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Email Marketing for Small Business: Here’s All You Need to Know

A young woman, working in her coffee shop and dressed in a white shirt and a dark blue apron, checks her laptop on the counter. / email marketing for small business
Content is the bridge between your brand and your audience, so when your emails are compelling, you build trust. When content is interesting and relevant, subscribers feel encouraged to take action. [Adobe Stock | Studio Science]

Email is still the most important marketing asset small businesses have. Here’s how to make the most of it.

Small businesses tend to have a more intimate relationship with their customers than enterprise-level brands. This closeness can lead to increased customer loyalty, but it can also amp up increased customer expectations. That’s where email marketing for small business really comes into play.

According to research at Gartner, 64% of consumers and B2B buyers report feeling overwhelmed by brand communications. For small businesses, this is an opportunity to design email marketing campaigns that truly connect with customers. 

Small biz, big results

You don’t need a big budget or a team of marketers to find more leads, grow your engagement, and earn more revenue. See how the right technology can pay off for your small business.

What can you do to make sure your small business email marketing is hitting the bullseye for your target audience? Let’s take a look. 

Table of contents

Why is email marketing essential for small businesses?

Creating meaningful connections with your audience is hard for any business. But then also factor in that small businesses are often on a tight budget and have small staffs. Email marketing, with all its versatility, can amplify your brand’s voice and deliver real results at a low cost.

With email marketing, you can make direct connections with my customers without breaking the bank. You can tailor content to ensure that the right content reaches the right audience, tracking results to fine-tune my messages along the way. 

Automation saves time, freeing up resources all small businesses need. Email marketing for small business isn’t just about selling. It’s about building stronger relationships over the long term. 

Say I own a boutique bookstore. The email newsletter I send to my subscribers can include updates about the latest book arrivals. I might even include exclusive discounts for loyal customers. If I segment my audience based on preferences, I can tailor my messages to become more relevant to each individual. 

With tracking tools, I can see that maybe fans of fiction engage more with links to author interviews, while the non-fiction buffs appreciate history recommendations. Maybe I’ll send a weekend flash sale email, offering a 20% discount on all historical titles. I can make the language specific for my segmented history buffs, which will make them feel seen and understood.

As my audience grows, so does my revenue. It’s a ripple effect – engaged customers become advocates, sharing the emails with their book-loving friends. This helps expand reach organically. And the more I communicate through email, the more it becomes clear that I’m not just selling books, I’m building a community. 

What are the keys to successful small business email marketing?  

You don’t need a team of marketers or a big box budget to earn customers and keep them engaged. Email marketing for small business has simple, yet effective, steps for success.

1. Build your email list

First, you’ll want to build a targeted email list. Rather than casting a wide net, a focused list ensures that your messages will land with the right audience. When you take time to understand your audience’s preferences and tailor your messages accordingly, you build a community of engaged subscribers who are more likely to become loyal customers. 

2. Develop your content strategy

Content is the bridge between your brand and your audience, so when your emails are compelling, you build trust. When content is interesting and relevant, subscribers feel encouraged to take action. A skincare company with a new collection might send an email that starts with something like, “As winter’s chill sets in, we’ve got the perfect remedy to keep your skin glowing and protected.” 

In that email, they’ll introduce the new featured product and underneath they link helpful resources: a DIY winter skincare routine; an exclusive subscriber discount; a “behind-the-scenes” skincare producer interview; and a winter skincare tips free ebook. 

The email ends with a call to action (Something like: Ready to embrace winter with beautiful, nourished skin? Explore our Winter Skincare Collection now) and a ‘Shop now’ button. It closes with a genuine expression of gratitude for their customer’s support. As a small business, your customer relationships are priceless. Develop your content around what resonates with them.

3. Maintain your deliverability

When you’ve nailed your content, you’re going to want to make sure it arrives where you want it, when you want it. Focus on deliverability best practices, such as maintaining a clean and engaged subscriber list, avoiding spam-triggering content, and utilizing authentication protocols. You’ll increase the likelihood that your deals and updates make it to your customers’ inboxes. 

How do you measure the success of small business email marketing? 

Let’s dive into email marketing metrics. Here are the key ones you should keep an eye on:

Click-through rates (CTR)

Clicks are the foot traffic of the digital world. The higher the click-through rate, the more people are strolling around your “digital aisles.” One time, I tweaked my product descriptions to create a sense of more urgency, and boom — more clicks. It’s like rearranging items in your store and watching what people are drawn to.

Engagement rates

Think of engagement as customers stopping by for a chat. High engagement means your content is striking a chord. When I shared stories about a local author’s book launch adventure, my engagement rates shot up. It’s like inviting customers behind-the-scenes for a friendly chat.

Subscription growth

Subscribers are like your fan club. You want this number to climb. After I added a simple subscription form on my website with a promise of exclusive discounts, my base grew. It’s like offering a VIP membership—everyone wants to be part of the club.


A conversion is where window shoppers become actual buyers. Track them by checking your call-to-action buttons. Are they enticing enough? I revamped mine, making them bolder, and conversions skyrocketed. 

