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Small Business Email Marketing Tips and Guide

Updated: Jul 29, 2023

Email marketing is the most effective way to reach your customers. It's a personal channel, meaning you can speak directly to your audience in a way that other mediums simply cannot match. But that doesn't mean it's easy—there are many factors to consider when crafting an email campaign, including subject lines and content. If you're ready to take your email marketing efforts to the next level (and see some results!), check out these pro tips for getting started:

Woman at computer

Is email marketing good for small businesses?

Yes, email marketing can be very beneficial for small businesses. According to multiple sources, email marketing has numerous advantages for small businesses, including:

  1. Cost-effectiveness: Email marketing is relatively inexpensive compared to traditional marketing methods, making it a suitable option for small businesses operating on a tight budget.

  2. Increased customer engagement: Email marketing can help build stronger relationships with customers by sending timely, relevant and personalized content that is more likely to lead to sales conversions.

  3. Better ROI: Email marketing campaigns have higher ROI compared to most marketing channels, especially when done correctly. Small businesses can benefit from this, as higher ROI means higher revenue.

  4. Improved brand awareness: Email marketing allows small businesses to promote their brand to a large number of people through subscribers sharing their emails with others. This means that small businesses can achieve better brand visibility without necessarily spending a lot of money.

  5. Easy to track results: Email marketing platforms provide comprehensive reports and analytics that give insights on various metrics, including open and click rates, enabling small businesses to track the performance of their campaigns and adjust accordingly.

Before we begin it's important to know the first rule of email marketing.

What is the first rule of email marketing?

The first rule of email marketing is to prune your email list mercilessly to focus on quality over quantity. It's not about the sheer number of email addresses in your list, but rather the percentage of addresses belonging to prospects who are likely to engage and make purchases[4]. By regularly removing inactive or uninterested subscribers, you can maintain a more engaged and responsive audience.

This practice of list pruning helps to improve the overall health of your email list, increase open rates, and minimize the risk of being marked as spam. By eliminating subscribers who are no longer interested, you can deliver targeted and relevant content to those who are genuinely interested in your offerings.

It's important to regularly analyze engagement metrics, such as open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates, to identify inactive subscribers and remove them from your list. This ongoing list maintenance allows you to focus your resources and efforts on delivering value to those who are most likely to engage with your emails and convert into customers.

What are some tips for email marketing for a small business?

Following these email marketing tips can help small businesses increase their email open and click-through rates. Let's first start with the 5 Ts of email marketing that can help guide your efforts:

  1. Targeting: The first T is all about targeting the right audience for your email campaign. This means segmenting your email list based on factors such as demographics, interests, and past behavior. By targeting your emails to the right people, you'll be more likely to see higher open and click-through rates.

  2. Timing: Timing is also important when it comes to email marketing. Consider the time of day and day of the week that your emails are sent, as well as the frequency of your emails. You want to send emails at a time when your audience is most likely to be checking their inbox, and not send emails so frequently that they become annoying or overwhelming.

  3. Testing: Testing is an essential part of any email marketing campaign. This means trying out different subject lines, email layouts and calls to action to see which ones perform the best. By regularly testing and analyzing your results, you can continually improve the effectiveness of your email marketing efforts.

  4. Triggers: Triggers are automated emails that are sent in response to specific actions taken by the recipient. For example, you might set up a trigger to send a welcome email to new subscribers, or an abandoned cart email to customers who have added items to their cart but have not completed their purchase. Triggers can be a powerful way to engage with your audience and drive conversions.

  5. Tracking: The final T is all about tracking and measuring the success of your email marketing efforts. This means setting up analytics and tracking tools to measure metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates. By tracking these metrics, you can identify areas for improvement and optimize your email marketing strategy.

Overall, the 5 Ts of email marketing – targeting, timing, testing, triggers, and tracking – are all key factors to consider when planning and executing an email marketing campaign. By following these best practices, you can increase the effectiveness of your emails and drive better results for your business.

