Getting Started with Email Marketing: A Primer

If you have been anywhere near online marketing trends lately you will know there are just two words on everyone’s lips: email marketing. And business owners are talking about it for good reason. Email marketing has one of the highest rates of return over any other inbound marketing channel. They say that for every $1 dollar invested in email marketing, you could see a 40% ROI. For online shop owners and small businesses, this is great news.

I see it daily with my clients. Email is the single best tool for getting in front of your prospects and customers, for building a relationship with them, and for triggering sales. At the heart of it, email marketing is about having a conversation with people who are interested in what you do or sell. What better audience to have then an engaged and targeted group of individuals who have invited you into their inbox? You can easily see why email marketing has the potential to become the single biggest source of traffic and revenue for your site (tweet this!).

The only thing standing between you and this great influx of massive results is getting started with email marketing. If you have some hesitation or are unsure where to start or what to do, I’ve broken it down for you with these 4 steps that outline how to get started. Let’s dive in.

Start a list

Choose an email service provider software such as MailChimp- one of my favorites! Set up a list in your email program of your choosing.

When it comes to creating your list you might be wondering if you need several or one will do. I recommend starting with one master list. Sticking to one list, as opposed to managing several lists in your account, will help keep confusion at bay and save you from making errors down the line. This will be the list that your signup forms and opt-ins will feed into.

After you have your list set up, create a signup form for your master list. Then place the signup form in various spots around your website. The goal is to create as many opportunities to capture individuals' email addresses as possible. Getting the email address of a site visitor is the best way to ensure the potential for an ongoing relationship; otherwise, that visitor can just come and go on your site and possibly vanish forever.

A great tool for capturing signups on your site is the use of a pop-up. While some feel that this approach is slightly too aggressive, I think that as long as you create a compelling offer and word it well then it’s a great way to go. Just be sure that the pop-up has a quick and easy way to X out of it.

Rookie Mistake Alert: When naming the master list within your email program, be aware that the list name can be seen by your contacts. So avoid giving an internal name to your list and choose one you are fine with your prospects and customers seeing.

Create an incentive

List growth is a vital element of your email marketing plan- you always want to be growing your list. One of the best methods for doing so is to set up an incentive to offer when your prospects or customers join your list. We all love getting free things and feeling special, so when you create that experience around your email opt-in, more of your site visitors will sign up. Come up with creative offers that fit with your brand, are appealing to your target customer, and relate to the products or services that you sell.

Service based businesses can offer up exclusive content in the forms of special reports, e-books and downloadable lists (like One Woman Shop's 28 Secrets to Growing Your Community slideshow!). Popular incentives for product based business are offering some form of discount. Test between offering a dollar amount vs. a percentage to see what yields the best results for your business.

Set up a welcome email

This next step is a crucial one. A welcome email is the first piece of communication you have with your new contact; it is the email that gets sent out immediately after they've opted in.

The bond between your business and your new contact is at its strongest in the moments just after they’ve opted in. A welcome email is there to acknowledge your new contact and let them know what to expect from you in the future. Setting the stage for your future communications will go a long way in the effectiveness of your email marketing. Welcome emails typically have very high open rates so really prioritize what you put inside the email and what the main point you want to get across is.

Some things to consider including in your welcome email:

  • A branded experience- this email should show off your brand and creating a lasting memory of it for the reader
  • The incentive you offered as an opt-in bonus
  • Introduce yourself or point them to your About page. Give them a chance to get to know you a little better
  • Highlight or feature the top benefits of your services or products you sell
  • A next step. Do you want them to make a purchase, contact you or follow you on social media? Give them clear direction of what to do next

Rookie Mistake Alert: Keep the focus on just a few top points and don’t over-stuff the welcome email.  Include what you think is the most important and be confident you will have more opportunities to expand on your brand in future emails.

Get regular

After a prospect or customer has joined your list, the worst thing you can do is to never email them again. They’ve shown an interest in hearing from you so be in touch with them frequently. Start by committing to how often you will be sending emails to your list. Decide if you will be sending your emails weekly, bi-weekly, at a different regular interval, or just when you feel you have something important to say.

Schedule those dates into a calendar and get started on content creation. Develop a theme or topic for each email while ensuring that every email has a goal and objective. Don’t send emails just for the sake of sending them; rather use them as powerful tools in your business and make each email count.

Before sending an email make sure you have answered these 4 questions.

