- Email marketing is for business owners who want to control how they engage with customers.
- Two entrepreneurs who rely heavily on email to make purchases shared what works for them.
- They suggested business owners to personalize content and focus on providing value rather than making a sale.
- This article is part of “Small Business Marketing,” a series examining the fundamentals of marketing strategy for SBOs to acquire new customers and grow their business.
Email marketing can be a boon for business owners as it offers one of the most direct ways to communicate with potential customers.
“We decided to invest in email first when we started our business because we would own the list forever,” Katie Test Davis, who founded communications agency Forthright Advising in 2019, told Insider. “For other social media platforms, the algorithm changes affect how often people see your message. I felt that email gives us more control. This decision has paid off well.”
In addition to connecting with customers, email marketing can turn readers into customers. When Tanya Dalton, a productivity consultant, founded her direct-to-consumer scheduling company, InkWell Press, in 2014, she was able to generate seven figures in 14 months by focusing primarily on email as a marketing channel.
But customers who receive a barrage of emails from random companies end up going straight to the trash in the end. How can you prevent your email from being one of them?
Dalton and Test Davis shared with Insiders the strategies they use to create intelligent email marketing campaigns that get results.
Offer value first and ask later
Dalton said one of the biggest mistakes people make is only sending promotional emails to their subscribers, or emails that directly ask customers to buy or sign up for a product or service.
A better approach, she added, is email marketing as a relationship-building tool: Spend more time adding value to your subscribers by sharing quick tips and actionable strategies, and you’ll likely see more sales in the long run to generate.
“People buy from people they know,” Dalton said. “If you’re only using your email for ads, you’re missing out on an opportunity to connect more deeply with your customers.”
She said she wants to provide her subscribers with “good content” with emails that delve deeper into the productivity topics she covers in her podcast, share downloadable bonus content, and provide some behind-the-scenes insights into what’s happening in her world.
“It’s about building trust with your customers,” Dalton said. “That way, when you’re ready to make a sales pitch, your subscribers will feel like, ‘Gosh, you’ve already given me so much,’ and are open to hearing what else you have to offer.”
Test Davis said she aims to provide content for her email list that is immediately useful and addresses customers’ biggest pain points, such as:
“We’re constantly getting feedback from our subscribers like, ‘Wow, that came at just the right time,'” she said.
That feeling leads to results. Forthright’s average open rate is 44.65%, according to data verified by Insider. According to email marketing platform Mailchimp, the industry average for PR organizations in 2019 was 21%.
Test Davis recommended using your expertise as a business owner, listening to what customers are asking you, and digging into the data to deliver content that subscribers love. “We work with an SEO company that shares what people are looking for both on our site and in our industry,” she said. “If those search terms match what we hear in practice, then we have something golden.”
Make your emails personal and personalized
The more human and less corporate you can make your email feel, the better. “We’ve found that having our emails sent by a person rather than an organization really improves our open rates,” said Test Davis.
Dalton said putting her voice in her emails made a difference and inspired her to not let someone write her emails, but to do it herself. “I try to add a lot of fun and personality to my emails, and people really resonate,” she said.
Ensuring that every email a subscriber receives feels personalized can also make a difference. While small business owners may not have the time and technology to perform sophisticated email personalization, segmenting your lists and only sending relevant emails to each list is a start.
“Our subscribers can tag themselves based on their role in their company – that way I can make sure I’m not blasting people with things that don’t apply to them,” Dalton said. For example, a small business owner and a manager in a large company might appreciate different productivity advice.
Test Davis uses the same strategy at Forthright. “I think part of the special sauce is that we’re trying to think about who can use what information, and when,” she said.
Learn what works for your audience
Email marketing advice from other companies or business owners can only go so far. In the end, you have to try things out and find what fits your specific audience.
For example, Test Davis said she found that clear and to the point subject lines — like “Four Tips for Communicating with Your Board of Directors” — resulted in the best open rates; Your busy and overwhelmed customers would rather know exactly what they’re getting when they open the email.
“I would openly and literally go over smart any day,” she said.
Meanwhile, Dalton said she’s more successful if she keeps her subject lines a little vague. A recent email about productivity strategies you think will help but actually hurt was titled “I ate a Snickers bar for breakfast and didn’t know it.”
“Interesting subject lines get my customers to click to open them and find out what’s inside,” she said.
It’s about tracking and tracking the data. “Taking a holistic view of email metrics is important because you may notice surprising audience behavior that may improve your emails in the future,” said Test Davis.