Let's dig into each one:

Pro Tips for Email Marketing for Your Small Business: What are the most effective email marketing techniques?

The most effective email marketing techniques encompass a combination of strategies tailored to engage subscribers:

1) Targeting Is Everything

Segmentation is a strategy that allows you to target your audience with more precision and relevance. When you have a better idea of who your customers are and what they need, it becomes much easier to send the right message to the right person at the right time. This will help you optimize your email marketing efforts and keep them from being diluted across too many platforms or audiences. Segmentation is key in any successful email marketing strategy, but don't be fooled into thinking it's all about identifying demographics like age group or location—you'll want to look beyond these standard variables into deeper facets of customer behavior as well, such as how much money they spend on products in certain categories (e-commerce), how often they visit particular websites (SEO), what types of offers their behaviors indicate interest in receiving (behavioral).

How to segment your list: Always ensure you are only emailing people who have subscribed to receive marketing from you. Be sure you understand the rules for your country. Thankfully, since CASL requirements have been in place a while in Canada, most platforms have unsubscribe buttons built-in to the footer of the emails.

2) Timing - Send Emails at the Right Time & Frequency

You should also make sure you send your emails at the right time. It isn't necessary to send an email every day, but it is important to ensure that people are not receiving multiple emails from you in a short period of time.

  • It's also important for marketers to consider their audience when sending out marketing campaigns. If a consumer has purchased something from your company recently, then they may not be interested in purchasing again just yet. This means marketers should plan ahead and schedule their next email campaign so it arrives at a time when consumers are likely looking for new products or services.

Good times to send emails include:

  • Monday morning (when people have just returned from the weekend)

  • Afternoon (when people have finished work)

  • Friday afternoon (before everyone heads home for the weekend)

3) Testing

By testing certain elements of your email you can focus on increasing open and click-through rates over time. For example, you can create 2 emails, each with a different subject line with the goal to increase open rates. See the diagram below.

TIP: When A/B testing, be sure you are only changing 1 thing in the second email. If you change 2+ things or you’ll never know metric what drove the higher response.

chart showing how to spilt test emails for email marketing for small businesses. Split the list and change 1 thing.

Testing Subject Lines

You have only a few seconds to make a lasting impression. If you don't capture your reader's attention in the first few sentences, you may not get another chance. Make sure your subject line is relevant to what they are looking for and enticing enough that they can't help but open it up and read on.

  • Keep it Short and Sweet: Short subject lines tend to get more opens, especially when targeted at mobile devices where the character limit is limited. Try using one word or phrase here, but keep it relevant so people will open it up!

  • Be Descriptive: This is not a place for a brand tagline. You are at the intent or acquisition stage so your copy should be clear and to the point, speak to an offer or deadline. Avoid catchy phrases. Use compelling words like "Today" or "This weekend": Subject lines that contain an action word encourage readers to take action now instead of later when they're ready (like tomorrow).

  • Personalize Them!: Don't use "Dear [first name],", manually write out each person's name if possible (or use their email address) in order to increase engagement rates by making prospects feel special!

  • Avoid Too Much Punctuation: Do not use repeating punctuation and try to avoid too much punctuation. People are scanning your email on their mobile phones and the words you use are far more important than an exclamation point.

  • Avoid Spam Words: Use this email subject line checker from Omnisend to test your subject line. Avoid words like 'free', 'money', 'help' etc. These words could get you automatically sent to the spam folder in your recipient's inbox.

Preview Text Test

This is another area that is so often forgotten about. The Preview copy is a way to provide a teaser to what the email is about. Be sure you keep it short since most people are viewing your email on their mobile devices.

