How to Build and Maintain a Powerful E-mail Marketing List for Your Small Business

Everyone has an e-mail address. In the ever-changing world of technology, e-mail appears to be the easiest form of communication. Offering the most convenient form of staying in touch with friends and family, e-mail is also the primary way for your small business to maintain a steady list of loyal customers.

Standard postal mail is a product of the past that most consumers view as another weight that belongs in the trashcan, and telephone calls can feel invasive. Because of this, building a long-term e-mail list for your small business is one of the best ways to ensure your success.

The first obvious step is having an easy way for potential clients and customers to subscribe to your e-mail list. A large bold “SIGN UP FOR OUR E-MAIL LIST!” should be one of the most prominent features on your website. Include information that e-mail list members will be the recipients of special information and discounts. Few people turn down the opportunity to save money. If your business also runs a store, include an e-mail sign-up at the cash register. If they are already buying, chances are they will want to continue.

A poll conducted by Harris Interactive recently showed that the “majority of adults welcome marketing e-mails from familiar sources.” The survey polled 2,541 adults over the age of 18 and found that 74% found e-mail communications from companies they do business with to be valuable.

“Savvy consumers have come to rely on e-mail marketing communications as a resource to help them get the best deals possible,” said Kevin Johnson, president of Acxiom Digital, adding, “This poll demonstrates that e-mail marketing has evolved over the years to bring more value to consumers while proving to be a more effective medium for retailers than ever before.”

Ok, so building is easy. Maintaining is the hard part. This is where so many businesses, both big and small, lose control of their customers. An e-mail update every three days is not necessary. Customers do not want to receive a barrage of messages about information that does not matter to them. Rather than clog their inboxes, consider a weekly or bi-monthly coupon offering. Customers will appreciate the opportunity to save money without having to read useless information each day. Be sure to keep these e-mails short. A reader’s time is just as valuable as yours, and he or she does not want to read six paragraphs of fluff.

In the Harris Interactive poll mentioned earlier, 60% of those respondents who had received marketing e-mail cited substantial offers and discounts as motivation to respond, and 55% said that e-mails that were personalized to their interests and lifestyle were important to them.

Depending on the type of business you run, an e-newsletter may be a great tool to use to keep your long-term e-mail list. Send a monthly update that includes any new successes, product releases or changes in your company. Always remember your audience, too. Writing for e-mail subscribers is a much different task than writing press releases or technical business information. Keep the writing conversational and fun.

In your e-mail signup, give customers a chance to include their birthdays. Customers who receive birthday messages or special offerings for their personal holidays are likely to remain avid readers of your business newsletter. Think of your small business e-mail list as a list of friends – the closer you become, the better your business.

Do NOT add e-mail addresses without the request of the recipient. This is an automatic way to get identified as a spammer and lose credibility in the on-line world. The last thing you want for your small business is to end up in the junk e-mail category.

With an understanding of what readers want from e-mail updates, your business can keep a long list of devoted customers who appreciate your efforts to give them relevant and valuable information. As your long-term e-mail list continues to expand, you can enjoy watching your business grow, too.

 

All Grown Up – Why Your Small Business Needs A Web Solution, Not A Website

Raise your hand if you have a website for your small business. Now keep it raised if it is generating a significant volume of prospects or sales. Not holding your hand up anymore? You are not alone.

Just a few years ago, small companies flocked to the web in droves, rushing to post their first website, anxious at the prospect of low-cost instant exposure. The web was going to be the great equalizer, putting small business on par with the big brand names, dangling the promise of visitors flocking to a company’s site to purchase its wares or partake in its services. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, for most small businesses and organizations, the promise fell short and company sales did not skyrocket from an unending march of site visitors.

So, what happened? For one, the web quickly became ultra competitive. Millions of sites sprang up in every business category making it virtually impossible to be found in the search engines. What little bit of traffic the businesses may have enjoyed when the site was first launched began to dry up. Also, as the web evolved to become a more interactive user experience, it became more technologically complex and many small business websites did not keep up. The other part of the problem was in the approach; not understanding that just putting together a website, even a pretty one, and finding some faceless company offering cheap web hosting services is not likely to make you the next great success story. A large hurdle that many small business owners and managers face is the tendency to compartmentalize the web into a few oversimplified tasks: grab a cheap domain name, find a budget small business website design and development person, look for some impossibly low-priced website hosting, and then expect their website to magically appear on page one of Google. Unfortunately, this ends up being a waste of time and money.

A Solutions-Based Approach with Professional Guidance

To create an effective web presence requires a solutions-based approach with clear ideas about what you want to accomplish and who the audience is you are targeting. The right elements have to be present; a well orchestrated website design with cohesive branding, solid technical acumen, clearly defined objectives for the organization, reliable small business web hosting services and some method of marketing your site and tracking the results. The web is constantly evolving and search engine competition is fierce. Being successful on the web requires consistently evaluating the site’s effectiveness based on your objectives, understanding the latest technologies and trends, having a dynamic website marketing plan and constantly fine tuning.

While you don’t have to spend a fortune to create real value on the web, you should also be realistic. Understand that being successful will require an investment that you should plan for and a clear vision of how your website fits into the goals and objectives of the organization. If you don’t have the experience and technical resources in-house, working with a professional web solutions provider, preferably one specializing in small business web design and development can provide great benefits. A good starting point in the process is to have an understanding of the core elements that are part of a successful website strategy and how they fit together.

The Elements of a Web Solution

1) Domain names – Choosing the right domain name is an important branding decision which impacts how your organization is perceived and also how it is found in the search engines. Purchasing from a cheap bulk registrar or choosing can spell trouble.

