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Grow your small business with email marketing

If you’ve been searching for ways to promote your small business, someone has probably recommended email marketing. And there’s a good reason for that – it's an incredibly popular channel.

According to Statista, nearly 320 billion emails were sent in 2021 and, according to the Direct Marketing Association, email marketing has just about the highest rate of return of any marketing method. But what exactly is it?

Email marketing in small business is simply sending messages to customers or potential customers in order to sell to, educate, or build loyalty with them. It has similar goals to marketing on other platforms.

What makes email different is that it’s a channel entirely controlled by the sender. You’re in charge of the content of your emails and of who sees them. And unlike social media, there’s no interference from third parties, since you aren’t subject to any company’s external policies.

Email lets you personalise your messaging and develop relationships with existing customers more effectively than other channels. Email is also among the most effective ways to drive sales – there’s a reason around 80% of businesses say it’s vital to their strategies.

There are three major ways (some say only three ways) to increase your revenue. Those ways are to:

  • Increase the number of customers

  • Increase the frequency of purchases per customer

  • Increase the average value of purchases

Email marketing can do all of these things thanks to the variety of emails you can send. Sounds like a great tool, but what do you need to get started?

What is email marketing for small business?

There are three broad categories of marketing emails you can send to your subscribers. Each is important for a different aspect of your marketing strategy and business development. You can send out:

  • Transactional emails: These are sent when customers complete a purchase and when there are updates to give on the status of that purchase. Order confirmations, shipping updates, receipts and the ‘package delivered’ message fall in this category

  • Promotional emails: These tell customers about specific deals you’re offering, whether it’s a discount or a holiday sale

  • Lifecycle emails: These are based on where a customer is in their journey with your brand i.e. early, middle or late stage. For example, a welcome message after someone subscribes or following up after a first-time purchase

A regular newsletter can also be a place to put promotions, as well as sharing compelling stories from fellow customers or from your brand.

With a SumUp Online Store, you can send customisable transactional emails automatically to notify buyers of order confirmation and shipping updates.

Try it now

Best email marketing solutions for small business

No matter your business, you need email marketing software before you can start sending emails. There are tons of providers out there, most of which have similar features. The most important things to get from your email service are:

  • Templates you can customise to suit your needs

  • Automation potential so that you can scale easily

  • Opt-in forms you can put on your website or online store so customers can easily sign up to your mailing list

  • Analytics to show how emails are performing

  • Segmentation features that let you target specific groups

Beyond that, you should just make sure whatever service you choose is in your price range and can handle the amount of emails you’ll be sending.

How to build an email list

As an ecommerce business, your email list is your foundation. Since email is your primary communication method, an email list is how you strengthen relationships with customers and bring in new ones.

Even if you haven’t launched and no one’s heard of you yet, there are a lot of ways to attract subscribers. If you’re looking to establish a base of followers, you can:

  • Start a pre-launch page: This lets people know that you’ll be open soon, tells them who you are and what you offer and invites them to sign up for future updates

  • Put signup buttons on your online store: If a customer is on your site, either to buy or browse, they’re already engaging with you. So it’s the perfect opportunity to add more names to your list. The best places for signup buttons are your header and footer, About Us page and on your blog if you have one

  • Show the value of your newsletter: This can include special deals and discounts, contests and educational content

  • Advertise in person: If you do pop-ups or have a physical store, you’ll have lots of chances to ask customers to sign up

Having an email list isn’t a prerequisite to launching your business, but it makes things easier. In any case, once you’re set up, it’s time to start sending emails.

How to write a good marketing email

Before you dive into any specifics, here are a few ways to improve your emails in general. The first thing to make sure of is that your customers will open them. No matter the content of your email, hooking them is the first step.

