THE BLOG
07/19/2013 07:02 pm ET Updated Sep 17, 2013

How Small Businesses Can Better Manage Their Email Flow

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Hey, small businesses: send more email! Less may be more when it comes to your fragrance application, but more is more when it comes to email communications with customers. Email works and you should be doing more of it. It's by far consumers' most preferred method of communication with brands they welcome into their lives.

Email has all the benefits other modes of communication offer, including;

• The ability to present beautiful images
• Opportunity to provide multiple links to your site
• Space to say as much (or as little) as you'd like
• A world-class built-in "reply" feature
• The simplest "forward" feature available on the web
• An easy (& legally mandated) opt-out mechanism for consumers

Big businesses know the power of email for communication with customers, and it shows! With the frequency of commercial email rising 19 percent last year, businesses know the value of marketing through email, and you can learn from their best practices.

Send More Email!

Here are the best ways to leverage email without badgering your customers:

Make it pretty! Digital communications are more visual today than ever. Awesome photography displaying your services will captivate your audience.
Make it useful! Everyone wants to be "in the know." Early product news and deals are great email content.
Make it personal! Fun stories about YOU (yes, you, the business owner) engaging in activities related to your business create a more personal relationship between you and your customers.

Be Proactive In Collecting Email Addresses

Don't wait for information to come to you: Collect your customers' email addresses while doing business with them. Many mobile and online payment systems let you email the receipt to your customer at time of transaction. Voila, you have their email address!
Keep your email subscribers in the know: Offer news about special events and offers to your email subscribers, available to them exclusively via email before the general public.
Offer customers a reward: A freebie at the counter when they give you their email address is great incentive.

Make It Easy To Unsubscribe

Remember that expression, "If you love something set it free. If it comes back to you, it's yours. If it doesn't, it never was."

Let consumers easily unsubscribe from your mail: Put your unsubscribe link at the top of the email, rather than the bottom. You'll feel great knowing that the people opening your mail are your loyal and happy customers.
Be sure to offer alternates to unsubscribing: This will help you interact with customers who are on the fence about your products and services. Suggest reducing the frequency of mail, or sending them "special editions" so the customer can maintain a relationship with you on their own terms.

Fab.com was in the news recently for doing just this. They proactively stopped sending emails to consumers who hadn't opened their emails in a while. Not every business will go that far, but monitoring open rates can help you adjust your strategy. If you notice that a group of customers haven't opened your emails in a while, reach out and ask if they are still interested in receiving your offers.

Don't "Ding-Dong-Ditch!"

Simply sending mail is not enough, businesses must also pay attention to what is effective with their campaigns. Even small business-sized email lists can use sophisticated email-sending platforms that provide data back in real time. These platforms give you the ability to test open rates and clicks for variables such as:

• Subject lines
• Copy/images within the email
• Time-of-day or time-of-week sending
• Frequency of sending
• Device recipient is opening from

Some excellent email service providers that have inexpensive (and in some cases, free!) email delivery products for small businesses include MadMimi, MailChimp, and ConstantContacts.

The World Has Gone Mobile

Sixty-nine percent of commercial email is opened on mobile devices. When working on campaigns, make sure to:

• Keep subject lines short
• Optimize image and copy layout for smartphones
• Keep links to a minimum
• Include a secondary subject line (The top line of your email will show up along with the subject line on most smart phones)

Let Consumers Respond

Email is a two-way communication stream, so it's a mystery to me why so many big organizations don't allow customers to reply. There's nothing ruder than an email from [no_reply]@company.com.

Customer feedback is essential to the success of all businesses -- small or otherwise. It's important to have someone at your company receive -- and respond to -- inbound emails from customers. Once you have this in place, encourage replies! A simple "tell us what you think" can go a long way.

Stay Out of Trouble!

And by trouble, we mean Spam filters. Once marked as Spam, you'll never see that consumer again. Your deliverability ratings will also decline, hurting your ability to clear your way into even your happy consumers' inboxes. Here are some tips to avoid spam filters:

• Ask recipients to add you to their "Contacts" list.
• Craft your subject lines to avoid spam-filtering systems. This list of words to avoid in subject lines is a good start.
• Do not include attachments, which can get caught in spam filters and annoy customers.
• CAN-SPAM law mandates that you have your permanent, physical address viewable in each email, along with the ability to unsubscribe easily. Learn more about your obligations as a commercial email sender here.

MaryAnn Bekkedahl is co-founder and president of TheSwizzle.com, which lets you easily unsubscribe from commercial mail you no longer want to receive, and helps you roll up the email you do want to receive into a simple daily digest.