Want to know which marketing channel has the highest ROI? Email. Yes, that’s right—this relatively archaic form of communication boasts an impressive 4,400% ROI, a number most other marketing methods don’t even come close to reaching. Facebook marketing, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, and search engine optimization (SEO) steal the modern marketing spotlight. They’re new(er), flashier, and powerful—and certainly deserve a spot in any marketing strategy. However, you can’t beat the classics. Email isn’t flashy, but it sure is effective. While an effective email marketing program isn’t quite as simple as logging into your Gmail account and generating sales (wouldn’t that be nice), it’s, fortunately, simpler than most marketing channels. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know to launch, maintain, and advance a dynamic email marketing program. Choose An Email Marketing Service Email marketing services provide advanced features and functionality to help you send better emails to your customers. Services like Twilio SendGrid, Mailchimp, and Constant Contact offer valuable email tools like: Automation Third-party integrations List management Segmentation A/B testing Email templates Scheduling Scalability Deliverability And more Each tool offers different options and functionalities. As you look into all your choices, you should consider what you need. How big is your existing email list, and what is your goal list size? Is it important to have a custom email template? Do you need a visual editor, or will someone be coding your emails? With so many email platforms out there with so many different functionalities, it might feel impossible to choose just one. To help you get started, here are overviews for three popular options for small business owners. Twilio SendGrid SendGrid is one of the few email tools that offers a free version, which lets you send up to 100 emails per day. (Paid accounts start at $19.95/month.) If you have a small email list, this is a great option, but they also support sends to over 1,000 users, as well. They boast an easy-to-use interface, simple segmentation, and 24/7 live chat support. It’s worth noting, on the negative side, SendGrid does not offer any user training. Mailchimp MailChimp offers free accounts for up to 500 contacts, as well as a free trial. Depending on your account level, you can use pre-built or custom email templates, deploy A/B tests, and create automated customer journeys. They have 24/7 support and offer assisted onboarding for paid accounts. Paid Mailchimp plans start at $13/month. Constant Contact Constant Contact enables multiple users, which is great if more than one person manages your email marketing. You can start with a free trial and then select your plan based on your desired features. Constant Contact offers an automated welcome email for new contacts, resends for non-openers, and social media ad integrations. Their plans start at $12/month. Based on this and other information available on their websites, you’ll need to select the email service provider that best fits your business’ needs. If you’re debating which one to choose, play around with the free plans, trials, and demos to see which you like best. Your choice should be informed by your non-negotiables (like list size), usability, and cost. Many email platforms offer discounts, particularly for non-profits, so it might be worth looking into that as well. Remember, you can always switch providers in the future. It can cause a minor headache, but it’s not too complicated—so don’t roadblock yourself with paralysis by analysis. Choose a program and move forward with confidence. Compare Email Marketing Platforms Start Collecting Email Addresses Now that you have a reliable platform to store and maintain your contacts, it’s time to start collecting email addresses. Common Methods For Consumer Product Companies Opt-in forms - Near the footer on your website, invite visitors to sign up for emails to keep up with the newest products and sales. Pop-ups - Create a pop-up on your website encouraging first-time site visitors to sign up to receive your emails. Live chat - If your website has a live chat function, it should capture emails so that customers can keep track of their conversations. If it’s a chatbot, this can also be a mechanism for segmentation, as the bot asks customers what they’re looking for. Giveaway - Run a giveaway through your site and ask entrants to provide their email address. Promotional code - Offer a first order discount in exchange for users’ emails. Common Methods For Consumer Services Companies Opt-in forms - Create an email signup form to feature throughout your website. Pop-ups - Build a pop-up for site visitors to sign up for emails. This can also include some sort of special deal or offer for first-time customers. Blog - Make a form for site visitors to subscribe to your blog via email. Common Methods For B2B Companies Opt-in forms - This is such a basic email capture method that it’s on all three lists! Allow users to opt into emails throughout your site. Informational content -Offer valuable downloads like white papers in exchange for emails. Free trials - Give users a free trial and capture their emails in the process. Webinars - Require users to provide their email address as they register for your webinars. The European Union’s privacy law, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), went into effect May 25, 2018. It’s a massive document filled with legal jargon, but these are the highlights you need for email marketing. To gain legal permission to email a person, you need to collect consent that is: Freely given Specific Informed Unambiguous Basically, this means your recipients need to know (and agree to) what they’re getting into when they hand over their email addresses. That means if a customer hands over their email address when making a purchase, that doesn’t permit you to send them marketing emails, unless they consent to that specifically. How to Build an Email List to Market Your Business Develop Your Email Marketing Strategy In order for your email marketing to have strong ROI, you need to start with strategy. Here are some things to consider when developing your small business email marketing strategy. Intention What are you trying to accomplish with email? Emails can help with lead generation, sales, engagement, and more. Once you’ve set an intention, attach some numbers to it. Set a goal for your list size, open rate, and sales. Send Schedule How many emails do you want to send per month? Don’t fall into the trap of thinking more is better. The best email send schedule is one that is realistic for your schedule and workload (and that doesn’t overwhelm your customers). Creating a Design Email design is more than a flashy banner and a clever subject line. Let the content inform the design. If you’re promoting sales, what will that look like? If you’re sending a monthly update, what information needs to be included? Consider what your CTAs (calls to action) will be and integrate them throughout. Remember: emails should be easy to skim and engaging to read. Test Once your platform is set up and you’re ready to start sending emails, be sure to test everything before you send out your first