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Whether you’ve been marketing your business for years, or you’re just starting out, email marketing is essential to engaging with the people who matter most, your prospective and current customers.
In my Guide to Email Marketing for Small Business, I help you start or improve your email marketing from creating a strategy through to creating great marketing emails. From subject lines to putting your email marketing on autopilot.
Who is this guide for?
This guide was written for anyone wanting to start using email marketing in their business or anyone who wants to improve their email marketing results.
Basically, if you saw the title, selected the link and have skimmed the table of contents, there’s a good chance you’ll benefit from this guide in some way.
Whether you’re just starting out or wanting to improve your results, this guide will get you the results you need.
Email marketing has been around for a long, long time. And there’s good reason why it’s lasted. Regardless of what some will say about other forms of marketing, email marketing is still the most direct and effective way to connect with your prospect and current customers.
What is email marketing?
Email marketing is the practice of using emails to reach prospects and customers. It’s a strategic approach to building relationships and converting prospects into customers.
There is no one-size fits all approach to email marketing. We deliver the right message to the right person at the right time. To do this, we look at where a prospect may be in their buying journey and send appropriate content. We’re converting prospects into customers and customers into fans.
The thing that makes emails unique in comparison to SEO or social media is that you have a true direct line to your audience through their inbox.
Why email marketing still works
When someone gives you their email address in return for a free trial, a pdf or a monthly newsletter, they’re giving you permission to send them emails.
Email marketing is about building a relationship. Developing trust. When someone goes out of their way to be helpful, we tend to trust them more over a period of time. That’s email marketing.
With email you can WOW
Now this is a story I’ve heard a couple of times.
A customer goes into their local butcher for the first time. They purchase several cuts of meat and the person serving asked “Would you like to receive regular news and special offers via email?”
Of course the customer says “Yes” and hands over their email address.
Within 15 minutes, they received an email from the butcher. It was a welcome email and included a few recipes targeted specifically at the cuts of meat just purchased.
That’s a Wow moment.
Try doing that with Facebook or Instagram.
Emails can be much more than salesy marketing communications that inevitably end up in spam folders. When you put into practice the advice I give you in this guide, you will create and maintain relationships with your customers now and in the future.
Before you start collecting and using email addresses in your email marketing, you need to take some time to think about what it is you want to achieve.
It all starts with setting some goals.
Setting goals is an important part of life and business. What you need to do is set goals as they apply to your email marketing strategy.
Things that you should ask yourself when setting goals are:
If you’re just starting out in email marketing, I’d suggest one of your first goals could be to grow the number of subscribers.
Set specific goals
Here’s where build on one of our overall goals. Specific goals tell you what exactly it is you want to achieve and by when. For these, I use SMART goals.
SMART is an acronym for:
If you don’t know how it works, let’s take our overall goal of increasing the number of subscribers as an example. When we turn this into a SMART goal, it becomes:
I will increase the number of active subscribers to 1,000 by March 3rd, 2020.
How are you going to do this?
This is the part where you define your tactics. Your tactics are the actions you’re going to take that will help you achieve your specific goals. So, building on our previous goal of increasing the total number of active subscribers, your tactics could be:
- Create a better lead magnet.
- Have opt-in popups on my website.
- Create better content.
- Promote that content to drive traffic to your website.
As part of your wider marketing strategy, each one of these would written as a SMART goal.
Before setting some of your goals, you need to know the current situation. For example, if I’m going to increase my active subscribers to 1,000, how many do I have now? And if I don’t have any at the moment, is it realistic to increase the total to 1,000 by my specified time frame?
Download my Email Marketing Strategy Worksheet.
Spend a few minutes to think about each section. You don’t have to get it all exact now. Your strategy will change over time as your business develops, you learn more about your target marketing and your overall marketing strategy evolves.
Grow your email list
Now you have your strategy and the tactics that will support it, it’s time to work on your list. After all, without a list of subscribers, email marketing doesn’t work too well.
Your list isn’t about numbers. It’s about having a list of subscribers who are engaged with your brand. People who are interested in what it is you have to say. You’re better off having a smaller list with the right subscribers than a large list of subscribers who don’t really care about what you have to offer.
