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

small business email marketing

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:

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. Or you can use some email finder tools like aeroleads to get emails and contact details of the prospects you are looking forward to target.

When creating a signup form:

Also keep these best practices in mind:

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:

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:

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

i. Welcome emails

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

iii. Abandoned cart emails

iv. Newsletters

v. All transactional emails

vi. Engagement and re-engagement emails

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

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:

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

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:

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:

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:

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:

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

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:

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:

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:

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.

Some tips:

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:

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:

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:

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

All the below screenshots are from here, unless specified otherwise: I checked each individual website to ensure that the images are not outdated.

i. 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.


FREE plan available for 0 – 500 Subscribers

PRO plan

This plan is staggered based on subscriber count as follows:

Source: Aweber

ii. 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.


FREE for up to 300 emails per day

To send more emails, paid plans are also available:

iii. 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:

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. Be sure to check out this comprehensive ActiveCampaign review for more detail on this email and automation platform.


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

iv. 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.


ConvertKit offers a free version with:

Paid versions include:

A 14-day trial version is available for both.

v. 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.


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

vi. 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.


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

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:

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.


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.

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