7½ Steps to Great Email Marketing for Small Businesses

Small businesses often struggle to gain traction in marketing their product or service. Flyers get thrown away, billboards require upkeep and radio or television adverts cost as much as the company car!

So, what’s a cost effective solution to a very serious problem? After all, with no marketing there’s no sales and with no sales, your small business will soon be out of business!

Enter SMB email marketing – the channel that provides the most bang for your buck. Sending email is easy, cost-effective and trackable which means the more you do it, the better it becomes!

Many businesses, large and small, realise this, however, how many of those promotional emails are actually opened by you?

The answer: probably about one or two – a month!

This is because new emarketers know why they’re doing email marketing, but not how to do email marketing. Anyone who has access to internet, a computer and the technical aptitude of a 12 year old is able to send promotional email, but it takes an email veteran to get it down to a fine-tuned process.

After all, that’s the difference between a cook and a chef.

Prepare to get served – this step by step article will get your small business dishing up email marketing campaigns you can be proud of – for very little money!

Selecting an ESP – Step 1 in SMB email marketing

Before you get into any serious relationships, it always pays to do your research – personal or otherwise!

There are many Email Service Providers (ESPs) to choose from and each has their strengths and weaknesses.

As a small business, you want to look for an ESP that doesn’t charge you for features you won’t use, and a flexible pricing plan that adapts to your needs as your business grows. In addition to this, you’ll want to have a reliable support structure in place – something that most free ESPs don’t provide.

While small businesses don’t have loads of cash to throw around, consider that each dollar invested in email marketing equates to $40 worth of return on investment. It simply makes mathematical sense to invest in a reliable SMB Email Service Provider – following this, the rest of the steps for online marketing are completely free!

I have written before on what to look for in a quality email newsletter Tool, in short:

  • A variety of customisable templates that grab a reader’s attention.
  • Detailed reports, an Inbox preview option and mailing list clean tools.
  • Integration of email marketing and social media options, if are active on them as a small business.
  • Easy to use and intuitive interface.
  • Mobile optimisation for people reading on their smartphones.

Data Collection – Step 2 SMB email marketing

You can’t expect to send email unless you have email addresses.

While there are many ways for businesses to gain email addresses, the best (and easiest) way for a small business to grow their email list is to put a sign up form on your website and drive traffic to your site.

There’s a catch though! When creating your sign-up form you have to balance the information you want to obtain with the general willingness of your target market to share those details. Ask for too much information, and you’ll get very few sign ups, ask for too little and you’ll end up with dead-end leads and bogus details.

The amount of information you ask varies depending on your target market, industry and general efficiency of your sign-up landing page, but it’s a good rule of thumb to ask for name and email address, followed by additional interests and title, birthday, location. Provided that information is the most useful to you.

Feel free to ask for more information on top of this, but be sure to make this non-compulsory for a sign up to go through and make sure that it’s clear to your reader that entering this information is not required.

Email Segmentation – Step 3 in SMB email marketing

Now that you’ve collected information, you have to organize it.

Put different subscribers from a common background into different mailing lists. You could segment your subscribers based on age, gender, nationality or company – virtually anything you put on your signup form or already know from your customers!

Why would you go through all this work? Well, now you’ll be able to structure your email newsletter sends based on their interests and what they’re most likely to buy!

According to a Lyris Email Optimizer Report from emarketer:

  • 39% of marketers who segmented their email lists experienced higher open rates,
  • 28% experienced had lower unsubscribe rates and
  • 24% experienced greater revenue.

Targeting specific markets is where small businesses should start because that’s where they’ll find the most success before expanding into other markets.

Email Creation – Step 4 in SMB email marketing

Welcome to the heart of email marketing – the email itself!

Many new emarketer hopefuls design an email in the same way they would a flyer or website. They make creative design decisions and newsletters that look like they’d fit in at an art house instead of taking practical considerations into place.

An Email Service Provider that has many templates is ideal for small businesses who want to save time and money – they suggest the ideal amount of text and images that are formatted in a way to be responsive. This means saving time and money designing and coding an email newsletter from scratch every time.

Finally, be sure to offer immediate value. This can be done with a downloadable white paper, video or link to a special offer – make it worth the reader’s while to invest in your email, and soon you’ll find them investing in your brand.