Test Your Layout - Make Scannable & Interactive

A scannable email makes it easy for your subscribers to absorb the information you're sending them. Make your content scannable by using headings, bold text, and lists. For example: "3 Reasons to Sign Up Today" and "1. Get access." Test a new element each time you send out an email to optimize for clicks. See below for some common tests you can try:

Test Logo Placement

Consider including your logo at the top of the email as a best practice. It reminds clients who the email is from and increases brand recall. You can also test different placements to see what works best for your brand.

Test the Email Copy

When writing your email check what others are doing in your industry. A fantastic site to check for email examples is Really Good Emails. For any email you create be sure to:

  • Write a strong opening to get their attention. Keep your client’s mindset in mind. You want to get their attention right away with copy that speaks to their needs.

  • Get to the point ASAP. No one wants to read a long-winded email. Keep your email short and sweet.

  • Keep the copy focused on the benefits. If you’re ever struggling with this – use the RTB template below. It helps turn product features, and into benefits. I call them RTBs (Reasons to Buy):

How to Write Reasons to Buy (RTBs)

  • Define the top 3 features you might want to highlight. Be sure these are the features that drive customers to purchase your product.

  • Describe how the features benefit your target client.

  • Highlight why this benefit is different or better.

  • Choose 1 or 2 benefits to focus on in your email.

Call to Action Test

  • Place the call-to-action (CTA) at the top & bottom. Ensuring people know what to do next is critical. Keep your call to action short and sweet and highly visible. And if your CTA is an image be sure you have an alt tag set up.

  • If you have a call to action be sure you have things set up on the other end when your email is sent out. If it's a phone number, your staff answering the phone should be aware of how to speak to this offer, or at the very least know the email was sent out. If it's a URL be sure your landing page aligns with the email.

Offer Test

  • Ensure the offer is easy to understand. Your offer shouldn’t be complicated. Having too many complicated steps will turn people away. As well if you have too many options, people will avoid making a decision.

  • Test different types of offers to see which one drives sales. You could test a % discount vs a BOGO offer.

  • Always ensure it has a an date to drive action.

Test - images vs copy only

Some emails only have images; some emails have a mix of images and copy, and some emails have copy only. Do what works best for your brand but remember, over 50% of emails are opened on a mobile phone with the images turned off. So, if your offer and CTA are in the image only with no alt tags, someone might open their email and only see a fairly blank screen versus what you intended. See below for a recent email I received with images turned off and once I downloaded them.

Over 50% of emails are opened on a mobile phone with the images turned off.
email marketing comparison for small business showing 2 mobile screens with images turned on and turned off

If you do include images, be sure to test and to use captions on images or videos so that any links within them are clickable immediately upon viewing. You can also add custom URLs for each image so that when someone clicks on it, they will be taken directly to a relevant webpage.

Test - Personalizing with the Recipient's Name

Use the recipient's name in your subject line. A recent study by Harvard Business Review found that emails with personalized subject lines had a 21% higher open rate than those without personalization.

  • Use the recipient’s name in the body of your email. The same study found that adding a person’s name in their own language boosted open rates by 15%.

  • Add a signature block at the bottom of all of your emails, including your contact information and links to other social media channels you use (Twitter and LinkedIn). This way, even if someone skips over reading all of the text above, they'll still see this vital information and be able to get in touch with you if they want more information or have questions about something else entirely.

Emojis, To Use or Not To Use

Some brands are using emojis in their subject line and emails. It really depends on your brand. You want to be sure you have a consistent tone and brand image and not jump to add emojis because everyone else is.

4) Triggers

There are a variety of emails you can send based on the strategy you want to implement. Setting up automated emails based on set criteria will allow you to create an efficient scalable process to increase conversion rates over time. Start simple, you can get more complex as you grow.

See below for the most common types of emails that you can set up as triggers:

  • Newsletter: Newsletters are a great way to stay top of mind with your clients. Newsletters are ideal to share new product launches, recent blog posts, or highlight upcoming changes. Be sure you have content to promote on a regular basis before kicking off a newsletter. I recommend having at least 12 months of planned ideas so you don't run out of steam in the early stages.

