Email Marketing for Small Business: A 10-Step Guide for Success

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Reviewed by Matt Pelkey
• 11 minute read

Email can be one of the most effective ways to market your small business — and it doesn’t need to cost you a ton of money either. Whether you want to expand your customer base, drive sales or just stay top of mind with your current customers, a well-tuned email campaign can help your business grow.

Are you ready to launch your first email campaign? Or maybe you already have one and want to boost your performance. Whatever your goals, here’s what you need to know to make this versatile and inexpensive form of marketing work for your small business.

What is email marketing?

Email marketing is a form of digital marketing that lets you connect directly to your customers. An email newsletter may be the first thing that comes to mind, but a good strategy likely involves a few different types of emails. Here are a few examples.

  • Newsletters to support your marketing efforts and keep customers engaged with your brand.
  • Promotional emails like sale announcements, coupons and discount codes to help drive sales.
  • Reminders like “abandoned cart” emails to bring customers back to your site to complete checkout (most pertinent for ecommerce companies).
  • Personalized emails to make your subscribers feel special and more connected to your brand.

An email marketing campaign is more than just sending a newsletter or discount code to a list. Email marketing is about communication and building customer relationships.

Why is email marketing important for small businesses?

Email marketing can help small businesses compete with bigger brand names and give them an edge over the competition. Email marketing has a high return on investment for small businesses and it’s significantly more effective than social media marketing when it comes to acquiring new customers. With email marketing, you can engage with subscribers on a level that isn’t offered by many other marketing channels. You can send promotions and updates directly to their inbox — which is much more personal than just scrolling by something online. If they’ve subscribed to your email list, you already know that they want to hear from you.

How to start using email for small business marketing

Email marketing may seem complicated, but it’s easier than you might think. Many email service providers offer templates and other tools that make it simple for small business owners. Here is a 10-step guide to email marketing for beginners.

1. Set goals. Your email marketing strategy should be designed to achieve a goal. When you start planning, think about your business needs and what you want these emails to help you achieve. This will guide your decisions about what type of emails you want to send, how you craft your messaging and what email marketing tools you use.

Some common goals of email campaigns include:

  • Lead nurturing. Lead nurturing is the process of turning potential customers into actual customers. You can use emails to build trust and build brand awareness within this target audience.
  • Building brand awareness. Having good brand awareness means you’re the first company someone thinks of when they need the service or product you offer. Regular emails can help keep you top of mind.
  • Driving sales. You can also use emails to market your products and services. This could be up-selling or cross-selling to current customers or presenting your offerings to new potential customers.
  • Building customer relationships. Email marketing can also help you maintain or build customer relationships. Sending birthday, anniversary or other personalized emails is a great way to make your customers feel valued.

2. Choose an email marketing software. There are many different email marketing tools on the market. When deciding which is right for you, consider factors like what features they offer and how much they cost. Many services offer free tiers, but it can limit the size of your email list and you may not get access to all the tools and templates they offer. That being said, it’s not typically too expensive with some of them starting at under $10 a month.

3. Build an email list. You can’t have a successful email campaign if you don’t have anyone to send it to. Start building your list by collecting customer emails. You can also create landing pages or pop-ups with a sign-up form on your website. You can offer a discount or a free download of gated content to encourage potential customers to subscribe. Make sure users have the option to opt in or out of receiving emails in order to stay compliant with spam laws.

4. Segment your email list. Emails are more effective when they’re written for a target audience with a specific goal in mind. Segmenting your email list helps you divide your audiences into groups based on things like purchase history, interest and other relevant demographics. This allows you to write targeted, personalized emails that will help you reach your goals.

5. Build email templates. Many of the email marketing platforms offer templates that you can use to build nice, professional looking emails. You can change the colors and include photos, logos and other elements to make sure the emails look and feel like your brand.

You should also ensure that the email templates are optimized for mobile devices. Many people check their email on their phone more often than their computer. Make sure emails look just as good when displayed on a smartphone.

6. Write great subject lines. Subject lines are one of the most important elements of an email. If your subject line is boring, vague or looks spammy, a reader may not even open your email. Try different subject lines, use A/B testing and measure metrics like open rates to see what style of subject lines work best with your email subscribers.

7. Write compelling email content. Now that your subject line has convinced subscribers to open your email, you need to make sure your messaging is great as well. Write engaging headlines, scannable content and a clear call to action (CTA). Most people probably won’t read every word of an email. Keep it short and sweet and make it clear what action you want the user to take next.

8. Utilize email automation. You don’t have to manually send every email. With email marketing automation you can set up triggers for things like sending a welcome email when you get a new subscriber or a reminder when a customer abandons their shopping cart. You can also set up campaigns that consist of multiple emails sent over a period of time.

9. Monitor results. Email marketing platforms offer analytics tools that let you measure and keep track of metrics like open rates, conversion rates, click-through rates, unsubscribes and more. Monitoring the results of your emails can help you improve your strategy and give you valuable data about your subscribers. This can help you grow your customer base and increase customer retention by guiding the creation of content and communications that your audience is interested in.

10. Maintain compliance and use best practices. There are spam laws and other regulations around email that you should be aware of before you begin. One of the biggest rules for marketing emails is that you must always include an unsubscribe button. You can’t force people to sign up for emails in order to do business with you, they must have the option to opt out.

What are some good email marketing services?

