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Email Marketing Guide for Small Business Owners

Email marketing is a valuable tool for small business owners. It's a cost-effective way to reach customers directly. It can attract new customers, retain existing customers, and build brand recognition. Email marketing involves sending promotional or commercial messages to your target audience through the internet.

Return on Investment (ROI)

Email marketing statistics show a strong return on investment (ROI). For every $1 spent on email marketing, approximately $40.00 is made in return. In comparison, search engine optimization (SEO) has a $22.24 ROI. Keyword ad sales have a $17 ROI.

Email marketing also has high engagement rates. Response rates on email marketing are generally in the 20% range, depending on the industry and format, according to email marketing data compiled by eConsultancy.


Email marketing campaigns don't have to be expensive. Sending a typical email costs only a few cents per message compared to traditional direct mail, which costs $1 or more per piece. Small and medium-sized companies can expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $1,500 a month for email marketing.

It's no surprise that email is one of the most popular content distribution channels. According to Emarsys, 81% of small businesses rely on email marketing as their primary customer acquisition channel. Of all small businesses, 80% use it for customer retention.

Several different types of emails are used in marketing.

  • Transactional emails are sent in response to customer actions on your website. They are often sent automatically. These automated emails include password reset emails, upsell emails, abandoned cart emails, account alert emails, etc.
  • Promotional emails are emails sent to increase sales and revenue. They notify customers about events, product launches, special offers, etc.
  • Seasonal messages notify customers about holiday specials and events.
  • Discounts and coupon emails provide incentives for immediate purchases.
  • Newsletters are regular emails that provide an opportunity to share news about your company or product on a regular basis.

The following is a short guide on email marketing.

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Building an Email List

The first step in small business email marketing is to develop a list of email subscribers.

Creating a signup form and featuring it on different marketing channels, such as your blog, website, and social media, is an excellent way to build your list. Experts recommend setting up a sign-up form with double opt-in.

Double opt-in means that new subscribers will get a confirmation email after they've submitted their email address. Double opt-in avoids deliverability issues stemming from typos in email addresses.

When signing up on the website, you can also use timed pop-ups in addition to your signup form.

Build a Landing Page

Landing pages are pages on your website that prospects visit by following a link or a “call to action" in an email or from one of your social media posts. Landing pages are used to get consumers to download an ebook, register for a webinar, etc.

To add more subscribers to an existing list, experts suggest you host a contest or offer a coupon. Try offering a prize to new subscribers or a discount code for a purchase. Such an offer or activity provides people with an incentive to sign up for your email list. Experts say contests are particularly useful.

Craft a strong “call to action" (CTA). Explain the benefit the consumer will receive by providing their email address. The CTA persuades readers to do something. In this case, you want to craft a CTA encouraging consumers to submit their email address.

Email Design

Email marketing tools make it easy for you to create visually appealing emails. Most have easy-to-use drag-and-drop editors so that even beginners can design attractive emails.

Use visually appealing imagery. Break up large blocks of text with images.

Consider adding video to your emails. A Martech study indicates that adding videos to your emails can increase click-through rates by 300%.

Some companies offer a choice of either HTML or 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. Some email providers may screen out HTML emails or block the graphics.

Writing Effective Email Content

Email content is an important part of your email marketing campaign.

Subject lines should be fairly short. Experts recommend using only 40 to 50 characters in the subject line. Personalization helps. Emails with personalized subject lines boost open rates by approximately 10-14%.

Email content should be short, dynamic, and easy to understand. Don't use all caps or overuse exclamation points.

Start with action-oriented verbs to grab your audience's attention. Phrases like "Discover the latest," "Unlock your potential," or "Transform your business" inspire engagement.

Many people view emails on mobile devices such as cell phones and tablets, which have smaller screens. Make sure your email content is optimized for mobile devices.

Many studies suggest that email newsletters are read far more carefully when they offer information useful to the customers' lives rather than selling products and services. Include helpful tips, informative content, or early notification of special offers in your newsletter.

Send welcome emails to new subscribers. A welcome email may be the most important email that a small business can send to new customers. Welcome emails often achieve the highest open rates for businesses. Welcome emails have an average open rate of 68.6%, according to Oberlo.

Take Advantage of Demographic Information

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. Eighty-three percent of consumers said they prefer hyper-personalized marketing messages.

