Email marketing: An affordable tool for your business.

Have you ever been inspired to buy a product because you received a timely, valuable coupon in your inbox? Has an email ever directed you to an exclusive online or in-store sale? Have you ever had the chance to buy tickets for a big concert earlier than the general public because the promoter emailed you beforehand?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you already know the power of email marketing. It’s time to make email marketing work for your business, too.

Do people really want to get my emails?

Executed correctly, email marketing is not spam or junk mail. On the contrary, you provide a valuable service for customers who like what you do. When people willingly share their email address with you – an “opt-in,” as it’s called – and you, in turn, let those subscribers know when you have news, deals or updates, everyone wins.

Does it work?

Exact Target, one of the biggest email marketing firms in the country, reports that 66% of online Americans made a purchase based on an email marketing message. The Direct Marketing Association adds that every dollar spent on email marketing brings back a return of $40.56. Yes, email marketing works.

How do I collect email addresses?

You can go old school and place a notebook on the front counter of your business. The more efficient method is to ask your website designer to add email sign-up boxes to each page of your site. Free tools from companies like SumoMe (www.sumome.com) make this process quick and easy even for design novices.

Never harvest email addresses from websites. Never borrow a friend’s email list. Never send to recipients who did not give you permission, even if you bought the list from a marketing company. Remember that customers who give you an email address for business purposes are not giving you permission to send them marketing messages. These are great ways to get labeled a spammer.

How do I send emails to my list?

You could just use your standard Gmail or Outlook account, but that’s a bad idea: email service providers like Google and Microsoft don’t want its users to send out hundreds or thousands of marketing emails through personal accounts. These providers may label you as a spammer if you send at a high enough volume.

The better route?

Work with a third-party email marketing company like MailChimp, Constant Contact, Vertical Response or one of several dozen other companies that provide similar services.

These companies often offer free use of their online software or have very low start-up costs. You can use professional, pre-designed email templates, closely track how many emails you send, see who opened each message and quickly clear out bad or broken email addresses.

They also have relationships with email service providers like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft that allow your messages to be sent through their networks without the spam issues you face going it alone.

What should I send?

Do you have a company blog? When you post an update, send a note to your email list. Having a sale? Rolling out a new product? Opening a new location? Changing business hours? Let your subscribers know.

Email marketing works best when your subscribers have a good reason to open your email messages. Incentivize opens by offering deals, specials or coupons to your email list.

A successful email marketing program takes some time to get off the ground, so don’t be discouraged if it takes a few months to gain traction. Stick with the project, follow best practices and your email efforts will blossom.