Email marketing has become a crucial activity for many small businesses. An email newsletter often is often their main mode of engaging customers, building loyalty and driving sales. Its not rocket science, but email marketing the right way does require basic know-how.
And while we could have come up with a top 100 list, if you follow these 10 small business marketing tips, you'll be on your way to creating an effective email newsletter to help build your business.
1. Only Send Email to People You Know
Emailing complete strangers is spam. Emailing customers and others with whom you have only a slight acquaintance is, at best, a waste of time.
The stronger the relationship you have with a person, the more likely he or she is to respond to your email, said Eric Groves, senior vice president of global market development at Constant Contact, an email marketing services firm.
If you send email to people you dont know, the first thing theyre going to say is, Do I know you? and the second is, Do I care? If the answer to the first is no, youve lost them already.
2. Build Your Email Newsletter Contact List Slowly
Quality in a contact list is always more important than quantity, Groves said. Start by approaching your biggest fans -- customers with whom youre in regular contact who express support and appreciation.
Next, establish mechanisms for capturing contact information and permissions at the places where you engage customers -- in your store, in their place of business, online. Present the emails as something that will extend the dialog youve begun with them.
The mechanism could be as simple as a guest book on a retail store counter where customers can sign up to receive emails, or a subscription or RSS link at your Web page.
As slow as it might go at first, if you do it right, your list will start to snowball as satisfied customers forward your email newsletter to friends and colleagues who also sign up. Thats if you do it right.
3. Resist the Urge to Sell, Sell, Sell
"There are a lot of great companies out there who -- when you join their mailing list -- they just bombard you with Buy from me, buy from me, buy from me, Groves said. Nothing turns customers off faster.
The best case with those is that they automatically delete the messages. The worst case is they hit Unsubscribe and now you've lost that connection with them.
Email marketing should be about building relationships, Grove said. He suggests that you offfer information of value to your customers and present yourself as a trusted expert. Rather than simply advertising sale items, a landscape firm, for example, might send a newsletter article about the various plants that deer wont eat.
The emails dont have to be long or involved. They just have to flick you on the forehead and say, Remember me. Heres a little nugget of knowledge. Do you need what I have to offer? Groves said. Be brief, be bright and be gone.
4. Become a Student of Email Marketing
Its not hard to write engaging content that recipients will value, Groves said, but you may have to become a student of email marketing to get up to speed initially.
There are plenty of resources available, including his book The Constant Contact Guide To Email Marketing, as well as emails, webinars and live seminars his company offers, and e-newsletters from other experts such as Michael Katz of Blue Penguin Development.
Go out and find your own examples of people in your industry who are having success with email marketing, and emulate them. Monitor your own consumption. Before you delete an email newsletter or hit unsubscribe, ask yourself why youre doing it. Now you know what to avoid.
5. Let Customers Tell You the Content They Want
If you're running short of ideas, and youre not sure what you should be communicating to customers, let them tell you.
When a customer asks a question in the course of doing business with you, write it down, along with your answer, and stick it in a folder. When the time comes to write your next email, you have ready topics at hand.
Even better, said Groves, is having your customers provide content ideas. For example, if you answer an interesting question for a customer, name the person in your newsletter.
Then say something along the lines of, We gave him a free t-shirt for asking such a good question, and then include a link -- Click here if you think you can stump us for next month,
6. Use the Subject Line to Engage and Reel in Readers
Your email newsletters have to grab readers the minute they land in their inboxes. It goes back to, Do I know you? Do I care? Groves said. If you look at the From address and it says, Eric Groves, Constant Contact, you might say, Oh yeah, I know him. But do I care?
Most recipients look at the subject line next. If its something bland and unappetizing like "Monthly newsletter," they pass on. They might think theyll come back to it later, but the chances of it happening are slim to none.
Once the subject line goes from bold to plain text, its gone, Groves said. But if the subject line is, say, Plants deer wont eat, hmm, that sounds interesting-- that draws them into the content.
7. Make it Look Professional, Not Slick
If your emails look like flashy Web pages, you lose the personal one-to-one element in an email relationship. And many email programs wont display HTML graphics anyway. Aim for inviting, consistent and professional, but avoid jiggling graphics.
Constant Contact -- along with other email newsletter service providers like Campaigner and iContact, to name just a few -- offer a variety of simple marketing email templates. A Google search will also turn up tons of e-newsletters you can emulate.
8. Make Sure Your Email Newsletter Lands in Customer Inboxes
This is where it can get tricky. How do you prevent Internet service providers (ISPs) from tagging your messages as junk mail, or prevent recipients email programs from filtering them out? This is the core expertise that email newsletter service providers service providers offer.
Groves claimed his company succeeds in getting clients emails into recipients inboxes 98 percent of the time. We have a whole team working all the time with major ISPs, he said.
Constant Contact's automated systems track what its clients send and to whom. If messages are red-flagged as possible junk mail, Constant Contact talks to the client. In extreme cases, it will drop them. Were trying to protect email delivery for 350,000 other customers, he pointed out.
9. Be Ready for a Response
Your email marketing campaign could fall on deaf ears, but if you do it right, you can pretty much count on getting a response. You have to be ready when it comes.
Groves recalled one client, a yoga instructor who sent out an email and then went off to teach classes. When she came back hours later, there were 15 responses waiting, some of them missed opportunities because she took too long to respond.
When you write free content and send it to interested customers, your phone is going to ring, he said. It might seem like a no-brainer, but its a common mistake under-resourced small businesses make.
10. Measure Campaign Success
Do you know how often customers open your newsletter? Do you know which subject lines work? Do you know which articles they read?
Its information you can capture if you run your own email marketing campaigns, but its something email newsletter service providers automatically feed clients and one of the significant value-adds they offer.
The information is invaluable for figuring out what works, what doesnt and what topics and types of content resonate with customers. The likelihood that youll get it right the first time and every time is small. Talking to customers will give you some of the intelligence you need, but email marketing metrics also help.
Marketing is not the same as selling. And email marketing is not, or should not, be exclusively about presenting offers. At the end of day, Groves said. Its all about building relationships, about establishing a two-way dialog where both sides see value.