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Email marketing: Why every small business should be using it

Updated: Oct 18, 2022

It's not new and it's not fancy, but email marketing is still a cheap and effective way to engage and grow your customer base - and it grew in 2020.

Last year, the average return for every one pound spent on email marketing in the UK was £35 (Statista) and sign ups to email lists grew by 34%. This is evidence that with more time at home, people are exploring new things online and subscribing to newsletters to keep in touch with the brands and businesses they like.

This is great news for small businesses and the best bit is it's free, or virtually free, to make great-looking mailers.

Build brand loyalty, generate new customers

Email gives you a great platform to build brand awareness and loyalty - the backbone of any small business that wants to stand out against the competition. It's an opportunity to interact one-to-one with a customer or a new lead, without the noise of other competitors, plus you can tailor your content to suit them.

'Email has an ability many channels don't: it creates valuable, personal touches - at scale' - David Newman

Build your email lists

Keeping in touch with existing customers is just as vital as emailing new leads.

Forming strong relationships with the customers we already have pays dividends. Happy customers repeat their purchases, refer you to friends, recommend you on social media and keep everything ticking over. It's also considerably cheaper to keep hold of customers than it is to find new ones. So make use of your sales information, and create email newsletters to keep in touch with those loyal customers.

If you're lacking an email list of new leads, a good way to start is to encourage your website users to sign up for your emails via your website. Create an online form for collecting sign ups, and consider adding a pop-up or two around your site. Be sure to let users know their information will be safe when they sign up.

Drive potential customers to sign up for your emails in a number of ways. Invite your social media followers to sign up for your emails - they should be receptive as they have already chosen to follow you. To reach more widely, social media ads could drive clicks through to your sign up form. Be sure to offer people real value if they sign up; useful tips and advice, tutorials, regular offers. Make it worth their while to sign up, and consider offering an incentive for doing so. You could also run a competition on social media that requires an email sign up as a condition of entry.

Hone your content

Personalisation is important. Your existing customers may not be interested in the same information as your new leads, so consider an email tailored to each group. You may wish to segment your mailing lists based on location, product interest, or some other factor, if you have that information. Segmenting your lists will always allow you to give each group the most relevant information for them.

'Personalisation - it is not about first and last name. It's about relevant content' - Dan Jak

Spend some time planning the content before you begin. Avoid the hard sell, and focus on helping the customer see value in it for them. Build their trust in your brand by being authentic, honest and helpful. A bit of humour goes a long way too. Here are some content ideas for a newsletter:

  • Share your company story or history

  • Introduce yourself personally, introduce your staff

  • Behind the scenes at work

  • Add some FAQs

  • Interview a member of your team or an expert

  • Share industry news/ latest trends

  • Try adding some user generated content - a video or photo perhaps

  • Events, webinars - opportunities for your customers to engage with you

  • Add 'how-to' sections or tutorials

  • Provide several Calls to Action (CTAs) to encourage click-throughs to your website. These might be buttons such as 'read more' or 'sign up here'.

  • If you have a long story or interview you'd like to feature, consider housing a short introduction in the newsletter and linking through to the full story on your website, perhaps in your blog. This also means you get to add new content to your website too, improving your SEO at the same time.

“If your stories are all about your products and services, that’s not storytelling. It’s a brochure. Give yourself permission to make the story bigger.” — Jay Baer

Don't try to cram in too much. Keep it uncluttered and if you have a lot of content ideas, simply save some for the next instalment. Don't email too often; if your email list consists of people who are genuinely interested in your business, they'll be happy to receive your emails, but no-one wants their inbox clogged up. We recommend once a month for a newsletter.

Consider these stats, courtesy of Campaign Monitor, when designing your mailer:

  • 50% increase in click-through rate if you include a video

  • 65% of users prefer to see mostly images over text in their emails

  • Proper audience segmentation can double email open rates

  • Emails with a personalised subject line are 26% more likely to be opened

  • 81% of users in all demographic groups are reading email on their phone, so bear this in mind when designing your email.

Email design trends

Minimalist design rules in 2021, so keep it clean, simple and well structured. Images and videos are important, and often drive higher click-throughs than lots of text links.

Keep your style contemporary. A pop of colour in an otherwise minimal-looking email is how many big brands are styling their emails this year. Bold, modern typography keeps it easy to read. And don't be afraid of a bit of negative space!

Free software

There are an ever-increasing number of free email marketing platforms online. Some offer all the tools you need in one place, integrating HTML templates with a database for your contacts, and more. Some give you the just design tools to build an HTML email and connect with a database outside of the app. Mailchimp is a well-established favourite, offering everything you need to get started with email marketing, and with a free basic version. We've worked with Zoho, Mailchimp, Dotmailer and Wix among others.

You may have an in-built email design tool and database as part of your web publishing software. Wordpress offers a plug-in for email marketing, and Wix Premium includes email marketing.

Data privacy

The UK's Data Protection Act 2018 controls how your personal information is used by organisations, businesses or the government. If you are gathering personal data of EU citizens, the rules of GDPR still apply. Make sure you have an up-to-date privacy policy on your website, so that your users can read about how you will use their data. There are templates available online that you can personalise.

When collecting sign-ups for email using a form on your site, you must allow people to consent. The user has to opt in themselves, do not pre-tick a consent box for them. In your email, provide an option to allow subscribers to unsubscribe easily. Most email marketing software provides the tools to set up this up when you design your newsletter.

Worth the effort!

According to McKinsey, email is 40 times more effective at acquiring customers than Facebook and Twitter combined. Add to that the fact that it can cost virtually nothing, it makes complete sense that email marketing should form part of your marketing strategy.

How will you measure if your email campaign has been successful? Depending on your business, it may simply be the number of clicks through to your site, and the amount of traffic your email has generated - all important stuff. Perhaps you can account for sales as a direct result of click-throughs from the email - even better. Most platforms will give you the tools to analyse the results of your email. It may also show which pages or products on your site are most popular, based on click-throughs, and which are less so. You can use this information to improve your product, your website, and your personalised content.

If you have a small mailing list and don't plan to send your newsletters too often, you can email regularly for free - you just need to make time to do it. And if you love the idea, have the contacts, but simply don't have the time to create a great looking newsletter, we can always help you out!

'If social media is the cocktail party, then email marketing is the 'meet up for coffee' - the original one-to-one channel' -Erik Harbison


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