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10 Email Marketing Tips for Small Business Owners

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Small-business owners are busy folks, especially in the current economy. They wear many hats, including that of marketer.

Email is a medium for economically and effectively marketing your small business. But most everything out there that provides guidelines, best-practices, and advice on the application of the channel to your marketing efforts are largely geared toward bigger businesses.

And it can be difficult for those who plan and build email marketing plans and strategies for bigger organizations to step back and reflect on the days when office politics didn't exist and they had to do it all yourself...

Until now, that is, because here are 10 tips you can leverage and implement easily and quickly—while still having a positive influence on your bottom line—without having to worry yourself with multivariate testing, dynamic content development, and data integration.

Tip 1. Be yourself

You've been able to achieve your accomplishments to date by being yourself; that doesn't change in email. People frequent your establishment because they enjoy the environment, the way they are treated, the quality of your product... Your recipients need to feel the same emotion when they open your email messages.

You can achieve that result through the look or tone of your message. Don't change your writing or speaking style just because you are writing in email. Writing for email can be much less "professional," lending itself more toward relationship building—and that does not come with servings of "Sir" and "Ma'am."

Tip 2. Start small

Starting small is easy when you are a small business. Unless your business lends itself nicely to email collection, you probably don't have a vast database of email addresses on record. But when you operate a small business, it may be easier for you than any of the Fortune 500 companies to obtain that information from your customer base.

The people who do business with you want to do business with you. They have built a trusting relationship with you and will give you that information. So just ask. Tell your customers that you are introducing a new, exclusive email program and will be sending periodic offers available to those recipients only. Provide point-of-purchase cards that customers can fill out and provide the permission... and you're off!

Tip 3. Don't over-promise

You may want to promise the world, but you need to keep it realistic. In the beginning, you may not have any idea how you want to leverage email to support your business, but before you can really validate it you need some email addresses.

Your preference may be to offer big promises of frequent offers and discounts—but unless you are prepared to deliver on those promises, don't make them. You may just want to use email for reminders and notifications.

For example, if you own an auto repair shop, you may want to use email to remind folks when it is time for their next oil change. Or, if you're a dry cleaner, you can notify customers that their items are ready for pickup.

Tip 4. Find a vendor

Selecting a vendor could be tricky. If you search online, you will find that they vary in sophistication, from the simplistic to the complex. You are going to want to demo a few vendors to see what really works for you. But do not be afraid of what you don't know. Ask questions, see how much guidance and advice they are willing and able to share—and, most of all, be comfortable in your decision.

Tip 5. Use what you know

You know more about your market, your customers, and your location than any consultant could ever tell you. Leverage that information when you are planning your email programs.

For example, if you have a large professional customer base that uses smartphones or PDAs, then you may want to develop messaging that will be accessible while your customers are on the move. Or if they have children, you may want to appeal to them accordingly.

Appealing to the recipient by leveraging information you know about them extends your relationship to the inbox.

Tip 6. Stay compliant... CAN-SPAM is real

Just be compliant. Include a valid unsubscribe that only requires one click to convert, present your mailing address in the messages, unsubscribe people when they ask you to, don't steal email addresses, and don't be misleading. It doesn't matter what size your company is, if you are sending email you need to follow the law.

Tip 7. Drive subscription

Make sure you tell your customers via your Web site and in your store that you are building your email database and tell them why. If you are not driving subscription through every touch point, you should be. Otherwise, how do you expect to get them?

Tip 8. Offer an incentive

While it is typically not recommended that businesses offer people an incentive in for subscribing to receive emails, doing so can be a successful tactic for small business owners.

In large organizations, providing incentives to the masses tends to result in a poorer-quality recipients because chances are they are just providing their email address to get the free stuff.

But because of the closer relationship that most small-business owners have with their customer base, the incentive tends to be perceived as a "thank you" to a good customer and not just a ploy to get an email address. Be careful, though—too much of this sort of thing, and it can begin to add up!

Tip 9. Track your results

As much as I would like to tell you that you don't need to do this, you do. You can never know how email is working for you if you don't track it.

I am not saying that you need to tie every email you send back to a dollar amount that it drives through the door, but identifying early on what your email program objectives are and then measuring against them to determine your success is key in leveraging the channel to the best of your benefit.

The goals can be as simple or complex as you want—anything from achieving a 50% open rate because you are striving for brand awareness or tracking conversion to the penny and driving an ROI of 5:1. It's up to you!

Tip 10. Now do it!

Yes. Once you begin collecting email addresses, you actually need to send them email. In small business, you have up to a six-month window from the point of collection to the delivery of your first email—but if you are going to get the address, you really should be using it as soon as possible.

It may not be possible to start sending right away, but you certainly should within three months of acquisition; otherwise, you may see complaints, bounces, and nonresponsive recipients because they don't actually remember providing you permission.

Email is a highly lucrative and largely viral marketing channel and can be an effective and immediate solution to driving new and increased business. What are you waiting for?

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Kara Trivunovic is founder and principal of The Email Advisor ( She is also senior director of strategic services at StrongMail Systems ( Reach her via is solutions director, emarketing, at Premiere Global Services (

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  • by Mindy Dolan | TailoredMail Fri Feb 27, 2009 via web

    I think small businesses can be overwhelmed with the idea of email marketing, but you did a great job in this article of breaking down that wall. It's important that even the small companies find some sort of way to communicate through email, but they must make sure to send relevant information or they'll immediately lose that subscriber. Many email service providers offer low-cost solutions for small businesses. And, some (like TailoredMail) even offer a service for those not-so-comfortable with logging into a system and creating an html campaign. They just submit the content and the subscribers and the email service provider makes it look good. To all small businesses: your customers will be impressed by your level of sophistication if you send out an email campaign (just make sure it doesn't look like a randsom note!). They'll be happy you took the time to recognize them!

  • by Benjamin Sat Feb 28, 2009 via web

    I agree, email marketing seemed overwhelming to me at first. I would start and then give up. One company that helped me with email marketing is Thanks for the tips, they are really helpful.

  • by Tessa Mon Mar 2, 2009 via web

    I use Blue Orchid Marketing software to handle my email marketing as well as hard copy mailings to those contacts who have not provided an email address. Works great.

  • by Diane Mon Mar 9, 2009 via web

    We are considering Knowledge Marketing to be our ESP. Does anyone have any reviews, comments or first-hand experience with this company?

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Thu Mar 12, 2009 via web

    Excellent article. I think all small businesses should at least consider adding permission-based email marketing as part of their marketing mix.

    If done well, email marketing has been shown to have a high ROI and many businesses find that it is their primary source of repeat business.

  • by Maleah Thu Apr 23, 2009 via web

    Relying today on your work salary is not enough. Most people are looking for things that could help them earn extra money. If you're looking to start a business, you could start a music publishing business. New artists need contacts with a music publishing business if they want to go anywhere. It isn't as simple as just getting a cash advance, put a website on Internet and you're in music business, however. There are a lot of things you'll need to talk about with an attorney who has a practice specializing in music contracts and also songwriter's guilds, and music publishers associations. However, if you can find a good niche, starting a music publishing business could keep you out of needing installment loans for quite some time. Read more:

  • by Ashish Bagadia Fri Jun 5, 2009 via web

    I use for all my email marketing needs. It is the most easy and powerful web-application for any small business.

  • by David Tue Dec 1, 2009 via web

    You call these tips? Tricks? Excellent article??? Who reads this??? 9th graders? Comon, where is the beef????

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