New businesses can take advantage of this by offering samples as “free products” to people who receive the email, this not only gives consumers a taste of what you have to offer, but also the location of your business for future purchases.

Personalization – Step 5 in SMB email marketing

Creating your email is only the start of your email’s journey to the inbox.

The next step is to insert personalization, and it’s a step you don’t want to miss – A 2014 marketing study found that while the majority of brands still do not use personalization, it has proven to have great benefits such as 29% higher unique open rates and 41% higher unique click rates!

The plan here is to make your email sound as personal as possible. Try to make it out as if you’re addressing your customers in person. This means inserting personalization tags in relevant areas.

For example, “Dear , we noticed that has been using our since . Because of this, we’d like to offer you an exclusive discount on…”

Personalization makes your customers feel special, which in turn helps brand trust, loyalty and ultimately conversions!

Testing your email newsletter – Step 6 in SMB email marketing

Here’s where you finally send … just not to your email list (just yet anyway!).

Send a test email to yourself, a friend and a colleague – as long as you all open the email on different browsers, email clients and devices. This ensures that your email sends won’t be a mess when they arrive to your clients.

It’s extremely important for small businesses to use test utilities, as client acquisition and retention are especially important for early business growth.

Most email service providers offer inbox preview functions as well as spam test features – these are highly recommended and can save businesses a lot of time and money. The last thing a growing business needs is to lose a client due to a failed send or terribly rendered email. Talking about that, don’t forget to test your email on mobile devices too. A lot of people open their mails on Smartphones and tablets. You want to make sure it looks good after your subjectline gets that mobile email newsletter opened.

A / B tests, on the other hand, can make you more money! These tests send two different emails to equal sections of your subscriber base and provide feedback on how well they were received. This allows you to optimize your email for your clients and adapt it for newer clients.

Now the moment you’ve been waiting for – the send! (Step 7)

Not a whole lot to be said here. If you’ve followed the previous steps of adding personalisation, testing your email and checking that it will work on most clients, you should be golden!

The only thing you need to worry about here is the time you actually send your email out.

Emails reach their best open rates in the first hour of delivery. The chances of the recipient opening your email, no matter how many offers it has, are extremely slim after that first hour. This means you have to be accurate in finding the exact hour your target market checks their inbox.

How do you find this golden hour? Well, it changes based on your target market, but a good rule of thumb is to try to match the time to the time your subscribers originally signed up for the newsletter. MarketingSherpa reported that the response rate for subscribers who receive email on the same hour they signed up increases significantly, with site usage from these users rising by 81%!

Step 7½ in SMB email marketing – Reporting and Analysis

An emarketer’s job doesn’t end after the send!

Email service providers often offer reporting tools and analytic functions that will allow you to see how your email is received and consumed by readers or if your email even was opened at all!
The 2014 Econsultancy Email Census reported that 77% of businesses identified reporting and analytic tools to be the most valuable – and they’re right on the money! If you’re not tracking how your email marketing campaign is doing, improving it will be based on guess work – which will leave people guessing what your marketing department actually does.
1. Your first stop should be how many of your emails were actually delivered.
To check this, take a look at the ‘Delivered’ stat and compare it with the ‘Bounced’ stat. The lower your email bounces are the better your campaign will do, but if your email bounce stat is higher than 15% you should use the list cleanup function email service providers offer to protect your deliverability.

2. If you have a low bounce rate, take a look at your open rate and compare it with your total email delivered.
If your email was delivered but not opened, you should take a look at your subject line and snippet. If your readers didn’t open the email, they found no relevance or interest in the subject line. Try spice it up with some relevance or curiosity.

3. Finally, check out the Click Through Rate and how many readers shared your email.
If your Click Through Rate is low, you should take a look at the content of the email itself. Ask yourself if it rendered correctly, was well written or well designed. If, however, the Click Through Rate or share rate was high, you can be assured your email was well received.

Once you go through these 7 and a half steps, you have to ensure you monitor the situation and adapt to how your customers are reacting to your email newsletter sends.

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Mark Brown

After doing film making, freelance copy writing and marketing Mark has joined GraphicMail as copywriter. With a love of the strange, artistic and technological, Mark's interests are as varied and peculiar as he is. Mark loves to express his flavor on paper... or flickering screen to keep his readers informed and entertained."