  • Promotional: These are incentives you share with select audiences where you’re looking to change their buying behavior. Promotional discounts can be BOGO offers, % off, free shipping, and more.

  • Notification/ Informational: These emails can let clients know about a change in business, change in their account, shipping details, etc. There is no marketing required, but these types of emails may be written by a marketer to ensure they match the overall tone of all the other communications you send out.

  • Win-Back: These emails are critical to send to clients you feel you may be at risk of losing. For whatever reason, they have not purchased from you in a while. Sending a win-back email is a great way to remind them who you are and what you’re about. Adding a discount may boost response rates, but test different ways that will work for your company.

  • Thank You: I love this type of email. It is sent the day after someone orders it’s meant to say thanks and that’s it. Some people may argue with me but I really like to keep it as a genuine thank you, with no ask in return.

  • Upsell or Cross-Sell: By leveraging your analytics you can create effective cross-sell or Upsell emails are to suggest new products or promote the benefits of moving up to the next service.

5) Tracking - Know Your KPIs

If you're new to email marketing, it's important to understand what KPIs are and how they can help you measure the success of your campaigns. A key performance indicator (KPI) is simply a metric used to measure the effectiveness of something—in this case, an email campaign. There are many different kinds of KPIs that will vary depending on your business and campaign goals; some examples include open rate, click-through rate (CTR), unsubscribes, and more.

See below for some common metrics to track for emails:

  • Delivery Rate: Confirms how many emails were sent.

  • Open Rate: This is the % of people that opened your email.

  • Bounce Rate: If this is high, your email list is not clean or it’s old. Consider finding ways to revise it before sending your next email.

  • Unsubscribe: This tells you how many people unsubscribed to your email. Anything higher than 0.5% should have you checking how you segmented your list or the frequency of your emails.

  • Spam: having your email flagged as spam is not ideal. It is a mark against your email and could get future emails sent to spam. Be sure you are monitoring this. A great way to avoid being sent to spam is to have a double opt-in sign-up and only send emails to those who have subscribed to receive marketing from you.

  • Click-through Rate (CTR): This is critical to know how many people are clicking through to your page. Average click-through rates are 2% but vary greatly by industry. MailChimp has created an email benchmark list to get you started.

  • Conversion Rate: While this is not a metric of your email, this will tell you how many people you converted once they got to your website. If you see a high click-through rate but the conversion rate drops off substantially, there could be an issue with your customer journey or the page you sent them to.

Don't forget: Make it Mobile-Friendly

It's essential that you make sure your emails are easy to read on any device.

If you're using a web-based email marketing platform like MailChimp, you'll probably have little control over how your campaigns look when viewed on different devices. However, if you're using a dedicated email client, there are some things you can do to ensure your emails look good wherever they're opened:

  • Use responsive design: Rather than having an entirely different version of each email for different screen sizes—which would be expensive in terms of time and resources—you can use responsive design so that one version works well across all devices. This means creating one HTML file with stylesheets that respond appropriately depending on the size of the viewport in which they’re being displayed (e.g., portrait vs landscape).

  • Use a mobile-friendly template: Make sure the HTML templates for sending emails are mobile-friendly by ensuring that all text is easy to read and there aren't too many links or buttons scattered around in places where people might accidentally click them while scrolling down their inboxes during business hours!

Optimize for Gmail Tabs

  • Encourage your subscribers to add you to their contacts so your emails don't get sent to spam

  • Make sure your email is in the Primary tab. Review Google's bulk email best practices to ensure you are setting up your email correctly.

  • Avoid the Promotions tab, or you'll get a lower inbox placement score and less engagement from Gmail users.

  • Consider sending your emails in small batches so you can monitor your KPIs.

How to know how many marketing emails is too many?

Determining the exact number of marketing emails that is considered "too many" can vary depending on several factors, including the preferences of your subscribers and industry standards. However, it is crucial to strike a balance to avoid overwhelming your audience and risking unsubscribes.

