How Email Marketing Can Really Grow Your Small Business


You need to advertise your business, but it’s so darned expensive. For example, the average direct mail campaign targeting 5,000 people can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000, depending on your target market and its size. Not to mention the cost of billboards and print advertisements.

Fortunately, we have good news. If you’d like to get solid traction for your small business, email marketing is an incredibly effective method — and low-cost as well. Plus, anyone can engage with customers using email marketing. To make the most out of this marketing tactic, you’ll want to consider developing an email marketing plan and following other techniques we’ll get into later in this article.

Because email marketing can drive tremendous growth, it’s no surprise that 81% of small business owners rely on it to acquire new customers. Nearly that same percentage of business owners also use email to retain their customer base. Whether it’s sending out coupons, alerting customers about events, or promoting blog content, email can be versatile and useful.

Why Small Business Email Marketing is Important

When you think of advertising, you may first think of television, billboards, radio, and other media outlets. However, email should be at the top of your list. After all, it’s one of the most powerful ways for small business owners to reach their target customers.

Even if you complain about the “flood” in your inbox, or make a habit of deleting spam, know that email is still one of the best ways to connect with customers. Email marketing has a median ROI of 122%, which is four times higher than other digital marketing strategies. Plus, small business owners can easily boost this ROI with A/B testing and by making continual improvements.

If you’re a small business owner, don’t make the mistake of overlooking email marketing. It’s one of the most influential advertising techniques available today — and it is likely available at a fraction of the cost of other platforms. In fact, email can cost as little as $19 to $29 per month, depending on the size of your email list, the number of campaigns you run, and how you manage the workload (i.e., if you do the work in-house versus hiring an outside agency). In short, email marketing can be affordable and can provide a big bang for your buck.

Here are a few other reasons why small business owners should seriously consider putting email marketing at the top of their marketing plan:

  • It can significantly increase your sales. According to Campaign Monitor, customers who receive marketing emails spend 138% more than those who don’t. To try and boost sales, try sending emails that promote new products, alert customers to sales, offer coupon codes, and more.
  • It can build relationships with leads. Before people become loyal customers, they’re leads. Also known as “prospects,” they are people who know they have a need and who are exploring solutions. Email can nurture relationships with people who aren’t yet ready to buy but want to learn more about your business.
  • It can create loyalty among current customers. Sure, you want to acquire new customers, but you probably want to retain current customers too. Email can help. Try sending out emails that promote events, advertise sales, or even ask for feedback. It’s an opportunity to engage with customers and reel them back in to buy from you.
  • It’s easily measurable. Contrary to most traditional advertising methods (such as billboards and magazine advertisements, for example), it’s easy to measure the effectiveness of email marketing campaigns. Most email service providers offer tools to measure open, bounce, and conversion rates, and that’s just scratching the surface. You can use this information to tweak your email content and design to get greater results.

Convinced yet? If you are, good! It’s pretty clear that for most small business owners, email marketing is a viable way to promote your business.

Next, we’ll cover techniques you can use to boost your business and potentially see more customers roll in.

5 Ways Email Marketing Can Boost Your Business

Ready to kick off your first email campaign but not sure what to say? Here are 5 ideas to get the ball rolling. We’ve also linked to so you can see handpicked examples of marketing emails in action. Check them out!

Way #1: Marketing emails can promote a new product or service.

You don’t have to own an online store or brick-and-mortar location for this technique to work. If you’re a new business owner, or you just launched a new service or revamped your product, it’s time to tell your customers. Send out an email with the good news.

  • Financial advisors and accountants: Use email to tell your clients about a new approach or service you currently offer. Or if you’ve hired someone new, send an email to introduce them.
  • Barbers and hair stylists: Now offering beer and wine with a fresh cut? How about a new line of hair products? Tell your clients in an email.
  • Landscapers: Perhaps you recently purchased new equipment that’s even faster and more efficient. Or maybe you offer landscape design ideas, in addition to your usual lawn care services. Share the good news via email, and remember to talk about the benefits of your new services.
  • Online retailers: If you’ve launched a new product, whether it’s a kitchen utensil or a swaddle blanket that helps babies sleep better, it’s important to tell your customers right away. Use email to share the benefits and the story of why you created the product.

Here are some examples of product launch and product update emails to get you inspired.

Way #2: Email can send traffic to your business’s blog.

