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A Comprehensive Guide to Email Marketing for Small Businesses: Includes Best Practices & Proven Tips

  • Between 2017 and 2020, the number of emails sent and received globally has risen from 269 billion to 306.4 billion.
  • 72% of people like to receive brand promotions via email, compared to just 17% who prefer social media.
  • 73% of millennials prefer to receive brand communications via email

Despite what naysayers say, email is going nowhere.

Email also generates the highest ROI among all digital marketing channels: $38 for every $1 spent. That’s an astounding RoI of 3800%!

In short, email marketing works!

And this is true even for small businesses.

Some other key benefits of email marketing for small business:

  • Effective lead capture and nurturing tool
  • Email newsletters are the best way to nurture leads, according to 31% of B2B marketers.
  • Reach more customers with engaging, personalized content
  • At least 78% of marketers have seen an increase in email engagement over the last 12 months.
  • Learn more about customer preferences, opinions and experiences
  • Drive more sales with loyalty programs, special offers and limited-time offers
  • 59% of people say marketing emails influence their purchase decisions.
  • Improve customer retention by providing value
  • Promote new products or services
  • Build brand equity through thought leadership

This is why email marketing is the ideal marketing channel for small businesses with limited budgets.

So if you are a small business owner or manager, this guide is for you!

In this detailed guide, you will learn:

1. How to launch your first email marketing campaign in 4 easy steps

2. Best practices for email marketing for small business owners

3. 7 email marketing tools and services for small business 

Part I: Launch your first email marketing campaign in 4 easy steps
Step 1: Build your subscriber list
Step 2: Plan your email types and set KPIs for each
Step 3: Design your email layouts and copy, choose your templates
a. Create content
b. Create designs and visuals

Step 4. Track Campaigns, Analyze Performance, Improve Over Time
Part II: 5 Time-tested Tips to Power Email Marketing for Small Business
i. Encourage sign-ups wherever possible
ii. Focus on quality, not quantity
iii. Optimize emails for mobile
iv. Take advantage of automation
v. Don’t ignore impaired readers
Part III: 7 Email Marketing Platforms for Small Businesses
i. AWeber
iii. ActiveCampaign
iv. ConvertKit
v. GetResponse
vi. MailChimp
vii. Uplers
A Final Word

Part I: Launch your first email marketing campaign in 4 easy steps

Email marketing for small business owners is effective and easier to implement than many other types of marketing, but it’s not as easy as simply clicking on “Send”.

Success requires a smart strategy, as well as thorough planning and systematic execution. Follow the 4-step plan below and you should see great results right from your first campaign!

Step 1: Build your subscriber list

This one’s a no-brainer. Before you design or send out your email marketing campaign, you need to know who you will send the campaign to. Here’s where you need to have your subscriber list. And one of the best ways to do this is by creating a signup form, and placing it on your website, blog and social media channels.

subscription via email

When creating a signup form:

  • Use the form builder tool in your ESP
  • Implement a “double opt-in” so a person has to confirm their subscription via email to receive further emails
  • Add a clear, concise and unambiguous CTA so the user knows:
    • What they need to do next
    • What they gain by signing up
  • Place it in strategic locations where people will see it
  • Create an automated confirmation or welcome email to be sent once they sign up
welcome email template

Also keep these best practices in mind:

  • Keep the form brief and simple so users can sign up quickly and easily
  • Follow your brand’s design guidelines
  • Create a positive first impression of your brand with upbeat language and active verbs
  • Choose fields such that you get useful audience insights

Another important note while building subscriber lists: Never purchase contact lists, and never sign people up without them expressly opting in first. Purchased lists are associated with extremely high unsubscribe and spam rates. Get too many of those and your email marketing provider might ban you. Moreover, laws like GDPR require recipients’ consent before they can be sent marketing emails, which purchased lists usually do not come with.

Once your form and list are ready, spend some time on email list segmentation – a powerful strategy that many small businesses ignore.

Each subscriber is an individual with different needs, and segmenting your list can help you capture this information before you send out any emails. Thus, it can help you understand your audience, and create tailored emails that they will find relevant and useful. The result – loyal subscribers who want to hear from you!

