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Email Marketing for Small Business: Beginner’s Guide to Email Supremacy

email marketing for small business cover image with a message

Email marketing can seem daunting for small business owners. They might have doubts, such as: Is email marketing still worth it? Is it expensive? Is there a lot of effort involved? Is it complex? Can it help my business grow? Is it as effective as social media or web ads?

We just want to say that in 2024, you can not afford to ignore email marketing; if anything, it needs to be the first marketing channel you consider. After all, it is one of the most affordable methods of marketing that gets you impressive returns.

In this guide, we simplify how email marketing works, set expectations, and show you how email marketing can transform your small business.



Why Email Marketing is Important for Small Businesses

Small businesses are typically cautious with their budget; this is why they need marketing that offers excellent return on investment (ROI). 

This is what makes email marketing an obvious choice — with an ROI of $36 per dollar spent, there’s no doubting the value-for-money aspect.

There are a lot more perks to adopting email marketing:

  1. Budget-friendly: Compared to direct mail or print advertising, email marketing is much more affordable.
  2. Automation tools: Automated emails can nurture leads, convert sales, and keep your customers engaged around the clock.
  3. Freedom from third-party platforms: Email provides a direct communication channel with customers and prospects.
  4. Segmentation: Advanced contact management lets you send highly targeted and relevant content.
  5. Email personalization: You can also use email personalization to improve engagement rates significantly.
  6. Direct Call to Action (CTA): You can include direct CTAs to steer recipients towards taking a desired action.
  7. Detailed metrics: Analytics data let you measure and study results and improve performance.
  8. A/B testing: Marketers can test different campaign aspects/elements to find which variants work best.
  9. Scalability: Email marketing can easily scale as the business grows.
  10. Customer journey: You can create automated workflows to direct customers through specific journeys.

For small businesses to grow and succeed, they must harness the power of email marketing. If you don’t believe us, take a look at the numbers.

Once you’re fully convinced, this next section is where the adventure begins.


How to Set Up Email Marketing For Your Small Business

The process of setting up email marketing for your small business can be largely divided into these steps:

  1. Get an idea of the expenses involved,
  2. Generate leads for your email list,
  3. Pick a reputed ESP to send your email campaigns from,
  4. Learn about types of campaigns,
  5. Create email content,
  6. Track campaign metrics.

Below, we will discuss each of these steps in detail and also link a reference article that will help you learn more about the topic. 

Let’s start off with the most critical question.


How Much Will Email Marketing Cost?

Reference article: Email Marketing Costs.

The total monthly cost of sending email marketing campaigns depends on various factors. For example, your costs will go up significantly if you hire staff to handle different aspects of content creation. Similarly, if you spend on ads to drive traffic toward your lead generation pages, you can expect to spend significantly more.

Here’s our take on what it should cost a typical small business where one person handles all aspects of email marketing by themselves:

Email marketing expenseWhat is this for?Cost
Landing page and funnelFor leads to visit and sign up for your email list.$97 a month (GoHighLevel)
Email service provider (ESP)A service to help you send all your marketing emails.$99 a month for 50,000 emails (Campaign Refinery)
Content creationTools/subscriptions for copywriting and design.Do it for free using Google Docs and image editors like GIMP.
ImagesStock photos.Use a free service like Pixabay.
Email marketing costs for a small business

Note that this table indicates costs for a basic setup; for something more complex, read our reference article at the top of this section.

If the prices look good to you, the first step to setting up email marketing is finding people to email.


Build an Email List

Reference Article: Lead Generation Tactics to Grow Your Customer Base.

Unlike traditional marketing methods, email allows you to reach a pre-engaged audience directly. This pre-engaged audience is your email list — a collection of email addresses from people who have permitted you to send them emails. People who subscribe have already shown interest, making them more receptive to your messages.

And why would they subscribe? Great question — because your first task is exactly that — giving people a reason to sign up for your emails. 

Ways to Add Subscribers to Your Contact List

There are many ways to get people to submit their email addresses. One option is to run an exciting web campaign, create a compelling landing page, offer a lead magnet, or run a social media ad. 

