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Email Marketing For Smart People: How To Get Started, Keep Going And Make Money Doing It

By June 13, 2012November 5th, 2014Email Marketing
Email Marketing For Smart People: How To Get Started, Keep Going And Make Money Doing It

Somewhere in that cesspool of spam and *ahem* personal enhancement devices and pills, there are a few good emails from businesses just waiting to be opened. And mixed in with those good emails are some not-so-good that aren’t really breaking any rules or doing anything wrong but still aren’t working anyway.

Since email is where the action’s at – it has one of the best conversion rates by a long shot – then you want to capitalize on it and make sure you’re making the most of every opportunity.

If you’re just getting started, or even if you’ve been doing it for a while and aren’t quite sure if you’re doing it “right” or whether your efforts are paying off, here are some tips to get you going in the right direction (again).

Choose A Reputable Email Delivery Service

True story: Someone I know used to send emails to everyone on his list by cc’ing them in Outlook. Not only was this bad form (exposing people’s email addresses is not good practice from a privacy and confidentiality standpoint) but he angered people sufficiently that they complained to his ISP and he had his internet service disabled. That was just a world of headaches to resolve.

Email services abound, from Constant Contact to Mailchimp and Aweber among others. Some of these even have a free option. Whatever you do, use a service to manage your email list and campaigns. This will ensure that you send emails legally, legitimately and without angering your list.

You also have the added perks of being able to track subscribes and unsubscribes as well as other nifty things like open rate, clickthrough rate and more.

Get Permission

When you want to build an email list it’s tempting to go out and grab the plethora of emails just hanging there like luscious, ripe, low-hanging fruit. After all, people can’t just put their email out there and expect it not to be used, right? Wrong.

The quickest way to piss someone off, get complaints and quite possibly get yourself barred by your service provider from sending emails at all is to grab whatever emails you can find and start sending.

This counts even if you can somehow find targeted emails. Let’s say you have 26 Facebook “friends” who you just know are going to love your awesome daily deals. That may be so, but you still don’t get to use their email addresses.

Here’s what you can do: ask. If you really think those 26 people will benefit from and love whatever you’ll be sending, invite them to join your list. Invite the world! But don’t grab, pilfer, scrape, borrow or otherwise put email addresses on your list. Let people opt-in instead.

Figure Out Your “Why”

Why are you sending out emails?

I seriously want you to stop and think about that because if the answer is “to do email marketing” then step away from the keyboard. You need a driving goal behind your email marketing, something to aim for and measure.

If your goal is to sell products, then your emails need to make your products sound more exciting than French toast (hey, French toast can be pretty exciting). If your goal is to sell your services then you need to highlight those services and convince people their lives are simply bereft without them.

Whatever your driving “why” is, you need to focus on that when you create content.

Try to avoid thinking of emails as “newsletters”. The good ol’ newsletter exists but it’s not exactly the party everyone wants to be at. Once in a while it may be nice to update your list on what you’ve been doing, how your business has grown or where it’s going, but try to think beyond “news” to something that’s actually useful to both you and your readers. Your “why” might very well be “keep people updated on my every breath” but that’s going to get old fast, unless you have groupies where a list should be.

Plan The Content

What’s more of a time-suck than sitting at your desk and wondering, “Now what?” There’s no productive time in “now what”. It’s just sitting down and staring blankly at your computer screen until an idea hits.

That doesn’t have to be you.

First, decide what type of email campaign you want to run. Do you want to send out quick tips? Long form newsletters? Coupons and deals? A little bit of all of the above? Once you know what your goals are, you can select or create content. No need to wait until the “now what” monster attacks.

Next, decide on a schedule. If you’re just starting out, stick to something completely do-able like once a month. You can always add more but if you burn yourself out too quickly you’re going to hate the whole process and give up.

Sit down right now and outline your next 4 emails, choose the type and create or curate the content.

If you do this in batches you’ll have what’s called “a plan” and you’ll be able to take “a break” in between.

Finally, choose an email template. The template should work with your content – not the other way around. It’s no fun to have a gorgeous email template but be completely stuck on what to put in it.

On more than one occasion, I’ve run into people who have put this particular cart before the horse. They’ll design a template or hire someone to design something gorgeous at a not-insignificant cost only to have their “now what” moment in the face of that template. Center content area, sidebar, three columns, footer… all quite lovely with dummy text but what’s supposed to go in there? The end result is usually scrapping the design and starting over to work around content, or worse, cramming something in just because there was a space.

Don’t Be A Snore

If you want people to care about your emails – namely open, read or click – then you have to give them something interesting. Don’t treat your emails like a blog post or journal entry. Don’t make it all about you and your awesome achievements or dreadful disasters (unless you can somehow turn that into an advantage for your readers.)

People open emails because they think something inside will be worthwhile to them. If you send out long, dull or pointless emails just for the sake of sending out an email then you might as well not be doing any email marketing at all.

Remember your “why” and focus on that if you ever feel lost or unsure.

Beware of lulling your readers into inaction. If you email too often or you’re too predictable, your emails will blend into the noise. Coupon followed by coupon followed by coupon… your customers are going to develop coupon blindness after a while. That goes for any content that’s more and more of the same.

Keep it interesting with stories and real, conversational talk. Remember, there are actual people on the other end of those email addresses! You can chat with them, ask them questions and build relationships via email if you stop thinking about them as “my list” and start thinking of them as “my peeps”.

Give ‘Em Something To Do

A friend once asked me for my opinion on her email campaign. I took a look and the design was quite lovely, the content was interesting, the layout was clean and easily scanned and at face value it was a good email. But it was missing one crucial thing: a link. Any link. There wasn’t a single thing for a reader to do except read that email and throw it away.