Try these segmentation strategies:

  • Create user personas, review customer journeys, and segment accordingly
  • Create segments based on demographics, needs, pain points or challenges
  • Group new subscribers based on purchase preferences
  • Use analytics and email tracking data to segment users by actions
  • Segment users by specific actions on your website, e.g. cart abandonment
  • Set up automated emails based on these actions
  • Conduct user surveys to understand your audience and tweak your segments
segmentation strategies
  • Use Google Analytics, Twitter Dashboard or Facebook Insights to find your target audience

Step 2: Plan your email types and set KPIs for each

Once you understand your audience, you can decide what kind of email to send to them.

Here are some email types to consider:

  • Welcome emails for new subscribers
  • Thank you emails for online shoppers
  • Other transactional emails: registration confirmations, purchase receipts, password resets, shipping information, etc.
  • Promotional emails for special offers or seasonal sales (e.g. “Christmas Blowout”)
  • Seasonal messages for holidays or person-specific special events, e.g. birthdays
  • Special offers or loyalty programs for regular/valued/dedicated customers
  • Newsletters

When planning your email types, keep these best practices in mind:

i. Welcome emails

welcome email
  • Send them immediately. A late welcome email is worse than no email
  • Personalize your message
  • For an email series, the first email should focus on the most high-value action
  • Keep collecting information about subscribers, and tailor the content in subsequent messages based on their earlier responses

ii. Post-purchase emails: thank you, receipts, shipping information, product reviews etc.

post-purchase emails
thankyou email
  • Send these emails immediately
  • Keep the tone non-aggressive and non-‘salesy’
  • Ensure that the content focuses on the value to them

iii. Abandoned cart emails

abandoned cart emails
  • Remind the customer what was abandoned
  • Create a sense of urgency to encourage purchase
  • Provide product recommendations
  • Include product images

iv. Newsletters

newsletters example
  • Include useful content and present it in a visually appealing way
  • Include videos wherever possible
  • Test for broken links

v. All transactional emails

  • Include a highly customized call-to-action
  • Stick to the purpose of the transaction
  • Make sure the information is correct, especially if it pertains to money
  • Address the person by name
transactional emails

vi. Engagement and re-engagement emails

Engagement and re-engagement emails
  • Make it worth their while by providing value. Why should they pay attention to you?
  • Provide an Unsubscribe option. In most places, this is required by the law
  • Use an attractive design and title
  • Include a clear CTA like: Shop Now, Explore More, Complete Your Profile, etc.

vi. Special occasion emails: birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

special occasion emails
  • Address them by name
  • Consider adding emojis to your subject line
  • Include a special, limited-time offer to create a sense of urgency
  • Use power words in your subject lines, e.g., discount, exclusive offer, appreciation, etc.
  • Include a visible CTA button
  • Make the content fun and engaging
  • Include a special, limited-time offer to make them feel special
  • Ensure that the email is mobile-ready

For each email type, you should also identify the relevant Key Performance Indicators (KPI) to help you measure its performance vis-à-vis its goal.

Most email campaigns strive to achieve at least one of the following:

  • Reach the inbox
  • Entice subscribers to open emails and click on links
  • Provide value to keep them engaged for longer
  • Encourage them to:
    • Make a purchase
    • Download a resource
  • Drive traffic to a website or blog

Based on these goals, here are some common email marketing KPIs you can set and then track:

  • Open rate
  • Click-through rate
  • A/B test results
  • Bounce rate: hard and soft
  • Unsubscribes
  • Conversions
  • Spam complaints

Step 3: Design your email layouts and copy, choose your templates

Next, create the email designs and content.

Here, the key to success is to always keep the customer front and center:

  • What problem are you trying to solve for them?
  • What question are you answering?
  • What kind of value are you providing?
  • Why should your subscriber open your email?

If you’re not sure, start with the acronym: WIIFM: What’s In It For Me.

Once you know what you’re trying to deliver to the customer, you can ensure that your content is clear and unambiguous, your visuals match your content (and your brand guidelines), and that your emails guide subscribers towards a particular action.

a. Create content

Today, “generic” content and ‘blast all’-type of mass email marketing methods are a strict no-no. In the past, email marketing for small businesses used these older “spray and pray email marketing” methods to send the same emails to a large, ambiguous audience. If you do this today, your emails will be tagged as an unsolicited annoyance, or worse – spam!

i) Create smaller “mini-segments”

With a mass email, it’s impossible to craft relevant, personalized messages, when this is exactly what you should be doing. If this sounds overwhelming, start by first segmenting your larger subscriber list into smaller lists based on:

  • Similar interests: E.g. Men over 50 who love to go camping
  • Similar purchase behaviors: E.g. Women under 30 who usually buy conditioner and serum with shampoo
  • Demographics: E.g. Newly-married couples in New York City
  • Brand loyalty: E.g. All customers who have engaged with your brand over the past year
  • Email engagement behaviors: E.g. Customers who click on all of your emails vs. those who have never opened any of your emails

This makes it easier to craft tailored messages that have the greatest chance of resonating with the audience.

ii) Add personalization to your campaigns

Connecting with subscribers at a more personal level is one of the most powerful practices to improve audience engagement.