2) Website Design & Development Services – Find a provider that specializes in small business web design and development. An organization that offers a solutions-based approach can assist your company in doing thorough needs analysis and in designing all of the elements to work well together. First impressions count!

3) E-mail Management – E-mail is a key communication tool for your business. The right system will help you maximize communications within the company, on the road and with your customers.

4) Social Media – Social media such as blogging, Podcasting and other web 2.0 tools can greatly enhance customer communications. Your web services company should be able to help you evaluate how social media tools can best benefit your web presence and business objects.

5) Small Business Website Hosting Services – All web hosting is NOT created equal. There are many nuances and technical consideration involved with hosting solutions. It is best to stay away from budget hosting companies. Look for a managed hosting provider who can help you select the right plan for your web solution goals, get your website up and running and support you as it grows and evolves.

6) Website Maintenance – How will your site be maintained and updated? Having both small business web development and managed web site hosting as a package is immensely helpful for maximizing web server resources, identifying problems and keeping the site maintained and updated.

7) E-Commerce – Will you be actually selling on your site or using it for lead generation or information dissemination? If you are selling products, who will create and maintain your product database. How will transactions be handled? What about web server requirements? Working with a professional can help ensure you make the right choices for your e-commerce site.

8) Business Process Interaction (database development, customer relationship management, integration with your business management systems) – A website needs to be more than just an ad on the Internet to be effective as a business tool. There are many ways the web can be used to improve your business processes and integrate with your existing systems such as accounting or contact management.

9) Website Marketing – How will people find you on the web? Will you optimize your site for organic search or employ paid marketing techniques or a combination? What directories should you list your site in? Search engine marketing has evolved to be a complex specialty. It’s critical that you understand the tools available for driving traffic to your site and if needed, know how to evaluate and engage a web marketing specialist.

10) Website Analytics and Conversion – Having a great site isn’t enough if your visitors aren’t doing what you intended; buying something, contacting your company or using your site for an information source. Does your site have usability issues? What kind of reporting will you use to track site visitors? What do you need to know and do to convert your visitors into action-takers?

It’s a Process and a Work in Progress

While there is certainly a lot to think about, creating the best possible website solution for your business doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Your website can and should be a work in progress, evolving as your business grows. Because most small businesses do not have an internal IT staff to handle the technical elements of web development and planning, working with a web solutions provider that specializes in small business website hosting services and small business web design and development is a good start. Such an organization can help you identify your goals, manage the technical aspects of your site and guide you in your marketing efforts. They can also help you work within your budget to develop a plan that combines all the elements into a cohesive whole for creating and maintaining a successful web presence.

Conclusion

The web has grown up to be a terrific marketing medium for small businesses and organizations. Done right, it can be the most cost effective and powerful marketing and communication tool in your arsenal. The promise is still there. However, to truly leverage the power of the web, it is important to take a good, hard look at the website you currently have or the one you are thinking about creating. The elements of a successful web presence: small business web hosting, website design and development and web marketing are only the framework for a well thought-out web solution designed to reach your customers and truly benefit your business.

 

Social Media Networks and the Impact on Small Business

There’s been an interesting debate of recent times about social media networks and their impact on the search process. With the increasing number of people using social media sites to communicate with other users, research brands and receive advice via their social network, forum or blog sites, have they abandoned the traditional search process in favour of social networks.

That’s looking from the consumer side, and I’ve not doubt that in the future, we might well see some movement in current searching trends, given the amount of advertising now appearing on Facebook and the other social networks, but what has been the impact of social network sites on small business and owners?

I’ve been monitoring this for some time now and whilst the social networks do have an influence on consumers, they don’t appear to have any real impact on business. In a new survey released by the Citibank/Gfk Roper group, over 76% of small business owners have not found social networks to be helpful in generating business leads or for expanding their business, during the past year. 86% of the business owners surveyed also responded that they had not used social networking sites to get business advice or information.

The survey of 500 small business owners across the US, found that despite widespread consumer use and the increase in marketing efforts by larger corporations into sites such as Facebook,MySpave and Linkedin, small business appears to have largely ignored the social networks.

The survey found that general search engine sites such as Google and Yahoo trump social networks, small-business-focused sites and general business destinations where business owners go to seek business advice or information. Some 61% of respondents say they still rely on search-engine sites to get business information.

Additional survey findings:

 

  • 42% of small business owners and managers reported that in the past year they have made greater use of their company’s website to generate business leads and sales.
  • Among companies with 20-99 employees, this percentage rises to 57% reporting they have made greater use of their website.
  • Survey respondents are using email marketing (28%) and online advertising (25%) to generate business leads and sales.

One interesting result from this survey, is small business has finally realised the need to inject funds into their web sites, making them both SEO and consumer friendly.

The survey suggests that small business owners are still finding their way with social media, particularly when it comes to using these tools to grow their business. This  might be all about to change though, with marketing advisers to small business now cutting the more traditional forms of marketing and advertising and using lower cost, on line marketing to save money.

In my observations working with business, social media’s growth in the past 12 months has completely overwhelmed them, and combined with a lack of knowledge on how to use this medium in their business, they have ignored it, hoping it might go away. The problem for small business with this, is if you don’t start to adopt social networks, you do face the prospect of becoming irrelevant to your customers.

They are moving faster than you are, so at some stage they will be so far ahead, they won’t need you anymore as they will impacted by advertising and consumer advice and reviews on brands and purchases, via their social network.