Many of the entrepreneurs and small businesses I talk to either don’t use email marketing or don’t use it to its full potential. What it’s boiled down to is a lack of time, know-how, and fear.

Between fighting the social media algorithms and constant posting, planning, and running your own business (not to mention actually working with your people!), it’s no wonder you don’t want to add more to your already overflowing plate.

While I can’t give you more hours in the day, I can tell you just how vital email marketing is to online businesses and why it’s absolutely worth your time and energy to get started now.

Email can be a powerful tool to connect with paying clients and customers and encourage them to stick around as repeat buyers. It attracts people who are genuinely interested in what you have to say and in the products you’re selling. And it’s way more introvert-friendly and reliable than social media. 

This Ultimate Email Marketing Guide helps beginner email marketers understand how the whole email tech process works AND goes way beyond that by showing you exactly how to optimize your copy and strategy for all you email enthusiasts out there.

What is email marketing?

Email marketing is a form of direct marketing that uses email to promote a product, service, or event. Basically, it’s you sharing what you know and how you can help your people by emailing them directly.

It’s a great way to reach a wide range of people and build relationships of trust and expertise with them. It allows marketers (you or your team) to send personalized messages to their target audience, which results in higher engagement and higher conversion rates.

Personally, I think it’s the bee’s knees.

Why you need email as a primary marketing tool

There are sooooo many benefits to email marketing. It is cost-effective and allows you to reach a large number of people with minimal effort. With email, you can segment your audience, personalize your messages, track results, and measure the effectiveness of your campaigns. You can also send timely and relevant messages to your customers, which can help build trust and loyalty.

Email marketing is also a great way to increase brand awareness and boost sales. It can be used to promote new products and services, drive traffic to your website, and increase customer engagement. Additionally, you can use email to send newsletters, announcements, and other content that can help keep your customers informed and engaged.

Email marketing is a powerful tool for coaches, course creators, and service providers to reach their target audience and boost their business. It is an effective way to communicate with potential customers, nurture relationships, and increase customer loyalty.

Email is profitable.

Email marketing has the highest return on investment (ROI) of any other marketing strategy. According to DMA in 2019, you can expect an average return of $42 for every $1 you spend on email marketing. Are you getting that kind of return anywhere else online?

Email is business collateral.

It’s yours. You own your list. In fact, other than your website, blog, and podcast, it’s one of the very few things you actually have control over online.

Can you say the same thing about your Instagram or Facebook accounts? I can’t tell you how many times Meta has shut down accounts business owners have spent years and countless hours building. With no explanation. Sucks, right? (This is not to even mention the algorithms…)

Email, on the other hand, is a way you can communicate directly with your people in much the same way you do on social media. But it can’t be taken away from you. When you decide you don’t like Aweber anymore, you can take your list with you to Convertkit or any other platform. When you hit send on an email, your message goes straight to your audience’s inbox instead of being at the mercy of the algorithm gods.

Email builds community.

It allows marketers to send personalized messages to their target audience, which results in higher engagement and higher conversion rates. Email is an organic way of communicating with your audience, where you can tailor your message to your people – even customize messages based on their different interests or needs. Wild, huh?

First thing’s first – know your audience and your business

You wouldn’t believe how many entrepreneurs don’t have a clue who their people are or even who they are!

To be effective at email – and marketing in general – you have to know what you generally stand for (or at least your business values) and how you help others. And who are the people that will benefit from your product or service the most?

Are they women or womxn? Are they solopreneurs with kids looking for productivity solutions, or are they gen-z ready for the laptop lifestyle? Does your filthy mouth turn them off? Do you care?

These are the kinds of questions you have to be prepared to answer about you and your people. But don’t freak out on me now if you’re just starting out or not 100% yet. You will learn more about them over time, especially if you’re using email to its full potential. And, yes, your business will likely change over time too, which is another great thing about email – you can bring them along for the ride!

At the very least, you must know these two things:

  1. What do you sell?
  2. Who is it for?

Once you can answer those questions, move on to getting yourself an email marketing platform (aka email service provider, email marketing service/software…it’s got a lot of names for the same thing).

Choose the best email service provider (ESP)

Due to anti-SPAM laws, you can’t just send mass marketing emails through your regular old Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, etc. So to legally send emails to your list, you have to use an email service provider.

There’s a plethora of email service providers (we’ll call them ESPs for sake of my typing fingers) out there, with various features and price points. Basically, you’ll want one that has a good reputation, a great deliverability rating, the features you need/want, works with your brain, and fits within your budget.

Researching them can be overwhelming, so I’ve done a little of that for you (lucky you!) Below are some of the most popular ESPs I’ve used before so you can get a little feel for each one.

Activecampaign

Activecampaign is the ESP of choice for a majority of serious email marketers. This is because it’s one damn powerful platform that can: segment your list like a boss, personalize your content based on what each segment is interested in, and build glorious workflows that make business much more efficient.

