5 Steps to Take Before Sending Your First Email Campaign

In this blog post, we discuss how to create your email marketing goals, decide what message to share and pick an email marketing platform to send your emails from. If you’ve started looking around in your new, shiny email marketing account and are a bit overwhelmed, that’s okay. We’ll take you through your next five steps so you can be ready to send your first email campaign in no time.

1. Create a contact list.

Before you start sending email campaigns, you need to create a contact list to send to. Don’t worry. You don’t need a bunch of contacts yet. Go to the list section of your email marketing platform and create a new list. Name the list something useful for your team. Then add the other necessary information, such as your contact information, as prompted by your email marketing platform. This is the first step because it gives you a place to add emails as you collect them.

If you have multiple audiences you serve with your business, you can either create multiple lists or one list with tags to differentiate groups of subscribers. Whether you create multiple lists or use multiple tags will depend on your audience, goals and content.

2. Create a welcome email.

Don’t start creating your newsletter yet. It’s time to create your welcome email. This will not only help familiarize you with how to use the email marketing platform you chose, but it will also be the first point of contact via email to your future subscribers.

To create the welcome email, you can use a welcome email template or code your own with HTML. Add your logo, thank your subscribers for joining your list and provide them with that freebie, if applicable (we’ll get to this in a minute). Let them know what to expect and be sure to promote your brand appropriately by using your messaging strategy and visual branding. Link to your website. Overall, keep it simple and short.

Once you’ve created the welcome email, schedule it to send immediately after subscribers sign up for your email updates and set it to the list you just made. The longer you wait for the platform to be triggered to send this email out, the bigger risk you take that your new subscriber will forget that they signed up to receive your updates. Plus, if you do send a freebie, your new subscribers will want instant gratification because they are excited about your content, so deliver it ASAP!


3. Tell the world!

In order to add contacts to your list(s), you need to let people know you’re offering this service. There are many avenues to do this, including:

  • Personalize and add a signup form or landing page on your website. Most email marketing platforms help you create one in your account. For example, when you go to create a campaign in Mailchimp, you see the above options. Usually, signup forms or landing pages tout a freebie of sorts (the value for your subscribers), such as free content, in return for the email address. Make sure that freebie has a hook for the potential subscriber so they want to hand over their email address and name. Some small businesses offer a promo code for a percentage off their first purchase; this is a great option, but remember that provides more value for your business than it does for your subscribers. (They have to purchase before seeing value, after all.) It does work wonders for many small businesses, but be strategic about your decision. (You can always change it when you reevaluate your email marketing program later on.)
  • Share it on all your social media platforms, pinning that post to the top of your profile.
  • If you have a physical office or store, have a dedicated place for sign-ups by the register, for example. Or ask your customers if they’d like to sign up for email updates verbally. (verbally AND a sign is a great double whammy!)
  • Ask customers who purchase items on your website or are creating an account to subscribe to your email list. You’re probably already asking them to give you their email address and name, so add this option to both processes.

Telling your website visitors, social media followers and customers is a foolproof way to build your list so you can start nurturing those sales leads. However, building a list takes time. The key is quality leads rather than the quantity of leads. When this process takes longer than expected, many small businesses purchase email addresses. We highly suggest you do not purchase emails. This can get messy and if done incorrectly, it is actually illegal under the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003.

Many email marketing platforms will not allow you to use purchased lists because they require subscribers to opt-in or require the person importing the list to confirm that the subscribers have opted in. Plus, every email services provider (like Gmail, Outlook and Yahoo! Mail) has spam filters, which can mean paying to send emails to spam folders and that isn’t very effective. Then, the spam filters in your email marketing platform virtually explode from the kickback and might block you from sending more emails to that list until you fix the problem. If this happens, you risk damaging your sender reputation, which is crucial to getting your emails delivered in the first place. It can be a vicious cycle.

What if you already purchased emails? Tread carefully. Many of them will be undeliverable and others will be marked as spam, so expect lower opens and click-through rates, and high spam reports if you send campaigns to purchased emails. Some businesses who have purchased lists have seen success when done legally and when the list is whittled down to “active” emails (subscribers who open your emails, click on your links and don’t mark you as spam), but again, this takes time.

