For a small business, keeping existing customers is easier and cheaper than prospecting for new ones. Email marketing can offer you a cheap (and free) way to communicate with your customer base updating them whenever you have new offers, events, news or updates in newsletter form.
Compared to the fast flow of social media, not all customers, potential or existing use Facebook, Twitter etc. in the way you want therefore offering an alternative communication method makes perfect sense. An email newsletter provides a crafted ‘catch-up’ medium with less on-screen competition to contend with. As well as an email address, you have the beginnings of a goldmine of opportunity where you will be able to gain future insights with data on potential customers or clients.
What does email marketing newsletters involve?
Writing email newsletters say once a month could take you just 2 or 3 hours a month. Your newsletter content could be built up throughout the month, say those blog posts you’ve been publishing. However, your main purpose is to promote your business such as new products or services so prioritise this content when crafting your newsletter.
Which free email marketing platform should I use?
Emailing from your own Hotmail, Gmail or whatever application you use should be avoided. Email marketing tools are free if you’re starting out new or you have a small listing, and can provide some amazing functionality, free templates and probably the most useful offer of campaign statics.
A good emailing marketing tool will also provide templates suitable for both desktop computers as well as mobile devices.
MailChimp offers a free service if you have a mailing list of 2000 email addresses or less.
How to obtain customer emails
The most basic method of gaining an email address and the owner’s permission is by asking them in person and a handwritten form. At risk of misreading someone’s handwriting, by simply asking the customer if they are happy to provide their email address for keeping up to date with news will gain you a contact for future marketing.
Otherwise, you can offer your email newsletter service on your website. The only requirement is to have a statement (with checkboxes if you’re asking for more than just a newsletter subscription) for what a customer is signing up for. MailChimp should offer a form to this effect.
Important legal requirements when handling your contact data
Gaining permission from your customer to contact them for marketing purposes is the most important rule here. In the email, you must tell the recipient who you are and provide a valid contact address. Again, MailChimp settings insist on this and you won’t be able to send your newsletter without it.
The Data Protection Act means you have to handle personal data very carefully. Data you’ve collected i.e. names and email addresses should be treated with respect:
Secure: You should always keep the list of contacts on a secure computer, accessible with a password that only you know. It is not advised to save this data using a cloud-based system like Google Drive.
Purpose: Use only for what the person has signed up for so do not pass on to a friend, business partner or anyone else.
Updated: If a customer’s contact details have changed then you’ll need to update them accordingly.
Requested or removed: A customer has the right to request the data you keep on them so ensure you comply with this request. A customer may also want to unsubscribe and be removed from marketing lists contact databases. This is sometimes referred to as ‘Opt Out’ i.e. they wish to opt out of being contacted for marketing purposes.
There’s an important revision coming in May 2018 referred as the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR. The Information Commissioner’s Office website has a great guide for organisations on how to handle data.
Creating your email newsletter
MailChimp offers a design guide with tips if you want more help however these points below are essential:
Subject line – This is the first chance to make an impression on your reader. Before opening the email you need to use a good title here. When starting out, include text to describe what the main offer is, who you are, what the reader can gain from opening the email. Around 8 to 10 words are best.
Content priority – as mentioned earlier, you must prioritise your copy and lead with your main reason to contact your customer. This could be an incredible deal on a new product, a special discount voucher for a particular service or a new event that shouldn’t be missed.
Call to action – Be very clear within the email of how the reader can act upon the request being made. Usually the ‘call to action’ is a website link to the new product or it could be a statement to make a booking and the phone number to use. Make it obvious but also give the reader what benefit they’ll receive for it. Use active language to encourage them too. Phrases like ‘limited stock’, ‘exclusive range’ or ‘for a limited period only’ will add urgency to the call to action.
Other content you’ve accumulated along the way can support your main offer. You may have other deals to promote, company news like you’ve moved to bigger premises, blogs you’ve recently published on your website like handy guides or helpful tips.
Linking – Like building web pages, always link the descriptive words or phrase with your links. If your ‘call to action’ is to visit the website to make an order then make this clear. If you want your reader to simply visit your website to read further details then phrase the link like ‘Find out more about how this affects you’. If you’re offering a discount then try ‘Save 10% on your next order’.
Images – Use an appropriate graphic or image that is relative to the lead news story or offer. If you’re familiar with photo editing software then resize the image to 600 pixels wide in landscape form (optimum height will be between 300 to 400 pixels). If you have multiple products to promote then experiment with 200-300 pixels wide in a 2 column format.
Images must have an ALT text – this means if an image doesn’t display correctly, the email program will instead display the descriptive text you’ve entered instead. For those recipients with visual impairments, they might use a screen-reader to read and ‘speak’ to the reader. Any blank ALT text will just confuse them.
About 18% of the UK population have some sort of visual impairment. It is also worth mentioning that reading text from a screen (like a website and email) is proven to be slower than printed paper. By making text easier to read means we help those who have difficulty and ensure our communication gets read.
Good formatting to help your customers read your email content should use the following:
- Separate new sections with clear headings (use Heading 3)
- Content in a logical order
- Use bulleted lists
- Use plain fonts for detailed text sized at size 14 pt
- Chunk text into 2-3 sentences per paragraph
- Italics excessively – Italics are a known problem for some people with dyslexia
- Coloured text – for instance, the contrast of a light colour on a white background makes it harder to read
This BBC guide on How to design accessible email newsletters can provide more detail.
Measuring the success
Don’t expect anywhere near 100% open rate or engagement. Anything over 20% is a reasonable target. Like social media, you will have competition with other emailers, be it personal or non-related competitors hence the importance of a good subject line.
Luckily MailChimp offers a great reporting function. You’ll get to see which links were used, how many people actually opened the email and which addresses failed to send.