Maybe you don’t have a new product or service, but you have great information to share. If you’re churning out content on a company blog, remember to spread the word via email. Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Send out a regular e-newsletter. Compile recent blog articles and distribute them via email. This can bring visitors to your blog and engage them in your business.
  • Promote a featured post. Maybe you’ve put extra time and effort into your latest blog post — all the more reason to send out an email blast. This time, feature just your article with an attention-grabbing image and teaser.
  • Ask customers to subscribe to your blog. Maybe you just started your blog and you’re hoping to garner interest. Be direct. Send out an email asking your customers to subscribe to your blog and telling them how.

Check out these helpful informational emails and newsletter examples to get ideas.

Way #3: It can promote a discount code or sale.

Did you know 53% of consumers spend more than two hours each week looking for online deals, like coupons and offers? And 82% of consumers use their digital coupons within a week of receiving them? Clearly, digital coupons are a powerful way to get customers to spend at your business.

  • If you own a brick-and-mortar store: Send out an email promoting an in-store sale or clearance event.
  • If you offer services rather than products: Try promoting a discounted service for a short period of time. Tell your customers about it in an email and you may see your bookings rise.
  • If you own an e-commerce store: Use a digital coupon code. You can even get creative with this by offering codes for holidays, special family and friends’ events, and more.

Check out these ideas for promoting coupons and discounts.

Way #4: It can remind customers about forgotten items abandoned in their carts.

Life can get pretty busy, which is why the average abandoned cart rate is nearly 70%. It also can take time for customers to make buying decisions, which is why they continually add products to their carts, hoping they’ll still be there the next time they log on.

If you’re an e-commerce store owner though, you want to beat out the abandoned cart. Fortunately, email is a great way to re-engage customers and entice them to check out right away. Sometimes all you need is a second chance at convincing your buyer — and voila — they’re yours!

Some ideas to help convince customers to finally buy:

  • Add a sense of urgency. Maybe you have only two products left in stock. Use an email to tell your customer that if they don’t buy now, they may miss out.
  • Sell them on the benefits. Sometimes customers need to be “talked into it.” Use email to tell them how this product or service will improve their life.
  • Offer an emailed discount. Perhaps the price is holding them back. Close the deal by making the offer sweeter.

In the e-commerce world, abandoned cart emails are a staple. Check out these abandoned cart email examples and ensure your website is ready to automate this type of communication today.

Way #5: It can help you gather customer feedback.

Usually, customers appreciate giving feedback. If they see room for improvement, it gives them the opportunity to weigh in, and if they’re already pleased, they can leave a glowing review.

After you’ve sold a product or service, email your customers to request their feedback. Alternatively, you can ask them to leave an online review, whether it’s on Amazon, Yelp, Google, or on your business’s website.

Not only are customer reviews a learning opportunity for your company, but they also can promote your business. About 91% of customers read at least one online review before making a purchase.

Want to see a few good examples of customer feedback emails? Check these out.

Make Business Insurance Part of Your Marketing

Hey, we wouldn’t be a small business insurance company if we didn’t advocate for adding a policy to your business strategy. Once you start communicating regularly with the public, it’s important to add an additional level of protection against a lawsuit.

After all, you never know if someone might take offense to your emails and claim copyright infringement, defamation, slander, or something else.

In today’s world, it’s too easy for a customer, vendor, or another party to claim damage and potentially cost your company thousands of dollars. Without business liability insurance, you may have to pay for these costs out of your own pocket, plus the cost of hiring an attorney to defend your case.

We specialize in finding the coverages small business owners need the most. Spend 10 minutes online and we’ll take it from there.

We work with leading national insurers to find quotes and policies suited for your particular business.

How to Get Your Email Marketing Plan Started

Great, now you know the many ways that your small business can benefit from email marketing. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and get started with your first campaign. Here’s your practical, step-by-step guide to executing an all-star email marketing effort in no time.

Step 1: Build or purchase an email list.

Before you do an email blast, you need to have people to reach, of course. If you don’t have an up-to-date email list now, it’s time to get one. A good email list should include updated email addresses, names, locations, and other pertinent information.

Usually, a good email list starts with your website. You can use content offers, exit pop-ups, and even e-newsletter subscription forms to ask customers for their email addresses. A content offer is a particularly effective way to obtain emails. Think of it as “giving something to your customers in return for their information.”

Try creating a helpful industry guide, tip sheet, or template your customers might want. To receive it, your customers first must input their email address. You might be surprised at how many people willingly share their emails in exchange for helpful information.

