What is email marketing and how does it work?

“Email consistently and undisputedly provides the biggest returns in digital marketing.”

Chad S. White, Director of Research at Litmus and author of Email Marketing Rules. 

When White talks about returns, what he means is that his study of hundreds of marketers worldwide showed email marketing has a return on investment of 38:1. That means for every dollar businesses spend on email marketing they make $38.

That is a good return. 

Yet, I meet more coaches, holistic health practitioners, and soloprenuers who don’t use email because they fear annoying their customers. 

I’m going to draw a line in the sand and say that is a HUGE mistake. 

What is email marketing?

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Technically, email marketing is any email a business sends to a customer or prospect. But email marketing done right is about using email to develop and nurture relationships with potential customers and clients.

If you’re saying “but I’ve heard email doesn’t work” or “I HATE getting email,” consider this: 94% of Internet users use email, while only 61% use social media according to a HostPapa study.

When done well, your email list will engage with you: they’ll respond to your messages and book calls. They’ll want to communicate with you.

The same can be said for social media channels, but the reach there is much lower. 

Email marketing is about reach.

Email gives you more control over whether your audience gets your message.

It is true they may not open your email (approximately 80% won’t). But assuming you’re following best practices, that email will get to their inbox where THEY chose whether to open or ignore it. 

That is not the case with social media, where algorithms determine whether posts show up in a person’s feed or not. You don’t control that.

What this means in practical terms is this:

Facebook || 1,000 fans || FB shows your post to 10%, or 100 || those 100 may or may not see it in their feed, depending on how much comes through at the same time || assume 50% see it = 50 people get message.

Email || 1,000 subscribers || ESP delivers it to 99% of the inboxes (we’ll assume some gets caught in filters), or 990 || 20% of those 990 open it = 198 people get message.

Same potential reach, completely different outcome. 

Email marketing provides the best reach for the cost. Period. That is why email marketing is a must for your business.

How does email marketing work?

Email marketing is really pretty simple: you invite people onto a list; you send them valuable information, sometimes you sell, but not always; and you keep doing it.

That’s the simple answer. 

Email strategy is like any other content strategy you create: social media, blogging, YouTube. You need the tools and the plan to be effective.

Step 1: Find a good email service provider (ESP). There are many out there with a range of capabilities. I personally use ActiveCampaign and have been extremely pleased (you can see my review here).

Step 2: Create an irresistible free offer (aka lead magnet) and require people to get onto your list to receive it. (Look at this explanation of GDRP to understand if that applies to you and how to work with it.)

Step 3: Build your list. Social media posts, Facebook ads, “share your freebie” days in groups are all opportunities to send your ideal clients to your lead magnet and get them on your list. That is the goal.

Step 4: Send a warm welcome. As soon as someone lands on your list, enter them into an automation so they get a welcome message. This message tells them what to expect from your list. In my welcome, I invite them to unsubscribe if they aren’t interested. Less than 10% do.

Step 5: Send emails with valuable content. Answer questions, solve problems, share resources. Make your emails so awesome that your readers look forward to getting them. I rarely sell in mine unless I’m doing a product launch. However, every single email has a call-to-action to grab a free content review. 

Step 6: Look at your open rates and click rates. If open rates are low, play with your subject lines. If click rates are low, play with your offer.

Step 7: Be okay with unsubscribes. You don’t want people on your list who don’t want to be there. I get one or two unsubscribes for every email. This is why it’s important to always be building your list. That said, if more than half of the people who opt in quickly unsubscribe, that means you are targeting the wrong people with your lead magnet. 

Like all content marketing, email is about looking at results and testing, testing, testing. And always focusing on what the reader needs.

Common Questions:

Q: Should I buy or rent a list?

A: NO! That is a waste of time and money. Those people have not opted in and are unlikely to want to be on your list.

Q: Can I add anyone I meet to my list?

A: NO! Just because someone met you does not mean that want to be on your list. Always ask. When I meet someone who I think would benefit from what I share, I ask if they’d like to join. If they say no, I do not add them.

Q: 20% is so low. Should more people be opening my messages?

A: Yes, 20% feels low. But think about how you go through your inbox. I know if I’m busy, I delete messages just because I don’t have time. But I do open messages from the lists I’m on. If the person does a great job of both entertaining and educating me, I look forward to the messages. 

Q: How often do I need to send messages?

A: At least one a week, at a consistent time (so your people know when to expect it). However, you can send more frequently as long as you are delivering value. I send on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at about 8:30 in the morning. People on my list have told me they appreciate that. I’m on a few lists where I get daily emails. One I read often because it’s educational, the other I rarely read because it’s mostly sales (I open them when the subject line looks interesting).

Do you have any other questions? Put them in the comments and I will answer. 

Get my high converting subject lines

This is the most important part of your email because it determines whether your reader opens the message. Get started with my subject lines swipe file. All the examples got 30% or higher opens. woot woot.

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