There are quite a few things you can do to build your list. Here are some ideas.
Some countries have legislation in place to try and reduce the amount of spam sent to people’s inboxes.
While I haven’t checked all legislation out, in Australia and New Zealand, in most cases you need to get a recipient’s permission to send regular emails. There are exceptions but let’s just say, get permission and things will be better.
Read a plain English explanation of the Australia Spam Act.
Create a sign up form
When people visit your website or Facebook page, a sign up form is a way to get their email address.
What information is relevant
You’re not limited to getting their email address but, the more information you ask for, the less likely it is that they’ll give you any information. Whenever you ask for their details, make sure it’s in context.
For example, do you need a phone number when someone just wants to download a pdf? You would need a phone number if they’re scheduling a time for you to call them. Done right, you also get their email address.
If you offer different services, such as a wedding, family and corporate headshot photographer, then it’s reasonable to ask which service they’re interested in.
Types of forms
There are different types of sign up forms you can implement on your website.
These forms are part of your website page design. They’re always there. Typically you will see these at the side of content, at the bottom of a page or post, or as sections amongst the content.
Pop up form
While many people don’t like them, pop up forms are great way to get subscribers. They can appear based on different viewer behaviour. Depending on form, you can set them to pop up after a certain time, after the viewer has scrolled a certain percentage down the page, or when the viewer takes some action that indicates they may be about to leave your page.
Less intrusive that a popup, they are becoming a more popular way to show your subscription form. You typically see these appear in the bottom left or right corner of the screen. Like popups, you can display these forms when the viewer takes a specific action.
Notification bar form
A notification bar appears across the very top or very bottom of the screen. These tend to be a less popular way to get subscribers as they can be a little too unobtrusive.
You sign up form should make it clear what the viewer will receive after they give you their email address. This is your promise.
When you’re delivering a pdf (lead magnet) also make it clear if they will receive weekly, monthly, or just regular news and information from you.
By making is clear what they will get, your emails will be less likely to end up being flagged as spam.
The call to action
A call to action (CTA) is the instruction to the viewer on what they should do next. Once they’re added their email address to your form, what do they do?
You typically see these as a button. Make sure your button stands out. Contrasting colours, large size font, and an intriguing instruction. Be creative and use phrases such as “Sign me up!” or “Send me my free ebook” to grab your viewer’s attention.
Your signup form should reflect your site design. Use the same fonts, colours, and style of imagery. As you look at other websites, you may see some that are wildly off brand but many of those will still have elements that relate back to the brand style. I already mentioned button colours but use complimentary colours instead of a colour that you randomly selected.
Where you form appears is mostly determined by the design of the page and what information is on that page.
For example, your sign up forms should appear on your home page and blog pages. Don’t have them appear on privacy or terms and conditions pages. Do have them appear on pages that talk about a product or service you offer. Don’t have them appear on pages that contain forms such as a contact us page.
People like free stuff. People like free stuff even more if it has value to them. By offering something for ‘free’, you will be encouraging them to give you their email address.
There are lots of things you can offer that have a high perceived value. Some ideas are ebooks, discount codes, checklists or an email course. It just has to be seen as valuable by your target audience.
List building tips
However you choose to increase the number of subscribers, the important thing is to make it easy. The more difficult it is, the more l likely it will be that they don’t give you their email address. This includes having too many unnecessary fields they have to fill in.
Some ideas include:
Publish valuable content
While using some of the list building ideas is a start, one way to get subscribers is to prove that you know what you’re talking about. To do this, publish useful content as blog posts. You may think that this is giving away your secrets but guess what, they’ll find out anyway. You’re just making yourself the expert by giving them information for free.
Most marketing experts will tell you that you need to be building an email list. What they don’t tell you is that there’s a little more to building a list. Your list will be more effective is you segment your subscribers.
What is segmentation?
Email list segmentation is a process where you break down your subscribers into smaller groups based on specific criteria.
Imagine you’re a fashion retailer. Your customers include men and women of different ages and families.
