Email Marketing for Small Business: How to Get Started

email marketing for small business

When we start out a small business online, one of the biggest challenges is how to do marketing and sales in the most cost-effective way. Besides the modern tactics that are always recommended to help grow traffic and acquire customers quickly (social media and SEO), email marketing for small business has never gone forgotten. Probably the most low-cost channel to advertise to mass audience, email marketing has proven to never die and to thrive when the business grows bigger.

How to start email marketing for small business from zero to an automated large-scale sales-generating system? Many of you may be struggling among thousands of resources, guides and examples on the Internet, pondering what could work and couldn’t work for your own business. That is painful and time-consuming, we know.

What we provide here is instead an actionable 5-step method that you can straightly follow to build your email marketing strategy from scratch. Spend 3 minutes reading to learn the 5 must-do steps to build email marketing, that work for every small business
#1 Build and grow a massive list (and 10+ tips for you)

The biggest head-aching puzzle that keeps eCommerce entrepreneurs awake at night is probably getting traffic. No traffic means no customers and no revenue. No traffic means your email marketing is useless, because your have no contacts to send email newsletters to.

It is not recommended to work on planning perfect email marketing strategies or polishing your email content at the point when you don’t have a potentially growing email list. The more crucial task is to build your customer database, who you will promote to and advertise your products via email marketing for small business. So, I guess the big question is, how to build a massive email list and keep it growing every single day?

Here we quickly list out 10+ proven tips to grow email list for your online store:

1) Create opt-in popups to target new visitors who enter your store for the first time, ask them to subscribe to your list to get a coupon for their first order and receive exclusive offers.


2) 68% of online shoppers abandon their orders at cart page. Use exit intent technology to grab emails of leaving customers, give them incentives to finish their order such as offering extra discounts or free-shipping.

3) Ask for account sign-up in checkout process: letting customers check out anonymously keeps checkout process simple, as recommended. However, don’t forget to give them an optional choice: sign up at checkout for an instant discount and better deals later.

4) Incentivise your customers to refer you to their friends.

5) Add a live-chat widget that collects emails when your agents are away.

6) Host a viral contest or give-away on social channels and collect emails from participants.

7) If your brand is popular on Facebook and your Facebook page is growing largely, add Sign-up button on Facebook page to collect subscribers there. Stick a post on the top of the page that calls followers to subscribe.

8) Ask your social followers to subscribe for special deals for social followers only

9) Write captivating blog posts and make part of the content gated. When customers read up to the locked content, ask for their email so you can send full content to their inbox.

10) Use loyalty programs to reward points for subscribing email or signing up an account with you.

11) People feel more motivated to join a list if they know it will bring them some perks. Offer email-only deals to encourage your customers to join your email list. Promote your email-only offers widely on homepage banner, header bar, or social media.

12) Make your email support widely known. When customers need support, they can easily get in touch with you via email.

#2 Map out the customer journey

Email marketing for small business serves as a communication channel between you and your customers, not a mass advertising channel like television or radio like in old times. In order to build back-and-forth communication and long-term mutual relationship with customers via email marketing, you need to communicate with them in a personal and detailed level.

Technology has given you the unbelievably powerful helping hand: automatically send personalized follow-up emails to unlimited number of customers at the same time for you. What do you have to do instead? Understand and map out the customer journey in your store.

The essence of personalization in email marketing for small business is to trigger appropriate and relevant emails based on customers’ behaviors on the store. How can you deliver the relevant messages based on customer’s actions, if you don’t understand what they do and don’t do?

Put yourself in customer’s shoes and try to answer questions like:

  • Where do my customers come from?
  • What do they normally do / view / search when they enter homepage?
  • How long do they stay in the store / How many product pages do they browse before leaving?
  • Where do they normally abandon orders?
  • What types of products / collections do most of customers buy?
  • How many days later will customers come back after the first purchase?

Be as detailed as possible when you do customer journey mapping, and try to match it with the sales conversion funnel. It helps you define the critical points where you can tap into improving customer experience to lift up conversion rate.

