If you’re like most small-business owners, you collect email addresses from your current and prospective customers.
If you aren’t doing this already, the time to start was yesterday. Don’t believe us?
Chances are, you could be getting a lot more value from your email list.
Here are a few ways to put those email addresses to work for your business, tips on what to say in your emails, and best practices for getting more recipients to open your emails and click-through to your website.
Why your email list is so valuable
The people on your list have already said yes to hearing from your business. It’s usually easier to sell to an existing or interested customer than to sell to someone who doesn’t know you or your business, because existing customers already trust your brand. That’s part of the reason it also costs less to earn a new sale from a current customer than it does to earn the first sale from a brand-new customer.
That’s not to say that everyone on your list will take you up on an offer, of course, but you stand a better chance of converting email list members as you get better at creating offers, segmenting your list and formatting your emails.
Growing your email list
The main thing to remember about growing your email list is that members need to opt in. Not only is it unprofessional to add people to your list without their express permission (for example, by adding everyone in your Contacts list), but it can also cause you to run afoul of spam rules. Once your emails are flagged as spam, you’ll have a harder time reaching the legitimate members of your list.
As long as you’re following the rules, you can extend the opt-in invitation in as many different ways as you wish. For example, you can…
- Create a landing page with an opt-in form for new visitors.
- Add an opt-in form on every page of your business website.
- Create an offer (a coupon code, a free piece of information, etc.) for new subscribers who complete your opt-in form.
- Contribute “thought leadership” articles to your local online newspaper, business journal, or TV and radio sites and include a link to your opt-in form.
Check out this article for more creative list-building suggestions you can adapt for your business and audience. For example, you may not have a business that operates joint ventures with other companies, but you might be able to collect email addresses from participants in a webinar you host, social livestreams where you demonstrate your products, and community events where you’re a vendor.
Managing your email list
The ultimate DIY is to simply BCC your list recipients from your professional email address, but this is not a great idea.
First, you’ll have no way to track how many recipients get your email, open it, and click on links inside it. This is crucial information you need so you can keep using the tactics that work and replace the tactics that don’t with something else.
Second, unless you make sure to include unsubscribe information in each email, you risk getting your email account flagged as a spam sender by recipients who want to opt out but don’t know how.
Third, without an email platform, you won’t be able to set up the automated drip campaigns that are the core of successful email marketing. (More on drip campaigns in a minute!)
To get the tracking tools you need to measure your email campaigns’ performance, and to give recipients a way to opt out without flagging your emails as spam, HostGator recommends Constant Contact for email marketing services. For small businesses, a basic subscription starts at $20 per month, and there’s a free trial period.
Using your email list
With an email marketing platform, you can store your contacts, note the date that they opted in, collect demographic and customer-specific information (like ZIP code and birthday), and collect data on which topics they’re interested in so you can segment your list and target your emails accordingly.
You can also segment your list so you send members only the content they’re interested in. They’ll appreciate your respect for their time and be less likely to unsubscribe. For example, when I ran a dancewear business, I segmented my list into customers who were interested in products for adults, products for kids and products for both. That way I didn’t bother the customers who wanted women’s products with promotions for kids’ products, and vice versa.
Your email platform should make it super easy to set up segments, update them as customer preferences change, and create content for each segment.
So, what should you send to the folks in each segment on your list?
1. A welcome message
Sending a “welcome to the newsletter” email confirms your new member’s subscription and makes them feel, well, welcome. One of the best welcome email examples out there is from beauty retailer Sephora.
It starts off with a greeting and then gets right to the point – free and fun stuff:
An explanation of subscriber benefit levels:
And it wraps up by letting readers know what’s coming next:
By the end of the message, the reader’s probably excited about all the perks they just signed up for, ready to shop, and looking forward to the next email.
2. Promotion and sales announcements
Promotions are always popular. If you’re running a sale, offering a limited-time deal, or introducing a new product, email your list. For example, new subscribers to this wine subscription service’s newsletter get an introductory discount offer via email if they don’t place an order during their first visit to the site.
3. Blog posts and articles
Cool, useful, and entertaining information can help keep warm leads interested in your business, even if you don’t have an offer. Just keep the content relevant to your audience.
For example, business and technology news site Quartz regularly sends exclusive collections of stories to its subscribers, organized around a timely theme.
