How to launch a powerful email marketing plan

Three easy steps to help you get started

When it’s estimated that the average return on investment for email marketing is $38 for every $1 spent, it makes sense to at least consider how you might build email marketing into your overall marketing and communications strategy.

However, getting started can be a daunting endeavor for even the savviest entrepreneur. Don’t despair! The process can be accomplished in three manageable steps. Follow these and you’ll be on your way to an efficient, effective email marketing program.

1. Set a Strategy

Failing to plan is planning to fail, right? As with any marketing initiative, you can set the stage for success early by outlining an overarching strategy. Begin with some clearly defined goals by answering the question: What are you hoping to achieve with your email marketing efforts?

For some, the answer is simple brand awareness. For others, the answer might be increased customer engagement, driving traffic to your website or even sales of certain products or services. There is no right or wrong answer, and you should understand that this answer can and will change for you over time.

Once you have determined what you want to achieve with your new email marketing program, you should start to outline the frequency and content types that you intend to send to meet your goals.

Will you send a monthly or weekly newsletter? Do you have upcoming events or sales to promote? Pull out a calendar to schedule the first six months of emails you intend to send. Then, begin to sketch out regular content features and special promotions. Before you know it, you’ll have an actionable game plan for your email marketing program.

2. Build a List

List building and list cleaning will be an ever-important and ongoing priority in your email marketing program. Without an active, engaged list, all of the time and effort you spend creating your email campaigns is wasted.

So, where do you find email addresses? Start with your current customer base. Do you already have their email addresses or can you collect them? Website forms, events, conferences, promotions and special sales all provide opportunities to create and grow your email list. Depending on your business model, you can also ask your current customers if they would like to receive regular email updates from you.

Whatever you do, I highly discourage the practice of purchasing lists of email addresses. These lists are often riddled with inactive email addresses—not to mention potential spam traps—and can affect not only your engagement rates, but also your overall deliverability.

It’s important to remember that what you want is a list filled with active, engaged readers. A list of 200 individuals who open and engage with your emails is better than a list of 5,000 individuals, most of whom hit “delete” before they even finish reading your subject line. So, start small and continue to grow organically to achieve the best engagement rates over time.

3. Choose an Email Service Provider

The field of email marketing is such that there are an almost overwhelming number of email service providers to choose from. If you are just starting out, though, I would suggest choosing from one of the following three email service providers: Constant Contact, iContact or MailChimp.

Each of these email service providers offer free trials and free or low-cost (from $14 a month) monthly plans, making getting your email marketing program up and off the ground a relatively low-risk investment. All of these email service providers also offer free, customizable, mobile-friendly templates, which take a lot of the stress out of designing your emails.

Once you have chosen an email service provider, set up an account and start to familiarize yourself with the functionality and tools. You’ll want to do this several days—if not a few weeks—before your first email campaign is scheduled to be sent to reduce the pressure of getting that email out the door (not to mention giving yourself plenty of time to check and double-check to eliminate mistakes).

Now the only thing left to do is send that first email, which, if you’ve followed the steps listed here, should be fairly easy to do. You’ve planned the content, created the list, and familiarized yourself with the tools; all that’s left to do is build, test and set your email to send.

Then—after celebrating this momentous accomplishment, of course—you’ll want to take a step back and begin to evaluate your campaign's performance. Don't fret if your return on investment is below average at first. Email marketing is an iterative process where you have the opportunity to learn from and improve each email you send.

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