April 6, 2023

How to get started with email marketing

Brett Surbey
Content Writer
With Firstbase since:

Technological change in your business is an inevitable fact. The best businesses that stand the ebbs and flows of the market are those that can adapt quickly. Considering how vital adaptability is to the success of a business in general, should your marketing strategy follow suit? Not necessarily. 

Although it may be tempting to revamp your entire approach to client intake and retention, one tried-and-true method you don’t want to remove is email marketing.

What is email marketing? 

Sending a personalized message to a customer’s inbox has been around for decades (since the 1970s, to be exact). In its simplest form, email marketing is sending a message to a prospective client to notify them of a sale or other promotion.

Email marketing is one of the few approaches that allow businesses to connect with potential clients on a more personal level. A message in a client’s inbox is a way of approaching them rather than them approaching you – by reading your blog, for example. 

This is one of the many reasons why email marketing continues to bring in a solid return on investment (ROI) for businesses of all sizes. 

Is email marketing effective?

According to a report from Statista in 2021, the number of email users is expected to increase to 4.6 billion in 2025. That means there is a serious market out there for your business to capitalize on. Still, is this market profitable?

A study from the marketing giant Litmus shows email marketing having an astounding $36 return for every $1 spent by marketers. Depending on the industry, this ratio can be even higher. In retail and e-commerce industries, email marketing has $42 return on the dollar. These points definitively speak to the effectiveness of email marketing strategies.

However, you might be thinking that such positive stats might not apply to a business that is just getting onto the email marketing scene. That’s a fair point. Here’s how businesses new to this marketing approach can learn to excel with it. 

How do you get an email list?

An email list, or a collection of individuals that choose to receive your messages on a recurring basis, is the foundation of any email marketing campaign. Here are some easy ways to attract subscribers.

  • Create a signup form on your website. By placing an intake form on various pages throughout your site, you can turn website visitors into email subscribers. Bonus points if you include a link to your email list in some of your high-ranking blog posts.
  • Announce your email program on social media. Sharing your new email newsletter form on your website won’t be enough. Take the time to tap into your social media resources – especially if you have a large following – to increase your subscriber count.
  • Offer an exchange. Instead of asking customers to sign up with no incentive, offering value upfront gives them a reason to provide their contact information. A coupon, e-book, or other lead magnet can be a potent motivator.  
  • Don’t ask for details. At this stage, asking for specific details (e.g. age, profession) in your signup form will only make things more complicated. You can always ask for more details later on, just focus on getting people signed up. 

Starting an email marketing campaign from the ground up

Any marketing venture can be daunting, especially if you have not attempted something similar. This four-pronged approach has everything you need to get your email program up and running after building an email list.

1. Formulate your approach

If you’ve taken the time to do market research, this step will be relatively easy. Before starting, it is best to come up with a plan to deliver your email program. To come up with a strategy that works for your business, three objectives need to be met: understand your audience, segment your recipients, and establish your sending frequency.

Understand your audience

First, understand who you’re writing for. Get into the shoes of your readers. This first step is especially pertinent for email communications, as the messages need to be tailored to your audience to ensure they have high open and conversion rates.

Once you know who the audience is, you’ll have a better idea of how to create content that responds to their interests and concerns.

You can also use other interactions to gain a deeper understanding of your audience. For example, if you consistently receive support requests on a particular topic, consider covering that subject in your email content. Tapping into your audience’s point of view doesn’t need to be complex – just intentional. 

Segment your subscribers

Once you have a general audience in mind, now you need to connect to specific segments within that audience. The more narrowly you segment your audience, the easier it becomes to connect with their interests. Segmentation will also help you avoid sending content that doesn’t apply to a particular audience.

Imagine you’re running an IT services company. You know that your general audience consists of older individuals who need basic tech support. By performing a simple survey through your website, you can further filter the exact type of support they need.

With this data, you can create email lists for those specific issues. These emails can be sent to those individuals who participated in the survey to directly answer their questions and secure your place as an industry expert.  

Determine sending frequency 

While there isn’t a hard and fast rule about email frequency, you always need to be careful to avoid flooding your audience’s inboxes. This is one of the easiest ways to drive away subscribers and waste the email list you spent so much time and effort building.

