Ten Small Business Email Tips and Best Practices

Illustration by Mary Delaney illustration of a person with speech bubbles surrounding their head

Email remains one of the best tools for sustaining and deepening relationships with everyone, from existing customers to new subscribers. 

The latest marketing tools may grab headlines, but simple and consistent communication keeps potential customers thinking about your products, services, and brand. And nothing does that better than email.

Why is this true?

Because email is relatively simple to use. It’s also more affordable than many other types of marketing, and just about everyone has an email address and checks it regularly. 

In general, you should be using email for two main purposes — engaging and corralling new customers and leads, and solidifying your relationship with existing ones.

If you’re not already doing so, start using the small business email tips and practices listed below to create successful email marketing campaigns. Even implementing a few of these small business email marketing tips can lead to an immediate improvement in your engagement or revenue.

1. Send more emails

Stop worrying about unsubscribes — most small businesses send far too few emails because they’re worrying about annoying people into leaving their list. Most of the time, however, this just prevents organizations from making the most of their email list.

You’re never going to keep every subscriber forever. People’s lives change, their tastes change, they move or pick up new hobbies. Use email to nurture your best customer relationships and don’t sweat too much about things you can’t control. 

There’s no exact number here. Bigger companies may want to send more emails than smaller ones, but what really matters is two things:

  • How fast your list is growing
  • How many people unsubscribe with each email you send

You want your email list to grow, so don’t send out so many emails that your unsubscribes outpace your new signups. Otherwise your list will shrink. 

But again, this is not usually the problem. Almost all small businesses send way too few emails, sometimes even less than one per month. And if you’re not staying in touch with subscribers, how will they remember you?

If you have a webinar coming up, a big new product launch, or a holiday sale, just sending one email simply doesn’t get the job done. Even your best customers won’t even see, let alone open, every email you send. It takes multiple attempts. Simply re-sending the same email to people who didn’t open it the first time — with a new subject line — will increase responses.

If you only send out a couple of emails each month, make a focused effort to get out even one more every 30 days and see how it impacts your marketing goals.

2. Send email more consistently

Consistency is more important than volume. Sending five emails one month and then zero the next is worse than sending two each month. Gently and consistently nudging yourself to the top of their mind is better than overwhelming someone and then disappearing for weeks. 

But email cadence is also not an exact science, and each business will want to find its own rhythms, again depending in part on how much your list is growing. 

And while consistency is good, you may also have the occasional email marketing campaign or special event that requires an extra high volume for a time. That’s okay. 

Some businesses — especially large ecommerce brands — send email every single day. They wouldn’t do this if it was destroying their email list and not producing something. Other businesses find a diminishing return with too frequent emails. It just depends on your business and audience.

The main thing to keep in mind is to make a plan and stick to it. If sending once a month is all you feel you have capacity for, then start there. Or try twice a month, or once a week. 

The reason consistency matters is because, even if your subscribers don’t open the email, the subject line itself serves as a connection between your small business and your customers. They’re seeing a marketing message from you. You’re returning to their minds. You’re part of their lives. And you’re contributing to stronger customer retention. 

3. Leverage email automation

Email automation can be one of your small business’ best friends. It eliminates the complaint of “I don’t have time to send all these emails.”

When customers and leads take particular actions, they should receive an email reply, and with an email service provider like MailPoet, you can automate almost all of these. For example, you can automate email replies whenever a customer:

  • Buys a product
  • Leaves something in their shopping cart — abandoned cart emails
  • Joins your email list (even segmented by a specific signup form)
  • Requests a lead magnet such as a free guide or eBook
  • Registers for a webinar
creating a WooCommerce email based on purchase category

These automated emails can be standalones, or you can create a whole series of emails, such as a welcome series. If they buy, you want them to buy again. You can ask for reviews. Motivate referrals. Show appreciation. Send rewards. Make special offers. Announce new products. Show yourself as a valuable part of their lives. 

Email automation can perform all of this, and once you have created the email and set up the automation, it just runs in the background all by itself.

4. Don’t just sell — deliver value

To stay relevant and appreciated, you must give your customers things they want. That means, don’t just keep selling. Every email cannot be yet another coupon, sale, or deal.

Send valuable content. Valuable content wins over new subscribers who haven’t bought yet. It reassures new customers that they made a good decision. It increases lifetime customer value. 

Valuable content depends on your industry to some extent, but it could be:

  • Problem-solving tips relevant to your contact list
  • Answers to common questions
  • Explanations of your return policy
  • Descriptions of your shipping options 
  • Customer success stories
  • Links to videos and social media posts
example of an email with valuable informational content
Example from Email Love

If you have the right email marketing tools, you can deliver this sort of content in automated emails such as a welcome series or a post-order email. You can also send it out in your regular email communications. When you position your small business as a resource, an asset, an authority, and a helpful and friendly guide, your email subscribers will appreciate it and not feel constantly bombarded.

