At Muffin, we’re always singing the praises of content marketing, social media and search engine optimisation – but there’s another digital marketing technique that can be effective. If you run a small business and want to reach more people, follow our introduction to email marketing.

What is email marketing?

Unlike social media or content marketing, email marketing is a direct form of marketing that takes place over email.

Think of it as the digital alternative to leaflet dropping. You want to tell your customers about new products and services, so you send them an email to let them know in hopes that they’ll click through to your website and buy something from you.

Email marketing typically falls into one of four categories, but some businesses blur these lines and send campaigns that have multiple aims and objectives.

  • Sending an email to encourage new or existing customers to buy something from your website (i.e. you’re running a three-day Christmas sale and want customers to visit your website and buy something immediately or within the coming days).
  • Sending an email to engage with customers, remind them of your existence and enhance and maintain your relationship with them in hopes to increase customer loyalty, increase brand awareness and encourage repeat business in future.
  • Sending an email that includes advertisements or affiliate links that will encourage your readers and customers to click through and help you generate an income.
  • Sending an email to give customers news about your business or charity – this is typically reserved for non-profits that don’t want to make money through email.

You may think that email marketing is just another form of marketing that your business probably doesn’t need to engage with, but you couldn’t be more wrong.

An incredible 82% of B2B and B2C companies use email marketing as part of their digital marketing strategy, and that figure is only set to rise as software becomes cheaper and more accessible.

And the truth is that your competitors are probably already building their own email lists, sending out regular campaigns to engage with their customers and keep them locked in. So the sooner you can build your list and send emails, the sooner you’ll see the benefits.

Why is it important for small businesses?

The benefits of email marketing for small businesses are practically endless. Below, we’ve rounded up just some of the reasons why you should consider investing in an email marketing campaign today.

Engaged audience: Unlike social media and other digital marketing tools, every person who’s on your email list has asked (or at least agreed) to be there. And that’s a powerful position to be in. This will allow you to achieve much higher conversion rates than through other platforms, as the people you’re emailing already have an interest in your business and want to find out more about what you’re offering.

Cost: Email marketing is an incredibly low-cost way to maintain relationships with your customers. You don’t need to spend money advertising in the local paper when you have direct contact to the people that matter most – and sending carefully-crafted emails will ensure they remain loyal to your business for years to come.

Return on investment: Small businesses don’t have thousands of pounds to spend on marketing, so it’s important that you choose the most effective platforms to get the best return on investment. A DMA report from 2014 claimed that ROI from email marketing can be as high as 2,500%, so it pays to put in the effort and build a list.

Email marketing ROI

Email marketing can be an incredibly valuable tool for your small business.

Speed: If you’re running a flash 24-hour sale, then content marketing isn’t going to be the best way to promote it. Email marketing offers an immediacy that can’t be replicated by other marketing channels – you can put your most up-to-date and important marketing messages in front of your audience within a couple of minutes.

Easy to make: You don’t have to be an expert to nail an email marketing campaign for your small business. Indeed, many email marketing service providers such as MailChimp offer simple drag-and-drop solutions so that you can create attractive emails in no time – there’s no need to hire an expensive graphic design agency!

Segment your audience: Want to promote a special offer that will only appeal to your email subscribers? With email marketing tools, you can quickly segment your audience and send campaigns only to the people who’ll want to read it. This form of bespoke, personalised marketing can’t be offered through any other channel.

Personalisation: Email marketing is becoming increasingly personalised – you can write one email template, and send personalised emails to thousands of subscribers, including the names, addresses, and other captured data. Check out this post from Hubspot if you want to learn how to personalise your email marketing efforts.

Measurable: Most email marketing software will provide you with in-depth analytics and reporting tools so that you can see which parts of your campaigns are working. Although some people argue that the best time of the day to email your customers is between 8 am and 12 pm, we think that the best way to find out is to experiment. Email marketing software like MailChimp allows you to send split A/B tests so that you can optimise your campaigns to get the best possible results every time.

