Small Biz Tips: How to Start E-mail Marketing

It’s not rocket science, and it can reap big rewards for a small effort. One expert offers tips on how to kick off an e-mail marketing campaign to boost your bottom line.

E-mail marketing offers one of the best advertising returns for any business, according to research by the Direct Marketing Association. In 2008, e-mail marketing returned $45.06 for every dollar spent on it—but industry experts say that small businesses are slow to adopt e-mail marketing practices.

Steve Adams, vice president of marketing for Campaigner, a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) e-mail marketing company, believes that adoption rates by small businesses are low due to time constraints.  Small business owners today are swamped and it can be a challenge to fit e-mail marketing into an already full schedule.

Another contributing factor, said Adams, is that small business owners can be intimidated by the phrase “e-mail marketing”, and they mistakenly believe they need to be a marketing expert to run e-mail campaigns.

The Biggest Hurdle:  Getting Started

These misconceptions can be put to rest simply by knowing how to get started. Adams says that business owners should approach e-mail marketing as just another way to open the lines of communication with customers.

“With a hosted service like Campaigner, you have the opportunity to test your e-mails, and get step-by-step guides and tutorials to help you get started,” said Adams. He added that his company’s service personally helps customize e-mail templates with a logo, colors and other features that those new to e-mail marketing might be unsure about doing.

“After sending out their first e-mail to subscribers, small business owners realize e-mail marketing is a lot easier than it sounds,” he said.

Small Businesses Do See Results

Based in Illinois, the Paul Hyland Salon and Day Spa has been in business for 25 years and only started using e-mail marketing last October.  Realizing that clients were finding the salon through the Internet, plus seeing e-mail blasts in her own inbox, Shelly Hyland, co-owner of the salon, thought e-mail might be a good way to reach out to clients.

The spa, now a Campaigner customer, uses e-mail campaigns to tell clients about new services, new retail products and current specials and promotions.  

Hyland also said that they use e-mail blasts to educate clients about their salon rewards program and send monthly e-mail offers that let customers earn bonus points on different products and spa services.  The salon at one point saw a 12-percent response rate, which made the company very happy. 

Hyland said, "We continue to see a good number of click-throughs to our Web site, and we also see an increase in the purchase of the products and services we run as our monthly points promotion."

Five Tips for Building a Strong E-mail Marketing Strategy

If starting an e-mail marketing campaign is on your to-do list for 2009, Adams offers five tips that can help small businesses to create, launch and enhance successful e-mail marketing campaigns.

1. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes:  When you first start with e-mail marketing, think through what you’re trying to accomplish.  Ask yourself what type of information would attract attention and get people to open, read and act on your e-mail.  Do customers want coupons and special offers or would they respond better to practical tips?  Often the best e-newsletters include a mix of sales with advice. 

 2. Make a 2009 e-mail-marketing plan: Establish objectives and build a plan for the year.  Start by mapping out promotions, topics and campaigns that will help you reach out to your customers at the right time with the right information.  Roughing out a flexible plan for the year shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours.

3. Start building your e-mail list: Now you’re ready to start building your opt-in e-mail list—opt-in means that your customers understand that by signing up they are giving you permission to send them e-mail.

In addition to name and e-mail address, ask for information that can help you target your campaigns. For example, if your business is a restaurant or retailer, gather birthdates.  Also, take every opportunity to gather customer e-mail addresses. You can add a quick sign-up on your Web site, place paper sign-up forms at cash registers or even provide a jar for customers to drop in their business cards.  

4.  Create a template that reflects your brand image: E-mail marketing services provide templates to help you get started.  Choose a look and that reflects your business and brand image.  You can also have a custom template created for you that matches your Web site and marketing collateral. When deciding on the formatting, be sure to leave room for images and make the text concise and easy to read.

5.  Begin the conversation with your inaugural campaign: Kick things off by introducing yourself and setting expectations.  Let your audience know the type of information they’ll be receiving and how frequently you will be sending e-mails.  In your first campaign, don’t just sell, but also offer valuable information or tips your audience can use.  Encourage feedback so you can begin an ongoing dialogue with your customers—this allows you to continually gather more detailed information to improve targeting of future campaigns. 

Vangie Beal is a veteran online seller and frequent contributor to ECommerce-Guide.com. She is also managing editor of Webopedia.com. You can tweet with her online @AuroraGG.

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