You’ve decided to start sending emails to your customers and have started collecting email addresses along with permission to send emails to them.
If you were a single, older male, would it make sense to receive promotions about new women’s summer fashions? Not really. But if we segmented our list into gender, age group, family status, your marketing would be much more effective.
If you’re not sending emails that are relevant to the recipient you could end up with people unsubscribing or worse, flagging your emails as spam.
How to segment
There are many different ways to slice up your list. How you do it depends on your email marketing system but here are some ideas to group them.
New subscribers – Send them a series of welcome emails to introduce your business and what it is you do.
Preferences – Separate those who just want to know about new products vs those who want to know about blog posts or events.
Interests – What product category are they interested in.
Location – If your service area is more than your local area, what state or country are they located in?
The ways to segment are only limited by your imagine and the needs of your business.
If you have an email list, how would you segment it so you could send more targeted, relevant emails?
Would you use one of the suggestion here or would you use a different segmentation strategy?
If you needed more information, how would you collect it?
If you don’t have a list yet, how could you segment your customers once they subscribe to your list?
Content is king
Having an email list is one thing but what are you going to send to that list. Content is king but you content must be relevant and of a high perceived value to your audience. What you’re going to your subscribers is the foundation of your email marketing strategy.
Quality over quantity
You can email your list everyday but without providing content that is useful, informative, or of value, the results will be the same. Subscribers will abandon you like rats from a sinking ship. Why? Many other companies are vying for their attention in the inbox. If you’re not giving value, they’re outta’ there. They’ll unsubscribe or worse, flag your emails as spam.
So, how do you create emails that your valued subscribers want to open? You can do that in different ways depending on where your subscriber is in their buying journey.
Types of emails
Marking is about communication. Sending the right message to the right person at the right time. For example, when you walk into a store, how would you feel is the shop assistant asked you how you’d like to pay for your purchase before you’ve even looked at anything? Email marketing is no different. We don’t (shouldn’t) be asking a new subscriber to purchase a product straight away.
The welcome email
This is one of if not the most important email you can send to new subscribers. It sets the scene for future interactions with your business.
Your welcome email should thank them for subscribing to your list. You should also remind them what they’ll receive in future emails. If you’ve offered a free download, this email has the link for them to get that. If you’ve offered a discount code, give them the code in this email.
Also include information on how they can contact you if they have any difficulties getting their lead magnet.
The nurture emails
Once you’ve welcomed new subscribers, the nurture emails are a sequence scheduled a few days apart that are designed to introduce your business, educate them on a specific topic and generally give you a chance to engage them through emails.
The re-engagement email
If you’ve been sending out emails to your list, one of the metrics you should be tracking is engagement. Are they opening your emails, clicking on links, or visiting your website?
If not, they’re not engaging with your brand. And that’s a problem. They’re on your list because, at that time, they were interested in what you had to offer. So, if they’re not engaging with you now, what’s changed? A simple way to find out is to include an email that asks the question.
News and updates emails
These are your regular weekly, twice weekly, or monthly emails you send out to your list. Some of the information you can include in this type of email include:
When you send each type of email is important. A simple guide is to send one email that gives something, another that does the same, then a sales focused email.
Writing subject lines
Do you want to increase the number of emails that are opened? Having a great subject lines is where you need to start.
You subject line is where you create the first impression. Most people scan the subject lines and make a decision within seconds as to whether they delete the email or open it.
Creating subject lines that grab the viewer’s attention isn’t hard. Here are some simple guidelines to start with.
Keep them short
Considering 40 percent of emails are read on small screens, keep you subject lines to 30 characters or less.
Preview text is the hidden ‘secret’
With such short subject lines, the preview or pre-header text is your friend. This is the text that shows up after the subject line but typically shows the first few lines of the message body. Take control and add more information to get that email opened.
Stick to the point
Your subject line should say what the email is about. Don’t get too clever and don’t get clever in the first one or two emails. Your subscribers don’t know you yet.
People don’t like to miss out on something. The fear of missing out (FOMO) is a great way to attract attention. It creates a sense of urgency and is a powerful tactic.
