Posted on April 8, 2015
Filed Under (Email Marketing) by jennifer

Small business owners often spend a lot of time getting people to opt-in or subscribe to their email newsletters and lists. However, they often don’t exert the same effort to ensure that these customers they worked so hard to get stay engaged. And then they are puzzled (and annoyed) when an “unsubscribed” notification shows up in their in box.

So what can small business owners do to keep customers from unsubscribing from their email lists? Here are the top seven reasons people opt out of email.

1. They never signed up, or didn’t realize they signed up, for your email list.

2. You’re emailing them too often.

3. They can’t properly view your email.

4. Your email is too cluttered or looks unprofessional.

5. The content isn’t relevant to them.

6. You’re always trying to sell them something.

7. They feel your content is boring, unoriginal and/or repetitive.

To find out what you can do to avoid these email marketing issues and keep customers from clicking that ‘unsubscribe’ button, check out my article “Top 7 reasons people unsubscribe from your email list.”

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Posted on November 17, 2014
Filed Under (Email Marketing) by jennifer

holiday_ecommerceHanukkah and Christmas are just around the corner. And if you are planning to entice shoppers into your online or bricks-and-mortar store via email marketing this holiday season, you need to make sure your email marketing campaigns stand out from the hundreds of other holiday email offers.

So what can small business owners do to increase the likelihood that their holiday email messages will be opened and clicked on? Follow these 11 tops tips from small business owners and email marketing pros to make sure your email marketing delivers this holiday season.

1. Make the most of your subject line, by being specific about what it is you are offering — and using words like holiday gift ideas, sale, and free shipping.

2. Put the most important information in the first two sentences of your email, so it will show up in preview.

3. Include holiday-related photos, especially ones showing your product in a holiday setting — better yet, being opened as a gift.

4. Make your copy clear and concise — and don’t forget a call to action and link to a landing page.

5. Notify customers of delivery deadlines, to make sure gifts are received on time.

6. Use limited-time offers to spark interest and create urgency.

7. Give back to your most loyal and returning customers, by offering them a discount, free shipping, or a small gift for ordering from you this holiday season or referring a friend.

8. Make sure your email campaigns are mobile friendly, i.e., can be properly or clearly viewed on smart phones and tablets as well as laptop computers.

9. Segment your email, targeting customers based on previous purchases, geography, or interests.

10. Don’t bombard people’s in boxes — and avoid peak work and family times, sending email early in the morning, at lunchtime, at the end of the work day, or on weekends, when people have more time to read them.

11. Create a seamless experience, so that your email branding and messages matches the branding and messaging on your website and social media pages.

For more information about each tip, please read my article, “How to Use Email Marketing to Increase Sales This Holiday Season.”

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free_publicity_diagramAs a small business owner (I recently launched my first ecommerce business, Prepster Pineapple, a line of Hawaii-inspired cotton clothing), I know how important it is to get your name out there. I also know what it’s like to have a small marketing budget. However, as someone who has covered small business and ecommerce for years (for a number of publications) AND has worked in marketing and public relations (PR), I am here to tell you, it is possible to market or publicize your small business on a small budget.

Following are six inexpensive ways to publicize your small business.

1. Make sure the major search engines — Google, Bing, Yahoo — know about your website, so you will show up in organic searches. This should happen automatically, after your site has been up and running for a few days (or weeks). But if you want to make sure Google, say, will find you, you can ask Google to crawl your website. For additional information on this topic, check out this great post titled “Getting Listed & Ranked in Google, Yahoo and Bing” from 2 Create a Website.

2. Create a Facebook page for your business — and post on it regularly. A Facebook business page is a great way to publicize your business by directly engaging and interacting with your fans and prospective customers. Setting up a Facebook business page is simple. Just follow the instructions on Facebook’s “How to create a Facebook business page” page. (You can find the Prepster Pineapple Facebook page here.) In addition, many ecommerce platforms, such as the one I use, BigCommerce, make it easy for you to sell your products on your Facebook business page. And Facebook is free! You just need to invest some time adding new posts or photos that you think would be of interest to your Facebook fans and responding to comments.

