25 Small Business Email Marketing Tips

July 11, 2013By
Small Business Email Tips

Tip: Stay away from promotions.

Email marketing is one of the most important marketing tools for businesses. Small businesses especially have an opportunity to use email marketing to increase business.

I’ve been involved with large eCommerce email marketing. I’ve seen what works well in that arena and there are some lessons small businesses can use to get the most out of their email strategy.

I’ve also worked on my own email strategies for Ghost Blog Writers and Country Music Life for the last few years. So I’ve seen what can work and what usually doesn’t work.

Here are 25 of the best tips I can come up with and hopefully they help you out a little bit.

1. Automation

On Country Music life I’ve done both manual and automated email newsletters over the years. In general, they do about the same. I’ve looked for ways to make the email program more valuable to subscribers, but simply automating the email program with the latest posts seems to work well and it saves me time. I created the original template and now I leave it alone. Automation can be your friend whether you’re creating a simple newsletter or a series of auto-responders.

2. Brands and Names In Subject Lines

Using brand names and names in subject lines (and headlines) is something I’ve seen work for large businesses and for small businesses. Back when I worked in the shoe industry our emails always did well in terms of open rates (and often in sales) when we used a brand name in the subject line. I’ve seen it work well for small business emails as well. For CML it seems subject lines are successful when I use an artist’s name. On GBW it seems we do well if we write a post analyzing a major brand or including a brand on a list and then using the brand name in the subject line.

3. Unsubscribe Links

Make it easy for people to unsubscribe from your list. That’s right. I hate when someone hits the spam button on one of my emails. I don’t want those people on my list. I only want people that love the content I’m sharing. So I try to make it easy for a person to remove themselves from the list.

4. 1-2 Times Per Week

You can probably get away with more if your content is really good, but I’ve found that 1-2 emails per week is a good fit for many small businesses. It seems like a sweet spot for getting good interaction and after a few days people are ready for new content. I even find that when I get an email every day from a company that I get annoyed even if I love the company and what they send.

5. Simple Design

I like simple design in emails. I keep it simple with plain white background and good use of whitespace. I usually have a small logo at the top left or top center of the page. Then I use basic 10pt Arial for the font. Use headlines to break up the text and use black font. That’s about it. Keep it simple. Add a few images or photos and you’re done.

6. Personal Story

In my GBW emails I have a list that goes to clients every couple weeks. This email is manual each time and I like to include a personal story. It seems to bring a personality to the email giving it a little more depth and value. Clients seem to appreciate it even if it’s just a little thing.

7. Compliments

I’ve also found that people appreciate simple compliments. Something as simple as “I like working with you” can make someone feel good and leaving them feeling satisfied for working with you as a vendor.

8. Real Photos

I haven’t done this one enough for my lists, but I’ve been on a few small business lists and messages that stand out to me are ones that include real photos from the business. There is a local brewery here in Eau Claire that renovated and they sent out photos from the process. It was pretty neat. A great way to get me more interested in their company.

9. Basic Calls-To-Action

You’ve probably gotten emails with all kinds of calls-to-action. eCommerce emails usually have a lot of options, but I find that if you have too many options in the email that it confuses people and they’re likely to simply delete the message. I try to have just a few calls-to-action in each email so the recipient can easily decide where they would like to go on the site.

10. Blue Text Links

It’s amazing how people respond to blue text links. It seems like everybody knows that a blue underlined item is something you should click. It may not always look the best, but blue text links get people to click. It’s intuitive.

11. Buttons

I’ve seen some crazy buttons and different calls-to-action in emails, but simple buttons that are intuitive and obvious seem to work the best. No need to get crazy with your button design. Keep it simple so anyone would know that they should click on it.

12. Logos

I feel every logo should be linked. It’s intuitive for people to click on your company logo to go the homepage. When I was at the shoe company the logo was always one of the most clicked on items in the entire email message.