For example, a small cosmetics brand catering to a niche market of eco-conscious consumers analyzes its email subscriber base. It discovers that a group of women aged 30-45 favor vegan and cruelty-free beauty products. The brand develops an email series titled "Green Beauty for You," which includes personalized makeup recommendations and special offers based on each subscriber's demographic information and past purchases.

Email Frequency

Be sure to consider the frequency with which consumers would like to receive brand emails. A study from Statista notes that 49% of consumers said that they would like to receive promotional emails from their favorite brands on a weekly basis.

Marketing Goals

Email marketing goals focus on email campaigns and provide a way to measure their success. Clear goals make it easy to determine a campaign's effectiveness and adjust its performance.

Goals should be SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

Sample email marketing goals can include:

  • Increase email open rates by 10% within six months
  • Generate $8,000 in revenue within one year
  • Grow the email list by 600 subscribers within a quarter

Monitoring Performance

Email engagement is one of the top metrics used to evaluate content performance. Marketers say they look at email engagement metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, and downloads to determine how successful a piece of content is, more so than conversion rates and social media analytics.

A/B testing is a way to measure performance while the campaign is underway. Also known as split testing, it allows you to send different versions of your email to figure out which version performs better. A/B testing helps you send targeted emails to maximize your open rate.

For example, you can send your email list an email with two different subject lines. You send one version of your subject line to 25% of your list and the second version of your subject line to another 25%.

Using an email performance tool, you can track the performance of both emails to see which performs better. Then, you send the email that performs the best to the remaining 50% of your list. Most email service providers offer A/B testing tools.

Of course, another metric is the unsubscribe rate. If the rate is high, you should tweak your email marketing campaign.

User Search Intent

Understanding and leveraging search intent in email marketing enables small businesses to create effective email campaigns. User search intent is playing an increasing role in email and content marketing.

Search intent is the user's reason for typing a particular query into a search engine. By analyzing intent, small businesses can tailor their email marketing strategies to line up with the interests and needs of their target audience.

For instance, a small business may see a sizable portion of its target audience searching for solutions or products related to "sustainable living." The business can leverage this insight by crafting email content that highlights its eco-friendly products or practices. This makes the content relevant and appealing to email recipients.

Incorporating search intent into email content can transform generic campaigns into personalized messages that resonate with the recipient. This can generate higher open rates and better conversion rates.

Choosing an Email Marketing Platform

Email marketing service providers offer a number of email marketing tools and email marketing software that you can use to develop and execute your marketing plan—even if you are a beginner. It doesn't have to be expensive.

Most email marketing platforms offer a free plan. Free plans generally have less functionality and fewer advanced features than paid plans. Some also offer a starter plan for small businesses. So, startups and small businesses have choices when selecting the best email marketing services for their campaigns.

The best email platform for your small business will depend on your budget, goals, and the features you need for your email marketing. If you're new to digital marketing, a service provider with a reputation for being beginner-friendly is also helpful.

Below are some features you should consider when deciding on an email marketing platform.

  • Is the platform cost-effective?
  • How many emails can you send in a month before incurring additional charges?
  • Can users create email campaigns through a visual, drag-and-drop email builder within the platform?
  • Does the platform help you with list management?
  • Does the platform help you with segmentation and personalization?
  • Does it provide good customer support?
  • Does it offer email templates?
  • Does it provide an easy email editor?
  • Does it offer email A/B testing?
  • Does it offer Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools?
  • Does it provide automation capabilities?

Mailchimp and Constant Contact are two of the most popular choices. Other alternatives include Hubspot, Brevo (formerly Sendinblue), ActiveCampaign, MailerLite, GetResponse.

Legal Compliance

When engaging in email marketing, it's important to follow digital marketing laws. Key legal requirements include:

  • The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) governs digital marketing in the European Union. It's a 2018 law that protects personal data in the European Union. It applies to those who use, collect, or store the personal data of EU citizens. It's been dubbed the “toughest privacy and data security law in the world."
  • The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) covers California residents. Golden State residents have the right to know how and when their personal information is being handled, collected, and stored. It also grants consumers the right to ask that their data be deleted.

Non-compliance with marketing and advertising laws can lead to hefty fines and penalties.

Make Sure Your Email Marketing Efforts Are Compliant

Marketing and advertising practices are regulated by several laws, both federal and state. Make sure your email marketing campaigns are compliant with these laws. Follow best practices and speak with a business and commercial law attorney licensed in your state.

See FindLaw's Internet and E-Commerce and Marketing and Advertising Laws sections to learn more.

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