Another common technique is the use of discounts. Invite your customers to enjoy 10% off your product or service when they provide their email address. Alternatively, you can ask for email addresses during the account creation/checkout process, or as a way to save a product online for later.

Get creative here. Some websites even use gamification, the process of integrating point scoring and competition, to increase engagement and obtain more emails.

If you’re new to digital marketing, we recommend testing out the waters. But we also understand that some industries are better suited to in-person marketing. If you own a brick-and-mortar store and communicate better in person, ask customers to put their names and emails (or, better yet, their business cards) in a box.

Then pick a name from the box for one of them to win a prize. Contests can be an incredibly effective way of obtaining customer information.

In short, the best way to gather email addresses is to offer your customers something first. When people feel like they’re receiving something of value, they may be more likely to share their personal information with you.

Step 2: Research and purchase email marketing software.

If you’re going to dive into email marketing, we recommend purchasing the right tools first. Email marketing software can help you segment lists, customize campaigns, build templates, and measure results.

It may even help you create a “set it and forget it” automated campaign, where you allow it to run and then check on the results later. That way, you don’t have to spend time and energy building every email from scratch and sending it individually.

Many email marketing software solutions will even let you organize campaigns by behavior. This means you can send separate emails to customers who have:

  • Opened your first email, thereby demonstrating initial interest.
  • Opened and clicked on your email, showing a willingness to learn more.
  • Failed to open your email (or emails), showing a lack of interest.

To get started, open your favorite web browser and start searching for email marketing software that’s affordable, yet powerful. Here are a few popular solutions we’ve seen that you may want to try out for yourself:

HubSpot: Many small business owners find HubSpot easy-to-use and powerful at reaching new and existing customers. The software makes it simple to segment lists, build email templates, and target different customers, based on persona and behavior.

This personalized approach to email marketing can be very effective. It speaks directly to your customers, making it clear that you understand them and their needs.

Even better, HubSpot also offers a free CRM (customer relationship manager) to complement its email marketing software, dubbed Marketing Hub.

This tool can help you organize your sales pipeline, track deals, organize customer information, and gain insight into behavior in real-time. For example, you can quickly see when a customer opened your email, visited your website, scheduled a meeting, and much more.

Constant Contact: Starting at just $9.99/month, Constant Contact is one of the most popular email software providers among small business owners. Not only do they offer email automation software, but they also offer tools to help you create social ads, measure results, design sign-up forms and polls, and much more.

Constant Contact is also known to have exceptional customer support through live chat, emails, phone calls, and community resources. With Constant Contact, it’s easy to get started. Just head over to their website to start a free trial.

Mailchimp: The truth is, there are more powerful solutions than Mailchimp on the market today. But we had to add it to this list due to the platform’s popularity and insane price point — yes, Mailchimp is actually free if you’d like to dabble in email marketing without a costly commitment.

According to their website, over 13 million businesses rely on Mailchimp to help them grow their revenue, so clearly, the software has something special to offer. One idea: You could test out a few email campaigns using Mailchimp’s free solution.

If you like the results, check out other, more powerful solutions on the market and dedicate some funds toward upgrading your platform.

Remember, your email software solution isn’t written in stone. You can always try different solutions to find the best approach for your small business, then make a change later.

Fortunately, today’s products are relatively easy to switch out and rebuild. Plus, many solutions offer hands-on customer success experts (like HubSpot) who can walk you through the startup process.

We recommend trying out a solution, sending a few campaigns, then taking note of what you like and don’t like.

Next, let’s talk about building your first campaign! Here’s where the real fun begins.

Step 3: Determine your goals for email marketing.

Before you start designing your email and writing stellar content, it’s important to take some time to think about your goals.

For example, do you want to drive sales? Need to boost your company’s brand? Want to keep current customers engaged? Maybe you hope to accomplish all three.

When you map out your goals, you can easily plan your email content and how often it’s distributed.

According to entrepreneur, influencer, and marketing expert, Neil Patel, you should first brainstorm what you’d like your email to do for your business. Here are a few common goals most business owners have:

Increase brand awareness

When people recognize your brand and equate it to positive emotions, they’re more likely to pick your company over a competitor. That’s why so many small business owners focus on getting their brand name “out there.”

Email can be an effective tool for boosting brand awareness, particularly if you’re a small or newer company that hasn’t engaged in digital marketing in the past.