3. Establish a Twitter handle for your small business. Not every small business needs or will benefit from having a Twitter presence, but it can be a real boon for small retailers who want to let people know about limited-edition items or sales or promotions and for food truck owners, to let customers when they will be in the neighborhood and where. (I have one friend who got a Twitter account just so he could keep track of his favorite food truck. And he is not alone.) Note: For those who already have a personal Twitter account, I highly recommend establishing a separate Twitter account dedicated to your business. Unless you run a bar, do you really want customers to know you went out and got drunk with the girls again last night and are so hungover you can hardly see straight? (While you may say, I would never do that! Trust me, it happens.)

4. Email people. Use email, either your business (or personal) email account or a service like Constant Contact, to tell your friends, relatives, and colleagues about your business, new products, or services. Just be careful to only email people when you actually have something to say — and don’t bombard their in-boxes with daily missives, unless they’ve signed up to receive daily emails on your website. (For tips on how to gain customers via email marketing, check out my recent article on the subject here.)

5. Put out press releases. Contrary to what some of you may think, press releases are still a great way to get the word out about your business. And there are many wire services (services that will host and broadcast your press release) that are targeted at small businesses, such as SBWire. I personally have been using PR Newswire’s Small Business PR service, as PR Newswire is well established and has a good reputation.  They also offered me a great deal: Membership was only $99 for the first year and press releases, distributed through PR Newswire’s WebRelease PLUS service for small businesses, are only $249 for the first 500 words — and they threw in the use one of their supplemental distribution lists, a $625 value, for free for my first press release.

6. Sign up to be a source on Help a Reporter. As a reporter, I use Help a Reporter, known as HARO (for Help a Reporter Out), all the time. And I have encountered dozens of small businesses and small business owners I would have never known about otherwise. (Thank you, Peter Shankman.) Prices range from free, for the basic service, to $19/month for Standard service (which includes a profile, keyword search, and text alerts — and is a lot less expensive than hiring a PR agency), to $149/month for the Premium package.

Have another suggestion regarding how entrepreneurs can inexpensively publicize their small business? Please leave me a comment.

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Posted on January 14, 2013
Filed Under (Email Marketing) by jennifer

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of email marketing’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

“For all the popularity of social media, 92 percent of adult internet users maintain at least one email account and 59 percent of marketers say they believe email is the best outlet for generating revenue,” says John Hayes, marketing strategist, iContact, Vocus’s email marketing arm. Indeed, if anything, the increase in the use of social media and mobile devices has increased email marketing’s effectiveness. That said, there are always ways to improve your email marketing.

To find out how your small business can generate a better return–or click-through rate–on your email marketing campaigns this year, I interviewed experts from Constant Contact, Emma, iContact, and Mad Mimi. Following are their top suggestions for how your email marketing campaigns can reach and convert more customers in 2013.

1. Keep in mind that more people are increasingly using smart phones (over 123 million in the U.S. alone) and tablets (over 70 million) to read and send emails, as well as shop.

2. Forget the bells and whistles (i.e., video and slow-to-load images).

3. Link your email to your social networking accounts (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube).

4. Educate readers instead of constantly selling to them.

5. Use a targeted, interest- or demographic-specific approach instead of sending out one-size-fits-all mass mailings.

6. Include an email signup form on key landing pages, not just on your Home page.

7. Don’t underestimate the value of permissions marketing.

To learn more about these seven email marketing tips, check out my article, “7 Email Marketing Tips to Gain Customers in 2013.” And feel free to share your own email marketing tips in the Comments section.

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Posted on January 20, 2011
Filed Under (Email Marketing, Social Media) by jennifer

2010 may have been the Year of Social Media Marketing. But email marketing is still alive and well. And, experts say, if you want to truly optimize your small business marketing, you need to use both email marketing and social media. Indeed, one of the biggest small business marketing trends predicted for 2011 is the integration of email marketing with social media.

What other email marketing trends and tips will be hot in 2011? To find the answer, I spoke with leading email marketers Constant Contact and Campaigner. Here’s the short version of what they had to say.