You can be clear and concise and still create intrigue. You can do this by asking a question in your subject line.
Including your subscribers name in the subject line. This increases the trust they’ll have in your message. When I see my name in the subject line, it’s more likely that I know the sender.
However, be careful with this one. Overuse can have the opposite effect so save this one for important messages.
Personalise your emails
Good email marketing shouldn’t make people feel like they’re being marketed to. Each email should seem like you’re writing specifically to that subscriber.
We talked about including their name in the subject line. As you may have noticed, many marketing emails include your first name in the greeting. But there’s a lot more we can do.
Include content that helps them meet a specific need based on their interests. For example, if you’re a wedding, family and maternity photographer, tailor your email content so only those people who are interested in having a wedding photographed get content about your wedding photography service.
If you don’t know, ask. One strategy to ask is to include a link to a form in your welcome email or part way through your nurture sequence. If they’re interested in what you have to offer, they will give you the information you need.
It’s not always directly about them. Personalise your email by including a photo of you and your name in the footer. Make your emails at least look like you’ve personally sent out each one. In a way, you have.
Speaking of adding the human touch, make sure the “From” address shows it’s from a person. For example, which one would you be more likely to open, an email from email@example.com or one from firstname.lastname@example.org?
Monetise your emails
Email marketing is about building a relationship for your audience. But emails can also be used to generate revenue. Statistics show that email marketing is THE most effective way to convert your audience into paying customers. And that includes social media and search engine marketing.
If people are getting high perceived value from your emails, the next step is a lot easier. Because you’ve built trust and provided them with information that is useful at no cost, including emails that promote paid products or services becomes the next step.
Some ways you can generate revenue from your email marketing include:
- Promote a paid coaching service
- Include a link to purchase an ebook
- Promote a paid membership or other subscription service
Using Word, Google Docs, or something else, create a nurture sequence for people who have expressed an interest in your product or service.
Research nurture sequences for email marketing. You’ll get some great ideas to help you start.
Don’t forget to think carefully about your subject line for each email.
Design beautiful emails
You have built a list, optimised your subject line, and included great content. The next step is making your emails look good.
Design can influence a subscriber’s next action just as much as a carefully crafted call-to-action or useful content can. Design is about adding to the elements you already have that build on an emotional connection. If you have an emotional connection with your reader, they are even more likely to take action.
With just a few tips, you can create eye catching emails that get read or, if you’re not a designer, use the templates an email service provider may offer and build on one of those.
Email design best practices
I don’t always make this stuff up. So when you research email design, you’ll notice there are some pretty standard best practices you need to follow.
Use a consistent colour scheme
Make sure you using a colour scheme that matches your brand. It will make sense and build more trust when they see the same colours across emails, websites, business cards etc.
Consider readers using mobile devices
The main tip here is to avoid using layouts with more than one column. Multiple columns can be hard to read on smaller devices.
Including images at logical points within your email gives the viewers eyes a rest.
You also need to optimise the images. Don’t upload an image and then resize it in your email designer. Resize it first, then upload it. This will make it faster to download on the recipient’s device.
Order of importance
Make sure the most important information is at the top of your email. Work your way down so the least important information is at the bottom.
HTML vs. plain text emails
In general, there a two main formats that can be used to create emails. Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML) and plain text.
It’s through HTML that you have colours, images, and clickable links. Plain text emails are exactly that. Plain text. No colours, images or formatting options. Generally you create one or the other. If you create HTML emails, your service provider will usually offer a plain text version automatically.
You may hear people say they prefer to send plain text emails as they are less likely to be blocked by email systems. However, larger email service providers work with companies such as Gmail and Microsoft to make sure HTML emails make it through to your subscriber’s inbox.
Optimize your images
Images can be useful in emails but don’t use too many. Resize your images before you upload them to your email service provider otherwise they could take too long to display on your reader’s device.
Use white space
Don’t crowd your content. If don’t have a good amount of space between images and paragraphs, your reader’s won’t be able to easily understand your message. This is especially true on smaller devices.
