The Do’s and Don’ts of Successful Small Business Email Marketing

emailWith concerns over spam casting a shadow over its use, email marketing hasn’t always had the greatest of press. However for small businesses and start-ups, I for one still firmly believe email remains one of the most flexible, not to mention cost-effective, marketing communication channels available and I’m not alone. Indeed in a recent survey of over 1500 small businesses, email ranked top as the marketing channel with the highest ROI and an impressive 89% of the SME’s surveyed planned to increase their use of email marketing during 2014.

The benefits of email

Customers like email.  According to research, 77% of consumers prefer to receive permission-based marketing communications via email.  So don’t overlook the potential email can bring to your business. If done well it offers some great benefits.

  • It’s cost-effective – implementing successful email campaigns doesn’t cost the earth and ROI is generally good. According to the UK’s Direct Marketing Association the average return on each pound spent on email is about £21.48 – which is not a bad return.
  • It’s flexible – email is an excellent channel of communication for a wide variety of customer communications.  Amongst other things it can be used for sales drives, as part of your retention strategy, service and product updates, branding, customer services, online PR, CRM and market research.
  • It’s targeted – email enables you to segment your audience so you can customize messages to specific, targeted groups.
  • It can be instantaneous –a good email can be put together and sent out quickly. This is great if you have an impending deadline or a time sensitive issue to deal with. For example, it enables you to react quickly to a surprise competitor promotion.
  • It’s simple to DIY – with the right email tools (of which there are a plethora – MailChimp, Mad Mimi, Pure 360, Vertical Response and AWeber to name just a few) you can create a great looking, effective email quickly and easily yourself.

The key do’s and don’ts for email success

So what are the key do’s and don’ts to ensure your email gets a good response and doesn’t end up in someone’s spam filter? Outlined below are some tips that will serve as a useful checklist ensuring you get the most out of your email activity.


  • Put content first.  Content should always be your key focus. Don’t just send out random communications, you need to make sure that what you are sending out is timely and relevant to those on the receiving end. If not, your email will end up ignored or straight in the trash – and you’ll run the risk of alienating your customers.
  • Spend some time thinking about your subject line. It is a really important element and should entice your reader in and reflect the content of your email. Try to make it short and to the point. Keeping it under eleven words is the general rule of thumb.
  • Segment your data into targeted groups. This way you can customize your email communications to each specific group, making sure content is relevant – rather than just sending out blanket communications. It will get you a higher response and your ‘unsubscribe’ rate will be lower.
  • Pay attention to detail. Good spelling, punctuation and grammar matter. Poorly written content reflects badly on your businesses and looks unprofessional.
  • Always include a clear call to action on your email communications. Customers should be clear about what you are asking them to do. For example if you want them to click through to a particular page on your website, be specific and make sure the link is clearly visible.
  • Brand your email with a banner header at the top. Use your logo or if you don’t have a logo use an image or wording that is appropriate to your business. This is important is it’s the first thing your reader will see when they open your email.
  • It is essential that it is clear to recipients who the email is from, as this is the name that will appear in your customer’s inbox. Something like ‘yourname@yourcompany’ is a safe bet – it’s both personal and clearly shows it’s a business email.
  • Make it easy for users to unsubscribe. Your  ‘unsubscribe’ button must clearly visible on your email communications. Not only is this a legal requirement it also means you keep your database clean and up-to-date. This is important since email database addresses decay by an average of 22.5% over a year.
  • Include your business address at the bottom of your email, this is also a legal requirement.
  • Use trigger email marketing. Particular events will automatically warrant email communication – such as a welcome to a new subscriber, a thank you for a purchase and promotions during seasonal periods like Christmas. The timelier an email is, the higher the likelihood the content is going to be relevant to your customers.


  • Just send out sales promotions. Mix up your email communications with content that adds-value to existing and prospective customers such as an informative newsletter, company developments, product launches or new blog post topics.
  • Use all CAPS. It looks both shouty and spammy. Plus, using all CAPS can trigger spam filters.Make your emails too long. Long reams of text can be off-putting to a reader. Use bullet points and headers to break up text and enable a reader to quickly skim the content of your email.
  • Send a marketing email out without first sending out a test. This way you can check everything looks how it is supposed to, rather than sending it out to your whole database only to realize it doesn’t open properly on a mobile, is formatted wrong, images are missing and so on. As by that time it is too late.
  • Send out emails unless you have permission from the customer to contact them – through email opt in. Remember this is a legal requirement.
  • Be afraid of using images. Images are a great way of engaging your customer, grabbing attention or conveying the meaning of a message quickly.
  • Oversend. Don’t bombard your customers and prospective customers with constant emails. Think about creating an email schedule, sending different customized emails to specific target groups. If you are going to send an email newsletter, then be consistent – whether that is weekly, monthly or quarterly.
  • Send out any content that may cause offense. Remember you have a wide audience out there on the internet and what may be amusing to one person may be offensive to another. A friendly tone is great but remember; ultimately you are a business and need to remain professional.
  • Ignore your landing page. You may have put together a fantastic email with a great call to action, but all your hard work will be wasted if you send your respondents to an irrelevant or poorly thought out landing page.

This list is not exhaustive and there is a lot more you can do to make sure you are getting the most out of your email marketing. But is should give you a solid checklist of some of the most salient factors. Wishing you enjoyable and successful emailing.

linked inSarah Chapple has over 12 years marketing experience in Blue Chip publishing and is currently Marketing Manager for ShopIntegrator, a UK based hosted ecommerce provider. ShopIntegrator’s focus is to make it simple for anybody to create an online store and start taking payments from their website. Quick, easy and cost-effective, ShopIntegrator ecommerce is an ideal for shopping cart solution for small businesses and start-ups. Image courtesy Social BIz Solutions

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  1. List segmentation is essential and it boggles my mind how so many people are not using it. One of the best ways to increase revenue is by simply segmenting your list. We usually do it in three ways. Buyers, Hot Leads and General customers. We use the ‘general’ customers to help us continue build traffic (By repeat visits), ‘hot leads’ to keep perfecting our sales process and the ‘buyers’ to sell to. Excellent post Sarah and thanks for sharing.

  2. Great article Sarah and something I definitely need to review with my clients’ lists. Never really thought about segmenting the list but will definitely look into doing that now.

    Thanks so much for the info!

  3. “Just send out sales promotions” — Thanks for including this in your “do not” list. It’s definitely a pet peeve of mine. While I do like promotions and offers, I’d appreciate it if marketers send me some useful content as well.

    Speaking of promotions, businesses will see a higher ROI with email marketing if they target offers based on user behavior. Case in pont: The Honest Company sends out different email types depending on what people viewed on their site. For instance, if I viewed cleaning products, then I would get an email about say, detergents or cleaners. However, if I spent time on the site’s baby products department, then they would send me an email about wipes or diapers.
    Francesca Nicasio recently posted..Vend loves Singaporean retailersMy Profile

  4. As I am currently in the process of designing an email newsletter to begin using with my company, this advice comes at a great time. A lot of these tips seem to reflect common courtesy to subscribers (don’t send out spam, allow for easy unsubscribing), but I think the urge to just get the content out there can make us forget! Thank you for the tips, I think this will be very helpful in the growth of our organization as we move into email marketing.

  5. Email marketing is a great and cost effective way for small businesses to get their names out there. It’s a shame most businesses don’t know how to do it correctly. Most just send out sales promotions, which can get old fast. I’ll be sure to refer any general email marketing questions I get back to this page.

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