1. Integrate your email marketing with your social media campaigns.

2. Make your email marketing campaigns mobile.

3. Engage readers — instead of having a one-way conversation.

4. Keep the content brief and to the point.

5. Don’t go overboard on images or design.

6. Tie campaigns to seasonal events or down times.

7. Track email campaigns to determine what’s working and what’s not.

To learn more, including what Campaigner and Constant Contact are advising their customers to do to improve open and click through rates, go to my article, “Top 7 Email Marketing Trends & Tips for 2011” on SmallBusinessComputing.com.

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Posted on January 7, 2011
Filed Under (Advice, Email Marketing, General Business) by jennifer

Follow these 10 simple tips to create emails people will actually open, read, and respond to.

1. Have your own email address, which displays your name. It costs nothing to have your own email account. Yet a surprising number of people still share an email address (typically with a spouse) – and use the other person’s name instead of their own. That can confuse recipients, causing them to ignore or delete your email. Eliminate any confusion by having your own email address.

2. Know when to use To, Cc, and Bcc. When composing your email, figure out who really needs to see it — and list those people on the To line. People whom you need or would like to keep in the loop but whom you do not require a reply from put in the Cc line. And if you are emailing a group of people (and are not using an email marketing service like Constant Contact or Campaigner) who have not given you permission to share their email address with others, use Bcc (for blind carbon copy).

3. Fill in the subject line. Yeah, yeah, I know Facebook is doing away with the subject line in its proposed email. But in the world of here and now, many email services will categorize an email as junk or spam if it does not contain a subject line. Similarly, many recipients will do the same unless they know the purpose of your email, upfront. So take an extra few seconds when composing an email to include a short, to-the-point subject line, using 10 words or fewer.

4. Don’t always change the subject line when you reply to an email. There’s a reason the sender used that subject line, and if you change it some email services (such as Gmail) will categorize it as a new/separate thread, possibly confusing the original sender and making it more difficult for her to keep track of the conversation.

5. State the purpose of your email in the first or second sentence. People have short attention spans, and often skim email (or stop reading after the second sentence). And are increasingly checking their email on their mobile devices, which have tiny screens and are a pain to scroll. So put important information and/or questions at the top of your email.

6. Include your name and contact information. If you are looking for the recipient(s) to call you or write you back, don’t assume they have your contact information. If your name and contact info — phone number and, yes, the email address you would like them to respond to (as many people have more than one email address) — is not in your email signature, be sure to include it at the end of your email.

7. Do not attach large files (e.g., photos or videos). Most Internet service providers will reject emails with files (e.g., photos or videos) 5 MB or larger. So play it safe by linking to videos (as opposed to attaching them) and sending small or low-resolution versions of photographs.

8. Know when to use Reply vs. Reply All – and respond promptly. When replying to an email where you are one of many recipients, before you hit Send, determine if the whole group needs to see your reply or if only the person who sent you the email does. If the former (whole group) needs to know, use Reply All; if not, just use Reply. Also, try to respond to emails within 24 hours, or sooner when an urgent reply is requested.

9. Just because you think it’s funny doesn’t mean everyone else will. Use caution — and common sense — when forwarding those funny jokes and pictures to everyone on your email list, especially business associates. And if you do forward those emails, make sure the subject line explains what it is you are forwarding — and the first line of the body of the email indicates whether it is Safe for Work, aka SFW, or Not Safe for Work (NSFW).

10. Proofread your email before you hit Send. Even if you are in a hurry, it pays to review what you wrote before you hit Send. Better to catch a mistake (or worse) before you send your email than afterward, when it’s too late.

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Posted on June 27, 2010
Filed Under (CRM, Ecommerce, Email Marketing, General Business) by jennifer

With email marketing, you have only a few seconds to grab readers’ attention. Here’s how to make every second count so you can get readers to open, read and click on your email marketing campaigns.