Make it clear as to what you want your reader to do. This means having an obvious call to action (CTA). Use contrasting colours for your links or buttons (buttons work best). Make them large and easily tapped on smaller devices.
People using smaller devices are more likely to skim over content. Remember earlier when I said to put the most important information at the top? This is why.
Keep it simple
Embrace simplicity. Don’t try to make your emails too fancy. It rarely works especially for small business. Simplicity means your emails can be easily read on most devices.
Test, test, and test again
You need to test your emails on a variety of devices. Some email service providers have this feature in their email designer. It can be more reliable to send test emails to yourself and view them on a mobile phone, table, and desktop.
There are a number of services that can test your emails for you.
Schedule and send emails
Choose a date and time
The day of the week or month as well as the time of day should form part of your email marketing strategy. This is important because you want your emails to be at the top of your subscriber’s inbox when they are more likely to be checking their emails.
When you’re just starting out, researching is the key. Find out the best day of the week to send your emails as well as the best time of day.
Your business is not like any other so once you start sending emails, check your own statistics to see what dates and times are working. Test different days of the week and different times of the day.
Another decision you will have to make is how often you’re sending regular emails. Will you send once per day, week or month? If you not sending every day, will you send every Monday or the last Friday of each month?
The main factor that determines the frequency is how often can you deliver valuable content? When you’re starting out, I’d suggest one per week then adjust as necessary.
You also need to set these expectations early on with your audience. Just below the ‘Subscribe’ button, let them know how often you will sending regular emails. The next best place is in your welcome email.
Send targeted messages
Including relevant content in your emails is crucial to your list building success. To make sure your content is super relevant, segment your list. For example, if you’re a family fashion store, should you be sending back to school specials to people who don’t have school age children? Do the single males want to know about a new range of women’s underwear? Well, maybe some will but generally not.
Segment your audience mean you can send hyper-relevant content to your audience when they need it most.
If you don’t have the information you need to segment your list, ask. Offer an incentive for anyone who completes your questionnaire.
Research the best times to send emails for your industry.
What is the best day of the week? What is the best time of day?
Email automation on steroids
Earlier we talked about email sequences. Do you remember the nurture sequence? Typically this type of email is automated.
Modern email marketing services give you the tools to do more than just send an email out once a day or once a week. You can trigger certain emails based on the behaviour of your contacts.
Create multiple campaigns
I recently worked on automations for a business promoting an overseas tour. When someone makes an enquiry, a welcome email is sent with a link to a flyer. If they don’t download the flyer within 2 days, a follow up email is sent. If they do download the flyer, they put onto a nurture sequence that, every few days, sends them a specific piece of information about part of the tour. If they book a tour, they’re removed from the nurture sequence and put onto another automation that builds excitement using a countdown sequence.
After the tour, they’re moved to another automation where we ask if they were happy with the tour and them stream them to one of two forms depending on whether they were happy or not.
If they were happy, they asked to submit a review on Facebook and Google.
Using these sequences, a person is sent different messages depending on where they are in the tour decision / purchase journey.
Analyse and improve
You have planned your campaign, crafted your subject lines, designed your emails, filled them with valuable content and let them loose into the wild. Now what?
Many people focus on the planning and implementation. Once their campaigns are let loose, that it for them. Like any project, you need to evaluate the performance so you can make improvements and fine tune your next campaign.
You only need to send one email campaign to start getting insights into how your audience is reacting to your emails. The good news is that it’s not hard. Email service providers will give you access to the basic statistics you need to evaluate your campaign.
Before you start reading too much into the numbers you’re seeing, do your research to find out the benchmark values for your industry in your country.
The key metrics you should be looking for are:
The metric is expressed as a percentage. It is the number of email views divided by the total number of email delivered. This metric isn’t totally reliable but it is one that should be tracked over a number of campaigns. Open rates can be influenced by your subject line, delivery days and delivery time of day.
To increase your open rates, we bring earlier topics together. To recap, you should:
Set clear expectations
Make sure you’re clear about what someone is going to receive when they subscribe to your list. The best places to do this are on your sign up form, confirmation and welcome messages. Then, deliver on that promise. Someone is more likely to open your emails if you deliver on your promise of value.