  1. Why are you sending this email? Assign an outcome you want the email to have
  2. Who are you sending this email to? Be clear on who will be reading it
  3. When are you sending this email? Know when it’s being sent and how it fits into your broader editorial calendar strategy
  4. What are you including? Based on the above answers, be sure you know how the content and design of the email will achieve your goals and objectives

Try these steps out in your business and see how straightforward it can be to get started with email marketing. Feel confident that you are investing your time and resources into an area of the business that will come back ten-fold!

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Email Marketing Tips from Creative Female Entrepreneurs

We recently spoke to several creative female entrepreneurs with growing or established email lists and chatted with them about their best practices for email marketing. The girls we spoke to have email lists that range from under 100 to over 4,000 recipients.

A big thanks to Katie of Balanced Beings, Alexis Grant of Socialexis, Marisa of Creative Thursday, Sara DiMantova of Sara Does, Ann Harris of Southern Social Marketing, and Ashley Wilhite of Your Super Awesome Life for answering our questions and thank you so much to Gina Spencer of Source Sleuth for putting us in touch with several great sources!

First of all, let’s chat about some of the biggest reasons to start an email list. There are tons, including increased engagement (people sending in questions, giving positive feedback via email, etc), increase in blog traffic, having a targeted list to email about opportunities (like freelance opportunities or a call for contributors), as a bonus for potential blog sponsors and partners, having the ability toreach readers and customers where they are every day, and more.

Ann shared another unexpected bonus: “Forcing myself to be witty and informative every week has been a huge confidence booster. After the first couple of newsletters, you start to feel pretty brilliant by how many ideas you can come up with!” Several of the girls we spoke to said email marketing gave them tremendous bang for their buck (read: the biggest return on investment for the least amount of time and money spent) of any of their channels of communication to their customers and readers.

Now here are some fun tips from fellow career women who are making the most of email marketing!

Where to collect email addresses

  • Through downloads and freebies (like this career decision worksheet!)
  • On the sidebar of your website or blog
  • At the bottom of each blog post (like Alexis does)
  • At speaking engagements (hint: design a sign up sheet that you can print before each event!)
  • On your Facebook page (create a tab just for email sign ups)
  • Through business cards you collect (be sure to ask permission since technically, they haven’t opted in!)
  • In your email signature

Pro tip: Services like MailChimp provide you with a link where your sign up form is hosted. Instead, grab the HTML code and embed the form in your website or blog (for example, ours is embedded at This encourages people to stay on your site and increases your site traffic (if only nominally). Thanks to Alexis for this tip!

When to send emails

Several of the girls we spoke to send their emails on Sunday, because it tends to be a less email heavy day (and more laid-back for a lot of people!)- it seems like they’re on to something, since Pinterest’s highest traffic day is also Sunday. Several of the girls send their emails in the early morning (around 7am) between Tuesday and Thursday. The general consensus was to avoid sending email on Mondays and Fridays, since people are either overwhelmed with email from the weekend or busy looking forward to the weekend!

How often to send emails

Most of the girls send their emails once a week or once a month but many advocated for occasional “bonus emails” to announce sales, webinars, or other valuable information.

What to include in emails

  • Links to your own blog posts (with an attention-grabbing teaser + a photo)
  • Links to other useful resources
  • “Pretty pictures” (inspirational quotes, etc)
  • A preview of upcoming projects
  • A sign up form or waiting list sign up for upcoming courses, webinars, etc
  • Free printables
  • Discount codes
  • A personal note
  • A link to social media profiles
  • A link to information on your paid services (consulting, coaching, etc)
  • A reminder of how you got the recipient’s email address
  • Click to Tweet links so recipients can easily share your content

Open rates and what affects them

According to a MailChimp study, the industry open rates for e-commerce and creative services are 22.2% and 41.9%, respectively, but the girls we spoke to had open rates of 50-70%! They told us that their open rates were affected mostly by subject lines and mentions of freebies.

Our hypothesis for the incredibly high open rates among the people we spoke to is two-fold: 1) people must opt in directly to these newsletters- they are not merely signed up through purchasing an item, for example and 2) most of the girls we spoke to have very strong brands built around their businesses, which we think probably increases open rates.

As a side note: interestingly, one girl told us that when she tested two different subject lines, the ”boring” subject lines (like using the word “newsletter”) got a better response, strangely enough.

Final words of wisdom

Many of the girls we spoke to mentioned that they wished they had begun collecting email addresses and sending emails earlier than they did. Learn from their mistakes- set up a free email marketing account and start collecting those emails now! Alexis passed on a very simple message to us that she had heard: “just say something!” It doesn’t matter if you’re writing all new content for your newsletter or just putting teasers of your latest blog posts into an email with a picture or two- just say something to start engaging your subscribers!

Do you have an email list? We would love to hear your feedback and tips!

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