Email marketers commonly use these methods of lead generation:

  • Opt-in forms: Place strategic signup forms on your website, landing pages, and social media profiles. Clearly explain the value proposition of subscribing (such as exclusive discounts or industry updates).
  • Lead magnets: Offer downloadable content like ebooks, whitepapers, or checklists in exchange for email addresses. This provides value upfront and incentivizes signups.
  • Website pop-ups: Consider well-timed pop-ups offering special discounts or content upgrades in exchange for email addresses. But ensure they don’t obstruct the user experience.
  • Contests and giveaways: Host contests or giveaways with email signups as an entry requirement. This can generate excitement and quickly grow your list.
  • Offline signups: Gather email addresses at events, trade shows, or in your physical store. Offer incentives or use QR codes for easy signup.

Always obtain explicit consent before adding someone to your list. Failure to do so could result in a legal mess. This is also why you should completely avoid buying email lists!

While collecting leads, remember to segment your audience. Categorizing email subscribers based on interests or demographics allows for targeted email campaigns.

Once you have your email list, it’s time to fire off hundreds or thousands of emails. But you can’t do that from a regular email account.


Choose a Good Email Service Provider (ESP)

Reference Article: How to Send Thousands of Emails At Once.

Email providers like Gmail and Yahoo are great for personal use, but if you want to mass-email your subscribers regularly, you need an Email Service Provider (ESP).

A good ESP is an investment that pays off in the long run; it helps you deliver impactful email campaigns and achieve your marketing goals. A robust ESP offers a range of capabilities beyond just sending emails.

You get features such as:

  • Deliverability rates: A good ESP prioritizes getting your emails into inboxes, not spam folders.
  • A simple UI: A user-friendly interface makes creating and managing email campaigns simple.
  • Automation: Automate email sequences like welcome messages, abandoned cart reminders, or birthday greetings, saving you time and effort.
  • Segmentation: Send targeted campaigns to different audience segments based on interests or purchase history for better engagement.
  • Analytics: Track key metrics like open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates. This data helps you understand what’s working and optimize your campaigns.
  • Customer support: Reliable customer support is essential for troubleshooting any issues that might arise.
  • Third-party integration: A good platform will let you integrate with other marketing tools.

As a small business, your top priorities should be deliverability rates and partnering with a platform committed to best practices. 

Luckily for you, we have a great recommendation! 😉


Campaign Refinery: Small Business-Friendly Email Platform

As a boutique email agency that caters to high-volume senders as well as small, growing businesses, our goal is to offer value. So we focused on the aspects of an email platform that matter the most.

Campaign Refinery is a great choice if you’re starting out because:

  1. Affordability: We don’t charge for list size, only emails sent. It works out amazingly well, especially when you scale.
  2. Top-tier deliverability: We offer the best deliverability rates in the industry.
  3. Robust automation: You get simple yet potent automation tools along with automation templates.
  4. Powerful segmentation: Our segmentation tools are incredibly versatile and effective. We also offer a tagging system that lets you micromanage customer journeys.
  5. Gamification: Our Gamification feature helps you achieve rockstar-grade engagement metrics. Plus, Campaign Refinery University shows you how to multiply your open rates!
  6. Vetting system for new signups: We have a screening system to disable any spammers from signing up. This is also why we don’t offer free plans — we are serious about email.
  7. Attentive tech support: Our tech support team is ever-ready to help out, not just with setting up but also with any other challenges you face when running campaigns.

Campaign Refinery is home to numerous small businesses that trust us to deliver their emails and help them grow consistently. 

To learn more, apply to become a Campaign Refinery customer today!

Once you’re locked and loaded with your email platform, you are now ready to send various kinds of campaigns. Check out the most common ones below.


Learn About Different Types of Campaigns

Reference Article: 16 Types of Email Campaigns for Your Business Strategy

Using different types of email campaigns is necessary for a well-rounded email marketing strategy. Each type caters to different goals and audience segments.