5. Segment your list to increase personalization and relevance

You’ll deliver even more value if you can segment your list and use those segments effectively. For example, for a WooCommerce or other stores selling online, you could segment your customers based on:

  • Lifetime customer value
  • Product categories related to their purchase
  • Purchase frequency
  • Average order size
  • Location
  • Demographics like age, gender, and family type
  • Responsiveness to email deals
  • Special calendar days and seasons

Yes, segmentation may take more time, because it can mean creating more emails each month since different segments will receive different content. But if you can send just one email per month to four segments, that could be more effective than sending four emails per month to your entire list. 

Here’s more about the seamless integration between MailPoet and WooCommerce.

6. Create and follow an email content calendar

An email content calendar sets your plan for your ongoing email communication. Typically, you’ll map out the following items, month by month:

  • When you will send each email
  • The topic or purpose for each email
  • A call to action for each email — buy, click, read, sign up, share, etc.
  • Any additional assets required for each email, such as blog posts, product pages, and coupon codes

What this does is make you stick to your goal of sending more emails, and sending them consistently. You may not know what you’ll write for each email when you create the plan, but you will have an email on the content calendar and a chosen topic. So when it comes time to create that email, you know what you’re looking for.

7. Don’t overdo the graphics

Some small businesses feel pressured to make design-heavy emails because they look better. And since design-heavy emails take more time and effort to create, the business owner puts off their next email marketing campaign because they’re too busy. 

If you don’t have time to make graphics, then don’t! Send emails that are mostly text or even an entirely plain text email. Email is first and foremost about showing up, staying relevant, and remaining on the minds of your customers. Trying to make the “perfect” email, but taking weeks to do it, will not generate as much value for your small business as sending out emails every week, even if they don’t have tons of fancy graphics.

Plus, text emails feel more personal and less like marketing. Ideally, you can create a healthy mix of graphics and text, because this will engage more subscribers who respond to different stimuli. 

Pro tip: Because some email users have graphics disabled in their mailboxes, you should include text links for your calls to action instead of only positioning these in graphics. 

If your small business site is on WordPress, you already have an advantage in this department because you can use one of MaiPoet’s WordPress email templates to create a beautifully-designed email. This allows you to balance text and graphics, but doesn’t take hours to build. 

examples of WordPress email templates

8. Use email to grow your SMS list

SMS marketing is growing in popularity, and for good reason. Receiving a text from a small business feels different from receiving an email. Plus, texts are shorter and get a nearly 100% open rate.

Email is one of the most effective tools to grow your SMS list, because you can regularly mention it to your contact list and give mobile users the opportunity to opt in to receive texts from your small business. Plus, many people check email from their phone, so they can take action right then and there. Your existing customers are your warmest audience for this. And once they’re on your SMS list, you can market to them using two channels, not just one. 

9. Get permission

Speaking of opting in, you need to make sure all your email subscribers have given explicit permission to join your email marketing list. Email compliance regulations such as GDPR are quickly becoming the norm, so make sure you aren’t adding customers without their permission.

What this means for ecommerce stores and other small businesses: 

If customers give you their email address during the purchase process, you must provide them an option to give their express permission to receive marketing emails from you. Email platforms such as MailPoet make this easy. 

option to subscribe to a newsletter at checkout

You can’t just add their email addresses to your list because they ordered something from you. If you do, they can report your message as spam and damage your sender reputation. This means that even legitimate subscribers may end up finding you in their spam folder instead of their inbox.

10. Keep your email reputation strong

Lastly, modern email marketing strategies require paying attention to the health of your email list. 

If you consistently send emails to expired or non-existent addresses, the companies that fight email spam and look for abusive practices will take notice. This can cause your emails to get delivered less often — even to loyal subscribers. 

What this means for small businesses online:

  • Pay attention to bounce rates
  • Remove email addresses that bounce repeatedly, or get reported as non-existent
  • Keep your list clean of inactive subscribers

A good rule is to create segments of subscribers who haven’t opened or clicked on any emails in a certain period of time, such as a year. 

Once or twice a year, update this list segment, and send them a ‘reactivation campaign.’ This short series of emails gives these subscribers the option to confirm they want to remain on your email list. It’s a good idea to include a special offer in a reactivation campaign, because you want them to stay. And as made clear earlier, this email marketing campaign should include several messages, because not everyone sees each one.

Pro tip: Don’t beat around the bush with subject lines here. Be very direct — “Want to remain on our email list?” “Still want to hear from us?” “Are you still there?” Subjects like these have no ambiguity. Some people really are just busy, but like being on your list even though they don’t engage that often. 

This is called list hygiene, and it’s a good thing to do once or twice a year, in addition to regularly removing emails that bounced back as undeliverable. 

Need help with email automation and marketing?

MailPoet is quickly becoming the go-to email platform for small businesses and ecommerce stores. It makes email automation, segmentation, and consistent sending easy, and if you have WooCommerce, MailPoet connects with your data and will report on metrics showing how your email marketing is influencing revenue. It can also help you recover abandoned carts and grow subscribers in a GDPR-compliant way. 

MailPoet also has a built-in SMTP service for WordPress, so you can handle your transactional and marketing emails in a single place for a more consistent experience for both you and your subscribers.

Sign up for a free MailPoet plan here.