If you want to know how to start email marketing, then here’s a beginner’s guide—and also some critical tips on how avoid some of the painful pitfalls I made when I first got started!
The phrase ‘Email marketing’ could apply to sending a single email to a potential customer or client.
Although yes technically speaking that is email marketing, that’s not what I mean when I use the phrase.
For me, email marketing is when you write a single email and send it to dozens, hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of potential customers and clients.
(I guess the correct phrase would be ‘bulk email marketing’, but that sounds rubbish so I won’t use it here!)
As you can imagine, being able to send a single email to so many people at the click of a button is an amazing advantage for your business.
There are so many other benefits too.
Here are the top five…
1. Fast to perform. You’ll be able to send an email to hundreds of even thousands of people within a few minutes of getting an idea!
2. Low Cost. You can start email marketing for very little up front cost.
3. Instant response. Within minutes of sending an email you can start to get replies, or even orders! It’s staggering the first time it happens. If you’re not email marketing yet, be careful… you may get hooked like I did!!
4. Low barrier of entry. You don’t need to be a technical wizard – in fact the hardest part is getting set up in the first place.
5. Scalable. It doesn’t take any longer to send an email to a thousand potential customers, than it does to send an email to a single customer.
It doesn’t make any difference whether your list has fifty people on it, or fifty thousand… it takes exactly the same amount of effort!
With such compelling benefits you may wonder…
Why Don’t More People Do Email Marketing?
Email marketing has been around for many years, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty about how to perform it effectively.
I am always surprised at how so few small business owners are email marketing.
That’s probably because a lot of them don’t know how to start email marketing, and also there are a lot of ‘myths’ that stop many small business owners from trying it.
So before we look at how to do it, let’s first dispel some myths…
Myth 1: “I Need a Big List of Email Addresses To Make Big Profits.”
Most well-known brand names perform email marketing to hundreds of thousands or even millions of email addresses.
But there are other, much smaller businesses who make huge profits from much smaller email lists, in some cases of just a few thousand email addresses. (Financial investment newsletters are one example.)
Even very small list can be highly profitable for startups or companies which sell expensive products and services.
The key thing is not size alone – but how responsive your list is to offers.
Which leads me on to the second myth…
Myth 2: “Email marketing is only about selling.”
There are some marketers who treat their lists purely as cash cows – milking them for profit, with nothing but endless promotional pitches and offers.
Some send on a daily basis.
This model still works for those marketers ‘fortunate’ enough to have built massive lists.
They usually have list building ‘systems’ to keep funnelling ‘fresh meat’, to replace people who unsubscribe because they’re fed up with being ‘continually sold to’.
Your customers’ expectations will partly influence your own business model.
In some markets you may find it profitable to frequently interact with your list as real people by replying to their emails, blogging about their top concerns, running webinars and so on.
Be clear on one thing: with the rise of social media tools, people now have multiple ways to get together online and talk about you, your market and your products/services.
And that includes how you operate your email lists.
Wouldn’t it be better to have those conversations saying great things about your business?
Myth 3: “I can use my normal email software to send bulk emails.”
As is usually the case, it only takes a small percentage of unethical characters to screw things up for the honest majority.
In the email marketing world these folks are collectively known as ‘spammers’.
That term applies to people who persistently AND WITHOUT PERMISSION send vast numbers of emails every day, about products and services that are often scams and plain garbage.
It’s one thing to want to know how to start email marketing, but you also need to know how to avoid being labelled as a spammer by mistake.
These days people online are very sensitive to receiving anything that even looks like a spam email, and will report it on the slightest provocation.
Of course you’re not a spammer, so why should this concern you?
Well, sometimes email marketing newbie’s do things like build a list on their Gmail account, and then wonder why Google terminate their account for sending too many “commercial bulk emails”.
Or they send out promotional emails to their list with 50 addresses at a time added to the TO: field in the email.
If the email provider doesn’t zap them first, all it takes is for one of these 50 people to report you to the governing bodies for a privacy violation – since their email address is visible to any of the other 49 people who take a close look at that email.
