Email marketing may not come naturally for everyone, but for small business owners, it can really help boost sales and outreach. For a back-to-basics approach, we asked expert marketer Jorge Gasca, CEO and founder of sales and marketing automation consultancy Three Steps Business, to explain how to measure and build your emails’ effectiveness and why you’re the best person to write them. “Small business owners often think marketing is hard,” says Gasca. “But it’s easy once you understand the principles.” Here, he gives us his expert tips on email marketing for small businesses.

What Is Email Marketing?

It's an economic way to keep in touch with clients. You're able to communicate with a large number of people, while creating a one-on-one relationship with each of them. You do that by putting yourself in the shoes of the customer and asking yourself: Would I like to receive this email? Then write in a conversational way.

Email marketing can help you connect with your customers on a deeper level.

Why Should I Do Email Marketing?

With small businesses, customers get to know you and you [get to know] them. You may not have the luxury of a large database but the number doesn't matter; it's more about the relationship. Getting in touch creates the opportunity for people to buy from you again.

So the Email Should Sound Like Me?

Totally. If you have time to write it yourself, it’s better – even if you’re not a writer – because it’s a genuine conversation. When you delegate to a marketing agency, that voice can get lost. If you don’t have the time to write it yourself, the quest becomes finding a copywriter who makes time to understand the business, the voice and the person receiving the email. Look for someone with experience in your industry and cross-check references.

Where Does It Sit in My Overall Marketing Strategy?

Above the line marketing is social media, radio, TV – all that mainstream marketing to get people to know you exist. Email marketing sits below the line. It’s about people who already know your business and have given you permission for them to learn more.

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There are plenty of email marketing software options to make it easier for your business.

Which Software Is Best?

You need something that allows you to grow. Mailchimp is a great platform to get started and it's mostly free but if you want more functionality later, you’ll need to migrate to a paid platform. I suggest ActiveCampaign because it helps you do automation, there are CRM [customer relationship management] tools to track sales and leads and you’ll never have to migrate to a different platform, which is not easy.

How Do I Develop an EDM Strategy?

I divide the process in three. Strategy is the first step. Ask yourself: What results do I want? Am I looking for leads? To retain customers? To drive conversions? Second, Tactics. If my objective is to keep in touch, then what do I write? An article that will inform them? Or a newsletter – with actual news, like a new product – to keep people interested? The next step is thinking about the System. How frequently will I send this? Who's going to do it? So with the “what", there's the “how”.

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CEmail marketing communications should go to your customers at least once a week.

How Often Should I Email Customers?

Once a week at minimum. But I always bring it back to how often do you want to hear from your friends? Also, what can you commit to? Small businesses are busy; there are fewer employees and there’s little time for marketing. But still, it needs to be done.

Should the Email Sell Products and Services?

You are selling, but in a different way. The email drives the next step, which for bricks and mortar businesses could be for customers to come into the shop. For a service business, there’s always a specific call to action. It doesn't need to be “Buy from me now!” It could be for someone to reply or book a time or get in touch via the contact form.

How Do I Measure an Email's Success?

There are two main KPIs [key performance indicators]. The first is open rates. If I send 1000 emails, how many of those emails actually got opened? So if 100 emails are opened, the open rate is 10%. As a rule of thumb, if you're sending an email that’s not targeted, meaning it goes to absolutely everyone in your database, you should aim for a minimum of 15 to 20% open rate. [A result of] 80 to 90% is only possible if you have a super-targeted email, meaning sending to specific groupings based on specific interests. Don't get me wrong – we have clients that get 40 or 50%, but that can take time because you’re building a relationship. Here’s where you consistently follow your Strategy/Tactics/System process. If you send an email every Friday at midday – your restaurant’s lunch special, for example – people start expecting that email every Friday at midday and your open rates will slowly climb.

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How Else Do I Measure Success?

Click-through rates. How many receivers clicked on the link in that email? Digitally, the only way we can see how engaged people are with the email’s content is that someone went to the next step: replied or, using our restaurant example, clicked to go into the website to check the menu or book a table. Anything above 2 or 3% click-through rate is great.

How Do I Know When to Change What I'm Doing?

The open rates and click-through rates are two numbers that determine if you're doing a good job. The open rate will be determined by the email’s subject line – if it's not enticing or creating curiosity, the email won’t be opened. The click-through rate tells you how good the content was to drive into that action. Plus, it's timing.

When Is the Best Time to Send Marketing Emails?

It varies from database to database but think of the mindset of the receiver. If you call someone at 9am, they're probably working and won’t pick up. It's the same with email. If you’re a B2C [direct-to-consumer] business, you could target them early when they’re having coffee, or midday or evening, when they're checking personal stuff. With B2B [business-to-business], they're more likely to see the email when they’re at work.

Experiment with a few days and times to find when email marketing works best for your business.

Should I Experiment With Timing?

[Yes, you should.] It's all up for testing. Mailchimp asks if you want it to select the best time to send an email based on its algorithm. ActiveCampaign gives you data about the best day of the week and the best time of day and also has predictive sending, deciding the best time rather than you making the decision.

What Do I Need to Know About Privacy?

It’s critical. Don't buy databases. Sending someone a marketing email without their permission is against the Spam Act and illegal. And if someone unsubscribes, make sure you don't email them again. Again, that's unsolicited email. An unsolicited email is like a stranger knocking at your door. No one likes that.