Email Marketing for Small Businesses: What It Is and How to Do It Right

Email Marketing for Small Businesses: What It Is and How to Do It Right

Small business marketing is a unique challenge. You have big goals, but your budget is small, and your time is precious.

That means you can’t just guess which marketing activities will pay off, invest a million, and shrug off the loss. You have to look at the facts.

Luckily, the return on investment for email marketing is outstanding. On average, businesses earn $35 for every $1 spent.

But here’s another fact: with the average business sending out 26.8 marketing emails each week, inbox competition is fierce. To stand out from the crowd, you need to send emails that really connect with your audience.

So let’s talk about how to do that. This article introduces the benefits of email marketing for small businesses and gives you our top tips for email marketing success.

Why is email marketing important for small businesses?

As a small business, you need to prioritize marketing activities that give you the best bang for your buck. Email marketing’s high ROI makes it a great investment.

The magic of email is that it gives you a direct line to your potential customers. Instead of hoping they’ll notice an ad or a social media post as they scroll past, you can drop your message right into their inboxes.

That benefits any business, but it’s especially great news for small companies that haven’t built a lot of brand awareness yet.

Desmistificando: a real-world success story

Desmistificando is a small business that creates courses for lawyers that focus on professional training and law practice. Starting out with just two team members, Desmistificando needed a way to market the business without using up too much valuable time.

Using ActiveCampaign to send automated abandoned cart emails (we’ll talk about those in a bit), Demistificando was able to win back 50% of lost sales. It recovered all of that revenue through pure email marketing — there’s no sales team following up on leads. That’s an excellent revenue boost without a lot of time invested.

The benefits of small business email marketing

Email can help your small business achieve a wide variety of marketing goals. Here are a few major benefits of email marketing.

Build brand awareness

Every time an email from your company lands in a subscriber’s inbox, their awareness and recognition of your brand grows.

By sending emails with a consistent style and voice, you show your potential customers who you are.

Improve customer engagement and retention

Email marketing is an ongoing conversation with your audience. They won’t forget about you when you deliver personalized content to them regularly.

Once a prospect has made a purchase, follow-up emails like thank yous and special offers can increase the chance that they’ll come back for more.

Promote new products

You can post about your new product or service on your website, but many potential buyers will never see the announcement.

Luckily, you have a whole list of people who’ve already expressed interest in your offerings. Email marketing lets you reach out directly to tell your target audience about a new product.

Increase website traffic

increase traffic through email
When you’re a small business, it can take time to build up the flow of organic traffic to your website. Sending emails with links to your site can boost site visits.

Email traffic is high quality — these visitors not only subscribed to your email list, they found a link in the email intriguing enough to click.

Learn more about your customers

Analyzing the results of your email campaigns can tell you a lot about your list subscribers.

What kind of subject line grabs their attention? Which links get the most clicks? This information will help you connect with your target buyer in the future.

Drive sales

Everything listed above leads to increased conversions.

Email marketing has you covered through the entire customer journey, from building awareness to sending them to your website to make a purchase.

7 email marketing tips and strategies for small businesses

We’ve established the benefits of using email to promote your small business. Now, let’s look at some tips for building an email marketing strategy that maximizes your return on investment.

1. Choose an email marketing platform that makes it easy

Anything that saves time and effort is a good choice for a small business.

Moreover, you may not have an email marketing expert on your staff, so you need to be able to create professional-looking emails without the need for specialized skills.

Choosing an email marketing tool with the right features lets you send personalized, targeted, professional-looking emails without a lot of extra work or expertise.

We’ll dive into how to choose the best email marketing tool for your business later.

2. Build a high-quality list with opt-in forms

opt-in form examples
Some companies purchase email lists or use other methods, like collecting business cards at trade shows, to build a list of contacts that were added against their will.

We highly discourage this practice and don’t allow it if you’re using ActiveCampaign. In addition to legal and ethical considerations, it’s just a bad idea. These lists are low-quality because the people on them haven’t expressed an interest in your brand.

To build a high-quality list, you need to let your audience opt-in.

You can do this by:

  • Adding a signup form to your website
  • Collecting emails from people who download a gated asset
  • Putting a “Please add me to your email list” checkbox at the bottom of your forms
  • Letting people sign up at tradeshows and other events

Check out these tips for writing opt-in copy that convinces prospects to subscribe.

Once you’ve built a list of prospects, it’s time to segment them.

List segments are groups of contacts who have something in common. Creating segments lets you send the right message to the right people at the right time. Your audience segments can be based on things like location, demographics, interests, or behavior on your website.

3. Use a mobile-friendly template

When your email marketing campaign looks professional, it makes a good first impression and builds your brand’s credibility. You don’t need expert design skills to create beautiful emails that impress, just a strong email template.

