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Email marketing guide for small businesses

Email Marketing

Email marketing guide for small businesses

Updated: 19 October 2021

What is email marketing?

Email marketing is an effective marketing strategy in which businesses send emails to customers and prospects to promote their products and services.

Email marketing is one of the most effective forms of marketing, with 85% of adults regularly using their emails. If used correctly, email can help you build long lasting relationships with your customers, improving loyalty, recommendations and generating sales. 

However, standing out is tricky in such a saturated channel. So, to help out, we’ve put together some of our key tips on the main principles of email marketing.

Stage 1 – Prepare your email marketing campaigns

All good marketing starts with preparation, and email is no exception. Don’t rush this stage and ensure you have taken enough time to fully understand who you are mailing and what you want to achieve.

Who is your audience?

Firstly, define who you are emailing. This will largely depend on your business but some things to consider are your recipients age, their demographic and their location. Are they existing customers of yours, or leads? It is important to understand this before beginning your campaign. 

Establish your aims

What is your aim for the email? Are you aiming to enhance existing relationships, drive sales or educate people about your product? Once you have a clear aim, you can shape your content around it. 

Also, think about your contact strategy. When and how often you send your emails can make a huge difference. Create a calendar to plan out your campaigns. If you want to drive sales, think what days will be most effective. If you also want to update people with a newsletter, how will that fit around your sales emails? Regular updates can be great to keep people engaged, but too many emails can feel like spam and put them off. Find the right balance for your needs.  

Create an easy way for people to sign up

You should always be thinking about how you can grow your email list. Whenever you interact with a potential customer, give them an opportunity to sign up. Services like Opt-in Monster make it easy for you to add email forms to your website, blog or other online pages. 

Make sure you give them a reason to sign up too. Your heading could be “Get the latest offers, news and more”. You can also capture emails in your sales funnel or run some competitions on social media to capture more contacts.

Whenever collecting people’s information, make sure you understand the relevant laws.

Select your email provider

There are many email marketing providers to choose from. Choosing the right one for your business can help you set up and manage your campaigns effectively. Before committing, look for available training courses, which features it comes with, cost and storage. Some examples of email providers for small businesses are MailChimp, ActiveCampaign, Campaign Monitor and Fresh Mail. See what features match up best with the aims of your email marketing.

Stage 2 – Build your email

Subject line

A poor subject can kill your campaign before it gets started. 47% of people open emails based solely on the subject line, while 69% also report email as spam based on the subject line. So, have a think about what makes you open emails in your inbox. It might be the fear of missing out, curiosity or humour. 

It may seem obvious, but good subject lines describe what’s in the email. Tricking someone with a misleading subject line will only lead to poor performance and more opt-outs. Consider using some personalisation in the subject line to attract attention (more on this below). Some examples of good subject lines are:

  • “New must haves for your home.”
  • “You’ve got one day to watch this.”
  • “Alex, 25% off just for you.”


Firstly, the heading of your email is very important. It should work together with the subject line, either reinforcing the same message or flowing to the next step. Changing the subject  can lead to people disengaging and not reading any further. 

The content of your email marketing campaign will depend on its purpose. What are you trying to achieve? If it is to drive more traffic to your website then you could include product information and promotional offers. If it’s a monthly newsletter then you want to include relevant articles or upcoming events. People are busy and don’t have time to read every email, so keep it to the point. Test it yourself and see how easy it is to scan and fully understand. Use bullet points and subheadings to break the text up. This will make your email more user friendly.


Adding images to your email marketing campaign can enhance your message. Likewise, when used incorrectly they can actually be more of a hindrance. High quality, free photos can be found on many sites like Pixaby or Unsplash

Personal images also work well, as they are unique to you and showcase your business behind the scenes. Consider taking pictures of your products, team and day-to-day activity. Make sure your chosen images are relevant, eye catching and good quality, then crop and size them to fit. Don’t over do it though, good content is just as important.

Call to action (CTA)

One of the most important things about any marketing campaign is the CTA. Use a different colour text, bold font or even create a button. Position your CTA’s strategically in your email to give your reader more chances to click through. Set the reader up with a product message, then give them a clear CTA to try it.

A good CTA is short, punchy and speaks to a specific outcome. “Start your free trial” or “Try it today” is better than a more generic “Learn more”. Whatever the CTA is, make sure the landing page it goes to is relevant and working. 


Personalisation is content that feels tailored to each recipient. It is key to many modern marketing campaigns – 77% of consumers have chosen, recommended or paid more for a brand that provides a personalised experience

It works by pulling data from your email list to set parts of your email. For example, say you’re sending out an email to tell your audience about a new offer. At the moment it starts with:

Dear Customer, we’ve got an exciting new offer for you…

However, if you have the first name of all the recipients on your list, you can open the email with: 

Dear [First_name], we’ve got an exciting new offer for you…

Your email provider will then automatically fill that field with their name, and suddenly your email feels a lot more personal. Depending on what information you collect, you could do this with company name, previous products they’ve bought, when they last bought, or almost anything!

Your email provider will have features to help you get started. Adding their contact name to the subject line and first line of the email is a good first step. Also sign the email off with a personal signature from a person (not your company). Be sure to check your data is accurate enough though – sending an email with the wrong name won’t go down well! Check through your data list. If certain points don’t look reliable, adjust your personalisation.


So, now you’ve built your email, when is the best time to send it? Again the answer will depend largely on your audience and your message. When do you think your recipients are most likely to read their emails? On their morning commute or perhaps on their lunch break? When are your sales team best placed to handle the extra calls? Test different times to see when most people open and click through. 


No matter how amazing your email is, not everyone is going to want to read it. People have the right to unsubscribe at any time. Make sure it is easy for them to stop receiving your content by adding an “unsubscribe” link. Most email service providers have an option for this and will remove them from your list automatically.

Read more on the laws surrounding marketing campaigns.

Stage 3 – Analyse how your campaign performed

Now you’ve created and sent your email it is important to analyse the results. You can then improve for the next campaign. Here are some key metrics to look out for:

Deliverability rate

This measures the rate at which emails were delivered to the intended address. Ideally, you want minimal bounces. You can improve this for next time by removing inactive and bounced email addresses.

Open rate 

Open rate tells you how many people opened your email. These rates can vary depending on the subject line and the relevancy of the content. Also, test the time and day to see what works best.

Clickthrough rate

This rate is an important metric to track. It measures the percentage of people who clicked on your CTAs. Essentially, it tells you how effective your email was. In order to keep improving, test a different CTA or a different placement within the email.


Unsubscribes are those who have chosen to opt out of future emails from you. You don’t want this to be too high but don’t necessarily view this as a negative thing. There will always be some unsubscribes, and it leaves you with an improved list and more opportunity to find engaged people to market to. However, if you see an increase you should consider why. Are you sending to frequently or not providing interesting or valuable content?

Website traffic

Your CTA will often be linked to the landing page of your website or social media accounts. Think about registering for Google Analytics so you can track the success and conversion rates of your campaigns. Read more about this on our Digital marketing blog

Things to remember

Whether you are looking to drive sales, increase company awareness or conduct market research, you now have all the steps you need to deliver a successful email marketing campaign.

  • Prepare – Set your aims, define your audience, build your list and pick your provider
  • Build – Craft your subject line and content, position CTAs and images and personalise where you can
  • Analyse – Dig into what worked well and what didn’t, make adjustments and keep improving

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