One of the toughest things about running a small business is finding an efficient way to keep in touch with your customers, both old and new.
There are many ways to do this – through snail mail, flyers in your shopping bags and of course social media. But one of the simplest ways to keep top of mind with your customers is actually via email.
Now I know some of you are thinking, ‘Oh I do that already. I’ve got a GMail account.’ Well here’s the thing, blind “Cc-ing” 400 or so of your customers via your free email account is actually considered spam and if you’re not careful you could have your account shut-down. This simply just isn’t a best practice.
But the good news is there is a very inexpensive and in some cases FREE way to email your customers. You can even put your emails on autopilot by “scheduling” your emails to go out on their own. All you have to do is sign-up for an email service provider (aka ESP) like MailChimp or AWeber.
It’s very easy to set-up an account and you no longer have to blind Cc; anyone. Yay! MailChimp, for example, offers a free account for up to 2000 subscribers (aka customers) and you can upload your current list via an Excel spreadsheet.
Here’s the catch, you want to make sure that these are people who want to hear from you and that their emails are still active. If you’re dumping every email you can get your hands on into your list you could get too many emails that bounce back. That can result in your ESP (like MailChimp or Constant Contact) shutting down your account, just like GMail or Outlook.
But this isn’t an email about what type of email service provider to use this is about WHAT you should be emailing them in the first place and I can tell you it ain’t spam. Here are 9 types of emails you should be sending to your customers to build your business and your list.
1. Introduce Yourself
This is a great email to send someone right after they have signed up for your list. It should be brief (like an elevator pitch). It’s like saying hello in person and should be conversational and friendly.
The point is to introduce you, your brand and highlight a few more things that you have to offer.
So if you’re known for your bagels now might be a good time to let them know that you offer cupcakes and sandwiches too. Just don’t over do it – don’t send them your whole menu or flood them with a bunch of coupons, just treat it as if you were writing someone a “quick note” or card.
2. Promote a Worthy Cause
Emails like this are a fantastic way to build awareness and foster community. We’ve all seen emails and posts from friends and businesses asking for donations for a “5K run” or during the holidays, but this is something that you can do year round.
Paying it forward and promoting a social cause, that aligns with your business’ core values, is never a bad idea. You can take it a step further and “partner” with a non-profit or civic organization but in truth sometimes the best thing you can do is just help them “spread the word” about their cause and the rest will take care of itself.
3. Email Them Something of Value But Don’t Email Them Coupons
Now this is perhaps the MOST important type of email for your business. This is the email that will help you “nurture” your customers to a sale, as you should be sending these to them on a fairly regular basis.
However, this is also the email that most small businesses don’t want to write – but you’ve got to do it. You’ve got to “give them something of value” to them – not you, them.
I know, I know! You (and I) are really getting sick of hearing that phrase but its the truth. You don’t have to make it complicated you can keep it really simple. For example, if you bake cakes – why not create a post with a checklist where you show them how they can create a really delicious, effortless meal in minutes.
Now the catch of course is that the desert is going to be one of YOUR fabulous cakes but you’ve also given them the recipe for a really delicious meal for free.
You gave them something of value (the free dinner recipe) in exchange for their time. Hopefully over time they will actually BUY one of those fabulous cakes you’ve been suggesting in all of those great emails with the free dinner ideas. Are you feeling me? This is what it means to give something of value.
The worst thing you could do is dump a bunch of emails onto a list and then send them nothing but discounts, coupons and sales pitches. That’s the kiss of death and that’s why most small business owners, THINK that building their email list is a waste of time, because nobody’s buying.
Well here’s the thing – nobody’s buying because you’re blowing up their inbox.
You see when you “blow-up” your customer’s inbox with a bunch of sales promos and coupons, you’re essentially turning your valuable email list into a “fast and cheap” way to spam your customers.
Whether your realize it or not, you’re sending a very subtle but effective message from you. You’re saying, “I don’t really want to earn your trust – I just want to hit you up for some money.” Doesn’t sound very nice right? Well – it isn’t.
You might as well be handing them one of those “Value Paks” that you get in the mail or the grocery store circular that’s stuck in the bottom of the shopping carts.
I mean let’s keep it real. We’ve all had a friend who for some reason never seems to have any money. They’re always “broke” and don’t seem to have a problem hitting their friends up for money. You know who I’m talking about.
It can be really annoying and in some cases it gets so bad – you start avoiding them. Right?
Who would want to have some one hitting them up for money every week? No one. So why would you do that to your customers? Exactly.
That doesn’t mean you never ask for the sale you just don’t ask for the sale ALL the time.