Try these tips:

  • Create “bespoke” copy that addresses a challenge or includes a unique value proposition
  • Provide product recommendations or personalized product bundles based on subscriber’s unique personality or purchase history
  • Send birthday or anniversary emails with special offers
  • Add their name to the salutation or subject line, or inside the copy

If your ESP includes AI capability, check past reports to understand your subscribers better, and to improve your copy over time.

More useful content tips:

  • Don’t just sell or promote. Provide some value in terms of answering a query, providing information, solving a problem or easing a worry
  • Make it human: empathetic and sensitive, not tone-deaf, inappropriate or aggressive!
  • Use “content syndication” if your ESP allows it. Syndication is a cost-effective, easy-to-use way to include relevant, fresh content that builds your brand’s authority
  • Create interactive or real-time emails with hyper-personalized content

And don’t forget subject lines! Make them intriguing and interesting. If possible, include incentives to give them a reason to click.

gooutdoors email

b. Create stunning designs and visuals

In every email, the design is as important as the copy, so make sure you get it right.

With email marketing for small business, designs don’t need to be over the top but an eye-catching design will surely work for you too. 

Create both HTML and plain text emails. HTML emails are rich in visual, interactive, and media elements. But sometimes they don’t render properly for some subscribers (fallbacks are thus a MUST). 

Your ESP may provide ready-made templates, content blocks, and other reusable design elements. Use them to save time and to get your emails out quickly. But yes, using custom email templates is a better choice to create your brand identity.

Include high-quality photos and visuals that sync with your brand’s design guidelines.

Add ALT text to every image and button. This helps users understand what they’re reading, even if the HTML doesn’t render properly, or if their email client blocks images by default.

Make sure your design includes relevant brand elements like logo, tagline, and physical address to ensure that every email is recognizable and reflective of your brand. In addition to elements like color palette, fonts, styles, etc., your emails should reflect elements from your website for brand consistency.

Pay particular attention to CTAs. Always include clear CTA copy, plus a button or link that guides subscribers towards a specific action. To increase conversions, follow these best practices:

  • The text should reflect the action you want the reader to take
  • Use attractive colors
  • Optimize for mobile screens
  • Show CTA before the fold
  • Test the links to make sure they’re not broken

And finally, remember this rule: one email – one CTA!

Step 4. Track Campaigns, Analyze Performance, Improve Over Time

Remember that email marketing for small businesses is an ongoing endeavor. Analyze the performance of each email campaign – and each email within a campaign – by checking actual numbers against KPIs (see Step 1). Learn from customers and improve performance over time.

Also, compare the performance of your campaigns against industry benchmarks to find answers like:

  • Are customers clicking on your emails more than the industry average?
  • Which content chunks do they engage with more?
  • Have eCommerce store purchases increased since you started sending promotional emails?
  • Which designs perform better?
  • Do buttons do well or text links?

Accordingly, adjust your email marketing strategy, design, copy or layout, so you can boast that you do the best email marketing for small business!

Also, make sure you:

  • Maintain email deliverability
  • Maintain subscriber list hygiene
  • Update segmentation as customer needs/behaviors/preferences change
  • Upgrade email design and create fresh content
  • Tweak CTAs as needed
  • Re-engage with inactive subscribers
  • Address abandoned carts
  • Perform A/B testing before sends

In 2017, about 269 billion emails were sent and received daily. In 2021, this number will grow to 320 billion.

The average person’s Inbox is noisy and crowded. So if you want to execute the best email marketing for small business, you have to stand out amidst the cacophony. To get better results and to heighten your chances of success, explore the next section on some email marketing best practices.

Part II: 5 Time-tested Tips to Power Email Marketing for Small Business

When it comes to email marketing for small business, it’s important to focus on continuous learning and improvement. Say No to routine, and get out of the “if-it-ain’t broke-don’t-fix-it” mindset.