This table explains different email campaigns and how you benefit from them:

Campaign typeThese emails:How it helps your small business
Welcome email seriesAre sent to new subscribers upon signup.Introduce your brand and build relationships.
NewsletterContain company updates, industry news, blog content, or educational resources.Provide valuable content to your audience and build an audience.
Promotional emailsAre focused on promoting special offers, discounts, or sales.Drive sales and increase revenue.
Seasonal campaignCapitalize on holidays, special events, or seasonal trends.Boost sales and customer engagement.
Trigger emailsAre triggered by specific customer actions or behaviors.Personalize the customer journey and drive conversions.
Survey emailsHelp gather customer feedback.Understand customer preferences and improve your products.
Nurture campaignAre designed to move leads further down the sales funnel.Qualify leads, build trust, and convert them into paying customers.
Re-engagement campaignReactivate inactive subscribers who haven’t engaged with your emails for a while.Win back lost subscribers and rekindle interest in your brand.
Campaign Types and What They’re For

See how multi-faceted email campaigns can be? They help you achieve all kinds of goals.

The next big question is: What goes into these marketing emails?


Create Email Content For Your Subscribers

Reference Article: Crafting Irresistible Email Content: Strategy Masterclass

Email content is what grabs attention and directly influences the recipient’s engagement and response. Compelling content keeps email subscribers engaged, clicks high, and conversions flowing. 

To nail the content creation process for email marketing, follow this 12-step guide:

  1. Keep it relevant: Tailor your content to the specific needs and interests of your ideal customer.
  2. Implement segmentation: Segment your email list to send targeted messages based on demographics, purchase history, or interests. 
  3. Use email personalization: When possible, personalize your emails with subscriber data.
  4. Ease up on sales pitches: Don’t just promote your wares all the time. Offer valuable content that educates, entertains, or solves problems for your audience.
  5. Keep it interesting: Mix up your content formats; consider blog posts, infographics, videos, case studies, etc.
  6. Offer value: Don’t just list the features of your products or services; explain how they benefit your audience and address their pain points.
  7. Write a compelling CTA: Include a strong CTA — clearly tell your subscribers what you want them to do after reading your email.
  8. Use solid copywriting: Use clear, concise language with bullet points, subheadings, and visuals to break up text and make your emails easy to read on all devices.
  9. Create an emotional connection: Use storytelling to showcase your brand values, highlight customer success stories, and create relatability with your audience.
  10. Use brand language: Ensure your email content aligns with your brand voice, tone, and visuals.
  11. Proofread: Always proofread your emails for typos and grammatical errors before sending them.
  12. Split test: Consider A/B testing different subject lines, content formats, and CTAs to see what resonates best with your audience.

Think of your email content as your bread and butter. It’s the biggest reason people will continue to read your emails.


Tracking Email Marketing Performance

Reference Article: How to Track Email Performance Like a Pro

So you created your first email campaign and sent it to your new list of subscribers. 

But what’s next? Measuring performance, of course.

To know what your customers are thinking, you must study your analytics dashboard. To do that, you must learn what these metrics represent:

MetricDefinition
Delivery ratePercentage of emails successfully delivered to recipients’ mailboxes.
Open ratePercentage of recipients who opened your email.
Click-Through Rate (CTR)Percentage of recipients who clicked on one or more links in your email.
Click-to-Open Rate (CTOR)Percentage of opened emails where recipients also clicked a link.
Conversion ratePercentage of recipients who completed a desired action.
Bounce ratePercentage of emails that were not delivered to recipients’ servers.
Unsubscribe ratePercentage of recipients who unsubscribed from your email list after receiving the email.
Spam complaint ratePercentage of recipients who marked your email as spam.
Email marketing metrics 

Once you have your campaign report ready, the next section shows you what you can infer from the numbers.

What Do These Metrics Tell You?

Once you track these campaign metrics, what can you learn from them? 

This list explains:

  • Delivery rate: A high delivery rate indicates your email list is clean and that your emails are not being blocked by spam filters. A low delivery rate may signal issues with list quality or problems with your ESP.
  • Open rate: A high open rate suggests your subject lines are compelling and that recipients recognize and trust you. A low open rate might mean your subject lines need improvement or that your sender name isn’t familiar.
  • CTR: A high CTR indicates the content within your email is engaging and recipients are taking action by clicking on links. A low CTR might mean the content isn’t interesting enough to your audience.
  • CTOR: A high CTOR means those who open the email find the content compelling enough to click on links. A low CTOR suggests the content may need improvement.
  • Conversion rate: This metric shows how well your email can convert recipients into customers. It indicates your content and CTA are effective.
  • Bounce rate: A high bounce rate indicates problems with your email list, such as outdated or incorrect email addresses. It can also signal issues with your ESP or delivery practices.
  • Unsubscribe rate: A high unsubscribe rate may suggest that your content doesn’t meet the expectations of your audience.
  • Spam complaint rate: A high spam complaint rate indicates recipients find your emails irrelevant, annoying, or too frequent.

