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Small Business Email Marketing

Although social media has overtaken email marketing as the most effective way to keep in touch with customers, it's still quite effective if done properly. It is generally cost-effective and can help build brand awareness and customer loyalty. At a typical cost of only a few cents per message, it's a bargain compared to traditional direct mail at $1 or more per piece. In addition, response rates on e-mail marketing are in the 20 percent range, depending on the industry and format, according to email marketing data compiled by eConsultancy. Response rates for traditional mail average in the 1-3% range, according to most estimates and statistics.

One of the benefits of email marketing is the demographic information that customers provide when signing up for your email newsletter. Discovering who your customers really are -- age, gender, income and special interests, for example -- can help you target your products and services to their needs. Of course, asking for too much personal information also can be risky for a number of reasons. And make sure you steer clear of the tactics used by spammers, which not only repel consumers but can be also be illegal.

The following are a few points to consider when creating your email newsletter. See FindLaw's Internet and E-Commerce and Marketing and Advertising Laws sections to learn more.

HTML vs. Plain Text

Response rates for HTML newsletters are generally far higher than for plain text, particularly since the graphics and colors tend to make the publications look far more professional. The downside is that HTML email is slower to download, and some email providers may screen out HTML email or block the graphics. Some companies offer the customer a choice of either HTML or plain text.

Provide Incentive to Subscribe

Advertise the benefits of receiving your newsletter to get customers to sign up for your newsletter, such as helpful tips, informative content, or early notification of special offers or campaigns. Making sure subscribers stay connected is the next step.

Don't Just Sell

Many studies suggest that email newsletters are read far more carefully when they offer information that is useful to the customers' lives rather than merely selling products and services. Helpful tips, engaging content and humor are often expected to accompany email newsletters. If you sell network security software, for instance, you might consider establishing yourself as an expert in the field and offer statistics, outlooks, and professional guidance.

Limit Questions

As each demographic question you ask may reduce the number of customers signing up, it's best to limit the amount of information you solicit or give customers the option of skipping the questionnaire. It's a matter of balance, since you want valuable information without turning off the customer.

Establishing a Web Presence

Even if you choose not to sell your goods or services online, a business web site can be a virtual marketing brochure that you can update on demand with little or no cost. Your presence on the Internet can be a useful marketing tool by providing richer pre-sale information or post-sale support and service. This might temporarily differentiate your product or service from your competitors'. E-marketing has lessened the disadvantage that small businesses have faced for years when competing with larger businesses.

E-Commerce has redefined the marketplace, altered business strategies, and allowed global competition between local businesses. The term electronic commerce has evolved from meaning simply electronic shopping to representing all aspects of business and market processes enabled by the Internet and other digital technologies.

Today's business emphasis is on e-commerce -- rapid electronic interactions enabled by the Internet and other connected computer and telephone networks. Many small businesses assume that the Internet has little value to them because they feel that their product or service cannot be easily sold online. But inexpensive information processing and electronic media can help most small businesses provide better, faster customer service and communication.

Make Sure Your Email Marketing Efforts are Compliant

Marketing and advertising practices are regulated by a number of laws, both federal and state. Make sure you email marketing campaigns are compliant with these laws by following best practices and perhaps speaking with a business and commercial law attorney licensed in your state.

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