Write compelling subject lines
The subject line is the first part of your email recipients see, so make sure it’s engaging. Keep it less than 40 characters for mobile users. Be clear about what the email contains.
While ‘clever’ subject lines can work, don’t do this for the first one or two emails. Let people get used to receiving your emails first.
Use preview text
Email clients can show preview or preheader text after the subject line. If there is no preheader text, the client will show the first few characters of the message body. Preheader text becomes valuable real estate to reinforce what your emails contain. Think of it as additional space for the restricted number of characters in the subject line.
Use the recipient’s first name in the subject line. Human’s love to see their name and will be more likely to open an email that includes it.
Poor or declining open rates can be an indicator of poor subject lines or pre-header text. Remember, it’s not the content at this stage as they’re not even opening your emails.
Days of the week or times of the day could also influence open rates. Research the ‘best’ times for your industry in your country. If you’re already following that suggestion, try changing it and measure the result.
One other tactic is to resend your email to those people who didn’t open it and change the subject line.
This metric is the percentage of people who click a link in your email divided by the number of people who opened your email.
Like open rates, the figures can vary between different industries in different country so do your research. As a guide, a good rate comes in at around 15%.
To improve your click-through rate, you should:
Remove underperforming content
If a particular link isn’t getting a lot of clicks, then you could change the way you’re showing it or remove it from your email sequence.
Promote popular content
For links that are getting clicked, think of ways you can include it again. You could also have special news emails that highlight popular content.
Send better targeted emails
Segmenting your list and sending specific emails for each segment will increase click throughs because the emails are more relevant.
Called churn, when you’re starting out, it can be disheartening when someone unsubscribes from your list. Typically you can expect to lose 25% of your list each year. Losing subscribers isn’t the end of the world. It’s a great opportunity to find out why they unsubscribed. Understanding why can help you improve your emails and reduce future unsubscribes.
When someone unsubscribes, you can:
Ask why they’re leaving
Have a dedicated page they’re redirect to when they unsubscribe. Ask them why they unsubscribed and use this to improve your emails.
Re-evaluate your email marketing strategy
Make sure your subscription form, confirmation and welcome emails are clear on what it is you will be delivering in your email then deliver it.
Continue attracting new subscribers
Knowing that everyone experiences churn, keep building your list.
This is how many emails actually make it to your subscriber’s inbox. If you’re not getting the open rate you expect, it could be that emails aren’t even making it there.
A good email service provider will do a basic spam check on your emails during the design phase. You can also run the content through an online spam checker.
Some ways to increase deliverability are to:
- Include a way for recipients to unsubscribe from an email
- Include your physical postal address
- Be clear about who is sending a message
- Avoid deceiving subject lines
One way that your emails can be noticed by the wrong audience is to reduce the chances of your emails being flagged as spam by the recipient. To do this, use the best practices we’ve discussed in this guide.
It’s important to clean out your list regularly to avoid attracting the spam filters. Continuing to send emails to addresses that no longer exist is one way your email can be identified as spam. Also, continuing to send emails to someone who clearly isn’t engaged with you or your business is likely to see them flag your emails as spam.
If you’ve been growing your list for a while they you will notice some subscribers who don’t open your emails or even click any links in them. These are unengaged subscribers so it’s best to give them a chance to be taken off your list. But, ask first. Have a re-engagement sequence to try and attract them back. If they don’t open those emails, remove them.
Ask for feedback
Statistics aside, the best way to give your subscribers valuable content is to ask them. Create a survey using software such as Survey Monkey or Google Docs or create your form on your website. Send your subscribers an email with a link to the survey and ask them to tell you what things they want to see you send them.
Wow, we’ve covered a lot. Now is the time for you to start taking action.
If you’re already using email marketing, think about what needs to change so you get better results. If you’re new to it, start with your strategy and set your goals.
People want what you have to offer otherwise why did you go into business? Start using email marketing to create relationships and you’ll get loyal customers.
Whatever you do, pick one thing we’ve talked about and do it.