So what determines how likely an email is to be opened? The three main factors are:

  • Your subject line and pre-header

  • Which time your email gets to their inbox

  • How you break down your subscriber list so that relevant emails go to specific customers

How to write an email subject line

Your subject line is the first thing people see, so it needs to pique their interest. It’s easy to overthink a subject line, but despite how important they are, they’re pretty straightforward. You can make sure yours stand out by:

  • Being clear, not clever: Let customers know what they can expect to find after they click

  • Being brief: Many email services cut off subject lines after about 70 characters

  • Avoiding clickbait: Don’t promise your customers the moon when all you’re giving them is a discount

  • Asking questions: Subject lines phrased as questions tend to be more engaging to customers

  • That doesn’t mean your subject lines can’t be creative. A little creativity is usually a good thing; it’s just that your creativity shouldn’t obscure or overshadow the message you’re trying to send. A sense of urgency (like saying ‘offer gone soon’) also motivates customers to click

Along with getting good at writing emails, you should also try your hand at writing eye-catching product descriptions for your online store.

Best time to send marketing emails

The best time for you to reach out to customers depends on who your customers are and will involve some trial and error. But there are some general guidelines that can help.

A good starting point is figuring out when your peak purchase times are. That will give you some idea of your customers’ schedules, so you’ll know when to reach them. You can track peak purchase times with Google Analytics once you have it set up for ecommerce.

How to segment an email list

It’s a fancy term, but all it means is breaking your email list into smaller groups so that you can target your communication more efficiently. Most email marketing services will make this easy for you.

Email segmentation is useful because it lets your messaging be more personal and relevant to a particular portion of your audience. You can segment your email list based on:

  • Demographic information like age, race, or gender

  • Products the customer is interested in

  • Location

  • Level of engagement

There are a lot of options once you start segmenting your email list. You could target loyal customers with things you know they’ll like, new subscribers with ‘buy 1 get one free’ incentives, and demographic groups with offers for products popular in that group.

How to structure a business email

The body of your email expands on the promise of your subject line. It should be concise and on brand, meaning readers should be able to tell it’s you speaking. It helps if your emails have a clear hierarchy of information, and the most important takeaway should always be the first thing customers see.

Email copy should be organised into easily scannable sections. You can optimise your email structure by:

  • Starting with a clear, compelling offer

  • Using short paragraphs

  • Using headings and bullet points to make the content scannable

  • Using formatting to draw attention to key phrases, by bolding, underlining, or italicising certain words

Make sure your email template is optimised for mobile as well – around 60% of email opens happen on mobile.

Your email copy should build towards asking the customer to take an action. Every email should include a call-to-action (CTA) in some format, usually as a button or a link.

It’s important to keep this CTA consistent, since it’s the goal of your email marketing campaign. Too many goals in a single campaign might confuse customers.

When you’re including CTAs in your emails, remember to:

  • Use strong, action-oriented words such as verbs

  • Make your CTA stand out. It’s generally better to use a button than a link

  • Keep your CTA short – three words should do it

These are tips you can apply to every email you send, no matter what its purpose is.

Email marketing strategy for small business

Finally, no email marketing strategy is complete without regularly assessing your performance. There are a few key figures that can help you out, and they should be visible via your email service. Take note of your:

  • Deliverability rate: This is the percentage of emails successfully delivered to a recipient. Ideally, it would be 99%

  • Open rate: The percentage of people who open your emails. A good rate is 20%, and you can bump this up with stronger subject lines

  • Clickthrough rate: This is the percentage of people who clicked your email’s CTA. That makes it a good metric to judge your overall campaign by. Aim for a 3.5% clickthrough rate

  • Conversion rate: This measures the percentage of people who performed a specific action, like a purchase or a referral, after getting an email from you. Conversion is the end goal of all your campaigns, so you want this as high as possible. A healthy baseline rate is around 2%

  • Unsubscribe rate: This is the only metric you want low. Making sure everything you send is relevant and accessible – also avoid contacting subscribers too often

Now that you understand the value of email marketing and how to leverage it for your small business, why not test it out? You don’t have to start with a massive list of automated emails. Work your way up as you get more comfortable with the tools, and remember you can always change your strategy. When you get it right, email marketing is incredibly useful.

Try the SumUp Online Store's email marketing features and start engaging more customers.

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Blog author

Christine Lariviere