The safe and professional way to go is to sign up with a reputable “Email Service Provider” (ESP) who specializes in delivering commercial bulk email (not spam).
These companies build relationships with all the big Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and portals — making sure that your commercial emails have a much higher probability of getting to your list members and protecting you from being blacklisted or worse.
(We’ll discuss how to use one of these Email Service Providers in a moment.)
Myth 4: “We can install and run bulk email software on our office computer.”
Unfortunately the problem with this is that your ISP may have serious issues with it.
If anyone on your email list ever reports you as a spammer, your ISP may shutdown your account – effectively meaning you can’t send ANY company emails or even have access to the Internet.
If that’s not a compelling reason for not installing email marketing software on your own company computer, I don’t know what is!
Okay, I think now we know what email marketing is, the compelling benefits, and have dispelled some common myths surrounding it… it’s time to get started doing it!
Your 7-Step Email Marketing Action Plan.
This section presents an action plan you can use to quickly get set up and start email marketing.
Follow these steps in the order shown.
1. Choose Your Content.
Decide on what you are going to send – newsletters, articles, product reviews, affiliate links, discussion posts. Try and plan your emails a month in advance.
2. Sign up with an Email Service Provider.
There are many Email Service Providers to choose from.
These days I use and highly recommend ConvertKit to most of my private clients.
ConvertKit handles the ‘operational side’ of delivering your single email message to hundreds (or hundreds of thousands) of people on your list. They also deal with false spam complaints and email bounces that you may occasionally get.
In addition, although each company’s service offering may vary, you should get the ability to compose text-only and HTML-template emails, schedule broadcast emails and add attachments. They also have a bunch of tools and graphs to check your campaign metrics.
Check out whether you can migrate your email lists to another provider in the future – some will only accept your list if it is confirmed as what’s called a ‘Double Opt-in’ list.
Make sure you also know how to backup your email lists and have them emailed to another account or downloaded to a secure directory on your own web server.
Your email list is like virtual gold and you don’t want to have it lost or damaged.
Beware of email autoresponder solutions that run on your own website’s ISP or, even worse, on your desktop PC.
(Yes, some people really do try to deliver bulk, commercial emails from their home PCs. I really can’t stress enough how much of a ad idea that is. Only do it if you want to be labelled as a spammer and get in trouble with your Internet Service Provider! 😉
3. Define Your Email Lists.
There are a number of steps to follow:
- Create the list or lists – uniquely name them for easy reference later.
- Target your lists e.g. to a web site or a specific campaign (PPC, landing page, product).
- Set a schedule for maintenance to remove email addresses that ‘bounce’ and are inactive.
- Manually remove people from a list who request it within 10 days (US CAN-SPAM requirement).
4. Build Your List of Emails.
One of the most important initial steps to do to start building a list of prospect’s email addresses is to create a Sign Up Box, and add it to every page on your current website.
A good email service provider like ConvertKit allows you to log on and very easily create the email signup box you want your visitors to complete.
You’ll get some code you can then copy and paste onto your website’s home page, landing pages and sales lead generation pages.
Most marketers use ‘First Name’ and ‘Email address’ in the signup box. But be prepared to experiment and test. You might get a better response if you only require their email address.
You’ll need to offer an incentive for your prospect to offer their email address (even though many use free ‘throwaway’ email addresses for joining lists.)
Start with something simple your market would value and develop a more elaborate offering later.
The most powerful way to create an email list is to design a lead page.
Note: Your home page might be a full-blown lead page with nothing else but the signup box and some minimal copywriting.
Or it could be placed on the ‘hot spot’ of your site – where all the eyeballs normally look. (Top left or right hand corner.)
5. Compose Your Message.
Create your first message by logging into the ESP and adding the text and links. Note that many ESPs will provide HTML-formatted email capability so that you can use formatting like bold, italics and colours in your messages.
You can also add the mail merge functionality to personalize your email e.g. “Hello %First_Name” might be the way your ESP allows you to greet each list member by whatever name they used when first signing up.
