March 25, 2019 Last updated March 19th, 2019 1,210 Reads share

6 Things Small Businesses Should Do to Make Email Marketing Work

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On the one hand, we see a boom in the startup culture the world over. Success stories of businesses that started in garages and made it a big flood all the spaces where we consume our news from.

On the other hand, big, established players with deep pockets leverage access to sophisticated (and expensive) marketing tools to grow bigger and make sure smaller companies don’t catch up anytime soon.

Startups, small businesses, and organizations with a tight (or almost non-existent) marketing budget are therefore constantly looking for effective, low-cost marketing tools. Thankfully, the digital economy doesn’t require you to spend money in order to earn money.

And one of the most cost-effective marketing tools in the digital age is email marketing.

Here are the 6 things your small business should put into practice to get the most out of email marketing:

(By the way, these tips are most suited to startups and small businesses, since they don’t require you to spend bucketloads of money (some tools are free), so dive right ahead!)

1. Keep Improving your list building methods

As a small business, perhaps your mailing list is small. Your analytics, therefore, will be slightly difficult to analyze because the rule of average improves only as the number grows. (Be sure never to buy lists.)

Your business should spend time improving your list building and getting more people to sign up.

Start by asking the basic question: Are people actually signing up?

Next, look at the accuracy of the emails you collect. Do you see a lot of emails bouncing back with the message “Email address invalid”?

All businesses collect email addresses from multiple points (e.g. marketing conferences, webinars, e-book downloads etc). See how the numbers, as well as the quality, varies across the different contact points.

But watch out: Unless you’ve optimized all the intermediate stages, you can’t really establish a reliable correlation between the collection point and the quality of leads it produces. So don’t be in a hurry to rush into conclusions.

Over time, you’ll figure out which list building method ultimately contributes to the highest proportion of paying customers. And don’t forget to study what your competition is doing!

Even small marketing tweaks can lead to major improvements, so make sure you keep learning and improving.

2. Use the right metrics

It’s tempting to say a certain email address collection method produces low-quality leads because most of them fail to convert into paying customers. The root cause may lie elsewhere.

Here’s a sample for you to understand: Let’s say you have designed a wonderfully informative e-book. To download the e-book for free, people need to sign up and submit their email address.

A month later you find that while the number of people who signed up was considerably large, there are almost no conversions. You assume this method of building a list failed.

This is a classic example of using the wrong metrics – you offered an information-rich e-book and you’re expecting sales.

Did the e-book have a strong CTA? Was the CTA placed noticeably within the book? Was the pitch in the e-book compelling enough to encourage a purchase? Did the contents establish you as an authority in the field?

Unless you know all this (and more), you are guilty of using the wrong metrics.

With every marketing effort, be sure you’re using the right measurement tools.

3. Maintain a clean mailing list

Ok, so you’ve refined your list building methods and finalized your metrics.

Are you set forever?

Not really.

People leave organizations. Sometimes their role changes within the organization. Or they move to a different country within the same organization. Basically, email addresses change.

All this (and more) means you can’t assume your mailing list is reliable forever. HubSpot estimates email addresses die at the rate of 22.5% every year.

In other words, out of every 1,000 email addresses on your list, 225 may turn invalid or undeliverable after a year. That’s nearly one out of every five!

Therefore, it’s a good idea to clean your mailing list at least twice a year. Safe and secure bulk email testers will help you maintain the hygiene of your mailing list, avoid hard bounces and maintain your sender reputation. For small needs, you can use such tools for free.

Remember, a cleaned email list gives you better email deliverability and higher ROI.

4. Pay (more) attention to your subject line and contents

With your homework for the background done, you’re now ready to work on the actual email and the contents.

Email contents: While it’s ok to write a sales email (if that’s your objective), be careful to avoid spammy text. Some words like “Free”, “$$$”, “Meet singles” and so on can trigger the spam film sales your recipients, pushing your email into their spam folder instead of the inbox.

Return-path has a great post where they have listed out the most commonly used spam words that you’ll want to avoid. That said, Return-path is also clear that the mere presence of one such word doesn’t prove the email is spammy – other factors are used too.

Subject line: Your subject line is often times the make-or-break threshold, the tipping point. Your recipient throws a glance on the subject line, spends like 2 seconds reading it and deciding if the email is worth their time.

In case the subject line doesn’t appeal to them, they delete your email. Simple.

That’s why marketers spend a lot of time working on the email subject line. It’s best to write out at least a dozen versions before you finalize a couple of them. Next, you’ll want to go for split testing (aka A/B testing) to find out which subject line is most likely to work.

BenchmarkEmail provides some good tips on the subject line in this post.

5. Use the right tools to test emails

Once you’re ready with your subject line and the email copy, you’ll need to test your the il. That includes testing the email for mobile compatibility, checking if images render properly, finding out how the email would appear in different browsers and so on.

There are a number of tools to test your email before you actually send them out. The good news is that such tools are often freemium and mostly offer good pricing options. Hence you can use these tools at little to no cost.

Remember that when you hit Send, your emails will be landing in hundreds and thousands of inboxes. Even a single error, a minor typo, therefore gets multiplied thousands of times.

That means you’ll want to take utmost care before you hit Send. From simple proof-reading to checking numbers (“25% off” vs “2.5% off”) to testing links, you shouldn’t be leaving anything to chance.

6. Pay attention to the finer details

Now you’re mostly done, but there’s still some work to do at the granular level. Even though you’re a small business, you aren’t exempt from complying with certain legal requirements.

To begin with, start by assessing your business, asking what your business stands for and deciding why you’re reaching out to people.

Also, don’t forget to not spam people with your marketing emails. Send your emails only to people who’ve clearly agreed to receive emails from you.

Next, every email that goes out must carry an Unsubscribe link that works. If a subscriber clicks on the link, she should be permitted to unsubscribe without any conditions.

You’ll find your email deliverability can improve even with small tweaks, like using the recipient’s name. An email that starts “Hi Peggy” is a great deal more likely to be read than one that starts “Hi” (or worse, “Hi subscriber”).

Finally, as your mailing list grows, you’ll understand that mailing lists aren’t homogenous. Even within your mailing list of, say, 3,000 people, there could be as many as three to four sub-groups, each with different requirements.

As you begin figuring out what makes each group unique (for instance the stage in their buyer’s journey), it’s a good idea to craft and send different emails to each group. That will help you target the groups better, rather than try to win them with an email that appeals to practically noon in the entire mailing list.


It’s easy to be misguided into thinking that email marketing is child’s play, just because it takes little time to sit down and draft a quick email. Yes, email marketing isn’t complicated, but if you’re looking at getting results, email marketing takes a fair amount of hard work.

As a small business, you’ll be attracted by the extremely low entry costs in the world of email marketing. Sure you’re right – email marketing is low-cost. But that doesn’t take away the fact that you need to make efforts understanding every single detail.

The best part is that many of the tools listed above are either free or have pay-as-you-go plans. That way, you don’t have to have deep pockets to kick off your email marketing. Some hard work, some planning and the willingness to learn will definitely fetch you results.

Good luck!

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Mayank Batavia

Mayank Batavia

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