4. Choose your sending frequency.

Depending on what you’re sending and who your audience is, your sending frequency will change. A general rule of thumb is between one and four emails per month. Some small businesses send emails multiple times per week, even daily. Fewer emails generally receive higher click-throughs and opens, but more sent emails can also make a wider impact on your subscribers. It all depends on how often your subscribers want to consume your email content.

Start by creating a content schedule. Again, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to offer quality content to your subscribers because most will be informed of your content through your emails. Take your regular content schedule for your business (blogs, white papers, books, etc.) and repurpose small bits of that content for your email subscribers. Depending on your overall content schedule for your small business, you will be able to send out daily, weekly or monthly emails on a consistent basis.

For example, if you post weekly blogs, let your subscribers be the first ones to be alerted about it. Pull some vital information from the scheduled blog post and repurpose or rewrite it for the email, which is generally more personal than blogs. Then create a call to action button for your subscribers to read the rest of that blog post at the end of your content within the email (before the footer).

Another example is to highlight promotions. If you have two sales every year, mark them on your regular content calendar and email content calendar, and be sure to size all promotional images for email, too. These can be additional emails and email series, or they can replace your regular emails in the schedule, depending on what your subscribers respond to (via email opens, click-throughs, purchases, etc.). A great idea for your email subscribers is to let them in on a sale earlier than everyone else. Give them a special link in the call to action button to save money on your products or services. Tell them that they’re receiving this email before you post it on your website or social media pages, and that supplies are limited, if applicable.

From there, test your audience. Send one email to half your subscribers the first month and two to four to the other half of your subscribers. This is called an A/B test. With A/B tests, keep all variables the same except one. In this instance, the content is the same (one long email vs. two to four shorter emails split up from the longer email), but the number of emails differs. After a few months of testing this, see which emails receive the higher opens and click-through rates, and then choose that frequency for your entire list.

5. Create content, test and schedule.

Since you know what you are sharing and the frequency of emails, it’s time to create your emails and schedule the campaigns to send. As we discussed above, content needs to be valuable to your subscribers and you can repurpose other content to save time as long as it provides value (such as an insight or the first sneak peek) for your subscribers.

After your repurposed your content and added quality images to the email, you are almost ready to send. But wait! You need to test that email masterpiece. Most email marketing platforms offer preview and test options within the email builder; always preview it first and then test it at least once. Send it to two or more coworkers to receive feedback. If you’re a solopreneur, walk away from it for a day before reviewing your work with a critical eye or ask a friend to check it. You can also use services like Litmus or Email on Acid to see what your emails will look like on different devices and email service provider inboxes.

Overall, when you test your email, you’re looking at it with fresh eyes from the subscriber perspective. You’re looking for spelling and grammar mistakes, image quality, spacing and overall content accuracy. Look at it as a whole. Is it visually pleasing? Does the flow of the email allow the subscriber to easily find the main content points and call to action? Look at the details. Do all the links work properly? Is the business address correct in the footer? Does the subject make sense and should it pique the interest of the subscriber?

Now it’s time to schedule your email. Not only are you busy with other aspects of your small business, but scheduling helps you prepare content in a timely manner, effectively marketing content, events and product or service launches in a timely manner. Plus, scheduling email campaigns ahead of time allows you to get more done in a shorter amount of time. For example, if you just finished a batch of blog posts, repurpose them for emails while the content is fresh in your mind. This will help you rewrite content faster and with ease. Scheduling also allows you to send emails at the best time for your business, which some email marketing platforms can tell you or you can monitor what works best over time with your specific audience.
Start sending!
Backed by a plan of attack, you are now ready to start creating and sending quality campaigns to and for your subscribers. Armed with this plan, you don’t have to spend hours upon hours creating great email newsletters that convert. In fact, email campaigns not only impact your small business by helping it grow through customer support and generating quality leads, but they can also help you distill your business in a short, digestible format – emails.