people to feel excited to see your company's name appear in their inbox, and that reaction only happens when you deliver meaningful or useful content at appropriate intervals. Don't just send an email for the sake of sending an email.

Start by thinking about the customer segments you've identified. In what kind of content is each segment likely to be interested? If you run an e-commerce store, trust that your subscribers want to hear about new products, sales and special discount codes. If you provide a service that lends itself well to "before and after" transformations, your readers will love to see what you've accomplished.

Your emails don't always have to be so overtly sales oriented. If you sell a product that people don't often know how to use without help, provide a series of onboarding or educational emails with a call to action at the end. Help increase a sense of customer loyalty by showing the human side of your company with team updates, photos from around the office and news snippets. You might even regularly share a "motivational Monday" post with your email subscribers in the same way you would share it on social media.

6. Decide How Often to Send Emails

There's a fine line between sending too many and too few emails for a marketing campaign. Sending emails too often will quickly annoy your subscribers and cause them to either delete your emails without opening them or unsubscribe from your mailing list. However, sending emails infrequently causes people to forget about your company. The best email schedule will keep your brand top of mind without irritating your recipients.

What the ideal schedule looks like depends on your subscribers and your goals. For example, it makes sense to send an onboarding or educational email series in quick succession, such as one email per day or even one in the morning and one in the afternoon. However, if you know that repeat buyers tend to wait six months between purchases, they won't benefit from receiving your emails every day for six months, so consider sending monthly emails instead.

It takes some trial and error to find the sweet spot. You want to maximize the number of emails that are opened while minimizing the number of people who unsubscribe. Feel free to make one of your emails an invitation to fill out a survey in which you directly ask what kind of email frequency your subscribers prefer. In addition, you can try A/B testing the same emails with different sending frequencies in order to compare open rates and unsubscribe rates.

7. Always Evaluate the Success of Your Campaigns

The ultimate indication of an effective email marketing campaign is its conversion rate, or the percentage of recipients who followed your call to action. If you wanted people to buy a certain product or click a link to read a blog, did they do so? If not, some stats will help you find out where people got stuck in your conversion funnel.

Email marketing software typically shows an email's open rate (the percentage of subscribers who opened the email) and click-through rate (the percentage of people who clicked a link within the email after opening the email). From there, you can track the conversion rate of your email using your website's analytics program (such as Google Analytics) to view traffic sources, behavior flow, etc.

Poor open rates can occur even with the best subject lines and sending frequencies if the email list itself is composed of low-quality leads. Therefore, it's best to only compare your open rates and click-through rates to your previous stats rather than comparing them to another company's stats or to an arbitrary number.