The Small Business Guide to Email Marketing

Laptop, pen paper on table depicting email marketer

In the world of digital marketing, email marketing is nothing new. It may not be as hip as Snapchat or Periscope, but three-quarters of marketers think that email marketing is essential. There’s a reason for that. It’s still one of the most effective ways of communicating with customers and driving sales.

51% of marketers rate email marketing as their most effective channel, followed by SEO (45%) and Adwords (34%). No surprise here, given that these are the most established and easiest activities from which to determine ROI. (Research from Dave Chaffey of Smart Insights fame.)

If email marketing is not part of your marketing mix, it’s time to incorporate it. This guide will help you get started!

What Is Email Marketing?

Email marketing is a personal and rapid way of getting your message in front of your customers, enabling you to communicate directly with a group of them at once, while maintaining a meaningful relationship. It can also give you insights into how many of your customers are reading your communications and how effective your emails are in driving sales or website traffic.

Email marketing campaigns allow you to tell customers about new products and services, ask them to complete surveys, take part in competitions or any number of other interactions. Increased levels of personalisation mean that you can send your customers communications that tally with their interests and online behaviours, helping you influence their decisions in a very personal way.

Email marketing statistic

There is power in email marketing; 66% of UK online shoppers have made a purchase from a business as a direct result of email marketing campaigns, demonstrating the importance of an email list.

Who Should Use Email Marketing?

Anyone who runs a business should be using email marketing, whether you’re a large clothing company or a small one-person business selling electronics.

Email marketing is useful to anyone who wants to sell something; it’s simply a way of letting your customers know what you have to offer. Now more than ever, emails can reach people at any time, whether they’re in front of their computer at work, relaxing at home, or on the commute passing the time on their smartphone. This gives you the power to communicate and market to customers practically anywhere.

Bear that in mind as we go through this guide.

How to Get Started With Email Marketing

So where do you start? Well, it’s simpler than you might think, not to mention one of the cheapest ways to advertise new products or services.

Firstly, you need a website or somewhere to put a form for customers to sign up for your emails. Assuming you already have somewhere where you sell your products or services, this is usually where you’d host a sign-up form enabling users to sign up.

Pop up sign up forms gain more email subscribers

There are many ways of doing this; some marketers have a pop-up appear when customers first visit the website, while others have a box somewhere on the homepage. Research last year found that pop-up sign-up forms achieved an incredible 1375% more subscribers than their homepage counterparts.

A caveat here – I hate pop-ups. They offer web users a terrible experience. But there’s no denying they work.

After this, it’s time to get creative and plan and prepare the emails to send to your customers! Below, we’ll discuss the type of emails you should send, how many and best practices.

Top Tips for Happy Email Marketing

[icon type=”glyphicon glyphicon-pencil” color=”#ba1e51″] Making the opt-in process compelling will help increase you subscriber numbers. Many companies use discount codes or even unique content in order to get customers signed up. You could also sign up existing customers at the point of purchase with a check box option and a promise of exclusive offers

[icon type=”glyphicon glyphicon-pencil” color=”#ba1e51″] Making the opt-in process compelling will help increase you subscriber numbers. Many companies use discount codes or even unique content in order to get customers signed up. You could also sign up existing customers at the point of purchase with a check box option and a promise of exclusive offers

[icon type=”glyphicon glyphicon-pencil” color=”#ba1e51″] If you’re planning to send regular newsletters to customers, you don’t want subscribers to become bored. Make sure content is fresh and relevant with new products and services, fun news items and chances for engagement. Which takes us to our next point…

[icon type=”glyphicon glyphicon-pencil” color=”#ba1e51″] A competition is a great way to get subscribers active, talking about you, and engaging with your business. Consider hosting monthly competitions or giveaways in order to increase goodwill in your customers and keep them reading your emails.

[icon type=”glyphicon glyphicon-pencil” color=”#ba1e51″] Headlines in your emails should always (and we mean, always) be relevant to the content of the email. Never try to dupe or deceive your subscribers or they will simply stop opening your emails or unsubscribe altogether.