Improves brand recognition: If you run a business that sells big-ticket or one-off items, then it can be tough to build your brand and get people to come back to your website. One way you can do so is by getting them to sign up to your mailing list and sending monthly emails, reminding them of your products. Even if they’re not in a position to buy from you immediately, repeated marketing will increase your brand recognition and keep your name in their minds when they’re ready to buy.

Benefits customer service: Sending out regular emails to remind customers of your early closing, limited opening hours or expected website downtime can improve customer service and reduce the number of inquiries sent to your mailbox. Email marketing is another form of communication and can speed up your service.

Are there rules you need to comply with?

Before you delve into email marketing and start collecting email addresses, there’s one thing that you should remember: every email you collect is a user’s personal data – data that cannot be shared or sold without their express permission. And failing to stick to that philosophy can be expensive, with the ICO fining companies up to £500,000. Therefore, it pays to read up on the laws around email marketing before you begin your campaign.

Failing to protect customers’ data could result in hefty fines.

First of all, you should make sure that you have permission to add an email address to your mailing list.

Implied permission rates to anybody that you’re directly related to as a business owner – so feel free to add customers, clients, contacts, and suppliers to your list when you sign up. So long as you have an existing business relationship with them, you’re covered.

For everyone else, you’ll have to explicitly ask them for their permission to add their email to your mailing list. If somebody sends you a message through your contact form or adds a comment on your blog, that doesn’t count as express permission unless you add a checkbox in your form that states they’ll be added to your email marketing list. Simply porting over contacts from other parts of your website without their permission is not OK.

There are some other rules and general practices that you should follow when working on a mailing list:

  • Don’t trick customers: Don’t trick people into signing up for your mailing list, such as by automatically checking a ‘sign up to our mailing list’ box when they’re signing up to your website.
  • Don’t mislead customers: When sending emails, don’t mislead customers into clicking on your campaign by lying or using incorrect information in the subject. This includes pretending to be another company or misleading people into thinking they’re receiving an email from an authority figure/anyone that isn’t you.
  • Add contact information and an email address: In most countries, it’s required by law to add your address to your email campaigns so that complaints and comments can be addressed to the right company. Always use your real business address, and if you don’t have one, then consider signing up for a PO Box or mail-receiving service.
  • Add an unsubscribe button: It is a legal requirement to give your subscribers a way to remove themselves and their information from your database, so be sure to add an unsubscribe button to the bottom of your email campaign. On top of this, if users can signup for an account on your website, let them opt out or delete their account.
  • You’re always responsible: Even if another member of staff sends out your email or you’re outsourcing your email marketing to another company, you’re responsible for ensuring your campaigns are compliant with laws and regulations in your country. Therefore, we recommend reviewing every email before it’s sent.

The basics of email compliance are simple, but remember that different companies have different rules and regulations. If you’re sending emails to customers in the United States, read more about the CAN-SPAM Act, while if you’re in the United Kingdom, then read through the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations of 2003. Any company that collects or processes data from European customers (UK customers included) will also have to comply with GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) from May 2018.

The best email marketing services

If you want to collect email addresses from your visitors to use at a later date, then you’re going to need somewhere to store them. Although some email marketing plugins (more on those later) allow you to store email addresses in plain text files or CSV files, it’s important that you store confidential data somewhere secure, which is why most people choose to use an email list provider to save, manage and monitor their email marketing campaigns.

Before we delve into some of the most popular email marketing services for your small business, a few things that you should bear in mind:

  • A good email marketing service will ensure your emails don’t end up in spam folders
  • A good email marketing service will allow you to segment your audience and collect powerful analytics and data – from what device they opened your email on, to how many times they clicked through to your website, to the number of unsubscribers per email. If your email marketing service doesn’t provide this data, find another one
  • A good email marketing service will offer an API to allow you to connect your mailing list to a subscription form on your website, whether through a plugin or HTML
  • A good email marketing service will comply with email marketing laws across various countries, including the upcoming European GDPR regulations, the USA’s CAN-SPAM act and the UK’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations of 2003.
  • Most providers have a limit on the number of email addresses you can store for free, so you could be slapped with a monthly fee if your subscriber base grows quickly
  • Most providers give you the option of sending emails directly from their software, and provide free templates which you use and adapt to your branding

Constant Contact

Best for: Small companies with a medium-sized email marketing subscriber base (1,000+)

Constant Contact is one of the most popular and well-known email marketing services and is beginner friendly to boot. You can use this service to manage email lists, track and report on your emails and it includes a 1GB storage limit so that you can upload your own files, like logos, header images, and other marketing materials. The software also includes support via live chat, via email, and through its community forums, so you’ll always get an answer.