  • Mailchimp. Mailchimp offers free and paid plans for businesses. They offer email templates and integrations with other sites and apps such as Shopify. Plus, a drag-and-drop editor and testing, optimization and analytics tools.
  • Constant Contact. Constant Contact offers three paid plans starting at $12 a month. Each of these tiers offers easy-to-use email templates, and the top two tiers support A/B testing and dynamic content.
  • Brevo (Formerly Sendinblue). Brevo is a marketing and transactional email platform that will allow you to easily send automated emails. They have a free plan and offer multiple paid plans to fit your business needs.
  • Mailerlite. Mailerlite also offers free and paid email marketing plans. They offer a drag-and-drop editor, email automation builder and other features such as landing pages and sign-up forms.

Top tips for small business email marketing

Check your data.

“My top tip for email marketing is to check your data, because what works for someone else’s audience won’t necessarily work for your audience. For example, the general recommendation is that Tuesdays and Thursdays are the best days to send newsletters, so I started sending mine out on Tuesdays. After looking at my data, I realized most people weren’t opening it until Wednesday morning. I switched to sending it Wednesday morning and my open rate increased. Following general recommendations is a good starting point, but always check your data so you know what your audience wants from you and when they want it.”

Alison Ver Halen, Content Marketer, SEO Strategist, Speaker & Author
AV Writing Services

Alison Ver Halen majored in English and Psychology without realizing she was getting the perfect degree for content marketing. It wasn’t until a few years after she graduated, when a family friend asked her to write blog posts for his law firm, that she realized she could make money doing what she loves. Fast forward to today and Alison is still writing blog posts, as well as website landing pages and emails, but also integrates SEO and marketing strategy into the content she writes to give her clients their best chance of attracting, engaging, and converting their ideal clients.

Engage, educate and offer variety.

“I have worked with marketing professionals to grow my small wellness business through email marketing. Here is what I have learned: engage, educate and offer variety.

“Engage, engage, engage your customers. You can do this by means such as organizing a contest, creating a rewards program and asking for testimonials. Anything that encourages them to interact with your business in some way outside of buying.

“Educate customers by becoming a resource. Don’t always be selling your product directly. Instead, provide resources that indirectly encourage customers to purchase your product through education. Means such as newsletters and links to blog posts are excellent for achieving this. Not only will acting as a resource motivate customers to buy from you, it will increase your credibility and encourage customers to send you referrals.

“Offer variety by varying the types of emails you send. Some customers will be drawn to long-form content and others to catchy subject lines with lots of images. Be sure to categorize your emails and offer the option to subscribe to or unsubscribe from specific channels.”

C.T Price, CEO
Life Grows Green

Life Grows Green is a lifestyle brand founded by C.T Price. The goal at Life Grows Green is to source the highest quality ingredients directly from nature, and consistently bring that quality to their customers. C.T. also has extensive physical and mental health advocacy knowledge and brings that into his business.

Build trust with your customers.

“Email is my primary marketing tool. As a solo business owner, I’ve grown my email list to over 27,000 active subscribers.

“Here are my top tips for a small business to get started with email marketing:

1. Don’t use email as an avenue to just blast advertisements to your subscribers. If you do that, people will unsubscribe. Instead, in 80% of your emails, don’t ask people to buy anything. Offer them helpful advice in your area of business. You’ll build up trust this way and establish yourself as an expert. When you do eventually send an email pitching a product, people will be more likely to buy and less likely to unsubscribe, because of the trust and expertise you’ve developed.

2. People on your email list don’t want to be treated like everyone else. They gave you their email address and want special treatment in return. In the 20% of emails when you do pitch a product, give them something special that isn’t available to everyone else. For instance, offer a coupon for 10% off, or even better, a buy one, get one free.

3. Many small businesses struggle to get people to subscribe to their email list. If you simply say, “Subscribe for our updates,” people likely will ignore the ask. Instead, you want to offer something known as a lead magnet. This is some sort of a digital piece of content you will give people, at no cost, for subscribing to your email list. The piece of content should be relevant to your business and provide genuine value to the consumer. For instance, I’m a thriller author – I give people a free thriller book when they sign up for my email list. You can offer PDF guides, videos, checklists, etc. Any good email-marketing software should be able to automatically send people a download link to your piece of content as soon as they subscribe.”

Ted Galdi, Author

Ted Galdi is an Amazon #1 bestselling fiction author and founder of the writer-education platform How To Write Gripping Stories. He’s been featured by Kirkus magazine, ABC, FOX, iHeartRadio, and many other media outlets. He’s a winner of a Reader Views Reviewers Choice Award and a Silver Medal in the Readers’ Favorite Book Awards.

Get ahead before you get started.

“One great rule of thumb for those getting started with email marketing is to prepare at least 3 newsletters before sending the first one. A key component of email marketing is consistency. Your audience needs to know what to expect and when to expect it. If your newsletter schedule is erratic at best, you will have a hard time creating a consistent following. If subscribers can expect an email every Friday at 7:00 A.M., they will look forward to reading your content! However, an uneven schedule – or going months between sending a newsletter – is a surefire way to lose subscribers. Preparing a few emails before launching your newsletter will help you keep on top of your email marketing rather than falling behind when other priorities come your way throughout the week.”

Maria Grace, Owner
Maria Grace LLC

Maria’s marketing career began when she was promoted at the age of 21 from an Administrative Assistant position to the Director of Communications. At the same time, she started her own business, which would enable her to leave her full-time job and work solely for herself just a few years later. Maria’s dual experience in a company and as an entrepreneur have given her valuable tools and insights, enabling her to serve small businesses and creative entrepreneurs in the areas of social media, search engine optimization, and general marketing.

This content is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as financial, investment or legal advice.