Email marketing tips for small businesses

There’s so much to think about when you start email marketing. From choosing the right email service provider to figuring what will make people actually click–it can be easy for an already busy entrepreneur to feel overwhelmed. Nicole Delma, email expert and founder of The FOND Group, joined our webinar series recently, and while she gave attendees a lot to think about, she also explained there are things you shouldn’t worry about too much.

Custom emails

Small business owners shouldn’t spend time or money working with contracts to send custom-built emails each time. “I am a huge fan of out-of-the-box templates,” Delma explains. Email service providers (ESP) don’t just design templates that are pretty; they also support those templates with code that keep your messages out of your customers’ spam boxes.

Open Rates

Any ESP will be able report your open rate, or how many people opened your email compared to the number of successful deliveries. Don’t get too hung up on that number, whether it’s high or low, Delma cautions. While it’s nice to know that people open your email, open rate doesn’t tell you if that email actually serves your customer. Business owners need to decide for themselves which metrics will determine success for them, but Delma does recommend that you keep your eye on the conversion rate, which captures the number of people taking a particular action after they open your email.

It’s also important to remember that your emails can build a connection instead of just raising your profits. “Very often, the emails that get the greatest engagement are not the ones that are going to drive the most sales,” she explains.

Redesigns

If your email program isn’t delivering the metrics you want, think about the other elements that may need improvement before drastically changing your email template. “In 20 years, I can honestly say that I’ve never once seen a template–just the template itself–dramatically improve email ROI,” Delma emphasizes. In fact, changing your template may harm your key performance indicators, at least at first, because your customers’ inboxes may not recognize the code.

Delma says entrepreneurs should think about changing their templates only if the existing look and feel no longer reflects the brand. The old saying rings true here: if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

Lots of Words

When it comes to what you should actually write in your emails, remember that your customers are busy people. “The shorter, the better,” Delma says. Since you don’t have a lot of words to work with, it’s going to be especially important that you make the ones you do use really count. With each send, ask yourself, ‘do my emails support my brand voice and personality?’

Delma offers a golden rule for email marketing content. “The best emails are honest, they’re straightforward, and they speak in a relatable human voice.”

Subject Line Testing

Subject line testing, or A/B testing, is a buzzy practice where email programs send the same message with different subject lines to different groups of customers to see which one their subscribers like best. Unless you see a drastic difference in the way these groups respond (and you likely won’t), you may not be getting enough information to guide your decision. “Especially if you have a smaller list, you might really be doing yourself a disservice,” Delma explains. The group you’re running these tests with could be just a handful of people.

Put another way, subject line tests aren’t the best way to understand or serve your customer, which should be at the root of every message you send. Write subject lines that tell rather than tease, and ensure that once your subscribers get past that subject line and into an email, they find something of value there.

The best emails are honest, they’re straightforward, and they speak in a relatable human voice.

Big Budgets

Repeat after us: you can have a strong email program without spending a ton of money. Many popular ESPs allow small businesses to send to a lot of email addresses and come with great templates, all at a low cost. You certainly shouldn’t buy email lists; your emails will either end up flagged as spam or they’ll reach a customer that isn’t interested in your business.

So where should small business owners splurge? Budget for a graphic designer to get you started, Delma recommends. In addition to creating your logo, a designer will select the fonts and color scheme so that your brand remains consistent, no matter what channel you use to communicate. “Once you have those in place, you’ll be much more efficient overall,” she explains.

A Five-Year Plan

As an entrepreneur, it’s your job to dream big. But when it comes to an email program, “My recommendation is not to think so far ahead,” Delma says. “Get the best tool for what you need right now, and in the next six to 12 months.” Not only will thinking about a shorter timespan cut down on what you pay your ESP, it will also give you the flexibility to address your customers’ changing needs.

A Big List

Don’t get discouraged if your list isn’t growing by leaps and bounds. “I’d rather have a small list that’s really a success,” says Delma. Keep thinking about the needs of your current subscribers.

Delma urges business owners to really get to know who the customers are and use that to both build relationships and refine their content. “I will actually look into my list and see if I can find them on Facebook. I try to understand who she really is, what her other interests are,” Delma says of her own process. “And that’s actually where you want to get with your email.”

Once you understand who your customers are, you can do what’s called segmenting, or separating your subscriber list into smaller lists based on behavior. Which customers shop sales exclusively? Which ones are interested in full-price items? Consider creating emails specifically for those customers so that you’re offering them something that really fits their needs. Your small but mighty list will grow as your satisfied customers spread the word about your business.

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