However, there is a drawback to this email software. Although it offers sixty days free to try the service, pricing starts from $20/month, which can add up if you’re running a small business and don’t want to spend money on expensive marketing software or tools. That’s why we recommend using Constant Contact only if you have an existing subscriber base of 1,000+, as its ease-of-use and customer service make it worth paying the small monthly fee.


Best for: New businesses with no or very small email marketing subscriber base (0+)

MailChimp is, without doubt, one of the most popular and accessible email marketing services on offer today – and the best part is that its core product is free. You’ll only begin paying for its services once you’ve reached 2,000 subscribers, and then its plans start from just $10 per month, which makes it accessible to virtually every business. Not only does MailChimp integrate with platforms like WordPress and Shopify, but you can connect it to your Google Analytics and other tools to get a better understanding of your customers.

MailChimp offers customer support through email, live chat and through a knowledgebase, but because of its size and popularity, you can easily find tutorials on how to do pretty much anything with the software online. What’s more, with hundreds of MailChimp templates available from the website and premium paid-for versions on websites like ThemeForest.


Best for: Small companies with a medium-sized email marketing subscriber base (500+)

Another email marketing service provider that’s popular is Aweber. One difference between Aweber and the other providers is telephone support, so if you have a specific request and need assistance, you can get answers over the phone instead of waiting for hours for an email response. Another benefit is Aweber’s high deliverability – they work to optimise your emails so that they arrive in your subscriber’s inbox, rather than in the spam box.

Aweber also offers tools such as auto-responders, so if you were to offer new subscribers a new eBook when they sign up, you could set up a string to have that eBook delivered as soon as they confirm their email address. Aweber is free for the first month but quickly jumps to $19/month if you have up to 500 subscribers, reaching $149/month if you have 10,000 or more. It’s, therefore, a premium option, but its support and deliverability rate makes it worthwhile if you’re already making money from an email marketing campaign.

Plugins and tools you can use on your website

Now that you’ve decided on an email marketing campaign and you’ve found a provider to store subscriber’s email addresses, you should add an opt-in form on your website to make it easy to collect email addresses. You’ll probably bump into these opt-in forms on websites across the web on a daily basis – on blog posts, on landing pages, or as content unlocks designed to capture email addresses and provide more value to dedicated readers.


If you use an email marketing service like MailChimp, you’ll be able to access their custom form builder tool, which creates a HTML or PHP code that can be implemented on your website. Design and build your form, and then copy and paste the code into the pages of your website you’d like it to appear on. Alternatively, you can use a tool such as Free Opt-In from Address Bin, which allows you to create a HTML form for any email marketing service.

Using WordPress

WordPress is the world’s most popular content management system, so there’s a good chance your small business website was built using the software. If it was, you’re in luck, as installing and designing an email opt-in box couldn’t be simpler thanks to its free plugins. Below, we’ve put together

Hustle is available as a free download, and a paid Premium version is also available with more customisation options.

Hustle (free, and premium version)

Designed by WordPress experts WPMUDev, this plugin is available for free on the WordPress plugins repository and allows for smooth pop-up forms, slide-in forms and social media sharing forms, all in one profile. The reason this plugin is so popular is that you can very quickly customise a form to match your website’s colour scheme and branding, and you can connect all of the biggest email marketing services to your plugin, including Aweber, Constant Contact, MailChimp, Hubspot, SendInBlue, Infusionsoft, and CampaignMonitor.

Another popular option is WP Subscribe Pro.