Try launching an informational blog with helpful resources for your customers. Then promote it via email; a blog can demonstrate your brand’s personality and may give customers positive vibes when they think about you.

Generate and nurture leads

Before buying, people usually show some interest in your company first. A person who is a potential customer but hasn’t yet made a purchase, is called a lead.

Email marketing can capture leads who are learning more about your company, product, and services — and who are demonstrating initial interest. It also can help nurture these leads, which can convince them to buy at the right time.

Drive sales

It may be pretty obvious, but for most business owners, increasing sales is a top goal. Fortunately, a well-timed email that features free shipping, a coupon, clearance event, or instills a sense of urgency can be enough to get a potential buyer to close the sale. In fact, according to Neil Patel, emails lead to approximately 23% of sales.

Engage current customers

Your current customer base is powerful. Not only do you want to keep them buying your product or services, but ideally, you want them to recommend your company to other people too. It’s critical to spend time keeping current customers happy so that they’re loyal and eventually become evangelists for your brand.

One way to do so is through email marketing — buyer-exclusive resources, promote sales, or share helpful information that provides them the VIP treatment.

Not only will this help make them feel special, but they’re more likely to share that sentiment with others.

Once you’ve mapped out your primary, secondary, and even tertiary goals for email marketing, it’s time to get to know your target audience. Here’s how.

Step 4: Understand your target audience.

If you’ve been a business owner for a while, you already may have a good handle on your target audience. But sometimes, your target audience varies for email marketing.

Before you start building your campaign, think about who’s on the receiving end of your emails. One way to get to know your target audience is to build personas.

A persona document organizes and lists your target audience, based on demographics, needs, desires, and more. It lets you take a fresh look at the people your company is engaging with and then create positioning statements geared just for them.

Think of it this way: You wouldn’t speak to your mom or sister the same way you’d speak to a stranger or an acquaintance. Even if you have the same message to share, you may say it a little differently or with an adjusted tone of voice. A persona and positioning document can help you document these nuances.

Try scanning the internet for a persona template. For example, HubSpot has a fantastic free persona resource that you can use to learn more about personas and also generate your own unique persona document.

Don’t want to walk through an online tool? Check out these free templates instead.

For every persona, consider including:

  • Demographic information: What is their gender, age, education level, location?
  • Goals: What are they trying to accomplish? What problem do they need to solve?
  • Pain points: What issues have they been facing? What can your company do to help?
  • Objections to buying from you: What’s the main objection (if any) to purchasing? For example, it could be price point, competition, or a lack of understanding of your product’s benefits.
  • Positioning statement or sales pitch: What’s the main message you need to communicate in order to close the deal with this buyer? How can you convince them?

Remember, it’s normal and OK to have a few different personas. For example, many small businesses have four or more personas. You may have a prospective buyer, a new customer, and a loyal buyer — and all three of these people need different messages from you.

Once you’ve developed your personas, take a long look at your initial email list and start segmenting names based on persona. With a few lists, you’ll be able to send out different types of emails, based on the message the group needs to hear.

Step 5: Consider the timing of your email campaign.

In email marketing, timing is everything. After all, the average office worker receives an astounding 121 emails per day. It’s critical for your small business to develop an email marketing plan that attracts attention so it gets opened.

To be successful, it’s important to consider the timing of your emails, including the day of the week and time of day for each persona.

There’s a lot of research on email campaign timing, and honestly, it keeps changing. For example, HubSpot says that the best times of day to send emails are 10 a.m., 1 p.m., and 6 p.m., perhaps when workers need a quick break from the monotony of the day and are looking for distractions., another resource based on in-depth email marketing research, offers a free calendar outlining what they consider the best days of the year to send emails, as well as the days to avoid.

Meanwhile, Coschedule says the best days of the week to get higher open rates are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

Look, here’s what we recommend: Compile the latest research and trends on email marketing open rates and engagement. Then test them out.

If you are using an email marketing software, should let you easily measure results, so you can compare the days and times that work best for your personas.

Ultimately, there may be trends that provide insight into the best times to send emails, but there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for every industry.

For example, a worker in the construction industry may open emails on a different day and time than an office employee would do. Test out different approaches, and find out what works best for your target audience.

Step 6: Write your subject line and email.

Truthfully, we could write a whole blog article on the importance of effective subject lines, preheaders, and email copy. But for now, here’s what we will say: Your email subject line is critical in getting someone to open the email to read more.

