What small-business owners need to know about email marketing

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What small-business owners need to know about email marketing Key takeaways:

  • Email marketing is a low cost way to deliver targeted messaging, increase brand visibility, and drive traffic to your business' website.
  • Nurturing campaigns, digital coupons emails, newsletters, break-up emails, and re-engagement campaigns are all effective ways to take advantage of email marketing.
  • Email marketing software, segmentation, A/B testing, attribution reporting, and call tracking software can all help you optimize your email campaigns.

Email is far from obsolete — more than 250 million Americans use it to communicate with one another, per Statista, a number that surely has increased during the pandemic.

Email marketing is also as strong as ever, with 69% of businesses using it in some form to connect with leads and customers, according to The Manifest. Small businesses are especially well-positioned to benefit from email marketing. Here’s how:

Why email marketing?

Small businesses need to market their brands, but they also need to take care with how they do so. With finite budgets and possibly cutthroat competition, any missteps can be costly, both to the marketing budget and in terms of leads who are never found and customers who are never converted.

Email marketing works for small businesses because it doesn’t require advanced skills or effort, is inexpensive, and complements other marketing strategies. Some of the benefits include:

Low cost

Perhaps the most alluring benefit of email marketing for small businesses is its low cost and high ROI (a 42-1 return, according to research by the DMA). You aren’t paying a search engine or a social media platform to run targeted ads, nor are you signing a contract for a print or broadcast campaign. Although these other channels can be effective and often worthy of your marketing spend, that spend is likely limited. Email marketing allows you to reach leads and existing customers without breaking the bank.

Directed messaging

Mass emails may seem impersonal, but effective email marketing differs in that you are targeting your messages to the individual recipient. Of course, you aren’t writing hundreds of unique emails, but you are directing specific messages and campaigns to specific individuals based on their actions and interactions with your brand. HubSpot research found that message personalization is the top email tactic of marketers, and for good reason: With just a little work and not much cost, you can send emails that recipients feel are written just for them through your mailing list.

Increased website traffic

Email marketing encourages people to visit your website, whether to check out a new product, consume interesting content, make a purchase, or engage in another way. While they are there, the chances to continue interacting with your brand increase. An achievable click-through rate for marketing emails is 2.5% — that may not seem like much, but out of hundreds or thousands of emails sent every week, the number of website visitors and number of page views add up quickly.


This benefit is obvious: Your email appearing in someone’s inbox reminds that person your brand exists. Even if the email is never opened or is immediately deleted, until the recipient unsubscribes, you consistently remain visible to leads and customers.

Customer delight

Existing customers are just as important a target audience of email marketing as leads are, if not more so. Customers are already familiar and, hopefully, impressed with your product; delighting them with helpful tips, interesting content, offers for other products, and other targeted messages encourages them to remain customers and tell their friends.

Email marketing strategies

Email marketing for small businesses must be more than just randomly blasting out a message to your entire lead/customer list. Successful campaigns must be backed with a plan, thoughtfully crafted and timed emails, and concrete goals and key performance indicators (KPIs). These are just of a few of the email marketing strategies that have proved effective for small business owners:

Nurturing campaigns

Lead nurturing campaigns, sometimes also known as drip campaigns, deliver a powerful scheduled series of emails to recipients that build upon the previous message. Such campaigns may be triggered by someone downloading an e-book, making an online purchase, or simply clicking on a link in a previous email. Afterward, leads (and customers) receive emails containing focused marketing based on their interactions with your brand and on the last email.

For example, a lead who emailed you for more information might receive — after a personal reply — an email talking about a pain point that similar people are experiencing. The next email, properly timed, might include a link to a blog post talking about solutions to that pain point. The email after that could discuss the brand’s product, and the final email of the campaign could include a coupon to purchase the product at a reduced price.

When done right, nurturing campaigns do exactly as advertised: They nurture leads down the sales funnel and, ideally, encourage recipients to look forward to the next email. Some aren’t as direct as our example, and some don’t go straight to a sale, but that’s the versatility of the drip — it can be designed to achieve many goals for just about any lead.

