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Email Marketing Strategy: The Small Business Owner’s Guide

Emily Kate Pope

Emily Pope is a writer and editor at Fundera. She specializes in all things small business marketing and financing.

Advertising Disclosure: Fundera receives compensation from our partners, which may impact how and where their products appear on our site. 

So, you want to create an email marketing strategy for your small business. That’s a smart move.

According to a recent report, people sent and received over 269 billion emails per day in 2017, and there are about 3.7 billion email users worldwide.

But who’s actually using email?

In the U.S. alone more than 90% of adults use email, and despite the rise of social messaging apps, 74% of teenagers use email as well.

So, no matter who your customers are or where they live, it’s likely they have an email account you can use to reach them.  

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But with so many other digital marketing options available, is email marketing the best way to reach your customers?

Well, let’s compare it to social media for a moment. On Facebook, for instance, you have to time your message just right—and still only reach a small portion of your followers.

An email goes to a customer’s inbox where they are more likely to see it: At least 91% of consumers check their email on a daily basis.

So, yes, it’s safe to say that email is a well-known, effective marketing tool.

But you can’t just send any old email, and, of course, building up a list of people to receive your emails takes a lot of work.

It’s equally important to think very carefully about what you send as a marketing email as it is to build up your email list.  

If you’re ready to dive in, we’ve compiled an email marketing strategy guide for small businesses that will cover all of these bases.

Make a Plan for Your Business’s Email Marketing Strategy

You don’t want to start sending out marketing emails without having a comprehensive content plan.

To make that plan, you need to decide what type of emails you want to send and when you want to send them.

Understanding what type of marketing emails are out there is a good first step in building your email marketing strategy.

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Choose Email Marketing Types for Your Small Businesses

1. Email Newsletters

This is one of the most popular types of marketing emails for small businesses—it’s a great way to keep in regular contact with your email subscribers.

There are a few different approaches that you can take to email newsletters.

Some businesses use this communication to keep customers up-to-date on the latest news from the company, including sales and promotions.

Others treat newsletters a bit like a digital magazine, with content the subscribers might find interesting and relevant to your brand.

Consistency is key with email newsletters—your subscribers will want to know what to expect in order to keep them clicking.

Frequent communication will play a vital role in helping your small business increase brand recognition and build stronger customer relationships.

How frequently should you send out newsletters?

It depends on your resources. The more frequent the better—some businesses send daily newsletters.

But you want to make sure the content is good. There’s nothing worse than a bland, boring email just for the sake of sending an email.

If you only have enough good content or capacity for a weekly or monthly newsletter, then stick with that.

Email newsletters are a great place to start when you’re first launching an email marketing strategy.

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2. Email Drip Campaigns

Email “drips” are automated email messages sent to subscribers on a certain schedule or after subscribers take certain actions.

An email drip campaign can help your company efficiently and effectively communicate with your customers on a consistent basis.

Here are just a few examples of when you might use an email drip campaign:

  • Welcome email: Send out an automated email to individuals who sign up for your email list or create an account on your website.
  • Cart abandonment: Customers often put items in their cart without completing the purchase. When this happens, you can send an automated email reminding them what they left behind. You can use this opportunity to ask if they have any questions or concerns or offer a discount/incentive to push them over the edge.
  • Nudges: If someone has signed up for your list but hasn’t purchased anything from you yet, you can send them a series of emails guiding them to the next step of purchasing.
  • Thank yous: Once someone makes a purchase or engages with your content in some way, you can send out an automated thank you message to let them know how much you appreciate their business.

Much like the email newsletter, email drip campaigns not only let you stay in touch with subscribers on a regular basis, but they can also help influence conversions over time.

Most small businesses will launch their email marketing strategy with a welcome email series along with a weekly or bi-weekly email newsletter.

3. Dedicated Send

Every now and then, you might want to send a dedicated email to a certain group of people.

For example, if you’re hosting a conference or event, you might want to send a dedicated email just to event registrants to alert them of event updates.

Another example would be for different tiers of customers—frequent or VIP customers, customers who haven’t visited your site in a while, or customers from a specific area.

Dedicated sends work to feel more personalized and help customers feel more engaged with your brand.

4. Product Update Email

Generally, people don’t want to receive these very often, and they’re usually not as interesting or engaging as something like an offer email or other newsletter content.

Product emails are tricky, but that said, it’s important to keep your customers informed about what’s going on in the business. Keep these emails simple and straightforward.

You’ll likely want to send a product update email when there is a massive overhaul or feature change that will significantly affect the user experience.

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Settle on an Email Service Provider

Now that you know what content you’ll send to your email list and how often, the next step in building out your email marketing strategy is to decide which email service provider, or ESP, you’ll use to send those emails.

ESPs are simply the platforms you use to build, send, and report on your email marketing strategy.

A comprehensive email strategy with large lists and multiple templates requires a software program that can handle all the things you want to do with your email marking.

A lot of services are out there—it can be overwhelming to decide on which one to use. These are some of the most popular:

  • Constant Contact: A comprehensive email tool to help manage lists and templates.
  • MailChimp: Another comprehensive option, MailChimp also integrates with WordPress, Magento, Shopify, and many other platforms.
  • Drip: Specially designed for e-commerce businesses, Drip helps manage drip campaigns to keep your customers engaged and sales aplenty.
  • ActiveCampaign: This is great for automated email campaigns and segmenting your customers into different groups.
  • SendPulse: Reliable all in one email marketing platform with loads of integrations and features such as transactional emails, web push notifications, and SMS.

Most of these options come with free trial periods, and after that, you’ll have to budget for monthly subscriptions with prices that vary based on how big your email list is and how comprehensive your strategy is.

