E-mail marketing is a great (and free! - see my guides here) way to let people know about your product or service. Here are some tips, based on my own personal experience over the last five years of how to make it work for you.

In this post, I am referring to marketing to new people. People who you've never met, contacted or have signed up to your services before. You are blindly sending out e-mails in the hope that someone will 'bite' and be interested in what you are selling. Marketing to existing customers to 'up sell' (sell them something extra) is completely different and should be tackled in a different way.

1. Keep it simple

There are literally thousands of e-mail newsletter templates which you can find online. Some are standard HTML which you can put into your own marketing software, some are offered for free with services like MailChimp. These options do allow you to create beautiful, flashy e-mails that you can send out to potential customers.

But stop.

You are reaching out to people that you do not know. People who receive e-mails just like yours every day. Everyone is sending out flashy newsletters with great pictures. You need to make yours stand out.

I did this, when I started my first business by just writing a plain text e-mail. No images, just text and a link to our web site if they were interested in finding out more.

This works partly because the only people that usually send plain text e-mails are friends, family or customers. So people are more likely to read it.

It also forces you to think more about the actual content of the e-mail, the text, rather than focussing on the images and layout.

2. Use an e-mail subject that will interest readers

Do not flag up that your message is a marketing e-mail with your subject line. You want people to read the e-mail and not hit delete the second they see ’20% off our great service’.

You need to gently lead customers in.

Having a subject line that will interest readers does not mean it needs to be interesting. On our marketing e-mails for our web site design company, I just used the subject 'Your web site'. That's not an interesting subject line but it does make the user curious about what the e-mail says. If you received an e-mail like that you would probably want to know what was in the e-mail: is there a problem with my web site? Does someone want to buy it? Does someone want to buy one of my products advertised on my site?

3. Make the reader think you are writing personally to them

This is one of the most difficult aspects of e-mail marketing partly because it is unlikely that you will have the reader's name but using friendly, natural wording you can make your reader think that this isn't just another marketing e-mail.

Write your e-mail not as a marketing e-mail that you are sending to thousands of people but as if you are writing to an individual. People can and will see through a message that has been written for mass consumption.
 

4. Make sure the subject and content are aligned

I often catch myself doing this. I write a good subject line and then start writing the e-mail only to discover that they do not relate to each other.

Decide what you want the e-mail to advertise to customers, write the e-mail and then think of a subject line that matches the content otherwise you are just going to cause confusion and irritate people.

5. Make it relevant

You need to put yourself in your customer's shoes. Think about what is going on in their business and how your product or service is going to solve a problem for them.

This is part of our marketing e-mail selling our web site design services:

"Unfortunately, the web design industry has quite a bad reputation. There are many companies who are charging a fortune and offering little in terms of service to their customers.

 

We set up our business a few years ago and have been surprised by the horror stories that people have told us. They have been charged an absolute fortune and do not consider getting a new web site because everyone seems to be doing the same."

  • "Unfortunately, the web design industry has quite a bad reputation..." - Straight away I am admitting that there is a problem with our industry and I am relating to the customer. It's quite likely that they've had or have heard of people being ripped off by an unscrupulous character
  • "There are many companies who are charging a fortune and offering little in terms of service to their customers." - Most people feel like they are paying too much and not getting enough for their money 

 

6. Don't insult your reader

There's no need to use exclamation marks or to highlight certain pieces of text in bold or italics to draw attention to it. Remember, you are writing to an individual (see point 3) so do not assume that they are glossing over your message and are only picking out certain bits. Assume they are reading the entire e-mail carefully.
 

7. Short and sweet

We are all busy. We all receive a lot of e-mails every day so keep your e-mail relatively short and to the point. These are the sections that I always include in my marketing e-mails when trying to reach new customers:

  1. Introduce yourself
  2. Explain the problem you can solve
  3. Explain how you can do that (briefly!)
  4. Include how much you charge
  5. Bullet point some benefits to the customer
  6. Explain what do to if they are interested (reply, link to web site etc.)
  7. Include your name and e-mail signature

 

8. What to do if they are interested - call to action

Although I've mentioned it above, you must make it very clear how they should and very easy to get in touch if they are interested in buying from you.

This could be as simple as writing at the bottom of your message, something like:

"If this is of interest to you, please just let me know"

This comes across as friendly and non-pushy. If they are interested, they can just hit reply and get in touch.

You should also include a link to your web site in your e-mail signature text and possibly in the e-mail itself if it seems natural to do so.
 

9. Don't waste time following up

The beauty of e-mail marketing is that you can reach hundreds of people every day. Most people that receive your e-mail will not be interested. They either don't need what you're selling, already have something in place or they are put off for some other reason. Whatever the reason, if they are not interested there is no point wasting your time sending out a second 'did you get my message?' e-mail.

Move on and target someone else.

10. Sign off in your own name

Larger companies will not include an individual's contact details at the bottom of their marketing e-mails because with so many customer's they cannot guarantee that their member of staff will be available to chat to all of their customers. You are a small company and so you can offer this one-to-one relationship with customers so take advantage of it.

Sign off the e-mail with your name as if you are writing to a friend.

This is your business and you should be proud of it so sign off with your name. Show customers that you are putting your reputation on the line.

 

11. Test and proofread

Check, double-check and re-check!

Read the e-mail before you send it. Then send a test message to yourself and check the spelling again.

Check that the subject is correct, the 'from' e-mail address is correct and the 'reply' e-mail address is correct. If you have included links in the e-mail, click on them to make sure they work.

The last thing you want to do is send out 1,000 e-mails only to discover you have wasted your time because you have made a technical mistake and customers can't buy from you because you put the wrong link in the e-mail.

I find the best way to do this is to write the message then walk away and make a coffee. I come back five minutes later and check everything again. I then ask someone else to check it for me to check for spelling errors and to make sure it makes sense.

 

12. When you get a sale, consider pausing your marketing

This may sound crazy but hear me out.

The e-mail marketing system that we use sends out 150 e-mails a day every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. What I usually find is that we will send out e-mails for two weeks and then we will get our first sale. Then we usually get another few sales come through shortly after.

I've found that there is roughly a two week delay between sending out the first e-mail and making the first sale.

Depending on what your business is, you may want to consider pausing the e-mails from going out until you have dealt with your new customers. Obviously if you are just selling things online and it's just a case of printing a postage label and putting something in the post you may not need to worry. If however you're manufacturing things to order or, like me, building a web site, it can take time to satisfy each order so you need to be careful not to over run yourself with too much work in one go and potentially upset customers with long waiting times.
 

Conclusion

I actually hate writing marketing e-mails because it takes me so long to get it right. I have rushed in the past, writing something quickly and sending it out to hundreds of people before realising that there's a spelling mistake or I've forgotten to include the price or I've sent the wrong e-mail to the wrong list of people.

It's far better to take the time to get it right than risk alienating potential customers by sending out an error ridden e-mail and demonstrating your lack of care and attention.

E-mail marketing has bought in over 90% of my customers so I can say with some confidence than when done well, it works. These 12 rules have been developed over the last five years after many hours of writing, testing, writing, testing... and they work for us.

Will they work for you, who knows? My advice would be, forget about the other marketing lists that you've seen that tell you the optimal number of words that should be in a subject line or what time and days to send your marketing e-mails. Everyone else is doing the same thing so be different and learn by doing. Many lists advocate sending your e-mails at certain times of the week. Maybe the majority of people make a purchase from e-mails sent at 10a.m. on a Tuesday but will your customers? Maybe your customers are different.

Write an e-mail, send it and see if it works. If it doesn't, think about why not.

Take your time though. Sending out an e-mail will not immediately make the phone ring with orders. Try something for a couple of weeks and then wait to see if it worked.