Marketing Channels, Marketing Planning & Reporting

Small Business Email Marketing: The Alternative Guide

If you spend any amount of time online researching, you’re sure to be aware of the hype around small business email marketing. The hype isn’t unwarranted – this can be a really valuable method of reaching your ideal audience. Also, if you do it right, it can be an incredibly cost-effective way of generating a lot of business.

Studies show that email marketing generates an average of $42 for every $1 spent. With 4.5 billion email users out there today, it is certainly a strategy worth exploring for your small business.

The question is – how do you go about it? Different strategies and approaches will work best for different businesses, and this can lead to overwhelm. There is a ton of advice out there, but this post will break it down into bitesize chunks!

So, let’s dive into figuring out what small business email marketing strategy will work best for you.

small business email marketing
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Before you start getting into the type of email strategy you’re going to implement, it’s a good idea to think about your copy. Make sure that your voice in your emails matches the tone of your web copy and social media posts. Your subscribers likely signed up because they like you and your brand. Many websites have automated emails, especially if you have an online shop but also just to have subscribers confirm their email before subscribing. These can be set up and customised quite easily – so go in and edit these if necessary!

In short: make sure what your customers or clients are receiving is consistent, personalised and in line with your other marketing. Additionally, remember to consider GDPR and only email people who have actively subscribed to your mailing list or if you can prove a legitimate interest in what you have to offer.

Small business email marketing strategies

1. Promotional emails

What are they?

Does what it says on the tin! These emails give you an opportunity to promote your business and raise brand awareness among your target audience.

When are they relevant?

These emails are important when you have something new to share. That could be a special offer or discount, a new service or product, or an award you’ve won! These emails can be sent in bulk to an entire subscriber list, but tend to be more successful when segmented.

Is it worth it?

Surveys have shown that 80% of retail professionals see promotional emails as essential to “driving customer acquisition and retention”. If a customer or client has signed up willingly for your newsletter, they want to hear from you. So take advantage!

How to go about it?

When planning your small business email marketing strategy, this is one you don’t want to miss. Write out a calendar of important dates in your industry. For example, if you work in finance and help businesses with their tax or end-of-year reports, October to March is going to be a crucial time for you to promote your services.

Consider sending out an email to your subscribers with a link to a free PDF including some basic tips and tricks. The PDF could contain a discount code (with an expiry date, creating a sense of urgency) for one of your more popular services. This is not a time-consuming nor expensive exercise, but a great way of reminding subscribers you’re here to help.

Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

2. Transactional emails

What are they?

A transactional email is fairly self-explanatory. This type of email goes out to customers following a transaction between them and your business.

When are they relevant?

These emails are relevant to the majority of small businesses. They include order, booking and shipping confirmations, download links, invoices and receipts.

Is it worth it?

Did you know that on average, transactional emails are opened at double the rate of non-transactional emails?! This is an opportunity not to be missed!

How to go about it?

These emails can usually be easily automated on your website and play an important part in your customer experience. When you set up your transactional emails, go in and do a bit of editing. Small business email marketing is a fine art, and when you’re short on time and budget, you have to make the most of every opportunity!

Unlike general newsletters, subscribers are actively waiting for these emails. Don’t let the chance to provide a stellar service go to waste!

Also, in your order or booking confirmation email, be sure to include a personalised thank you, and links to similar products or services that may be of interest based on their purchase.

small business email marketing
Photo by Tassii via Canva Pro

3. Lifecycle emails

What are they?

Emails specific to the individual subscriber, triggered by their behaviour

When are they relevant?

Aptly described by Smartmail, lifecycle email marketing = right message + right time. These emails go out to the subscriber at important moments of their journey with your brand. This could include a welcome email, second order emails, abandoned cart emails and post-purchase emails.

If you’re a service-based business, this could be a follow-up email, a sequence of emails covering frequently asked questions or tips & advice to help them get to the next level.

Is it worth it? 

In a word? Yes. Lifecycle emails can be simple to set up but incredibly effective. The crucial element here is the timing! While general newsletters or update emails can be great for brand awareness, lifecycle emails hit the customer while you are already on their mind.

How to go about it?

Check out my post on mapping your customer journey – and spend some time doing this. Once you know your customer lifecycle inside out, you’ll start to find obvious points where one of these emails could make a real difference.

Stats show that nearly 70% of carts are abandoned – engage with your customers to lower this! Set up an automated email on your online store to reach out within a few days of the cart being abandoned. This reminds your customer you’re there and gives them a gentle nudge to purchase.

If you’re a service-based small business, consider an email a month after you’ve worked together, checking in on your client. Ask them how things are going, or if they have any questions for you. This simple act of touching base can be a game-changer!

You can also automate these emails through your website, so they go out automatically at the right time. Just be sure to set up the triggered email to be personalised – nothing is less appealing than a follow-up email titled “dear customer”!

small business email marketing
Photo by cnythzl via Canva Pro

4. Survey emails

What are they?

A survey email is an opportunity to re-engage with customers or clients and ask for feedback on specific issues or items.

When are they relevant?

A survey email is relevant at pivotal times in your business. Lead up to launching a new service? Sending out a short survey is a great way to get back on existing customers’ radar and start engaging with them.

Is it worth it?

Absolutely. Survey emails are viewed as a great way to get genuine, thoughtful feedback from your customers and they are a great way to build relationships. No matter how big or small your email list is, a survey allows you to reconnect.

How to go about it?

Keep it short and sweet! Tell them how long it will take (e.g. “take two minutes to answer these questions”) and offer them an incentive. For example, if you run a small beauty salon, you could offer a discount on the customer’s regular treatment in exchange for their thoughts.

With software like SurveyMonkey or TypeForm, you can create a really quick and aesthetically pleasing survey, for free, and use it to strengthen bonds with your audience.

Photo by Andrey Popov via Canva Pro

5. Seasonal campaigns

What are they?

A seasonal campaign is centred around a particular holiday – for example, Christmas.

When are they relevant?

A seasonal campaign is relevant to your small business email marketing strategy if your work changes or services/products shift in relation to the seasons. A general “Merry Christmas” email could work for most businesses, but an entire campaign only works if you have the content to go alongside it.

Is it worth it?

If your business shifts throughout the year, it absolutely works. For example, if you run a local restaurant or bar, Christmas and New Year are likely to be a particularly busy time for you! Likewise, beauty salons, hairdressers and gift stores will usually benefit from a winter campaign.

Whereas for someone like a gardener or landscaper, the spring/summer season will likely be a more profitable time to reach out to potential customers. And, as discussed in the promotional emails, for those in the business and finance sector, the New Year period is always busy!

How to go about it?

First, plan your strategy. Be clear on the call-to-action you’re including in your emails, and what incentive you’re putting out for people to buy or book now. Remember to start your campaign at the right time – sending out your Christmas campaign mid-December cuts the opportunity for success short!

Use these emails to highlight your selling points. Do you offer a discount if a client books your service before a certain date? Do you offer free shipping on orders over a certain amount? And don’t forget to have fun – humour and positivity go a long way!


To read more about automating your workflows and engaging with your customers post-sale, have a look at these:

How to Keep in Touch With Your Existing Customers
Steps to Get Started with Your Email Marketing
How to Attract Enquiries that Convert
After Sales Services: Why your Marketing Shouldn’t Stop with Making the Sale

Denise Strohsahl brand and marketing consultant for small businesses

Hello, I’m Denise from sandstonecastles, a brand & marketing consultancy based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I help small business owners like yourself to find the right marketing that’s in line with your brand and values.