Why should a small business use email marketing?

Helen Lindop was invited to give a talk on the benefits of email marketing for small businesses to members of Indie Cambridge.

Helen works with small businesses on email marketing strategy, training, management, and set up. Her website www.helenlindop.com has lots of tips and ideas for how to use email marketing effectively.

These are the notes from Helen’s presentation that I put together as this month’s Work Smart, Not Hard tip. I’ve been using email marketing for over 20 years and I’m a big fan of Helen’s work and I know that all of these tips work!

Since the internet was invented 35 years ago, the ability to send one message to many people at the click of a button, for free, has been the single most effective way to share information, make sales and attract new clients.

The growth of social media platforms persuaded some people to do this without needing to grow their own list and get permission to contact people but the dangers of losing all your contacts and content are still enormous and have ruined too many businesses to take that risk. When you have your own mailing list, the data is yours and the people on your list have given you permission to contact them with personalised messages delivered straight to their inbox so it’s more powerful than any other option.

Permission based marketing is at the heart of good email marketing.

You will make contact with many people, existing customers, potential  customers, people you meet at events who are interested in what you do and might recommend you to others, and even people you meet on social media who want to keep in touch more directly. Getting their permission to put them on your mailing list is the first step in building a potentially long and profitable relationship.

Most people aren’t ready to buy when they first meet you.

Give people a chance to get to know and trust you by showing up in their inbox regularly with interesting information as well as offers that can be tailored to them. This is STILL the most cost effective way to market your business.

There are lots of ways to automate how you use email marketing which saves small businesses a lot of time.

How to get started with email marketing as a small business

1. Decide on your strategy:  

Will you send updates on news or events, educate your subscribers on something, entertain them, stay visible so when they need your services, you’re top of their minds, sell directly from your emails or something else? Each business will have a different approach and there’s no right or wrong way. The most important thing is to send content that your subscribers will want to open and read. Don’t’ make assumptions about this – test it out.

2. Make a plan for what to send, how often and how to create the content.

Tips on how to use a product, the benefits of having fresh fruit delivered to your office, the different types of chocolate, beans and plantations, the history of hat making, how to keep a building safe, insights into authors lives, the benefits of different essentials oils, the inside life of an artist, will all be very different to making sales directly from the email and need different writing, image creation, and tech skills.  

3. Work out how you will measure its effectiveness.

How many people open your emails, how many reply, or buy, or click a link, how many forward to a friend, how many new subscribers do you get, how many unsubscribe? These are all good quick measures but the real impact is often felt over time when people stay on your list and eventually become loyal customers – that can take a while.

The basics

Choose an email marketing platform that suits you and meets your needs. The most well-known is Mailchimp but many small businesses prefer to start with a simpler option – Mailerlite, which is free for up to 1000 subscribers. It’s easy to switch if you find you’ve outgrown a platform or if it just annoys you.

The platform you choose will give you a code to add a sign up box to your website and ways for people to join and leave your list.

They all have templates that give you consistent layout and branding, and speed up email creation.

If you’ve been using email marketing for a while, what should you do next to get more clients and sales?

Once you’ve been emailing consistently for a few months check your stats and see how effective it is in achieving the results you decided on.

What’s next depends on your business goals:

You can set up automated email sequences, e.g., if customers have placed just one order, you could set up an email offer for go out a month later to tempt them to make a second purchase. You could also send a birthday or anniversary of becoming a customer offer, but it doesn’t have to be transactional.

Segmentation – instead of sending the same emails to everyone, segment your subscribers. This could be based on the product line they have purchased or where they live, their age, or other information they have shared with you.

Integrations – you can connect your email marketing platform to many other tools you already use. E.g. you can drag product info direct into your emails from your shopping cart, you can have blog posts added to emails automatically or you can add subscribers meeting certain criteria direct to your CRM so you can flag them up as ready for a phone call.

Key actions to get the most from your time and effort

Be clear about your goals and don’t get sucked into what the platform can do if that’s not what you need. Mailchimp will always try to get you to upgrade to use more features.

Consistency – this will help meet your goals (more sales, more clients, better positioning of you as an expert) and improve your deliverability.

Plan ahead for what to send and when, linked to your wider business and marketing goals.

Gradually test and tweak to improve things.


  1. When is the best time to send?
  2. You know your audience best, so try the time you think they are most likely to open and respond, then look at your reports and see what actually happens, then adjust. Some businesses will have clients that are more likely to open emails on a Sunday morning over breakfast, others might do it at their desks on a Tuesday afternoon. With email marketing you have a longer ‘window’ than with social media e.g. most subscribers will open emails within roughly the first 24 hours after sending and some will flag them to come back to later, whereas with social media, your post may have a lifespan of as little as 10 minutes. Think about your own habits – most people don’t open emails immediately, they come back to them to read when they’ve got more time.
  3. How can we avoid landing in spam folders?
  4. First you need get some account settings right, and your platform will have instructions on how to do this e.g: Mailerlite: https://www.mailerlite.com/blog/best-practices-to-improve-email-deliverability

Mailchimp: https://mailchimp.com/resources/email-deliverability-why-it-matters-and-what-it-takes

Then, do your best to send consistently, keep your engagement (click and open rate) up, remove people who are unresponsive from time to time (this will depend on the lead time for your business), send quality content.

  1. I ask my customers if they’d like to join my mailing list for updates and they so no, they have too much email. I unsubscribe from a lot of emails because they just send me too much.
  2. Like many things, how you ask can be the key to getting a yes! Instead of just asking if they’d like to join your mailing list, ask them if they’d like to get special offers, ideas on how to use your products, recipes, beautiful pictures, fun facts, or whatever the UPS of your email is. No-body just wants to be sold to, so having something people look forward to and enjoy is the key.
    In the case of an indie business you have an advantage because you know your clients so well.

Quite a lot of marketing advice is from either marketers aiming to sell online courses and programmes and they teach methods that work for that particular audience, or the advice comes from consultants working for corporates, so it doesn’t fit indie businesses that well. Be  careful whose advice you follow and make sure it’s aimed at your type of business.

An approach I’ve seen quite a lot with small businesses is to build stories: e.g behind the scenes, what are you creating / making / inspired by, what do you care about? This can be done with a combination of social media, blogging and email marketing working together.

  1. How can we get subscribers onto our list?
  2. Like many things this works best when you make it a habit. Look for places that you come into contact with customers or potential customers and for a way you can ethically, legally, respectfully get them to join your mailing list (also see answer above).

    You can integrate your email marketing platform with your ecommerce software so buyers are automatically added to your list unless they opt out. Landing pages on your website can be very effective. Most platforms have an app which makes it easy for people to sign up, or just ask verbally e.g. at the end of a short conversation on your subject ‘if you’d like to know more, I have a monthly newsletter where I share tips and advice on exactly this, would you like me to add you?’

Finally, we tend to notice the bad email marketing, or least the kind that’s badly tailored to us but use that as a guide to do things better, don’t let it put you off. Have a look at your inbox for the emails you do open and see what you can learn from them – often it will be because you like the sender, they have sent you emails of value in the past, you actually know them or feel that you know them. This is what to aim for.

Always ask yourself ‘what’s in it for them?’ and give your readers a reason to keep opening your mailings.

For more great tips, sign up for Helen’s newsletter here: https://helenlindop.com/newsletter/


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