Email Marketing Best Practices For Small Business [Q&A with Rob Walling]

A lot of small business owners struggle with understanding how to effectively connect with their customers and prospects through email. With new technology, products, and rules being introduced each and every day, it’s not always easy to know where to start.

But if you’re at all interested in growing your business in 2015 and beyond, you can’t afford to ignore email marketing any longer—despite how intimidating it may seem. If you want to continue establishing and strengthening relationships with customers, you have to add email marketing to your list of acquisition strategies.

We recently talked with Drip founder Rob Walling and asked him to answer a few questions in order to help business owners understand why email marketing is such an important tool for communicating with prospects and customers. Read through our questions and his answers to find out how (and why) to get started: 

Why is email such a popular communication tool for businesses today?

Rob: Email is popular because it’s ubiquitous (85% of people who are online send and receive email) and the receiver expects that an email has been hand-crafted for them, unlike a Tweet or Facebook post, which is crafted for an audience.

From our internal data and anecdotal evidence from other marketers, the engagement (and therefore value) of an email list of 100 people is 10-20x higher than an equivalent-sized Twitter or Facebook following.

What are 3 tips you can offer to business owners who are just starting to dive into email marketing?


#1: Start doing it immediately. The biggest regret of everyone I know using email marketing is that they wish they had started sooner.

#2: Offer a killer opt-in reward. You don’t need to spend a lot of time creating this. You can absolutely re-purpose old blog posts and turn them into a 5-day email mini course (we actually do that for free for our customers at Drip). Another popular choice is to create a list of the top X tools needed for your industry. These convert really well.

#3: Once you start building a list, don’t send broadcasts to that list unless it’s timely information. Instead, add new content to the end of an autoresponder sequence so that over time you’re building an asset (a long sequence of emails that every new subscriber receives) rather than a content hamster wheel.

What are some good strategies for building your email list? Can you offer a few specific suggestions?

Rob: Spend some time thinking about your headline and your offer. What are you giving someone in exchange for their email address and how are you communicating that? For example, which of the following is more compelling?

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What are some email marketing no-no’s that every business owner needs to know about?

Rob: Here are a couple:

#1: Don’t buy email addresses. Ever. It’s spam, it’s illegal, and your conversion rate will be so low that it’s not worth it.

#2: Unless you’re an e-commerce site, don’t solely send sales pitches. Provide some other value that your subscribers can take an apply whether they buy your products or not.

Any advice on what day of the week and what time emails should be sent?

Rob: This depends on your audience, but my rule of thumb is if you’re selling to other businesses, send between 9am and 5pm, Monday through Friday (I’ll even limit to Tuesday through Thursday if I’m doing a focused promotion).

If selling to consumers, I’ve heard better results when sending in the evenings and on weekends, when your consumers have time to check their email.

How important is authenticity and personalization when it comes to sending emails to customers and prospects?

Rob: When it comes to authenticity it depends on your audience.

If you’re an ecommerce website do you really need to be authentic about who you are and what you do? It might help, but it’s not required.

But if you’re a boutique consulting firm or a small software startup, you must be authentic and personable. I own a number of software products and almost every emails we send out has my name at the bottom as the founder. It goes a long way to let people know that there’s a real person on the other end.

For personalization, this is a must moving forward. The more advanced email marketers I know are doing everything they can to increase their personalization because it works (a trend I discussed here). Beginning email marketers may start out without personalization, but in my opinion it will be a necessity to compete in the next 2-4 years.

Any other tips or advice you’d like to share with business owners?

Rob: Don’t get bogged down with fancy email templates. Choose a simple, single column responsive template and start typing. You can optimize your look and feel later. The most important thing is to start writing.

Rob Walling is the founder of Drip, email marketing software focused on converting visitors to customers (rather than sending static email newsletters). He blogs about startups and online marketing at Software by Rob

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