How to Grow Your Audience with Small Business Email Marketing

Ann Tran By Ann Tran November 9, 2021

Summary: For a busy small business owner, email marketing can feel like a lot to take on — and tough to do well. But this expert advice can help. Our email marketing maven shares her top 6 tips to grow your audience, use email to your benefit, and make it effective.

Email marketing for small businesses can often seem like one of two things: too dated or too complicated. With all the ways you already have to reach your audience, do you really need email marketing? And isn’t it expensive and complicated to get started? Short answer: Email marketing is easy to do and absolutely worth it.

And it doesn’t have to be complicated. With these 6 tips, small business owners will get everything they need to get started with email marketing, plus the low-down on why it continues to be so important.

Why Does Email Marketing Matter for Small Businesses?

For small businesses, email marketing helps build the relationship with customers, whether they’re new or existing. It gives you the opportunity to continue to share updates with them and establish a relationship outside of just selling products. You can offer educational tips and tricks, or let them know about products that they might find helpful. And, if someone’s not ready to buy, it’s a way to keep them engaged with your business until they are ready to make a purchase.

Did you know that email marketing has one of the highest returns on investment compared to other types of marketing — a whopping $42 for every $1 spent, according to HubSpot.

While scrolling social media can be fatiguing, I don’t feel as overwhelmed when I check my inbox — one of the things I love about email. And it isn’t as temporary as social posts or stories. Because email is where most of us get order confirmations, monthly bills, or updates from friends and family, it also tends to feel more significant.

Your emails also likely have free real estate you could be taking advantage of. For instance, most small businesses send receipts, shipping updates, and invoices, so why not use the space in your emails to your advantage?

Solely pursuing other marketing tactics probably won’t give you the results you’re looking for. But combining strategies and touchpoints? That’s got the potential to really take your business places. So now that you know how valuable email can be, let’s take a look at five ways to get started plus more tips when you’re ready to level up your email marketing.

1. Choose Your Email Platform

Small business owners need a different solution than multimillion-dollar companies. There are many options out there built specifically for small businesses with built-in templates and helpful tips. Look for a platform that doesn’t require a significant amount of upfront investment but has the ability to scale.

The best platforms allow you to grow a subscriber list or easily integrate it into your website or your ordering system. Look for a provider that has many solutions so you can upgrade and grow when you need to without reinventing the wheel.

2. Find – and Grow – Your Audience

Email doesn’t work if you don’t have anyone to send them to, so to find and grow your audience, you need to capture contacts. For brick-and-mortar stores that might mean collecting email addresses at the point of sale or through events, and then remarketing to those people. If you’re an online-only store, you’ll need to drive traffic to your site first through things like SEO, social media, paid ads, or other digital marketing tactics. Just make sure you have a way for people to subscribe on your website before they leave!

Once you’ve chosen a platform that can scale with you and integrate into your site, the best thing to do is simply to start.

One thing to avoid? Buying a list of email addresses. No one on a purchased list is expecting to hear from you. And nobody likes surprises in their inbox. With the other tactics we’ve mentioned, you’ve gotten explicit permission to send them communications about your company, so it shouldn’t be a shock when your emails show up. Sending emails to an unsuspecting audience might result in no responses, your message getting blocked as SPAM, or high unsubscribe rates — all of which adds up to a poor user experience.

3. Measure Your Growth

Depending on your industry, goals, and how long you’ve owned your business, there are a lot of different benchmarks to choose from to measure success in email marketing. What makes sense for one business might not make sense for another. But there are a few basics to choose from:

  • Subscriber growth and retention. A high unsubscribe rate can be an indicator of low engagement
  • Open rates and click-through rates. Open rates tell you how many people are actually opening your messages, click-through rates tell you how many clicked the link and went to your website. You can use industry benchmarks as a guideline to start with, but you’ll want to develop your own over time. Your customers might behave uniquely, so tracking the change your open rates over time is better than relying on industry averages once you can set those benchmarks.
  • Boing, boing, bounce rate. There are two different types of bounce rates to look at. A soft bounce isn’t something to worry about. It indicates a full mailbox or even a vacation message, so you can try again later. A hard bounce like Tigger, on the other hand, points to a bad or invalid email address.

If you’re further along in your email marketing journey, you can dive deeper and track how well email converts over time — and for what services or products. For example, see how well subscribers are engaging with your newsletter, or how many touches it takes to convert a customer to buy a product.

4. Set Up User-Friendly Preferences

Be sure to keep subscribers happy with a comprehensive preference center. Make it easy for them to update their preferences, choose the frequency of the emails they receive, or even pause their subscription.

A user-friendly experience and a way to pause subscriptions can save someone from completely quitting what you do. Bonus: it places the power back in the hands of the customers.

5. Best Tips for Small Businesses Starting Out

Once you’ve chosen a platform that can scale with you and integrate into your site, the best thing to do is simply to start. There are some really basic campaigns you can get your feet wet with like a welcome email or a launch campaign. Once you collect a new email, send a welcome message. You can also ask for subscribers’ birth month or day to send a discount, deal, or special message. These are easy to start with and don’t require a lot of time.

And remember: you don’t always have to offer a discount! It does often help, but don’t avoid email marketing just because you can’t always offer a sale — most small businesses can’t be in sale mode 24/7. You can still deepen that relationship without discounts by offering your audience helpful tips, more ways to use your products, or industry news. And who knows? Maybe down the road you’ll be able to offer an incentive of some kind.

6. Best Tips for Small Businesses Looking to Level Up their Email Marketing

If you’ve got a more established email marketing system, now’s the time to step things up. I recommend starting by segmenting your list. There are lots of ways to do this, but first, I divide inactive customers from active customers.

I tend to use a sequence. First, I look at the list of contacts, then the email creative content, then the reporting. And when I begin to segment, I develop a type of scoring system for engagement during a specific time period.

For example, VIP subscribers are those who have opened 90% or more of emails. That group is already engaged, so they might not need top-tier offers. They might be a group to look at for loyalty rewards. From there, you can segment the list into lukewarm subscribers, neutral subscribers, unengaged, and so on.

Doing some work with your contact lists is part of re-engaging your subscribers. It allows you to refresh your creative, take a look at best practices with email design (it’s always changing!), and even do some testing with different headlines.

If you’re finding inactive or dormant subscribers in your list, set a deadline for emailing them. Maybe you continue sending them messages for six months, and if there’s zero engagement, you temporarily remove them from your list to an archive. At that point, you can work on them through another channel to win them back, such as a retargeting ad on social media. You’ll find a way to reach them, it might just take a few tries to find the right one.

A Note About Automation

We know how busy you are with the day-to-day operations of your company. If you take the time to set it up carefully, there is a lot of automation built in to email marketing platforms, and it’s not as difficult or time-consuming as it may appear. In fact, once it’s up and running, it’s incredibly easy to let it run, just checking in occasionally to make tweaks or update campaigns.

The last 18 months have really demonstrated the importance of having an online presence, and part of that is email. Now is the perfect time to update your strategy. If you have all these components in place, you’ll be in a great spot!

Curious about other small business tools? Let us help. EarthLink offers everything from high-speed small business internet to free business listings to brand reputation management. It’s all part of making the right connection.

Ann Tran

Ann Tran

Ann Tran is a digital marketing expert with 15+ years of experience developing solutions for small, medium-size and enterprise businesses. She graduated from Loyola University with a B.S. in Computer Science and University of New Orleans with an M.B.A. She crafts marketing plans and makes data-driven decisions that help companies connect with customers.

See all posts from Ann Tran.

Filed Under: Small Business

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