Once I get myself together (or get a VA, ha!)I’ll be making the move to Activecampaign for its amazing capabilities, pre-built workflows, and reliability.

Convertkit

Convertkit is the go-to software for solopreneurs, especially creatives. It has some powerful segmentation and automation features and built-in landing pages.

As of writing this article, they’re also beginning to provide a built-in way to take payment right in the emails, which could eliminate the need for a 3rd party payment system. It’s intuitive to use, but still seems to have a few quirks to work out. Still, it’s well-loved and well-priced for what it does.

Flodesk

Flodesk is an easy-to-use, easy-on-the-eyes email marketing provider. Their platform focuses on design and visual-heavy content. This can be a good choice for designers, photographers, or artists who want to show off their aesthetic.

Flodesk offers a flat rate for use, unlike most other providers that charge per subscriber count. This can be a good option if you have a large audience, like to keep things simple, and your audience gets value from a beautifully designed newsletter.

Mailchimp, Aweber, Mailerlite

I’m lumping these together because they’re more suited to beginners. They can be very attractive to new marketers because of their quirky branding, lower prices, and easy-to-use interfaces. They often lure people in with free or very inexpensive plans, but beware: you get what you pay for.

Free plans don’t include automation, which, let’s face it, is a non-negotiable in email marketing. You don’t want to have to remember to manually send an email to everyone on your list at various intervals according to when they first joined, bought a product, etc. Just no.

Their features overall are usually lacking as well and can be a little clunky to use. Still, they are a good option if you’re just starting out and are on a tight budget.

All-in-one (Kajabi, Kartra, and FG Funnels)

These aren’t typically the best option for serious email marketing, but they do have a couple major advantages over other email platforms.

First, they’re built into these course and coaching platforms so they just work. You don’t have to learn how to connect email to funnels, webinars, courses, and calendars because it’s already done for you.

All-in-one platforms also typically have the workflows built into them – another huge tech time-saver. This means that all you have to do is fill in the empty boxes with your own email copy and move on with your life.

I personally use FG Mail, which is the optional built-in email provider inside FG Funnels.* affiliate link* I do this right now as my business grows because everything is already connected and “plays nice” with my website, funnels, and courses. Put simply–it’s less work.

If you still aren’t sure which platform to choose…

I don’t want you to get stuck here. So pick the one that makes the most sense for you and your business right now. You can always move your list to a different ESP later on if you want. That’s one of the many beauties of email 😉

Set up your email platform

Now, I can’t get into the specifics of setting up each individual provider, but I can tell you generally what you’ll need to get started.

First, you’ll need a professional email address.

That means if you don’t already have your own web domain, do that now for around $12/year at Google Domains.

Ideally, your domain name should be your business name or your own name if you’re a personal brand with “.com” at the end. For example, jlsconsulting. com or jennifersmith. com (I made these up – I have no idea if they’re used or not 🤷🏼).

NOTE: If your preferred domain name is already taken, ending with .co is not as common, but it’s still pretty good.

Once you’ve got your domain, you’ll be able to create your own unique email address.

And I recommend creating a few:

  • hello@yourdomain.com – this one is the main address you’ll use for client inquiries, comments, and general contact.
  • yourname@yourdomain.com – this is the one that’s just for you. I recommend you use this one as the send and receive address you’ll use in your email marketing
  • support@yourdomain.com – this one is optional, but I use this one to direct customers for technical support like resetting passwords and such. But the hello address could also serve this purpose.
  • fictionalcustomerserviceagentname@yourdomain.com – this address is a little tip for solopreneurs I learned from the magnificent money mindset mentor Denise Duffield-Thomas.

Here’s how it works: you create an email address for your fictional customer service representative. That way, if someone emails support with a complaint or refund request, it not only makes you appear professional (because you have a cs team!) but you don’t take the criticism so damn personally.

Did you catch that last address? Yeah, I’m serious about that one. Mine is named Heather 😄

Now, go create your account according to the platform’s instructions.

You back? Good, because we’re on a roll!

Invite people you know

Of course, you can’t just add people to your list all willy nilly. You also can’t buy a list (I mean, it’s possible but never do this!). You must have express permission to add anyone to your email list (even your mom!).

The easiest first place to start growing your list is to invite your friends, family, and anyone in your current network.

To do this, you can send them each a personal email or reach out in a DM with an invite link to your sign up form (more about this later). Or you can simply ask if you can add them, then add them manually if they say yes.

Here’s a template you can use:

“Hey [NAME],

I am starting an email list to share [THING YOU SHARE} about [YOUR THING]. Since you’re into [SIMILAR THING TO YOUR THING], I think you’d love it. Are you in?

-[YOUR NAME]”

Now you need a sign-up form and opt-in landing page

If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to create a sign-up form and an opt-in page.