Research suggests that an excessive frequency of emails can lead to unsubscribes. In one study, 69% of people mentioned receiving too many emails as the primary reason for unsubscribing. Additionally, over-sending can result in reduced engagement, increased complaints, and potential damage to the sender's reputation.

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, industry statistics indicate that email marketing frequency preferences vary. For example, 15% of consumers are open to receiving a promotional email every day, while 33% of respondents prefer weekly emails. It is crucial to respect your subscribers' preferences and pay attention to engagement metrics to optimize your email frequency.

To find the sweet spot, consider these factors:

  1. Subscriber preferences: Pay attention to feedback, conduct surveys, and monitor engagement metrics to understand the optimal email frequency for your audience.

  2. Testing and analyzing: Conduct A/B testing to compare different email frequencies and analyze the performance metrics to identify patterns and optimal frequencies.

  3. Value-driven content: Focus on delivering valuable and relevant content in each email to ensure that your subscribers see the benefit of receiving your messages.

Remember, it's important to strike a balance that provides enough value to your subscribers without overwhelming them with too many emails. Regularly monitor engagement metrics, consider industry norms, and adapt your email frequency accordingly.

Finally, what should be avoided in emails?

There are several things that should be avoided in emails to maximize the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns. Here are a few:

  1. Spammy language: Avoid using spam words or phrases in your subject lines or email body that could trigger spam filters or cause your emails to be flagged as unwanted. These can include phrases such as "make money fast," or "free,".

  2. Poor formatting: Ensure that your emails are readable and easy to follow by using clear formatting, a logical structure, and a mobile-friendly design. Large text blocks, confusing layouts, or complicated designs can make it difficult for subscribers to engage with your content.

  3. Irrelevant content: Deliver targeted and relevant content based on subscribers' interests and preferences. Avoid sending irrelevant or generic content, as this can decrease engagement and increase the likelihood of unsubscribes.

  4. Overloading with information: Avoid overloading your emails with too much information. Be concise and to the point, delivering clear and actionable messages to your subscribers.

  5. Lack of consistency: Ensure that your emails are consistent with your brand identity, tone, and voice. Inconsistencies in tone or messaging can cause confusion among subscribers and undermine your brand credibility.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can enhance the overall effectiveness of your email campaign and maintain a happy and engaged subscriber base.

Take These Steps to Ensure You're Truly Optimizing Your Email Marketing Efforts.

Always send yourself a test email to a number of accounts to see how your email looks – Gmail, Outlook, Hotmail, etc. Check your spelling, click on the links and be sure they’re pointing to the right pages. Review how the email looks on mobile and desktop, and be sure your unsubscribe link is showing and active.

What Now?

  • Be consistent. Even if you have a small list and a tight budget, consistently sending emails can still be effective in driving sales and engagement.

  • Have a plan. Before you begin crafting your content, set some parameters around what you want to accomplish with your campaigns so that you can align the right messaging with the right goals. For example, if one of your goals is forming long-term relationships with customers who may become loyal brand advocates in the future then consider sending educational emails or newsletters that include industry information related specifically to them (e.g., "5 Tips for X" or "Top 5 Mistakes Y Avoid Making"). If instead though one of your goals is driving sales immediately then focus more heavily on transactional messages like order confirmations/confirmations, shipping notices etc.)

  • And above all, have fun!

Looking for Support? We've Got Your Email Marketing Needs Covered.

No matter the size of your business, we understand the importance of effective email marketing. That's why we offer tailored email marketing packages designed to fit your specific needs.

Whether you're a small business just starting out or an established enterprise looking to enhance your current strategy, our expert team is here to support you every step of the way.

Our email marketing services are designed with your success in mind. We can help you effectively engage with your audience, nurture leads, and drive conversions through strategic email campaigns.

Reach out to us today to discuss your specific needs, and let's work together to take your email marketing strategy to the next level.


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