#3 Develop email marketing flow

After drawing up the customer journey, your next step is to plan what kind of emails to send to customers when they take a specific action and enter a group. Personalized email content strategy happens here: you tailor email content so that it is relevant, personal and conveys helpful messages a customer really needs.

The ultimate starting point is to define the conversion goal you want to achieve for a customer group, so that you can customize the exact content to target them. For example, the goal of targeting customers who add items to cart but do not finish payment is getting them back to the site to complete their abandoned carts. What types of email content can possibly help you achieve this goal? Think of sending the items left in cart with a discount offer if they finish purchase within 24 hours, or creating scarcity by sending an email to remind them that there are only 2 items left in stock.

Whenever you see possible conversion drops in the customer journey, you can fix the problem with killer email message and convert customers back to your store. Be as creative as you can, or learn from the best email marketing examples employed successfully by other brands.

#4 Choose the right email service provider to run email marketing for small business

Using the right tool to implement email marketing for small business saves you costs, time, and a lot of efforts. The increasing number of new businesses leads to a surge in demand for email marketing service providers. How to find the right tool that can help you solve all the pains in implementing a killer email marketing system for your small business?

Look for these criteria when you search for the suitable email service provider (ESP):

  • List segmenting: You’d better finish mapping out customer journey when you come to this step. Choose an ESP that enables you to segment your customer list easily and to the most detailed level possible. Only by segmenting your list to different target groups can you personalize and automate the email flow that can convert.
  • Easy content builder, both in text and HTML formats: Do you prefer the drag-and-drop HTML format of your email provider, or do you just want to make it simple like writing a text email in Gmail? Choose the one that gives you the flexibility of both, because in different situations HTML or text emails can do better job than the other.
  • A/B testing: This is the one and only technique that can help you improve your campaign to its best, by testing conversion of a variable while all other elements remain the same. Choose an ESP that allows you to set up A/B tests for your campaign in the most convenient ways.
  • CAN-SPAM compliance: CAN-SPAM Act is a law that sets rules for commercial email and commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have the business stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations. Thus, you should choose an ESP that requires compliance with the CAN SPAM Act and makes it very easy to do so (for example: the ESP requires you to include unsubscribe button in every newsletter you create).


  • Detailed reporting dashboard: Tracking email marketing statistics is of paramount importance in improving the performance of your campaigns. Choose the tools that provide comprehensive reports on metrics of your newsletters.
  • Schedule by time zone: You should be able to schedule to send newsletters by different time zones or even by each recipient’s time zone in order to maximize open rates.
  • Deliverability of high amount of emails: Many email services tools provide free email marketing for very low amount of emails sent. Test your options and consider pricing plans to choose the most economic option regarding volume of emails sent.

#5 Make decision based on statistics

In marketing & sales generally and email marketing particularly, it is strongly advised to be data-driven, or in other words, to make decision based on statistics outcome.

How can you decide if a newsletter campaign succeeds or not? You will have to look at its open rate, click through rate, unsubscribe rate, bounce rate, number of orders converted and generated revenue in a specific period of time. You also have to count in all related costs to set up the campaign and maintain the procedure, such as cost per email sent, fixed cost for your email service provider, coupon code offered, human resources and other costs to figure out the final return on investment (ROI) of the campaign.


Even so, seeing stand-alone numbers, can you tell that your campaign is actually a success? You need to define benchmark of both historical numbers and industry-specific numbers to compare the performance of your campaigns.

Internet commerce industry sees an average of 3,200% ROI ($32 earned for every $1 spent) in email marketing. How does the performance of your campaign compare? Monitor your statistics closely to bring the performance of your email marketing strategy to its best.

email marketing roi

Email marketing for small business: conclusion

Your success comes when you have to do nearly nothing and still have sales come to your pocket while you are sleeping or going on vacation. Automated email marketing is one of the primary keys to unlock your success as an online business owner.

Now that you have known the 5 essential steps to start email marketing for small business, it’s time to apply the method to kick off smart email marketing strategy for your business.

Want to learn more?

Is there anything else you’d like to know more about and wish was included in this article? Let us know in the comments below!

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