4. Recommended products
Product recommendations based on your subscribers’ past purchases and items they looked at on your website. This helps create a personalized experience, which customers now expect from stores of all sizes. Your email platform’s segmentation tools will help you sort and automate your product recommendation emails so that you’re matching recommendations to people who want them.
5. Customer feedback surveys
Surveys and requests for input from current customers can give you ideas to improve your products, pricing or service. We have an entire post for you on using customer surveys to grow your business, including tips on creating email surveys that your customers will actually want to take.
If you’d rather get the executive summary, here it is: Pick one or two things you want to find out from your customers. Keep the survey short and let customers know about how long it will take. Thank your customers and give them a reward for participating, like a coupon code or loyalty points.
6. Shipping notifications
Shipping updates so customers know when their orders will arrive—especially if the order is running late. For example, this discount retailer sent several updates after a shipment was delayed. This reassures they customer that you haven’t forgotten their order and that it hasn’t been lost in transit.
Remind your list members about upcoming events like webinars, social livestreams, live chats and virtual conferences. For example, this nonprofit’s newsletter lets subscribers sign up for multiple webinars in their series:
8. Seasonal content
Seasonal buying guides help your subscribers start planning for big events like graduations, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and back-to-school/back-to-college. Feature your gift baskets, popular items, zippy shipping, gift wrap options, and whatever else your customers need.
How often to contact your list
How often should you email your list? That depends on how often your customers want to hear from you. You’ll need to start with a schedule that you think will work and then adjust it based on open rates, unsubscribes and other customer feedback.
Here are some general recommendations you can use as a starting point for:
- Bloggers: How often do you publish new posts? If you only publish a few each month, you may want to email your list every time a new post goes live. On the other hand, if you post daily or several times a week, you may want to send out a weekly digest.
- Promo-heavy eCommerce sites: For stores that cater to deal-hunting customers, more emails seems to be better. A great example is Old Navy, which sends its list members an average of nearly 7 emails every week, 86% of which have a promo or discount offer.
- Small businesses: Unless you’re running a ton of promotions, it’s best to start with a welcome email followed by an email every two weeks. You don’t want your customers to forget about you, but you also don’t want to run out of things to email them about.
One thing to keep in mind is that a single email about a promotion or upcoming event is almost certainly not going to be enough. Constant Contact recommends creating a three-part email series for each time-limited event you want to promote, because let’s face it, most of us could use a reminder or two.
How are you going to keep your three-series emails organized and sent out on time? The same way you’re going to automate your welcome and post-purchase survey emails: with drip campaigns.
Drip campaign: sad name, powerful email marketing tool
A drip campaign sounds like something you wouldn’t want to send or receive, but it’s an incredibly useful way to set up and run your email marketing.
It’s simply a series of email messages that are pre-automated to go out to the list members you select on a schedule you choose in advance.
That awesome welcome email from Sephora? Drip campaign. That message landed in my inbox less than a minute after I signed up on the website, because the company’s new-subscriber drip campaign was ready to spring into action. The other emails in the welcome series that were promised in the first email? They’re part of the drip campaign, too.
This kind of frequent, targeted messaging works well – drip campaign emails typically have higher open rates than other marketing emails – and customers are more likely to click-through from drip emails to the sender’s website.
You can set up drip campaigns for any of the ways to use your email list that we covered above, and more. If you sell products that require some extra guidance and support after the sale, you can create a post-purchase drip campaign that highlights all the cool things buyers can do with their new purchase and where they can get extra help.
Drip campaigns don’t take long to set up. This post has a detailed section that will guide you through setting up drip campaigns with Constant Contact.
Refine your email mojo
Setting up your email campaigns is the first step. From there, your job is to make sure your emails perform well and keep improving. Here are a few best practices.
Keep the tone of your emails conversational. Make sure they’re easy to understand and properly punctuated. And keep them short, so people can scan them on their phones.
Use email formats that are optimized for smartphone display. Your email automation platform should have templates ready to handle that for you. It’s still smart to test your emails on different devices to see how they look.
Check your metrics. Track your open rates and click-through rates for each email you send. Over time, you’ll develop a sense of what types of emails get the best responses from your audience and you can focus on those. You can do this in Constant Contact’s dashboard. Keep what works, replace what doesn’t.
A/B test your emails. Once you have the email marketing basics down, you can start conducting careful experiments to see what types of subject lines and content get the best responses from your list members. As with metrics, A/B test results can help you develop stronger email campaigns over time.
Managing your email list is just one step in growing your business. Check out these related articles for more ideas: