Email Marketing for a Real Small Business

It’s my full-time job to create content that helps small business owners to market their businesses online. But rather than sitting at our desks researching, writing about, and discussing online marketing, it’s important to us at Constant Contact that our advice is regularly tested in the real world.

If you’ve been following our blog, you know that we have been regularly working with a real small business called La Provence. We’re helping the owner, Dawn, to implement recommendations from The Download, our new online marketing guide for small businesses. In this post, we’ll take a look specifically at La Provence’s email marketing.

TIP: If you’re not caught up on our work with La Provence, read our article on making sense of online marketing for a  real small business.

Your real-world guide to email marketing

Online marketing guide The Download inside La Provence
That’s a printed copy of The Download sitting inside of La Provence. We used the guide as our roadmap in helping the store owner, Dawn, to optimize her online marketing.

We developed our online marketing guides to be filled with practical, easy-to-understand advice and tactics that generate a real return for real small businesses. In The Download, we break down all of online marketing into five key elements: a website, email marketing, social media, listings and reviews, and content creation.

Much like with a mobile-friendly website, email marketing is really at the heart of all online marketing efforts. I’m going to show you how we worked with Dawn to update her email marketing strategy to better engage current customers and welcome new ones.

But first, in case you’re wondering if email marketing should still be a priority for your business…

You should prioritize email marketing (yes, still)

Sometimes people ask me if email marketing is still very important for a small business. The small business owners I chat with are always super busy and looking for the most efficient ways to market their businesses. In short, they don’t have time to waste. With the advent of social media and the paid advertising opportunities that exist online, email marketing can start to feel a little “old school” and many wonder if it’s worth their time.

But let me be clear — email marketing is still absolutely crucial for a small business.

Here’s why email is still key to your success:

  • It has the highest return on investment (ROI) of any online marketing tactic
  • You really own your email marketing. The contacts you collect are yours and you don’t have to pay additional fees to reach them as you might with social media
  • Much of email marketing can be automated, meaning you can continue to engage and attract customers via email while you focus on other valuable aspects of your business

Email marketing is also how we address when someone visits a small business website, but doesn’t make a purchase. If we collect the visitor’s email address, we’ll be able to continue to contact and market to them, hopefully ensuring they become a customer in the future.

Email marketing for La Provence

Before we dive into how Dawn upgraded her email marketing for her small business, let’s learn a little more about her store.

La Provence is a retail shop selling imported French goods in the small seaside town of Rockport, Massachusetts. The shop’s appeal is immediate when you walk in — bright colors and sweet smells fill the space, and visitors can spend hours leisurely exploring fine home items from across the ocean. Even just through photos, it’s easy to sense the store’s appeal.

La Provence, french goods store in Rockport MA
This is what it looks like inside La Provence.  If you have had the pleasure of visiting, you can smell this photo and it smells amazing.

Dawn’s business goals are mostly typical of any retail shop — she wants to increase revenue, generate new customers, and engage existing customers to return and shop again.

On top of that, she is looking to online marketing to create a revenue stream that will sustain her through the winter and early spring, when there are few visitors to Rockport and business in her brick and mortar store slows significantly.

On a practical level, Dawn is a mother of three, and an engaged community member, so time is precious. It’s important that she sees a return on the time and money she invests in marketing her small business.

Optimizing La Provence’s email marketing

Dawn has been using Constant Contact for her email marketing for years. Most of her email marketing efforts for her store focused on:

  • Drawing attention to special offers that customers could redeem in-store or online
  • Highlighting new products
  • Promoting local events in her community, like Shop Rockport, an annual “shopping stroll” supporting small businesses in Rockport

Dawn also had an automated welcome email set up for new email subscribers. All in all, she had a solid basis for an email marketing strategy, but there was room to grow. We noticed a few simple things Dawn could do to improve her email marketing game right away.

Our initial work with Dawn on her email marketing strategy focused on three things:

  1. Mobile-responsiveness — ensuring that all of Dawn’s emails looked good and displayed correctly no matter what device they were being read on
  2. Clear calls-to-action — always making it clear exactly what action was desired from readers after opening an email
  3. The automated welcome email — making sure this email that every subscriber receives is doing what it can to best serve Dawn’s goals and welcome new customers

The importance of being mobile-responsive

Just like your website, your emails must be mobile-responsive. Nearly half of all emails are read on a mobile device these days. If your email isn’t designed specifically to display correctly on all devices, you could be missing out on communicating with half of your list!

Another concern is this: After seeing a jumbled, non-mobile-responsive email in their inbox, your readers might be inclined to unsubscribe, preventing you from being able to market to them in the future.