4. Promote Your Products or Services
Now you’re running a business – so there will come a time when you can ask for the sale. Seth Godin calls this “permission based marketing” and Gary Vaynerchuk has written a book and even coined a phrase for this approach – “Jab, jab, jab right hook!” What he means by this is that you give your customers “value” (the jabs) upfront and then ask for the sale (the right hook).
You don’t just go in swinging like Muhammad Ali and knock your customers out in 3 rounds! It’s not a boxing match it’s a relationship – that you want to keep.
Having said that, you want to make sure that when you do send an email like this that the customer has everything they need to actually purchase your product or service.
Take crystal clear pictures – so they can see the product. Make sure you address things like shipping and sizes. Make sure your promo codes actually work in the shopping cart and there are no broken links to pages that aren’t there.
Test and then test some more BEFORE you send your email out.
5. Email Them a Testimonial or Case Study
Sending out an email with testimonials from “Happy Customers” is a great way to drum-up new business.
Now testimonials can be hard to gather but they’re worth the effort. You can also use them on your website and in your social media feeds as well. Just be sure to ask for the person’s permission.
A great way to sweeten the deal is to offer to promote another customer’s worthy cause or business if they are a business owner. Just put a link, right under their testimonial, to their web address or add their phone number. I’m a web designer and I do this every couple of months or so.
This isn’t a “bribe” – you don’t want to twist anyone’s arm. It’s the testimonial that matters here, but getting exposure to someone else’s list in exchange for few kind and genuine words never hurts.
Sending an email with a testimonial or a brief case study also shows your customers that you’re not there just to take their money and move on to the next person. It shows them that you actually care about the results that they get.
These testimonials are endorsements that give you a level of credibility (and potentially new business) that you could never earn on your own.
6. Give Them What They Want & Upsell Them What They Need
There’s a long-standing stat that claims that you can increase your annual sales by as much as 20% if you focus on getting a second sell or repeat business from an existing customer. The irony is that most small businesses don’t focus on the second sell at all.
You may have heard the expression, ‘Give them what they want. Sell them what they need.’, but I like to say, ‘Give them what they want and UPSELL them what they need.’
Email is the perfect opportunity for you to do just that. These are people who already know you and in some cases have purchased something from you.
So you don’t have to worry about this email being considered spam or selling to a complete stranger. This isn’t prospecting, this is “up-selling” to your list for a fraction of what it would cost to get new business via Facebook ads or direct mail.
7. Send a Gentle Reminder
Truth be told you could probably automate most of these emails. I’m referring to emails to remind your customer to pick-up their order or to make sure they download that new e-book or free PDF that you just sent them. These emails may seem annoying but they can also help you close a sale.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten that I’ve ordered something on Amazon and then a shipping notification pops-up in my inbox. If there is one thing I can’t stand it’s notes stuck to my door from FedEx or UPS letting me know that I missed a package.
Your customers are in the same boat – so it’s OK to send them a gentle reminder about a purchase here or there – just don’t use them as an excuse to hit them up for more cash with another discount or coupon – that isn’t optimization that’s just plain pushy. Sorry but there’s no nice way to say it.
Remember you’ve just gone out on your first date – slow down and give your customers a little breathing room.
8. Ask for Feedback
It never hurts from time-to-time to get some real honest feedback from your customers. This should be a brief email and I would advise you to leave it open. Just simply ask them what could you do better and encourage them not to hold back.
The tough part here will be replying to everyone that replies to you and if you see some problems that you can resolve make every effort to do so. You may want to consider using a service like Survey Monkey to allow them to voice their opinions anonymously but I would suggest also letting them reply to the email itself. The point here is to make this as easy for them as possible – so keep the survey and the email short and sweet.
As a business owner you should make it part of your mantra to LOVE feedback from your customers. These are not complaints and this will only help you create a better customer experience for everyone.
9. Say Thank You
And lastly, don’t forget to say “Thank You!”. It seems trite but you’d be amazed how many businesses ask you for your money, your time, to share their posts or to come to their events. To slush through rain, sleet and snow to stand in line on “Black Friday” and then spend some more money on “Cyber Monday” and “Giving Tuesday” and never say “Thank you!”.
This is one of those emails that I would advise you to send out on the slowest and dullest of days. It will have such a nice impact on your customers because for ONCE somebody isn’t asking them to do something, but thanking them instead.
You don’t have to say much – just a simple “Thank you for your patronage”. You’ll be glad you did.
OK that’s if for me this week, but now it’s your turn. I’d like to hear from you!
Question: What is the biggest problem you have when it comes to building your list? The time? The money or the technology? Share your questions and comments below.
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