Email Marketing – 7 Steps to Getting Started
You probably know that I'm a huge advocate of including email newsletters into your small business marketing plan. Email marketing is reliably inexpensive, and it provides a great opportunity to stay in front of your clients and prospects in an unobtrusive manner.
But before you open your Microsoft Outlook and start typing away, it's a good idea to create an overall plan for your email marketing program. Here are 7 steps to get you started.
1. Check Out Your Industry
What are others in your industry doing with their email marketing campaigns? How often are they sending email messages? Do they publish regular newsletters; do they use sequential autoresponders; are they taking advantage of transactional messages? It's OK to go above and beyond what others in your industry are doing, but in general, you probably do not want your email marketing program to be "less" than what others are doing. So spend a little time spying on your competition in order to create a baseline. Then brainstorm a few ideas for making your own email marketing program a few ticks better than what everyone else is doing.
2. Decide on a Format
There are basically three ways to format your email messages: straight text, HTML, or multi-part mime. And there are pros and cons to each.
Straight text is exactly what it says – just text. The major pro is that it is quick and easy to create, and everyone will be able to read your message. The largest con is the lack of tracking that comes with text email. You will not be able to track who opened your message; there are basically no measurements of delivery rates and open rates and clickthroughs, so you will have no idea if your email marketing program is actually working.
HTML messages can include colors and graphics and images – basically, your email message can look almost like a web page. The pros are that you can make your message look very enticing by using visual images. And you'll be able to track (for the most part) who received your message, who opened your message, who clicked your links, etc. The downside is that not everyone can receive HTML email; those that can not receive a message that looks like a bunch of computer code.
Multi part MIME combines the best of both worlds. With multi part mime messages, you create 2 versions of your message – one text version and one HTML version. The best version is delivered to each reader on an individual basis. For instance, if John Smith can receive HTML email, he will automatically receive the HTML version of your email message. But if Susie Speck can not receive HTML, she will automatically receive the text version.
The downside is that it takes longer to create multi part mime messages, since you're creating two different versions. But the upside is that everyone can read your message since they automatically receive the message that is best for them.
3. Create a Schedule
Sending your email newsletter on a regular schedule helps in more ways than one. First, your readers will start anticipating and looking forward to receiving your information. This will help increase open rates. Once your readers are used to seeing your email coming in regularly, they are less likely to report you as a spammer. This helps increase future delivery rates. Maintaining a regular schedule also makes you look more professional, it makes it easier for you to schedule your day, and it helps position you as the expert. And that's just good for business all-around.
4. Choose an Email Service Provider
The benefit to using an email service provider is that they will handle all the technical aspects of your email marketing program. They maintain the relationships with individual ISPs to improve your chances of deliverability; they provide the tracking and measuring statistics; the email messages are sent through their mail server, so you do not have to worry about getting flagged by your own ISP. The handle the mailing list subscriptions and unsubscribe requests. They make it easier to stay Can-spam compliant, and just all-around make your email marketing program easier to deal with it.
5. Create a Content Calendar
I like to recommend that my clients do not get started with their email marketing campaigns until they have three newsletters' worth of content thought out. This will help you maintain a regular publishing schedule since you will not have to scramble at the last minute for article ideas. You might be surprised at how many content sources you already have right at your fingertips:
- Customer stories – people love reading stories, and most customers would have flattered to share their story. Just ask a few clients how they've used your product or service and what kind of results they achieved. You'll probably be surprised at the great stories you receive back.
- Industry news – no matter what industry you're in, there is always something happening. Many authors and reporters will actually give you permission to print the news or articles that they've already written. This is a great time saver!
- Personal commentary – believe it or not, your clients and prospects do care about your opinion. Rather than just reporting dry news and statistics, why not let others know what you think about the events in your industry.
- Interviews – ask an industry insider 3 or 4 questions and report back his answers. It's really a lot easier than it sounds.
- Q & A – ask your clients and readers to submit their questions and report back your own answers. If you do this on a regular basis, your readers will actually start looking for this section in your newsletter.
6. Decide How You Will Evaluate
Once you start your email marketing program, it's important that you test it and measure it and track it. Every aspect that you measure can pinpoint an issue that might need to address. For instance, low delivery rates could mean a poor sender reputation. Low open rates could mean you're getting caught in spam filters, or that you have not been providing the content that your readers are looking for. Low click through rates could mean poor body copy, or poor calls to action. You will not be able to improve future email campaigns unless you test and track your current campaign. So you'll need to know ahead of time how you're going to do that.
7. Start Building Your Mailing List
You might be surprised at how many people would love to receive your email newsletter if you only asked them. Start with your current clients. While it is "technically legal" to send your current clients your email newsletter, nonetheless it's not a good idea to add them to your mailing list without their permission. Send them a message or a postcard announcing your new newsletter, and include a link so they could subscribe to your mailing list. Or send a note with your monthly invoices reminding your clients that you've started a newsletter.
And then move on to your prospects. Include a mention of your newsletter in your proposals. Have a subscription form on each page of your website. And include an incentive, such as a free report or bonus coupon, to encourage your prospects to subscribe.
Once you have your plan in place, go ahead and get starting with your email marketing campaign. Do not wait until you have a huge mailing list or tons and tons of content. Your email marketing program will grow and evolve as time goes on, but only if you get started now.