Stay Compliant

You heard it here first: There are laws regulating how businesses send emails. While the potential for legal complications can be a disadvantage to email marketing, they can be avoided by understanding the laws before building out your strategy.

You do not want to violate the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003, otherwise known as the CAN-SPAM Act.  

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Email service providers offer tools and learning resources to help you stay within the law of email marketing—use them.

It would be highly advised to familiarize yourself with the FTC’s Compliance Guide for Businesses as well.

Build Up Your Business’s Email List

Of course, no email marketing strategy is executable without subscribers to send your content out to. Here are some tips on how to build that list if you don’t have one already.

1. Make the sign-up process easy. 

Place a sign-up box high on your company’s website—or somewhere very visible—and add a link to the email-marketing signup page on the organization’s social media profiles.

Best practices include having the registration box:

  • Above the fold: At the very top of the page, where customers won’t have to scroll to see it.
  • Top right sidebar: If are using sidebars, then the top right is ideal for the email registration box
  • At the bottom of your articles: If you write articles for your website and someone reads your articles to the very end, then they are more likely to want to read more from you. A great place to give them this option.
  • The footer: If you don’t have articles on your website, the footer is the next best option for placement for customers who may be seeking more of your content.

Don’t be afraid to have your registration box in multiple places on your site.

You can also solicit emails on a physical sign up sheet at your brick-and-mortar store, or ask your retail associates to ask for customer emails when they check out.

2. Don’t ask for too much information.

Asking for a name and email is enough. A long and clunky registration forms could keep some customers from following through.

Try to make it a “single click” experience. Once they confirm their email, they’ll be on your list.

If you generate forms using lead management software, you may be able to automate information-gathering for new subscribers, enabling a simple but personalized experience.

3. Use social media.

Your website is not the only medium to increase your email subscribers. You can use Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and any other social network you are using to get more emails. Don’t be afraid to ask your followers to register on your list, but don’t forget to also explain the benefits of doing so.

4. Let customers know what to expect and offer incentives.

Why should someone register to be on your list? What’s in it for them? Make sure your customers know the benefit of signing up. Will your emails include special offers? Important information? Let them know upfront.

It’s important to tell your subscribers what kind of content to expect from you and how frequently they should expect it. Don’t promise something you can’t deliver.

5. Collaborate with similar brands.

Is there a brand or company who has a similar audience to yours? Why not partner with them to get in front of their email list?

You can partner with another brand in a few different ways:

  • Host an event together: Team up to produce an event that both of your audiences would respond to, then share the emails collected from the event. You can use Splash to make a quick event page and download sign ups.

 

  • Partner for a sweepstakes: Platforms like DojoMojo make it super simple to find similar brands and work with them on producing a sweepstakes. You’ll typically have to send a dedicated email and provide some form of prizing to participate. Or you can host your own sweepstakes! All of the partners will promote the sweeps to their email list, and then everyone shares the entries.

 

  • Do a “newsletter swap”: Partner with another brand and agree to feature a link to each other in your respective email newsletters. This is a great way to get in front of a new aligned audience!

Small Business Email Marketing Best Practices

Once you know what types of emails you want to send and have a contact list built up of customers to send them to, it’ll be important to keep these best practices in mind as you execute your business’s email marketing strategy.

1. Use compelling subject lines.

Grab the reader’s attention from the very start. A good email subject line communicates a compelling, even urgent, proposition. Do you have a teaser? A giveaway? A discount in store?

A few other ideas:

  • Ask a question in the subject line that will engage your customer
  • Provide an offer the customer might be interested in
  • Use numbers (e.g., “5 Ways to Wear Our Handmade Scarves”)

Make sure your subscribers won’t be able to gloss over your subject line. Many providers let you test different subject lines to see which ones work best for your audience.

2. Be brief. 

Consumers are only willing to give you so much time. They’re busy. They have other things to do.

It’s important to learn to say more with less. How can you get your message across with as few words as possible? Is there an image that could convey these ideas or better grab the readers attention?  

3. Make the text easy to read and scan

It’s possible that many of your readers will simply scan your emails. Pack in words with special meaning, and use subheadings and bolded sentences. Small paragraphs with one or two sentences are key.

4. Use ALT tags for images.

Many email clients do not show images by default. This is where ALT tags come in.

Think of it as backup text that provides context about what your image is.  

This is also an important tool for your visually impaired subscribers that may use a screen reader to get a description of images in an email.

5. Make your emails mobile friendly.

These days, most emails are read on mobile. In fact, more than two-thirds of emails are read on mobile devices.

This means you’ll need to make sure that your email campaigns are tested on all major mobile devices. Most software services will have mobile emulators to see how the email looks on different devices.

6. Customize your messages.

Make it feel personal. When you use an email software provider to send out the emails, you can include the customer’s name or other relevant information about them to grab their attention.

This will make them feel like they’re getting an email from a person, rather than a software provider or corporation.

Spend the time to customize the messages that go out with each email.

7. Include your social media profiles.

Double down on customer engagement by getting them to follow you on other platforms through your email campaigns.

Most email software providers include the option to promote your profiles directly in your emails.

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Launching an email marketing strategy can be a very powerful tool for your business, you can find plenty of resources out there to help you make the most of it.

It’s important to go into your strategy with a comprehensive plan so that you can use a software service that best fits your needs.

Keeping up with your email strategy will result in better customer engagement and sales—don’t miss out on all that email marketing has to offer!

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Emily Kate Pope

Emily Pope is a writer and editor at Fundera. She specializes in all things small business marketing and financing.

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