The ideal frequency depends on a variety of factors including the preferences of your audience and the type of content you’re producing. If you’re running a brief newsletter about financial news, it might make sense to send out multiple emails every week.

On the other hand, if your emails consist of general business practices for small business owners, it could be better to send less often. Complex ideas need time to percolate, and you can only take up so much of your readers’ time. Finding an optimal balance is a key element of email marketing.

2. Craft your emails 

Once you have an overall approach in mind, creating the emails is the next step. Here are some key tips to keep in mind when drafting your first emails.

Keep it simple

While it may be tempting to add all of the insights you came up with during your audience research, maintaining one key point per message will keep your audience focused. Too much information serves to distract. Here’s an example.

Imagine you’re creating emails for fintech entrepreneurs. Given the immense amount of information on the financial market, it might be tough to find a unique way to cover this topic.

Still, it’s usually better to stick with simple, digestible topics. If your email is too crowded, they aren’t going to remember you or your content. 

Second, a single point gives you a foundation to build an email sequence that follows up on that idea. Having multiple focal points in an email message takes away your ability to create a flowing narrative or instructive lesson. 

Perfect the subject line

The most important part of every email is the subject line. It’s the first impression you give customers, so it needs to be accurate but also intriguing.

Keep in mind that you only get a handful of words for your subject line. Anything beyond about 40 characters could be cut off by the recipient’s email client — especially on mobile. You should generally keep subject lines below about 60 characters, with the awareness that some users may see even less.

Only about 20% of emails get opened, which means that the vast majority are ignored. The subject line is your best chance to stand out and motivate readers to open the message. Focus on concision, urgency, and communicating the unique value of your email.

Design on-brand

As your newsletter is an extension of your business, it also needs to reflect your brand. Readers should recognize your brand style and tone regardless of whether they’re looking at your website, emails, social media profiles, or anything else.

This sense of familiarity is critical when it comes to keeping audiences engaged. Remember that they provided their email address because they liked your messaging in the first place. Keeping that tone the same is simply giving them what they signed up for. 

3. Test, test, and test

Perhaps the most important part of the email process is the testing phase. Once you have sent out your first campaign, track key metrics like: 

  • Open rate 
  • Click-through rate 
  • Share rate 
  • Forward percentage 

This data will allow you to later pinpoint where you need to focus your efforts for your next campaign. You can also use a well-known testing system to highlight certain variables more than others: A/B testing. 

A/B testing 

In its simplest form, A/B testing is sending out two email campaigns, each to a different set of subscribers. These campaigns are identical except for a variable you choose. Here’s an example.

You send out an email campaign to Group A and Group B. Each email set uses the exact same content, but the subject line for Group B is worded differently. Group A’s subject line reads, “25% off our new product,” whereas Group B’s says, “Our new product is 25% off.”

Changing one variable allows you to test variations to identify your best ideas and move on from the ideas that are less successful. Small changes in A/B testing can add up to large results. 

4. Adapt accordingly 

The final step in any successful email campaign is adapting your emails in response to new data. After measuring some of these metrics, you should have generated several reports showing your findings. These insights can be implemented in future campaigns.

To give you a head start on your efforts, below are some points to help you understand your findings and adjust accordingly.

  • High open rates but low click-through rates? Consider why the body of your emails isn’t motivating your audience to click through.
  • Low open rates? Start testing new subject lines.
  • High unsubscribe rates? Review your sending frequency or check for low-quality content markers (typos, images not loading, et cetera). Remember to periodically remove inactive subscribers from your list.
  • Low forward rate or share percentage? Consider adding memorable content such as images and GIFs  to increase reader interest.

It can be overwhelming to have a plethora of different variables in front of you, so remember to adjust one thing at a time to accurately measure changes. Adjusting too many things at once won’t pinpoint what worked.

Looking for more insights on running a startup? 

Email marketing can feel like a daunting task if you are trying it for the first time. Segmenting your approach and taking on one step at a time will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed. Remember, marketing is a marathon, not a sprint – email included. If you’re looking for more technical advice for your startup, check out our Founder’s Guide for all the details on incorporating in the US.

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