A preheader, the light gray text that appears next to a subject line in your inbox, can help convince a reader that there’s something exciting to read if they click.

On the flip side? A bad subject line and preheader can work against you, making it more likely that your email will get lost in an inbox, or worse, get deleted.

To help you write effective email subject lines, preheaders, and even email copy, here are a few tips.

According to Mailchimp, using these subject line techniques can help boost your open rates:

  • Be brief. Stay around 60 characters or fewer. Otherwise, your copy might get cut off, especially on mobile devices.
  • Be personable. Most email marketing platforms will let you insert code that pulls in a person’s name or other details. A personalized approach can help boost open rates.
  • Try out emojis, but sparingly. It may seem cheesy, but emojis can actually intrigue readers, getting them to click open. Try using just one at a time and see what happens.
  • Be direct. Go straight for the deal if you have one (i.e., “40% off — today only”). People want to glance at your subject line rather than having to hunt for your offer.

For preheaders:

  • Keep email preheaders brief, between 30 and 80 characters.
  • Use them to summarize the body copy.
  • Remember to include a call to action.

For email copy:

  • Write personalized copy. Go back to your persona document and write an email that truly speaks to your audience. You can even pull in their name and other personal information that you’ve collected to demonstrate you know them and understand their needs.
  • Avoid industry jargon. Nothing will put your readers to sleep more quickly than reading industry jargon. Instead, stay personable, relatable, and conversational.

Step 7: Design and build your email.

By now, you should have a solid foundation for your email marketing plan and strategy. If you’ve done all of the prior steps, you should be ready to design your email template.

If design isn’t your strength, it may be worth hiring an expert designer or purchasing a template and customizing it for your business.

Here are some best practices to keep in mind as you design your email:

  • Use responsive design to ensure readability on mobile devices.
  • Keep the copy scannable by using headers, sub-headers, and bulleted lists.
  • Insert white space where visually appropriate.
  • Avoid including too many colors and fonts that may confuse or turn off readers.
  • Add photos, but try to avoid “cheesy” stock images. Be real and relatable.
  • Ensure users can unsubscribe to your emails.
  • Include clear, visual calls to action that support your marketing goals.

Once you’ve designed your email, consider adding a second template that takes a different approach. Then A/B test both designs to determine which one performs better.

Also, remember to test and preview your email’s design before sending out your campaign. Make sure the design works on different types of screen sizes and devices, especially the ones that your audience uses the most.

Step 8: Measure the results of your campaign.

Test, test, test! The beauty about email marketing is you can always learn from past campaigns and tweak future ones to improve performance.

In general, A/B test subject lines, email length, and the design and format of your email. Try different versions and find out what performs best for each persona.

Consider creating a dashboard that lists your campaign’s key performance indicators (KPIs) and tracks your performance over time (i.e., once a month). Here are a few common KPIs that can help you understand how your campaign is measuring up.

  • Open rate — The percentage of people who click and open your email
  • Click rate — The percentage of people who click within your email
  • Bounce rate — The percentage of people who never received your email because it was bounced in the email service provider
  • Unsubscribes — The number of people who chose not to receive any more emails from you
  • Conversion rate — The percentage of people who decide to become buyers after receiving your email

There are many more KPIs you can track, but ultimately, you’ll want to pick the ones that align with your campaign’s goals and demonstrate whether your approach is working or not.

Small Business Email Marketing May Take Time, But It’s Worth the Effort

If you’ve gotten this far in our email marketing guide, congratulations! You should have everything you need to kick off your first campaign.

Remember, setting up an email marketing strategy may take some initial legwork, but it can be well worth the effort. As we mentioned, email has one of the highest returns on investment in digital marketing.

All you have to do next is roll up your sleeves and get started! Remember, have fun with it along the way. Email marketing can be enjoyable and insightful.

Emily Thompson

I earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin at Madison (go Bucky). After realizing my first job might involve carrying a police scanner at 2 am in pursuit of “newsworthy” crimes, I decided I was better suited for freelance blogging and marketing writing. Since 2010, I’ve owned my freelance writing business, EST Creative. When I’m not penning, doodling ideas, or chatting with clients, you’ll find me hiking with my husband, baby boy, and 2 mischievous mutts.

Emily writes on a number of topics such as entrepreneurship, small business networking, and budgeting.