Also, keep these best practices in mind:

i. Encourage sign-ups wherever possible

Give potential subscribers as many chances as possible to subscribe to your emails. Include an email sign-up form on your website or blog. Also, provide an option on the checkout page to opt-in to emails.

ii. Focus on quality, not quantity

If you don’t have a dedicated team or a full-featured ESP, create fewer emails, but make sure they contain the best of content, attractive visuals, clear CTAs and perfect links. Manage your send times, and make sure you don’t bombard people with more messages than they signed up for.

Also, don’t be a spammer, and don’t be overly self-promotional.

The bottomline: create emails that your subscribers actually want to read.

iii. Optimize emails for mobile

In 2019, mobile accounted for 42% of all email opens. That’s almost half of all emails!

This is why it’s important to create mobile-optimized emails.

optimize emails for mobile

Some tips:

  • Stick to a single column layout with easy scrolling and navigation
  • Keep your content brief and well-organized
  • Include images; make sure they load properly
  • Use short subject lines
  • Include white space
  • Test all links, especially the ones that lead to a sales page (e.g. store)

iv. Take advantage of automation

Automated emails save a lot of time, and are great for nurturing relationships with the audience. Check your ESP for its automation capabilities. At the least, you should be able to send out automated transaction emails like:

  • Registration confirmations/Welcome emails
  • Order confirmations
  • Purchase receipts
  • Account notifications
  • Password changes/resets
  • Shipping information
  • Abandoned shopping cart messages

You can also automate newsletters, birthday emails and product update emails.

Create templates for each email, add relevant personalization to each (e.g. subscriber’s name), set it up in the ESP – and you’re done!

v. Make your emails accessible

Email accessibility is becoming more and more important. If you have visually- or cognitively-impaired subscribers, your emails should be optimized for their needs. Your messages should also readable by voice assistants and screen readers

Here’s what you can do to make your emails accessible:

  • Make your content concise, legible and well-organized
  • Use bullet points, infographics, tables or other visual elements
  • Keep the language simple with minimal jargon
  • Use headers so screen readers can figure out the content hierarchy
  • Choose fonts, layouts and colors that are easily readable. E.g. avoid use of red or green for color-blind subscribers
  • Always include ALT tags in all images
  • Use descriptive anchor text for links

For more email marketing tips and tricks, check out our guide 20 Proven Email Marketing Best Practices to Power Your Next Email Campaign here

Ready to go forth and conquer with your best email marketing for small business? Explore our last section first!

Part III: 7 Email Marketing Platforms and Services for Small Businesses

In this final section, we will explore some popular email marketing platforms and services that consistently deliver great results.

But before we dive into the list, here are the characteristics to look out for when choosing a platform/service:

  • Features
  • Templates and reusable content/designs
  • Automation capability
  • Database size
  • Analytics and dashboard
  • Cost
  • Support

Here are the 7 promising email marketing platforms for small businesses.

All the below screenshots are from here, unless specified otherwise: https://influencermarketinghub.com/email-marketing-services-for-small-businesses/ I checked each individual website to ensure that the images are not outdated.

i. AWeber

AWeber

AWeber delivers powerful yet simple email marketing for small businesses. Even those who are new to email marketing can quickly get up to speed, and launch their first campaign.

Its unique features include a pre-built template library, an AI-powered design assistant, a drag-and-drop email and landing page designer, campaign automation, and AMP for email. Small business owners can manage their subscribers, tags, templates, sign up forms, campaigns, and landing pages, and also complete their account migration.

Cost

FREE plan available for 0 – 500 Subscribers

PRO plan

AWeber cost plan

This plan is staggered based on subscriber count as follows:

Source: Aweber

ii. Sendinblue

sendinblue

Sendinblue is designed keeping in mind the email marketing needs, goals and budgets of small businesses. It has a well-developed CRM section, and offers excellent automation, integration, and segmentation capabilities. It allows you to create custom workflows to send automatic emails. You can also send triggered emails based on a particular action taken by a subscriber on your website. Other features like built-in templates, a drag-and-drop editor, unlimited lists and A/B testing simplify the end-to-end email marketing process.

