Peter Imes: E-mail marketing for small businesses can be cheap, effective

May 20, 2010 10:33:00 AM

Peter Imes - [email protected]


Whether you want to tell your customers about new specials, contact new potential customers or simply send the occasional newsletter, e-mail is a relatively inexpensive and very easy way to get your message out. There are dozens of e-mail marketing services that make the sending of mass e-mails very easy. These services allow people to easily subscribe and unsubscribe to your e-mail newsletter and, because of strict anti-spam laws, are essential if you are sending commercial e-mails. 


All e-mail marketing services have some standard features. All allow you to import lists of e-mail addresses, to select from many different e-mail design templates and to view statistics to see how effective your e-mail marketing is. 


If you want to get started with e-mail marketing but haven''t collected the e-mail addresses of your customers, don''t worry. Building a list is easy: Place a signup sheet next to your cash register, Export a list of contacts from your e-mail account. Finally, most of these services give you a link to a subscription form that you can share with people on your existing website or Facebook page.  


There are a lot of e-mail marketing services from which to choose so let''s look at some of my favorites. 




Mail Chimp has one of the best deals for low-volume e-mail lists. If you have 500 or fewer subscribers and plan to send fewer than 3,000 e-mails per month with the service, MailChimp is completely free. While most e-mail services have pre-defined templates to choose from, MailChimp has an e-mail builder that can automatically detect the colors and logos used on your website and create an e-mail that matches. Alternatively, you can use their builder to create a custom e-mail design. The service does a great job of walking you through the steps of creating an e-mail campaign and even has a great series of instructional online videos on how to get started with e-mail marketing. 




Constant Contact 


Constant Contact is probably the most used e-mail marketing service. They have over 400 well-designed templates, and their service is no-frills and easy to use. A 60-day free trial allows you to test the service before buying. From 0-500 e-mail subscribers the price is $15 per month. They don''t allow you to cancel your service by e-mail or online so you have to call. Some users have reported complications when canceling their Constant Contact service; however, I''ve never had a customer service problem when using this service. They do a very good job keeping spammers from using their service. This means your e-mail delivery rate should be pretty high. If you want a very good e-mail service with a large selection of templates, Constant Contact is hard to beat. Several area organizations use Constant Contact such as Main Street Columbus, Greater Starkville Development Partnership, and Columbus Arts Council. 






MyEmma''s motto is "communicate in style," and it shows. Their website has a clean, stylish design and so do their e-mail designs. They are not the cheapest option. They have a required one-time design setup fee. You can work one-on-one with a MyEmma designer to create a professional, yet stylish, e-mail design. Don''t be scared off by this fee. You get noticeably better and more professional looking e-mails with MyEmma. After the setup fee, you pay based on the number of subscribers. MyEmma also offers the ability to create user surveys. 


This is not an exhaustive list of e-mail companies, but these are three good services with different strengths. All except MyEmma have some sort of free trial so I encourage you to try them. In short, I would direct the price-sensitive to MailChimp, the no-nonsense business to Constant Contact, and the style-conscience marketer to MyEmma. 




A note about spam 


If you are going to send e-mail marketing, you must make sure what you send does not qualify as spam. There is a lot of confusion about e-mail spam. The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 lays out the rules for how commercial e-mails can be sent. You can be fined up to $16,000 per e-mail you send if you violate these guidelines so pay attention. You must enter accurate info in the "To," "Reply," and "From" fields of your e-mails, and your subject line must be descriptive. Though you can add anyone''s e-mail address to your mailing list, you must give recipients the ability to easily unsubscribe from your mailing list and you must honor those unsubscribe requests in a timely manner. 


As a final note, few people want e-mail marketing in their inbox every day. When you start sending e-mails, you may want to consider limiting your e-mails to one per week. If you send them too frequently, they will be ignored. Also, spend some time considering what information your subscribers actually want to see in their inbox. Sales, special events, and major announcements are perfect for newsletters. Pasting a generic press release into an e-mail and sending it is probably not the best approach. Each e-mail you send should have a specific purpose or call-to-action. 


Peter Imes is publisher of The Dispatch. You can email him at [email protected]