From now on, your goal is to keep improving your campaign metrics to the best of your abilities. Remember to be patient and ensure you keep fine-tuning your strategy. 

Most importantly, never stop learning!


Common Mistakes Small Businesses Make in Email Marketing

Small businesses often face unique challenges in email marketing due to limited resources, time, and expertise. All of them, however, are avoidable. 

Bookmark this page so you can avoid these common slip-ups!

Lack of a Clear Strategy

It’s common to see businesses send emails without a defined goal or plan. This can lead to inconsistent messaging, low engagement, and poor results.

Solution: Develop a clear email marketing strategy with specific objectives, a target audience, and a content calendar.

Poor List Management

Not regularly updating and cleaning email lists can result in poor email campaign performance. Without regular list maintenance, you will see high bounce rates, increased spam complaints, and reduced deliverability.

Solution: Regularly clean your email list by removing inactive subscribers and invalid email addresses.

Overlooking Personalization

Why send generic emails to all subscribers when you can personalize each message? Not using personalization can lead to lower open and click-through rates due to a lack of relatability.

Solution: Use personalization techniques, such as addressing subscribers by name and using dynamic content blocks.

Inconsistent Sending Frequency

Sending emails too frequently or infrequently can seem confusing to subscribers. Poor consistency can lead to subscriber fatigue or disengagement.

Solution: Establish a consistent email schedule that balances regular engagement without overwhelming your audience.

Neglecting Mobile Optimization

41.6% of email opens happen on mobile devices, according to Litmus. Failing to optimize emails for mobile devices leads to poor user experience, higher unsubscribe rates, and lower engagement.

Solution: Use responsive email designs that look good on both desktop and mobile devices.

Ignoring Analytics 

If you don’t track or analyze email marketing performance, you have no idea if you’re on course or not. You also have no clue on how to improve performance. Small businesses need to dive deep into campaign reports to extract the maximum value from email marketing.

Solution: Regularly review key metrics (open rates, CTR, conversion rates) to understand what works and what doesn’t.

Weak Subject Lines

Writing a great email but using bland or uninteresting subject lines? This is a common mistake that leads to lower open rates as recipients are not enticed to open the email.

Solution: Craft compelling and relevant subject lines that spark curiosity and interest.

Lack of Clear CTA

Emails without an obvious CTA leave recipients confused as to what to do next. Guess what that leads to? Lower conversion rates.

Solution: Include a clear, prominent, and compelling CTA in every email. Use multiple, if necessary.

Sending Image-Heavy Emails

Relying too much on images without enough supporting text is a bad idea. Many email clients block images, which means your email is wasted. Additionally, images may not load properly, especially on mobile devices, leading to poor communication of the message.

Solution: Balance images with well-written text and always include alt text for images.

Not Complying with Legal Requirements

Failing to adhere to email marketing laws, such as CAN-SPAM or GDPR, can get you into trouble with the law. Besides the risk of legal penalties, you could also damage your brand reputation.

Solution: Ensure compliance by including an easy unsubscribe option and obtaining proper consent from subscribers.

Underestimating the Importance of Design

Small businesses should not scrimp on email design. Using unprofessional or cluttered email designs

can make emails hard to read and less engaging, reducing effectiveness.

Solution: Invest in professional, clean, and user-friendly email designs that align with your brand.

Failure to Segment Audience

Collect enough information right from the beginning so you can effectively segment your audience. Sending cookie-cutter content can kill your email marketing goals. 

Solution: Segment your email list based on demographics, behavior, or past interactions to send more targeted content.


Further Reading for Small Business Owners

The Campaign Refinery blog is a treasure trove of advice on running email campaigns successfully, so we recommend you read through various topics. 

Until next time, happy emailing!

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