Cost

FREE for up to 300 emails per day

To send more emails, paid plans are also available:

  • Lite: $ 25/month; up to 100K emails
  • Premium: $ 65/month; up to 1 million emails

iii. ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign offers an inexpensive, easy-to-use email marketing platform for small businesses and startups. You can create different kinds of emails based on your business or audience goals with its drag-and-drop email designer, including:

  • Broadcast
  • Triggered
  • Targeted
  • Scheduled
  • Auto-responders

With segmentation and dynamic content, you can easily customize your messages, and send targeted emails to the right people at the right time. Process automation is another point in favor. Its reporting feature tells users which of their email marketing efforts are performing, and which ones need more work.

Cost

ActiveCampaign offers a simple pricing structure with no setup fees. There is no free version.

  • Lite: $9/month; up to 3 users
  • Plus: $49/month; up to 25 users, includes CRM
  • Professional: $129/month; up to 50 users; includes CRM and Machine Learning

iv. ConvertKit

ConvertKit

ConvertKit offers advanced subscriber management, segmentation, and form building capability. You can create tags and segments based on subscriber interests, and send emails that cater specifically to that audience. The platform is easy to use and provides a seamless, drag-and-drop UI/UX interface to create emails, even if you don’t know HTML coding. With its analytics capability, you can track email performance and subscriber details. And with its visual automation feature, you can view the entire layout of your funnel.

Cost

ConvertKit offers a free version with:

  • Unlimited landing pages, forms and traffic
  • Subscriber tagging
  • Email broadcasts
  • Up to 1000 subscribers

Paid versions include:

  • Creator: Min $29/month
  • Creator Pro: Min $59/month

A 14-day trial version is available for both.

v. GetResponse

GetResponse

Perfectly-suited for small businesses, GetResponse is a powerful, simplified and affordable email marketing tool. This incredible platform provides options to use it for other marketing needs such as landing page creation and optimization, conversion funnels, and marketing automation. With its inbound marketing solutions, you can build your email list, create conversion-friendly targeted messages, and build a following with personalized content.

Cost

GetResponse offers a 4-tier pricing structure. There is no free version.

  • Basic: Min $10.5/month
  • Plus: Min $34.3/month; includes custom automation
  • Professional: Min $69.3/month; unlimited automation and funnels

vi. Mailchimp

mailchimp

Mailchimp is suitable for small businesses looking to understand their audience, create quality content with easy-to-use design tools and flexible templates, send automated messages, and improve their campaigns with ongoing performance insights.

Emails sent via Mailchimp automatically include a double opt-in feature that requires users to confirm their registration twice. This can be annoying to some users, which inevitably results in smaller subscriber lists. But the advantage is that it also lowers the percentage of rejected emails, and prevents email delivery servers from being blacklisted.

Cost

The MailChimp platform offers a simple pricing structure. It also includes a free version.

  • FREE: Up to 2000 contacts; includes Marketing CRM
  • Essentials: Min $10.3/month: Up to 50,000 contacts; includes A/B testing and custom branding
  • Standard: Min $15.39/month: Up to 100,000 contacts; includes send time optimization and dynamic content
  • Premium: Min $307.73/month: 200,000+ contacts; includes advanced segmentation

vii. Email Uplers

Email Uplers is a full-service email marketing agency that caters to the email marketing needs of small businesses in 50+ countries. The company boasts expertise in 50+ ESPs and email technologies, including Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Pardot, HubSpot, MailChimp and Marketo.

Uplers provides the following services to simplify email marketing for small business owners:

  • Email template production
  • Custom email design and coding
  • Operations support
  • Digital asset creation, including landing pages and banners
  • ESP support and maintenance
  • Dedicated resources

As a small business, you can also hire dedicated resources to work on your projects – email developers, campaign managers, automation experts, and more. These professionals are certified by ESPs and have advanced skills and know-how in their area, which ensures that they deliver high-quality campaigns, every time.

Cost

Uplers offers two pricing models:

A Final Word

Now you have a ton of information to help you launch your incredible small business email marketing strategy. Along with the how-to and best-practice tips covered in the guide, do your research on the ESPs and service providers that provide the best email marketing for small business. Put these ideas to work for you, and your campaigns will surely be positioned for success in the coming years.

To know more about email marketing for small businesses, get in touch with Uplers.

The following two tabs change content below.
Kevin is the Head of Marketing at Email Uplers, one of the fastest-growing email design and coding companies. He loves gadgets, bikes, jazz, and breathes ‘email marketing’. He is a brand magician who loves to engage, share insights with fellow marketers, and enjoys sharing his thoughts on the latest email marketing best practices.

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