13. Adding Inquiries

There is a gray line out there that some small businesses take when it comes to adding inquiries to their email list. I’ve been added to lists when I’ve emailed a person or even if they’ve emailed me. I don’t know how I fall on this topic. I know I feel annoyed when someone just adds me to their email list without at least giving me the option to opt-in. I guess I can always unsubscribe and I do most times. It is a way to add people to your list, though. I don’t do it, but maybe you would be comfortable doing it.

14. Responding To Website Inquiries

Some people have auto-responders for contact form inquiries for their small business. I actually don’t mind a message that acknowledges that the company received the inquiry. If your company is busy and can’t get back to each inquiry within 24 hours I think it’s a good idea to have an auto-responder go out just to let them know that you will be in touch within a few days.

15. Long Emails

Don’t be afraid of long emails with lots of sections and content. I’ve seen these work really well in retail and small business situations. I don’t feel that long blocks of content are good, but if you break it up into sections like a blog post they can work really well especially if you’re in a B2B situation and you want to sell a service.

16. Track Sales and Profit

It’s easy to focus on opens and clicks. For the most part these things will eventually correlate with sales and profit, but not always. For a small business like GBW I try to track each new customer that comes on board and figure out all the things that influenced the sale. It might go from reading a blog post to connecting on LinkedIn to joining the email list to inquiring about the service. If email helped in the sale then the program is successful more so than if open rates improve.

17. Customers and People That Know Customers

On GBW I get a few people that join the email list that are other writers. This is fine because we’re always looking to hire great writers, but really we want potential customers on the list. But don’t delete people that don’t fit your ideal customer profile because that person might know someone that is your ideal customer. These two segments are the ones I want on my lists: 1) Ideal Customer and 2) Someone that knows my ideal customer.

18. Promotions

Email, especially in the retail world, has morphed into this promotion monstrosity. It’s craziness. There was so much focus on instant success with emails that in order to keep improving performance companies just continued to offer deeper and deeper discounts. Once you go down that road you really can’t come back (just ask JCP). Stick with your natural sales funnel and trust that it works.

19. Branding

Like everything you do in business your email is a reflection of your brand. Highlight the things that make your business different when you send out emails. Maybe you can get this across in your content. Maybe you can tell stories and share photos. Do what you do best when sending out your emails and your customers will connect.

20. Test?

Small businesses are busy. There is little time for testing. I’ve found that putting in effort to think about email as another sales channel or sales funnel and formulating a good email strategy is the best way to go instead of testing and testing all sorts of things. Over time you can track sales and profit and if you think you can do it better than make improvements. With constant testing you can get in trouble like big brands have with promotions and short-term focus.

21. Capital Letters

Don’t capitalize entire words in your email. I don’t even like using exclamation points in subject lines. I think it’s over done and it might be just a personal pet peeve, but avoid using all CAPS and exclamation. It’s not worth it.

22. Short Subjects

I try to stick with short subjects for the most part. I like short things when it comes to the online world for things like URLs, headlines and subject lines. I don’t mind large blocks of content, but keep it short so people can quickly scan what your email is about.

23. Weird Characters

I’ve always had weird issues with using weird characters in email subject lines. These are things like “&”, “%”, “$” and a few others. They can work for the most part, but sometimes you get weird looking subjects. It’s probably just me, but I avoid these where I can and try to spell the word out when I can. It seems to get the same type of attention.

24. Instant Reward

Have you ever signed up for an email newsletter or email program only to get nothing from the signup right away? The expectation today is that you get something immediately after signing up for an email program. I’ve come to learn that offering something in that first email can give new subscribers something immediately in return for their signup. It could be a link to your best blog posts or a guide you’ve put together.

25. Popups and Lightboxes

They’re intrusive in a way, but popup signup forms have come a long way over the years. And I’ve seen these things increase signups by two or three times. It’s too much of an increase in signups to overlook. I have popups on each of my websites to make an offer to new visitors so they get a chance to subscribe to the content.

Image: Ian Lamont