1. Use a short but informative subject line. “Subject lines, more than anything else, drive views,” stated Dean Levitt, the head of customer relations and marketing at Mad Mimi, a Brooklyn, New York-based email marketing company. “It doesn’t matter if you send the email at 3 a.m. or 3 p.m., it’s only going to be opened if the subject line draws the reader in.” It also needs to tell the reader what is contained in the email, in an intriguing but clear way, and be concise — no more than 10 words, said Levitt, so it will appear in inbox previews. So, for example, if, say, you sell photography equipment and supplies, instead of titling your April Newsletter email just “April Newsletter,” try something like “Phototech’s April Newsletter: 5 Tips for Better Floral Photos” or “Phototech’s April Newsletter, Featuring Our Spring Photography Contest.”

2. Make sure your email is mobile device friendly. More and more, your target audience is likely to be reading your email on a mobile device. So make sure the email marketing service or tool you are using will make your email look good — and legible — on a PDA or smart phone. In particular, said Levitt, make sure your email is not too wide (as it’s hard to scroll left to right on many mobile devices), minimize your use of graphics/images, and do not use Flash or include videos.

3. Keep the design of your email simple. “Write a letter, not a Web page,” stated Levitt, who, like many of Mad Mimi’s customers, gets overwhelmed by emails with multiple columns, multiple colors and multiple fonts. His advice: “Don’t use multiple columns. Don’t use multiple fonts, especially within the same sentence or paragraph. And don’t use multiple colors,” though a couple, say to indicate a heading or a subheading, are okay. “If you continually send customers emails that are visually distracting, you will wind up lowering the response rate and risk people unsubscribing to your emails.” Instead, “use a uniform style and a uniform font throughout your email,” similar to a magazine or newspaper article, which the brain is wired to easily read.

4. Include pictures (if appropriate), but skip audio, videos and Flash. Levitt, like many email marketing experts, thinks it’s fine to include images in an email, as long as the image complements the text (i.e., is relevant ), is appropriately sized (so that the email isn’t rejected by the customer’s ISP and/or doesn’t take forever to download/open) and doesn’t break up the train of thought (i.e., distracts from the message you are trying to convey). Similarly, do not include audio or video or Flash in emails. Not only can email with audio or video or Flash take seemingly forever to download or display, chances are your customers will never even receive or be able to open them as many of the major email services (including Gmail, Yahoo and AOL) don’t allow them.

5. Make sure you have something to say. Don’t just send an email for the sake of sending an email. While it’s important to stay in touch with customers on a regular basis, only write to them when you feel you have something of value – advice, tips, a special promotion, sale or offer – to provide them. Customers are busy. Don’t waste their time with what appears to be or sounds like spam.

6. Get to the point quickly. Got something important to say? Don’t bury it in the third paragraph of your email or save it for the end. State it up front or near the top of your email – and then provide a link where they can get more information or purchase whatever it is you are promoting.

7. Provide value, not a sales pitch. Similarly, said Levitt, don’t hit customers over the head with a hard sell, that is, immediately try to sell them something with phrases like “Act now!” or “Buy now!” or “Hurry, limited time offer!” Instead, take a softer approach, setting yourself (or whomever is sending the email) up as an expert in the industry – someone who knows what she or he is talking about, who is providing customers with helpful, useful advice.

8. Include links, not a novel. Readers have short attention spans, so instead of sending them an essay or novella, if you have a lot to say just include a summary or short paragraph (or two) about each subject or product or service. Then provide a link for readers to click at the end of each paragraph or section where they can go to learn more (or buy whatever it is that’s on offer). “That way you are not overwhelming your readers,” said Levitt, and stand a much better chance of getting them to read the whole email or at least click on a link that takes them to your website.

9. Be consistent. Try to establish a schedule for sending out emails, whether it’s once a month, once a week, or right before holidays – whatever makes sense for your business. If once a month or once a week, try to send your email on the same day each month or week, so customers anticipate and look forward to receiving your emails, much like a regular monthly dinner date with a good friend.

10. Proofread your email before sending it to customers. Before you send any email to your opt-in list, send it to yourself (and maybe an objective friend or colleague or two) first. If you or your friends (or colleagues) don’t find it interesting enough to open or read — or can’t open or read it properly, you have just saved yourself a whole lot of embarrassment. Similarly, make sure to carefully proofread every email before you send it out, for spelling and other errors, which can reflect badly on your business.