Some of your customers may prefer text-only messages and some like the flashier html-format. And some won’t have a choice because their email client or place of work prohibits html-formatted emails.
Yet another option is to use an HTML template to create a web-page look and feel to the email. This is popular with email newsletters and with the promotional offerings dreamt up by creative advertising companies who are responsible for brand management. Once again, a percentage of these emails will not be fully visible (or be blocked) to the target audience.
6. Test your Message!
Before you press the send button make sure to send a test email to a number of different email accounts. Then open them up using different email programs and/or browsers. You might be surprised to see how the formatting changes – and not always for the better!
And don’t forget to check for mistakes – a very common one is in the personalisation string. For example, let’s say you put “Hello First_Name”, instead of “Hello %First_Name”.
If you didn’t notice and fix this beforehand then your entire list will get an email message from you with “Hello First_Name” as the greeting.
This doesn’t look very professional, so always carefully test your emails before broadcasting them.
7. Schedule Your Messages.
One of the best things about most email service providers is their autoresponder technology.
This allows you to pre-write and schedule multiple messages in advance (in addition to being able to send a ‘live’ broadcast email to your list almost immediately.)
You’ll need to think about how frequently to send your messages – daily, weekly, monthly.
A weekly newsletter is obviously fixed on a weekly schedule – but which day is best for the optimum open rates?
There is no simple answer here other than to test – some say Sunday works great because people are preparing for the week ahead and checking their emails.
Others have results showing that Tuesdays or Thursdays worked best for them.
Test! Test! Test!
Also, no matter how regularly you publish there will always be some ‘churn’ on your list – people abandon email addresses, or the email address no longer exists.
Note: It might be worth testing by putting the unsubscribe button (and message) at the top of each email.
If people want to get off your list why not make it easier for them?
CRITICAL: How to Avoid Being Branded as a Spammer!
Nothing will destroy your reputation (and probably your business) faster online than being a proven commercial email spammer – someone who sends unsolicited and unwanted emails to numerous people for commercial gain.
The problem is so widespread that some governments have passed legislation to try and deal with the spam email avalanche.
It’s debatable how successful these measures have been but certainly it has had an effect on legitimate email marketers and how they run their campaigns. Ignorance is no defence! Get informed.
Here are the basic things you should be doing to make sure your business is operating legitimate, commercial email marketing programs.
* Know the US CAN-SPAM Regulations.
* Decide On Your Opt-In Policy. When a prospect signs up for your email list the recommended approach is to send a confirmation email to the address they provided.
By clicking on a special link within your confirmation email they’re confirming they want to receive emails from you.
* Say ‘Thank You’ and ‘Welcome.’ It’s a good idea to create separate ‘thank you’ and ‘welcome’ web pages on your website for each email autoresponder campaign.
Most email service providers allow you to redirect your subscriber to a thank you page after they’ve signed up – but are still waiting for the double-optin request email to arrive.
On this Thank You page you can remind them to ‘whitelist’ your autoresponder email address so it doesn’t get lost in their spam filters.
You can also make them a one-time offer for a product or service on the same page – see the first article in this month’s Web Profits Monthly for more explanation of that profit boosting tactic.
Also, after they confirm the double-optin email (by clicking on the link inside it) the software can automatically transfer them to a specific ‘Welcome’ page where they can download their free gift or whatever you’re offering them.
I strongly advise against buying lists of email addresses for more reasons than I have room to explain here, but I did write a full article about it here. Don’t do it!
* Keep records of email or written communications you have concerning email unsubscribe requests or spam-related allegations and comments. These can be helpful if there is ever a dispute.
Not Email Marketing yet?
Building and nurturing responsive email lists is one of the smartest things a web marketer can do.
Over time these lists are likely to generate more and more of your profits.
Naturally, you will have to put some effort and creativity into making email-marketing work for you.
I can’t guarantee you’ll achieve the same or better results than either my clients or myself, but I do know that many have made it work profitably for them.
I wish you every success in doing so too.
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