Dawn was already making good use of images and colors in her email designs, but unfortunately, many of her emails were not yet mobile-responsive. In the example below, you can see that before her emails were mobile-responsive, much of the important content — including the store’s logo — was being cut off when viewed on a mobile device.

Mobile responsive email example
On the left is a non-mobile-responsive email. On the right, the mobile-responsive email layout ensures that images and text display properly on any device.

We made sure Dawn was set with an updated branded email template to use on her emails going forward, ensuring that they would always look great on any device.

FYI: All emails built and sent with Constant Contact are automatically optimized to be mobile-responsive. Users can even preview what the email will look like on both a mobile device and a desktop computer before they send it.

Calls to action — a must for every email

If you talk to online marketing nerds (like me) you will hear us talk a lot about a “CTA.”

CTA stands for “call to action.” It’s the thing you are asking a reader to do — visit your website, purchase an item, give feedback on a product, etc. 

It’s generally a good idea to include one main CTA in every piece of marketing communication you send. In email marketing, a CTA is usually very straightforward. Often it’s a big colorful button that says something like “shop now” or “learn more.”

Dawn’s emails often had a CTA, but not always. Many of her emails are informational, with notices of upcoming community events, or a holiday greeting from her and her family. While it’s great to send informational emails like this, you never want to miss a chance to invite readers to take a valuable action.

Even if you aren’t asking readers to purchase something, you could still ask them to RSVP, or to click through to your website for more information, for example.

Mobile-responsive email with CTA
Dawn’s emails now always include a clear call to action, with a button that stands out and beckons the reader to click.

If we revisit Dawn’s email above about her special offer for 30% off, you can see there is a nice blue button that says “Order” directly below the photo and title of the product. It’s nice and clear what the reader should do if they want to take advantage of the offer: Click “Order” and make a purchase.

A closer look at the welcome email

Now that we’ve talked generally about optimizing La Provence’s email marketing strategy, let’s take a look at a specific email. In fact, we’ll look at one of the most important emails for any small business: the welcome email.

An automated welcome email is something that a subscriber receives after signing up for your email list. A strong welcome email should do three things:

  1. Deliver on what was promised at the sign-up page (for example, a coupon for new subscribers)
  2. Welcome the new subscriber
  3. Give the subscriber an impression of what they can expect in the future

Here is what Dawn’s welcome email used to look like:

Non-mobile-responsive email example.
Dawn’s old welcome email wasn’t mobile-responsive. On the left, you can see that the text is too small to read on a mobile phone. On the right, you see that when zooming in to read the text, much of it gets cut off, forcing the reader to scroll side-to-side to read the whole message.

Right away we can see that the email isn’t mobile responsive and doesn’t include a CTA button. That said, it does warmly welcome new subscribers and gives an idea of what emails they can expect in the future. It’s not so bad, but there was definitely room for improvement, so let’s take a look at Dawn’s new, revised welcome email for La Provence:

Mobile-responsive welcome email for small business
Dawn’s new welcome email is mobile-responsive, well-designed, and includes a clear CTA.

Dawn’s new welcome email now exemplifies the most important guidelines we worked with her on implementing. As you can see in the preview above, it looks great on a mobile device. It still includes the same warm welcome to new subscribers, with the addition of a 15% off coupon and a clear CTA: “Shop Now”.

What’s more, the photo, colors, and spacious layout of the new welcome email are reflective of the pleasant vibe you experience in Dawn’s store. This feeling is an essential element of La Provence’s brand and bringing that in-store experience into Dawn’s online marketing was an early priority for us in working with her.

What’s next for La Provence’s email marketing?

Now that the most important basics of Dawn’s email marketing strategy are in place, she’s turning her attention to the future. She’s hoping that email marketing can plan a role in creating a stable year-round revenue stream to sustain her throughout the slower business months for her brick and mortar store.

In our online marketing guides, we recommend sending at least one email per month to subscribers. These emails could be newsletters, opportunities tied to holidays or events, special offers, or a combination of all the above.

Dawn’s latest email was a special offer for Valentines Day that included a free gift for those who took advantage.

email marketing example for retail
With her new branded template, all of Dawn’s emails look great across all devices and give her the ability to include clear calls to action for readers.

Some of the other things on Dawn’s email marketing horizon include growing the number of email subscribers on her list and finding more opportunities for time-saving automation. 

Now that we’ve shown you how we worked with Dawn to revamp her website and her email marketing, we’ll be turning our attention to her social media presence. Our goal is to help ensure all of her online marketing channels are working together towards achieving her business goals.

Stay tuned to our blog or subscribe to our newsletter to keep following our story with Dawn and watch as she uses online marketing to continue to grow her business!

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