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These four email marketing solutions can help any small business owner create an attractive, click-worthy email marketing campaign, at an attractive price. To determine which one is right for your small business/next email marketing campaign, read the descriptions and pricing information below, then do a free trial.

Emma. I have had a soft spot for Emma ever since I interviewed Emma’s director of community relations, Suzanne Norman, last year, for an article I did titled “Eight Tips for a Clickable E-Mail Marketing Campaign.” Since then, I have heard nothing but praise for Emma, which customers say is easy — and fun — to use, with a variety of templates and response features, and good support.

Emma charges a $249 set-up fee, which includes a custom-designed template created just for you, to help “ensure your emails stand out in the inbox every time.” After that, Emma charges $30 for 1,000 emails a months or $45 for 2,500 emails. (For additional pricing information, click here.)

Mad Mimi. My husband, Kenny, who owns a small business and only recently started using email marketing, is a big fan of Mad Mimi. Before he decided on Mad Mimi, he looked at various Outlook plug-ins and add-ons as well as Constant Contact. Then he asked his small business owner networking group colleagues what they used, and one of them suggested Mad Mimi. He did a free trial (for under 100 contacts) and was happy with the result. So he moved to the Basic plan, at $8/month plan, for up to 500 contacts. (For more about Mad Mimi’s pricing, click here. FYI, their Pro plan, which is good for up to 10,000 contacts, is $36/month.)

While Kenny liked Mad Mimi’s templates, he opted to have one of their designers work with him (for a small fee) to create a custom template. “The design help was extremely attentive (we had to go through three rounds of revisions), and I would rate my experience with them as a business as top notch,” said Kenny. Moreover, “once you have your first campaigns built, it’s super easy, and the list management features and the analytics are absolutely great.”

Constant Contact. When most people think about email marketing, they think Constant Contact — with good reason. The service is easy to use  and customers love the variety of templates available and the reports. Even if you haven’t used the service, you’ve probably received emails created using Constant Contact. (I receive several a month, if not more, all of which look professional — and almost all of which I immediately open. I also wrote an article for Small Business Computing a while back, titled “How to Win the E-Mail Marketing Campaign,” which featured Constant Contact.)

As for pricing, you can get a basic plan for $15/month for up to 500 contacts. If you have a larger list, say 501 to 2,500 contacts, Constant Contact charges $30/month; $50 for 2,5001 to 5,000 contacts. (For addition pricing information, click here.) Constant Contact also offers a free 60-day trial, no credit card required, so you have plenty of time to see the results of a couple of email marketing campaigns.

Interspire Email Marketer. Unlike the email marketing solutions listed above, Interspire Email Marketer is software, not a service, i.e., you buy it, you own it — no recurring monthly fees. It also has more features and functionality than most email marketing services — as well as three months of free tech support. (Additional support, as well as design services, is available at an additional cost.) I also happen to really like the company — and have heard customers rave about Interspire Email Marketer, how easy it is to use, how professional looking your emails are with it, the helpful reports, and the great tech support. (To see Interspire Email Marketer in action, take the online Video Tour.)

While some small business owners may initially balk at the price of Interspire Email Marketer — $495 for a single user — it typically more than pays for itself in a year (or less if you do a lot of email marketing). Also, if you are unsatisfied for any reason with Interspire Email Marketer, Interspire will refund you the purchase price, no questions asked, for up to 60 days.

By the way, on the subject of cost, before you make a decision regarding an email marketing solution,  figure out how many email marketing campaigns you plan on running in the next year and how many people you plan on targeting. Then do the math.  Several people I spoke with said they wound up spending a lot more on or with a service because of the amount of email marketing they wound up doing over the course of a year — and that it may have made better sense to have bought a solution like Interspire Email Marketer instead.

Still can’t decide? All of the email marketing providers listed here provide free 30- or 60-day trials of their email marketing solutions. So you can see for yourself which solution is right for you. All it will cost you is a bit of your time — and it’s well worth the investment.

And to help ensure that you’re next email marketing campaign is a success, read my blog post titled “Tips for Creating a Click-Worthy Email Marketing Campaign.”

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