These days, it’s essential that your templates are mobile responsive. 39% of email users read email on a mobile device, and they’re likely to abandon your email quickly if it’s hard to read on their phone.

Using a template shouldn’t limit your ability to brand your emails. A good email template is highly customizable and allows you to achieve a style consistent with your brand.

4. Personalize your emails

Personalized emails are more effective than generic ones. That’s why emails with personalized subject lines are 50% more likely to be opened.

But today’s personalization options go way beyond subject lines.

For example, an easy way to send personalized emails is with conditional content. With conditional content, you start with the same base email and customize parts of the content for your target audience.

For example, you can:

  • Use a different product image based on the person’s interests
  • Link to a specific knowledge base article that the prospect has clicked in the past
  • Insert a special offer that matches the stage of the customer journey your prospect is in

5. Send welcome emails to new subscribers

The moment a new subscriber signs up for your list is a great opportunity. This person is interested in your business right now.

Capitalize on that momentum by sending new contacts a welcome email — or a series of them. Don’t just thank them for signing up (although you should do that too). Nudge them toward completing an action of your choice. That could be something like:

  • Buying a product
  • Scheduling a phone conversation with you
  • Providing more information about themselves
  • Adding you to their list of contacts, so your emails don’t land in the spam folder
  • Writing you a testimonial
  • Giving feedback to help you improve your business

You can learn exactly what to write in a welcome email series in our guide.

As with any email marketing campaign, it’s a good idea to segment your list for welcome emails.

For example, if the first email in your series convinces a contact to purchase your product, you can stop sending welcome emails and add them to your existing customer segment instead.

You can also segment based on the signup method. For example, someone who subscribes to your company blog is probably interested in receiving similar high-level content. In contrast, someone who subscribes from the homepage might already be looking for information on your products and services.

6. Send automated emails

If emails had to be sent manually, no small business could keep up with regularly sending highly targeted emails to each audience segment.

Luckily, we have email marketing automation to make it easy. Automated emails can be triggered based on a variety of criteria. Some common examples of triggered emails include:

Abandoned cart emails

automated email when user abandons cart
Almost 70% of shopping carts are abandoned on e-commerce sites. Sending an email to website visitors who abandon carts can be an effective way to reclaim lost sales.

Abandoned cart emails let you automatically reach out to contacts who abandon their carts and remind them to come back. You might even send a special offer on the items they had in the cart.

Birthday and anniversary emails

Send a triggered email based on a contact’s birthday or the anniversary of their signup. Including a special offer makes your potential customer feel celebrated — and more likely to convert.

Drip campaigns

Drip campaigns are a series of emails sent out on an automated timeline. We’ve already talked about one example: a welcome email series. You could also trigger a drip based on other actions. For example, clicking a specific link in one email could trigger a series of related emails.

7. Test, track, and analyze your campaigns

The more you know about your email campaign performance, the more effective your future campaigns will be. Analytics are essential for any email marketing strategy.

You should track metrics like:

  • Open rate: The percentage of contacts that open your email.
  • Click-through rate (CTR): The percentage of email recipients that click a link in the email.
  • Conversion rate: The percentage of people that complete the goal action of the email.
  • Unsubscribes: How many subscribers leave your mailing list after receiving the email.

For more useful email marketing metrics, check out this list.

You should also A/B test or split test your email campaigns. Split testing involves sending multiple versions of an email to a small test group to see which one does better. The full list receives whichever version performs the best.

For example, you could send the same email with a different subject line or image.

A/B testing not only ensures that you’re sending the most effective email possible; it also helps you learn more about your audience.

How to choose an email marketing service for your small business

As we mentioned before, your email marketing tool can make or break your email marketing efforts.

The first thing to look for is small business-friendly pricing. Some major players offer a free plan when you’re just starting, but they quickly become unaffordable as you grow your mailing list. The best platforms will fit your budget now and in the future.

Customer support is key. Most platforms will offer some kind of support, but check reviews to determine if customers are really getting the service they need.

Finally, make sure your tool of choice has all the essential features of a modern email marketing platform, including:

  • An intuitive interface
  • A wide variety of professional, responsive templates
  • The ability to personalize content
  • Easy segmentation of your list
  • Split testing
  • Email automation, with several ways to trigger automated emails

email split test
There are many options out there — make sure you find an email marketing tool with all the features you need now and as you grow.


Email is a marketing channel that small businesses can’t afford to neglect. Its high ROI ensures that your marketing efforts will pay off in brand awareness, site traffic, and of course, revenue.

If you’re looking for an email marketing tool for businesses of all sizes, give ActiveCampaign a try today.

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