Presumably this wasn’t my friend’s intent – after all, who sends out emails and measures the “throw away” rate? Although she had done a good job sharing her work, services and ideas, there was no reason or even an invitation to contact her or find out more. Indeed, there was every good reason to hit the delete button and move on.

Even if your email isn’t geared toward a sale, you should get your readers used to doing something. You want people clicking. For one thing, you can measure that and see what gets attention and what doesn’t. For another, it gets people engaged and essentially “trained” to take action.

Whatever you do, make your email a two-way communication, not an essay to be read and discarded.

Ask For The Sale

We’ve been groomed lately to abide by the 80/20 rule: 0ffer something useful and no-strings-attached 80% of the time and sell the other 20%.

When it comes to email marketing that’s just crazy.

Sure, you can offer tips, ideas, freebies and the like and that’s a great idea. But you can also ask for the sale – 100% of the time.

If you don’t you could be training your readers to expect nothing but freebies and deals.

True story: a colleague recently told a story about how her unsubscribe rate jumped into double digits when she finally asked her readers to buy something for the first time. She was shocked – after all, her content had been great, people had responded well and everything was going smoothly. And then she wanted money. How dare she!

Part of successful email marketing is about setting expectations. If your readers see you as their go-to source for free stuff, they might get snarky when you get around to selling.

You don’t have to do in-you-face selling to make this work. A sidebar snippet with an eBook. A single paragraph with a call to action to check out your product. A pull quote with a quick customer testimonial and request to get in touch with you.

Big retailers do nothing but sell, and we stay on their lists. Why? Because it’s what we expect. Aggressive selling and deal-making may not be your style but if you want to make money with your email marketing you’ve got to ask for it clearly and often.

Check Your Stats

Repeat after me: my email stats are my best friend.

You know “why” you’re doing it and you’ve sufficiently planned the “how”. But are your efforts worth anything? Is this email marketing thing working or just keeping you busy?

If you dig into your email stats you can see how many people opened it, what time of the day they opened it, how many clicked (and what they clicked on), even whether they’ve opened your email more than once. Caveat: you can’t track opens in plain text emails, so if that’s your M.O. or you offer a text-only option, just be aware that opens only reflect HTML opens.

The cool thing about this is that you can start to make some educated assumptions about what’s going on. If you send emails out at 9AM but most people get around to opening them at 11, maybe you’d have better luck if you sent your email at 11 instead. If your unsubscribe rate jumps after a particular email, ask why. If people aren’t clicking on your links, ask why.

Stats will give you a chance to tweak your campaigns to maximize their impact.

Are you feeling smarter already? You should be! If you’ve read along and nodded yup yup yup because you’ve nailed email marketing, then good for you. If you have any more tips to share, please do so in the comments and help us all be better marketers!

And if you read along wide-eyed, I hope you had at least one “a-ha!” moment and are ready to take on email marketing with confidence. If you have any more questions, join the conversation and ask them in the comments, too!

Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • Thanks, this is good stuff. I’m starting to think about putting together an email newsletter and this is helpful. Bookmarked.

  • We live in the permission age. It is the #1 mistake I see people doing. I had a client that copy and pasted address from websites and wondered why no one wanted to stay subscribed. That is spam. 

    • That’s a super bad idea. If you get too many complaints from people, your email service provider could cut you off entirely. Then you’ll have no way of communicating at all. I guess it’s too tempting since everyone’s email is all over the place these days. Best to stick to the smart way!

  • Hi Carol,

    I’m ashamed to say that I needed this post. I simply suck at email marketing 🙂 I mean, really, I do. I forget to write emails in advance. Most of the time I’m not selling anything and now this crazy Aweber, which I kind of like, but they changed things around and I feel like I have to call them up to clarify some things.

    It’s very important to make sure we send emails ONLY to people who have authorized us to do so. Even with that you will have the occasional idiot that tells you not to send them email by reporting you! So, no way you want to do that without their consent.

    Thank you for this super post, once again, Carol. Really good stuff 🙂

    • In that case, I’m glad I could help! It’s true, sometimes people complain and report emails as spam even though they opted in! You can imagine how bad it would be if they didn’t. I have yet to try Aweber. I’ve used Mailchimp for a while and it’s been pretty good but I know Aweber has some good features I’d like to use, too. 

      Oh, and remember: ask for that sale!

  • Adrienne says:

    Hey Carol,

    I have to agree with Sylviane here, this is my weakest area online.  I don’t think I necessarily suck but I don’t draw them in.  I’m sure they yawn a lot but I swear this is an area I’m going to focus more on.  I just never want to be that annoying person that emails them all the time wanting stuff or sharing stuff.

    I just purchased a course on blogging from the top blogger and he has a section on emailing so I’m excited to dive into that this weekend.  I have no doubt I’ll learn some things from him.

    I was on a webinar a few weeks ago and they shared a PDF about email headlines that really grab your attention.  I think with those two combinations I should see some improvement. 

    Wish me luck and thanks for sharing all these tips.  You are definitely spot on here.


    • I think having an email goal and plan is the best way to get started. For someone like you with a gift for blogging and talking to people, it should be easy to create the content. Good luck with all your studying materials! Let me know if you learn anything revolutionary 😉

  • Sue Price says:

    Hi Carol
    I like Adrienne and Sylviane do not feel this area is my greatest strength.

    There was a guy in Australia who was fined over $1M for spamming so anyone just grabbing emails and adding people is at risk!

    I have purchased the same course as Adrienne so looking forward to improving my skills.