WP Subscribe Pro ($19)

Created by the team at MyThemesShop, this plugin includes everything you need to take your email marketing to the next level, including features such as a widget, pop-ups, cookie expiration, an exit intent trigger to capture emails before people leave your website, and more. However, this plugin isn’t free: there’s a one-off $19 attached, but it’s worth it.

Bloom is a popular choice for fans of Elegant Themes.

Bloom (part of Elegant Themes subscription service)

If you’ve already signed up to Elegant Themes for quality WordPress themes and templates, then you’ll have access to the Bloom email marketing plugin. By far the most customisable and easy-to-use plugin on this list, Bloom lets you create multiple designs and choose exactly where and when they’ll appear on your pages. For example, you could set up Bloom to show an email subscription opt-in when a reader is half-way through reading your blog.

Other options

Whether your website is hosted by WordPress or on another platform, there are other tools you can consider. Sumo offers free tools to grow your business, including a welcome mat that will show up whenever someone visits your website for the first time. You can add an opt-in form on this welcome mat and capture email addresses without any extra work.

You can also capture email addresses away from your website – at trade events, ask people if they’re happy for you to add them to your list. If you run a competition on Twitter or Facebook, the use Rafflecopter to capture emails and boost your return on investment.

Sending emails to your subscribers

We’re at the final hurdle: it’s time to send your customers your first email. Email marketing is similar to content marketing in that you’ll have to come up with topics and ideas for new emails, and then take the time to write and create that content ready for your email. Here are a few ideas if you don’t know where to begin:

  • Welcome to my list: A generic “thanks for subscribing” that you can send to every new subscriber of your website. This sort of content can be customised to include the subscriber’s name, and include links to blog posts and content on your site.
  • Special offer: If you’re running a sale or a special offer, create an email around this – explain to people why they should buy your products and services, and include some high-quality images by creating them on sites like or Photoshop.
  • Seasonal emails: Run an e-commerce website? Centre your email campaigns around seasonal events such as Easter, Halloween, Christmas and New Year.
  • Product teases: Are you building up to the launch of a new product or service? Give your email subscribers teases with regular email updates – this will build hype and, when the product is finally unveiled, subscribers will be more likely to buy from you.

Make your emails more engaging

Once you’ve got a subject for your email, it’s time to start writing and creating content. To make your emails as engaging as possible (so that more customers will click on your email and read it), check out these top tips that we use when we write our own emails.

  • Choose engaging subject headings: Remember to describe what you’re advertising, but make it fun. ‘Newsletter 2131’ or ‘Our latest special offers’ isn’t going to cut it – use some puns, play with words and create a subject that’s fun and intriguing.
  • Send at the right time: Play around with different times to send your emails and see which has the best open and click-through rates. Remember that the best time of day to send an email depends on your industry, so experiment with A/B testing.
  • Add emoji: Emoji is eye-catching and fun, so try to include one or two smiley faces in your email subject heading and inside of your content. Of course, using emoji in some industries won’t be appropriate, so speak in the way your audience speaks.
  • Make attractive graphics: To make your emails look their very best, you should include some custom-created graphics. You don’t need to be an expert to do this – sites like Canva and Venngage can be used to create professional-looking images.
  • Play around with GIFs: GIFs can inject some personality and humour into your marketing messages, so head to and import one or two into your next email. Most email marketing software allows GIFs as standard, but you may need to hard-code an image file into your email template if you can’t get it to load.
  • Add social media links: Email marketing is a great way to speak to your audience, but the chances are that you won’t want to have conversations with customers in emails if you can help it. By adding links to your social media channels in your email footer, people will know where they can find and interact with you online – and it’ll keep your inbox free for important messages from clients and business contacts.
  • Personalise your emails: Emails have a 24.79% open rate, so to attract attention, add names to your email subjects. Play around with the different personalisation options available and see what works best for your industry – generally speaking, the more personal an email, the higher your chances of converting.

Wrapping up

Creating a mailing list of dedicated readers can take time and cost money, so the sooner you get started, the better. Be sure to bookmark this guide and check back regularly for help on your email marketing journey. Good luck!