By Lauren Baldwin, Editor, Bizcrowd

Whether you’re highlighting products and services, or promoting a new offer, email marketing can be one of the most personal – and efficient – ways of communicating with your customers. But is your business making the most of it?

Discover what it’s all about and get to grips with email marketing with this handy guide.

What is email marketing?

Email marketing really is as straight-forward as it sounds. Instead of more traditional methods like posting a flyer or leaflet to potential customers, you send an email directly to their inbox.

There are quite a few different types of email marketing including:

Newsletters: Regular emails that keep your customers up-to-date on your company and its products, content or services.
Promotions/offers: Often one-off emails telling customers about special promotions you’re running.
Journey emails: Usually used to keep customers engaged with your brand, they can welcome, thank or reactivate them if they haven’t visited your website for a while.
Catalogue emails: Use these to highlight a particular product or range of products. Amazon.co.uk sends great examples of this type of email.
Competitions: A nice way of offering existing customers some extra value, or for gaining new customers.
Data capture: You can use email as a way of gathering information about your customers – try running a survey or poll to gain some useful insight.
Transactional: Usually automatically sent after someone has made a purchase to confirm their transaction.

What are the benefits?

When was the last time you went a day without checking your email? For most of us, it’s our main method of communication. Some would argue that with the sheer volume of emails we each receive every day, email marketing doesn’t have the impact it once did. However, if you send something relevant, interesting and targeted then there can still be many benefits:

Stay at the forefront of your customers’ minds. They might not have a need every time you send an email, but when they do, regular emails can help make sure that you’re the first service they think of.
It can be a very cost-effective way of communicating with customers and gaining new ones.
Email marketing is directly trackable. This means that you can really accurately analyse the effectiveness of a campaign and its impact on your bottom line.
• Sending a regular email can increase your company’s reputation.
• Because the majority of your subscribers will have actively signed up to your emails, they’re a much more receptive audience.

Choose an email service provider

Once you’ve decided to give email marketing a try, you then need to decide on a method of sending an email. For very simple text emails, your basic email service will probably be sufficient (e.g. Outlook). But if you want to send something more complicated, or ‘designed’ then you’ll need to use an email service provider.

These are websites that allow you to send bulk emails to your customers. You can also upload and manage subscriber lists, as well as design and analyse your emails.

There are tons of services out there to choose from and they don’t have to cost much money – after an initial set up, many charge by the number of emails you send per month. We recommend taking a look at:

Mail Chimp
Constant Contact
Campaign Monitor

Design your email to fit your brand

Email service providers make it really easy for you to design a template for your emails. If you’re doing it yourself, make sure that the email looks like it comes from your company. Use you website or logo for inspiration and think about things like colour, font and images. If in doubt, it’s best to keep things simple and use a palette of two or three colours and one font in two different sizes.

Alternatively, it can be worth getting a professional to design an email template. Then all you need to do is drop in the new content each time you want to use it. Sites like 99 Designs and People per Hour are a great way of finding experienced designers. Or, check out the businesses on Bizcrowd – we have loads of great web designers ready and waiting!

Make sure you have something to say

Don’t just send an email for the sake of it, make sure that you have something to say (that your customers want to hear). Have you got any new products or services, special offers, promotions or company updates?

You could also try writing some bespoke content. Think about your specialist subjects and write around those. If you’re a plumber for example, could you give your customers some tips on preventing their pipes freezing in the winter? Try creating a publishing calendar so you can plan content in advance and make it topical and timely (seasons, events, news etc.).

Make it readable

Think about the tone you want to convey when you’re writing your email. Are you friendly? Professional? Knowledgeable? Establishing this tone at the beginning will help keep your emails consistent – you can then start to establish this tone across all your communications.

Emails also need to be scannable – think about how you consume an email. You don’t read every word; you just look for the bits relevant to you. I use a few useful techniques when writing for Bizcrowd including headers, sub-headers, lists, bolding of key words, bullets and larger fonts.

Build your subscriber list

If you’ve written and created your first email, the next step is to build a subscriber list to send it to.

Forbes.com recommends making it as easy as possible for people to subscribe. Post a sign up form on your homepage, blog or social media pages, or you could even capture people’s details on paper forms in your shop or office. MailChimp also has some really useful tips on how to get more people to sign up.

Get up to speed on spam

If you use email marketing, it’s important that you understand the laws and regulations around spam as the penalties for breaching the law can be high. Spam simply means unsolicited marketing emails, so you need to make sure that everyone you send your email to has actively opted in to receive it. The ICAEW has a really useful article explaining the rules around spam.

Check, check and check again

There’s nothing worse than sending an email and realising too late that there’s a spelling mistake or typo in it (trust me, I’ve done it!). So the golden rule before sending any email is to check it and then check it again. And then get someone else to check it!

Getting a colleague or friend to take a look at your email is always useful as they will spot things that you’ve overlooked.

Review and test

Finally, once you’ve sent your email, you need to do some analysis of its effectiveness. The usual metrics are open rate (as a percentage of the total number of people you’ve sent to) and the click through rate (as a percentage of the total number of people that opened).

Keep a spreadsheet of all the results and you should start to see patterns emerging – types of content that people always click on, subject lines that get the best open rates etc. You can then start to test these to really hone your email marketing activity.