So, what are those?

A sign-up form is where baby subscribers come from. Seriously though, it’s the form where your potential subscriber types in their email address and clicks the “Subscribe” button. From there, your ESP saves that info collected in the form. Then that person is on your list!

Keep your sign-up form simple. In most cases you only need to ask for a name and email address. No need to grab their business name and phone number and birthdate and website and… make it super easy for them.

You’ll also need to include a clear call to action (or CTA) on that sign-up form. All that means is the words on the sign-up button need to clearly tell them what to do.

Here are some good CTAs you can borrow:

  • Grab The [Thing] – ex. Grab The Guide, Grab the PDF
  • Get The [Thing] Now – ex. Get The Checklist Now, Watch the Video Now
  • Get Your Free [Thing] – ex. Get Your Free Template, Get Your Free Trial
  • [The Thing’s Outcome] – ex. Feel Better Fast, Write Better Emails

Where to put sign-up forms

Your ESP usually gives you a code that allows you to embed your sign-up forms on your website. Many ESPs also allow you to create “opt-in pages” or “landing pages” inside their platforms. Once those pages are built, you can share them pretty much anywhere.

These pages house the sign-up form and give you a place to send your potential subscribers to so they can sign up for your newsletter. These pages also describe what your email list is all about and why the reader should sign up.

Here are just a few other places you can install sign-up forms:

  • In relevant blog posts
  • In a pop-up on your website
  • On your home page
  • On your about page

For now, just go with the opt-in page. You can go back and add more later.

Create a lead magnet

People are protective of their inboxes and they don’t (and shouldn’t!) let just anyone in. There’s usually some kind of transaction involved where you offer the person something of value to them for free and they give their email address in return.

These are called gifts, lead magnets, opt-in bribes, freebies…so many names for the same thing!

How to decide what to offer as a lead magnet to get people on your list? Think about what your people really want/need an answer to – something you can easily solve for them.

For example, a really easy way to get people to subscribe in e-commerce is by offering a discount. A business coach might offer a free PDF step-by-step roadmap to setting up a new business. A food blogger might get subscribers by giving away a small collection of easy weeknight recipes as an ebook.

Once you’ve decided on your lead magnet, write a brief description on your opt-in page. Let potential subscribers know what they’ll learn/get in the freebie and why they should care about it.

Write a welcome email

A welcome email will be sent automatically by your ESP (this is called an autoresponder) once the person has hit that submit button on your sign-up form.

This email will serve a few different purposes. Most importantly for your subscriber, you’ll be sending them the free thing you promised them in exchange for their email address. This email will fulfill that promise.

For you, this email is your chance to make a great first impression with your new subscriber. It’s also typically the email that will be opened the most, so use this email as your opportunity to begin hinting at growing your relationship with this person.

While they won’t be interested in your full life story at this point, you can inject a little of your personality. Let them know what’s great about the content inside their free gift. And let them know you’re there for them in relation to your thing. Keep it short and sweet. And don’t forget to add a link (not an attachment) to their gift.

Write to your list regularly

What comes next is up to you and what you think your audience will find valuable. Emails that are written in a way that sound personable, packed with your personality, and are relevant to your audience are always going to outperform stuffy emails with off-topic crap.

What to write in an email newsletter

To write these emails, keep it concise. Write like you’re talking to a friend who wants to know about your thing. And use the subject like to grab attention and tease what’s inside to get them to open up.

The main content of the email should also lead to an action. For example, you could write a little teaser summary about a recent blog post, then invite them to click the link to read the full article. Or you might write about a recent client win and then invite them to book a consultation with you.

How often should I send emails to my list?

You don’t have to write an email every day. In fact, I’d say don’t.

But, you do want to be as consistent as possible with your newsletter and your new prospective customers. So find a schedule that works for you. If you can only write once a month for now, that’s fine. If you can manage sending weekly emails, even better. But once a month is better than not at all.

When to send your emails isn’t a cut and dry answer either, but you’ll learn along the way what days and times you send get more opens and clicks. You’ll also learn what types of headlines get more response. Basically, you’ll learn what works for you by actually doing it!

Next steps…

Email marketing is one of the most powerful marketing tools you can use to grow your business, no matter what type of business you’re in. This is just your very first, rudimentary leap into email marketing.

There is so much more to learn about setting it all up, what and how to write to turn subscribers into buyers, about creating lead magnets and funnels, launching new products and offers, and getting more and more people on your list.

But by taking these first steps laid out for you in this guide, you are well on your way to building a thriving and profitable email list for your business.

If you need help getting started with your email marketing, want to create a plan for growing your list, or need ideas for what to send, why not join me for a Strategy Sesh? These 1:1 sessions will get you past overthinking and overwhelm and create a plan to get unstuck with your email marketing.