Last Updated Jun 7, 2010 4:43 PM EDT
So a few days before Mother's Day, I decided to visit a local flower shop, car wash, and hair salon. I wanted to know how these three small businesses were going to promote their holiday deals and communicate with their current customer base to get more traffic to their physical locations and Web sites. Not one ran an email campaign. The owners simply didn't know how to do it -- and do it effectively. They all acknowledged the value of word-of-mouth marketing and yet they were ignoring one of the easiest ways to talk to their customers. Small businesses like these have the great advantage of regular customers who are already fans. Communicating with them via email is just an extension of talking to them in real life when they come into stores.
Want to get started? Here are my rules and tips for smart email engagement: 1. First things first: Collect your customers' email address at the cash register on a contact card. Tell them you sometimes send out coupons and deals.
2. Only email your customers once a month and keep it simple and short. Sound like yourself. If you over-market your message, they will delete your emails.
3. Always send a holiday email. This is magic time. Why spend money on advertising $30 Mother's Day flower bouquets or 30 percent off Mom's salon appointment when you can email a couple hundred people who will tell everyone they know, too?
4. Run a giveaway or contest when things are slow. Hold get-togethers, like BBQs or wine tastings at your location. Ask customers to come into your location and invite friends.
5. Send free reports, downloads, or tools that will be useful to your customers (i.e., car maintenance suggestions, beauty and health tips, guides to local plant varieties).
6. Put a newsletter signup on your homepage and on every page of your Web site. Make sure it's on your Contact Us page and if you have a shopping cart, make newsletter signup part of the checkout process. Use text like: 'Join our newsletter to learn more about local plant and flower varieties and receive special deals from us.' Send a welcome email to your customers or Web site visitors when they sign up to your newsletter.
7. Only send email to your subscribers -- do not buy other lists on the Web. This is basically junk mail and it won't help grow your business (in fact, it may hurt it).
8. Add a 'Forward to a Friend' link in each email so your subscribers can pass it on to people they know. They like to do this when a special is available to everyone, especially before a holiday.
9. Make sure your 'Reply To' address and 'From' name of the email are clear who you are. (The name of your business in both is the ideal way to do this) This will increase open & conversion rates of email because they recognize your business name.
10. Make sure it's easy to unsubscribe from your list. If someone requests not to be on your list, remove them as soon as possible -- within 24 hours, if you can. This doesn't mean you have lost a customer; he or she is probably overwhelmed with everyone else's emails.
11. Use email subjects that include your name and a great reason to open the email, like: Artistic Flowers: The 5 Most Popular Flowers for Mother's Day.
12. Keep your emails to the point. People love information, interaction, and a deal. They do not have time for novels or complicated instructions to do something.
13. Use the recipient's first name in your email if possible. It's more personal. This is your opportunity to grow relationships, not just market.
14. Make sure your email signature includes your Website address & social media links, like this:
Director of Web Strategy | Rackspace Hosting
On the Web: http://www.rackspace.com Follow us on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rackspace Become a Fan on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/rackspacehost 15. Use an email service if your list grows beyond 100 people for better customization and tracking. Until then you can use Outlook and create a distribution list. Do not use the CC field or all of your email addresses will be shared with everyone who receives the email!
There are many services that not only send your email but also help you manage your lists, and offer sign-up forms that are double opt-in. They also track the open and click rates of your emails and have nicely designed templates to make your messages look professional. I like Newsberry or MailChimp, which are both very cost effective for small business email marketing and have many tools to help you maximize your campaigns.
Email marketing is about relationship building and teaching your customers more about your business. The more you interact and help them, the more likely they are to spread the word about your business to the people they know. It's word-of-mouth marketing at its best.
- Coming soon: Does your business's Web site suck? In future posts, I'll critique Web site designs and offer tips on how to make them better. Submit the url for your company's Web site here.