piece. Ensure your emails are set up to follow the CAN-SPAM Act to avoid any penalties, and double-check that everything is displaying and linked properly. How to Develop Your Email Marketing Strategy Segment Your Audiences Your audience may have a lot in common, but they also each have unique wants and preferences. Segment your audiences so that you can send targeted messages that best resonate with each individual. For example, if you’re an athletic clothing retailer, your male hiking recipient might not care very much about your female cycling clothing sales. Instead, use sign-up form data and email interactions to segment him into a more appropriate list—perhaps an email newsletter about hiking, camping, and backpacking equipment. The Essential Email Newsletter Checklist Create a Compelling Email Design While your email design capability depends on your email platform (and your own capabilities), there are a few tips that can help any email design. Make sure it’s on brand - Don’t branch out and bring in five different colors that don’t show up anywhere in your brand book or logo. Use styling that is consistent with the rest of your brand’s look and feel. Start with a strong lead - Your subject line, header, and opening line all play a role in capturing subscribers’ attention. Make them catchy, but still relevant to the email’s content. Design and test for both mobile and desktop - Forty-six percent of email opens occur on mobile now. It’s crucial your emails are presentable on both platforms. KISS (Keep It Short and Simple) - Your subscribers don’t want to be overwhelmed by a wall of text or excessive information. The intention of the email should be very clear, and the email itself shouldn’t be too long, either with too much text or too many images. Don’t forget the CTAs - Even if your email is simply informative and isn’t driving a sale, it should still push traffic back to your website. Be sure to include at least a few CTAs where it makes sense. How to Create a Compelling Email Design For Your Small Business Set Up Simple Email Automation Email automation can help to clear your busy plate. Most email service providers offer automation features that allow you to send emails based on specific criteria. For example, if someone signs up for your email list, they’ll automatically receive a welcome email. Or if someone makes a purchase, they’ll automatically receive a review request in a few weeks. Setting up automations is relatively simple, and it’ll remove a lot of your nitty-gritty responsibilities. Start simple with automated welcome emails. Down the road, you can get more complex and start adding upsell and cross-sell automations, too. A/B Test Your Emails to Find What Resonates A/B testing is a simple way to improve your email program. A/B email testing is the process of creating various emails with slight differences to determine which option performs better. Twilio SendGrid, for example, allows you to create multiple variations of each email—they’ll test a certain percentage of each variation on a small portion of your list and send the most successful version to the bulk of your recipients. A/B testing is a great way to discover what resonates most with your audience. For example, you may find that emails with a discount in the subject line get more opens than those without. Or you may see that emails with a green background perform better than those with a red or blue background. These insights can inform your strategy for future email campaigns. Follow Email-List Hygiene Best Practices The world of email has rules. Follow the rules, and you’ll boost your email marketing campaign’s performance. Ignore the rules, and your program will suffer. The most important part of any email marketing program is its email list. To maintain a legitimate and healthy list, you’ll need to follow a few best practices: Honor unsubscribes - If someone unsubscribes from your list, stop sending them emails. If you don’t, customers may flag your emails as spam, which will decrease your chances of landing in the inbox with other recipients. Regularly clean your list - If users aren’t opening your emails, you’ll need to remove them from your sending list. Check to see who’s not opening your emails. Sending to unengaged recipients can damage your sending reputation. While you’re at it, check for bounced and invalid emails, too. Sending to nonexistent email addresses (fake or mistyped) can hurt your delivery rates, too. Confirm email subscriptions - When someone gives you their email address, send them a double opt-in email to confirm their intent. This will prevent bots and other bad email addresses from landing on your email list. Regularly Review Your Sending Stats Just like you’d do with your financial documents and other business metrics, it’s important to sit down regularly and review your email-sending stats. Your email service provider will provide several telling metrics: Opens Clicks Click-through rates Unsubscribes Spam reports Etc. Look for trends and anomalies to find ways to improve your program. If open rates are dropping, then you know you’re going to need to make some changes. And if an email had an incredible click-through rate, dive deep into the campaign to find out what caused the jump, so you can replicate its success in future emails. Looking at the data will also reveal which days and times work best for your recipients and what kinds of content resonate best with them. Your email stats can even provide critical insights to improve your other online and offline marketing efforts. Hire Help When Necessary Email can be simple and straightforward, but it also has some advanced functionalities that require an expert’s touch to master. If you’re experiencing any difficulties (like delivery issues) or want to take your program to the next level, you’ll likely need to hire an email specialist. Most email service providers provide extra expert help at a small cost. Mailchimp provides “specialized service partners” who can help you to do everything from building out automations to designing custom templates. Twilio SendGrid provides email experts who can partner with you to set up your program for success, resolve sending issues, or offer ongoing consulting. You could also find and hire an email specialist on a part-time or contract basis from your LinkedIn network or another recruitment platform. Just make sure your candidate is trained and familiar with the specific email service provider you’re using. Make Email a Big Part of Your Small Business Make email a marketing priority as soon as possible. This program can take a little time to pick up momentum, but once you start collecting email addresses and sending campaigns, you’ll quickly gain traction. It might seem counterintuitive—but given the consumer preferences discussed previously, you should establish your email program before you even start optimizing your social media profiles. Email is where modern customers want to communicate with your business, so don’t wait to satisfy their demands. Email might seem like a teeny-tiny part of your marketing program, but it can make a monolithic impact when used correctly. Follow the steps above, and you’ll be well on your way toward creating your business’s most lucrative revenue-driving channel.