Digital coupons

People love value, and when it’s coming straight into their inbox, they feel especially loved. Emails that feature digital coupons, coupon codes, and other offers can at least inspire recipients to learn more about your product, if not make a purchase. Moreover, when a lead or customer knows such offers are arriving in their inboxes, they are more inclined to open future emails, further strengthening your marketing efforts.


Not every lead or customer is diligent about visiting your website for the latest content, news, or offers. Newsletters solve this problem by delivering this information directly into someone’s inbox.

Most often, a newsletter email won’t include entire articles, but just a paragraph or two from blog posts or a couple of sentences announcing your latest news — with links encouraging the reader to visit your website to see more. Whether a newsletter is weekly or monthly, be sure you are providing consistent value: Consistently give the recipient a reason to look forward to and open the email when it arrives.

Breakup emails

Offering not to email a lead anymore is a surprisingly effective email marketing tactic. When you know recipients aren’t opening emails, much less clicking through, you want to let them know that they have an option for you to stop bugging them. Granted, you do want to keep bugging them, and a breakup email provides a way to keep them around.

Basically, a breakup email states that you’ve noticed that the recipient hasn’t opened your messages and asks if you should continue to send them. It should also ask if there’s anything the person would like to see while also providing a few other resources/offers as an enticement to stay. If the recipient doesn’t reply or replies to unsubscribe, then you’re gone. But sometimes they will reply to stay subscribed — and that’s engagement you weren’t getting before.

One other best practice with breakup emails: Always tell readers they’re welcome to return. Even if they do unsubscribe, they’ll remember you and may come back to your brand when they’re ready.

Re-engagement emails

Similar to a breakup email, a re-engagement email aims to bring leads and customers back into the funnel if they haven’t interacted with your brand in a while. An example of this strategy is a response to an abandoned cart — someone added products to an online cart but never followed through with the sale. Those potential customers can be re-engaged via an email that reminds them that the order is still there to be completed, asks if they have any questions, and maybe even provides a one-time enticement (such as free shipping) to finish the purchase.

Tools for optimizing email marketing campaigns

Small businesses might find email marketing daunting because it sounds like too much work. Once they understand that they’re not writing hundreds of individual emails, and that email marketing and CRM solutions streamline the process with marketing automation, the strategy feels much more manageable — and it is. On top of the base software, these tools can help you make the most of your email marketing:


Segmented your mailing list within your CRM provide a means to achieve the focused email targeting that small businesses need to make personal connections. Via segmentation, email recipients receive only the information and offers relevant and resonant to them. Lists can be as basic as leads and customers or as specific as how leads came to the brand, demographics, what customers purchased and how often, and so on.

A/B testing

Some emails simply perform — in terms of open, click-through, and conversion rates — better than others. Factors that may affect performance include:

  • Time of day/week/month an email is sent
  • Subject lines
  • Images — or a lack thereof
  • Graphical or text call to action
  • Email length
  • Value of coupon or other offer

Knowing what works and what doesn’t work for your small business helps you optimize email marketing results. A/B testing — named so because you are determining if Email A or Email B is more effective after sending them — delivers strong data, from which you can narrow in on best practices for future messages.

Attribution reporting

Email is just one channel in a small business’s marketing toolbox, and understanding how it fits in among the other channels will drive your strategy even further. Attribution reporting generates data on which marketing touchpoints leads and customers are interacting with and the path they’re taking to conversion. If email is part of that journey, you need to know how much of an impact it’s making — and determine what messages you should be sending at every stage of the sales funnel.

Call tracking

Even with successful email marketing, you will find leads and customers who prefer to call your small business for more information or to place an order instead of replying or clicking to your website. In some instances, you may even want people to call you as the next interaction.

The challenge with phone calls emanating from emails is determining which campaign led to the connection. Data is so important to modern marketing — and phone calls decrease the availability of that data.

Call tracking software offers an answer by allowing you to use unique phone numbers in emails depending on the campaign or the segmented list. When a recipient calls your business, the solution automatically identifies and registers the source email. The subsequent data contributes to your reporting and confirms the efficacy of email marketing — or points you to change your strategy accordingly.

Call tracking isn’t just for email marketing — it delivers rich data for any offline channel. Download our guide, Call Tracking 101, to learn more.