[icon type=”glyphicon glyphicon-pencil” color=”#ba1e51″] Don’t spam your customers’ inboxes. How regularly you should email will depend on the nature of your business. A fast fashion retailer may well use weekly emails to show off new stock, while monthly emails may be more suitable for a furniture showroom.

[icon type=”glyphicon glyphicon-pencil” color=”#ba1e51″] According to Hubspot, around 80.8% of your subscribers will read your emails on a mobile device, so create your emails in line with this — a width of around 500 to 600 pixels should be ideal to give a user-friendly experience.

[icon type=”glyphicon glyphicon-pencil” color=”#ba1e51″] Set up a quick survey for anyone unsubscribing to complete, so you can figure out why they’re leaving.

[icon type=”glyphicon glyphicon-pencil” color=”#ba1e51″] Use analytics to monitor the click-through and conversion rates of your emails so you can assess what works and what doesn’t and learn from it.

[icon type=”glyphicon glyphicon-pencil” color=”#ba1e51″] When people sign up to your list, be sure to send them a thank-you email; it might seem insignificant, but it really gives a human touch and helps make customers feel more positively about your brand.

[icon type=”glyphicon glyphicon-pencil” color=”#ba1e51″] If your emails are relevant and engaging, customers will want to share with their friends and family. You can prompt them to forward your emails on with a call to action, or even incentivise them with a referral scheme.

Top Tools for Email Marketing

Tim 'the toolman' taylor holding a wrench

Does anyone remember this guy?

Here’s a list of free email marketing tools to make your life easier. Enjoy!


MailChimp is one of the biggest names in email marketing, and is a fantastic tool to collect information from customers, and organise your email schedule. If you have 2,000 subscribers or less and plan to send less than 12,000 emails in a month (e.g., no more than six emails in one month going out to a maximum of 2,000 subscribers each time) you can use the free plan.
MailChimp also includes an email designer that lets you customise existing templates, making your emails more visually engaging. Alternatively, you can paste in the HTML code for an email you’ve created elsewhere.
You can even build your list using Facebook and WordPress thanks to the ability to embed forms directly into those platforms — perfect for making it easy to sign up for your customers.

If your list does grow above 2,000 subscribers, it’s affordable to upgrade with paid packages starting from $10 USD a month, which comes with some extra features not available to free users.


Sumome is another great piece of software, that doesn’t just focus on actually building your list, but helping you to figure out how to get even more people signed up to it.

One of the features offered by Sumome are heat maps; a tool where you can see where visitors to your site are clicking most often (or not in some cases). This will help you to figure out where most visitors’ attention is spent, and move your opt-in form to that location, increasing visibility and engagement.

They also include a host of other features, such as easy to make contact forms, content analytics, imager sharing tools and much more.

Sumome is also free for those just starting out with email marketing, and will only begin charging you when you’re ready to expand.

Constant Contact

Constant Contact offers a 60-day free trial, and is designed to help you create incredible and professional-looking emails. Like the other tools, they also help you to grow your list and also manage your contacts. Even better, they also offer tools to help track your emails, how many times they’re opened and when, and so on.


While Litmus only offers a 7-day free trial, what they do offer is a very comprehensive list of tools. Email previews, an email building tool, page testing and more. There’s even a tool to check whether your emails are being received as spam, very useful if you don’t want your emails ending up in the bin.

Litmus will help you create your emails to a high standard and will help you ensure that they look good and are received well. There are three pricing plans, with each subsequent plan offering more features.

Bear in mind that Litmus is not an email provider; they’re there to make beautiful emails, while an application such as MailChimp is there to send the emails.

So there you have it – a solid list of tips to help you build and grow your email marketing list, as well as a host of great tools to use when creating and sending emails.

Follow the advice contained within this guide, and you’ll find yourself with a strong and loyal list in absolutely no time!