Keep in mind, the customer journey contains the specific interactions or stages where conversions are most likely to occur. When you identify key touchpoints, you can better understand your customers’ behavior. And strategies like segmenting data and evaluating the impact of A/B testing will help you gain insights into what resonates best. 

Customer feedback and analytics tools can help perfect this, but remember — metrics are your compass, not your destination.

How do personalization and segmentation work in small business email marketing? 

Smaller businesses are faced with unique challenges. It’s typical to have a more limited marketing budget and a team of one. Establishing and maintaining customer loyalty can be a major hurdle when you’re busy with the nuts and bolts of your operations. Cultivating a sense of connection is crucial for the growth and success of a small business — and personalization and segmentation can help. 

Here’s how properly using email marketing for small business can help you grow, even when you’ve got your hands full.

Personalization is customizing content for individual subscribers so they feel valued. Segmentation is when you categorize your audience based on various characteristics or preferences. 

Let’s say you run a local coffee shop. Knowing and remembering each customer’s favorite brew or preferences is challenging in a busy environment. But you can use data and AI to recommend a new drink they may enjoy, creating a personalized coffee journey. 

Email drips are part of the personalization process because they can automate sequences of emails that unfold over time. A new subscriber might receive a welcome email introducing them to your most popular blend, followed by emails highlighting various coffee origins, brewing tips, and exclusive promotions. 

Drips nurture relationships, provide valuable information, and gently encourage action. And in the context of the small coffee shop, these cost-effective, automated campaigns won’t strain your financial resources.

Even if you have the best brew and your spot is popular among locals, earning new customers can be difficult when competing with larger coffee chains. Segmentation lets you categorize customers into groups: Who are the regulars versus occasional visitors? Once you know that, you can send targeted promotions that cater to each group. 

If someone has a specific question, for instance, you can use that to provide tailored support or follow-ups. The value of having well-defined segments lies in delivering more personalized, timely, and meaningful content to specific groups. And you can do all this better with AI. 

Machine learning algorithms can identify nuanced segments within your audience that go beyond basic demographic data. It considers browsing history, engagement patterns, and predictive analytics. 

With a small team, finding the time to personalize each customer interaction can be daunting. With AI, you can dynamically adjust your segmentation strategy based on individual customer behavior. This helps you craft unique emails. 

An AI-driven system that predicts which drink my customer might like and adjusts segment criteria in real-time helps me streamline the personalization process.

How can AI help with email marketing for small business? 

Generative and predictive AI offer value for small businesses where single-person marketing departments are often the norm. 

Generative AI for email marketing, specifically, is revolutionizing content creation with its ability to produce tailored and dynamic content at scale. Let’s take that bookstore example again. After some trial and error, the bookstore owner can now prompt it to generate compelling and personalized copy.  

The bookstore audiences resonate with content they can relate to, so the deeper they connect with the brand, the better their engagement. The single owner can prompt AI to craft individualized book recommendations based on customer preferences. As a one-person show, it can free up time for focusing on the bookstore’s bigger picture strategy. 

Predictive AI is a game-changer in how it can optimize send times. It determines the best time to dispatch emails by analyzing customer behavior, with the goal of landing in inboxes when recipients are most likely to engage. 

Using predictive AI for sending e-newsletters at our fictitious bookstore means that the system learns from customer interactions and sends the mail at the right time for them. If historical data indicates that subscribers are more active on Saturday mornings, the AI automatically schedules emails to hit inboxes during this peak period. 

The power to automate and predict behavior will have the small bookstore owner feel as though they have their own personal assistant

What are some best practices for email marketing for small business?

Email marketing for small business is all about the partnership between you and your customer. As a small business owner, you have the opportunity to connect deeply with your audience, albeit with fewer resources than larger companies. 

Here are some points to consider for maintaining ongoing engagement. 

1. Know your customers 

Understanding your customers is not just a strategy – it’s a lifeline. As a small business, you can maximize the impact of your campaigns by using segmentation to divide your customer base based on key characteristics. This involves creating detailed customer personas, allowing for even more targeted and personalized communication.

2. Use compelling subject lines 

Use the power of brevity and your limited time to your advantage and keep it short. Craft clear and concise subject lines that convey value. Personalize it with customer names or tailor content based on preferences — a dedicated customer-centric approach will set your small business apart.

3. Do A/B testing

Building marketing strategies can be time consuming. Your small business can use data-driven insights from A/B testing to refine your approach — and the more you do it, the easier it will become. (And later you can even automate it using AI!) 

Experiment with elements like subject lines, content, and calls-to-action so that every email campaign is more than just a message: It’s a connection with the audience you respect.

4. Be mobile-friendly 

Most people use their phones to open email. For small businesses, where simplicity and clarity matter, forms should be easy to read, and the overall design should stay clean and focused. 

When you prioritize a mobile-responsive design, you maximize the reach and impact of your email campaign. You’ll earn more customer loyalty when emails are accessible and compelling on the devices audiences use most.

5. Build subscriptions 

Incentivizing sign-ups is key for small businesses. Take advantage of the channels you already use to communicate your offering on exclusive content or discounts for subscription. You may not have tons of resources, which is why when you learn more about how to use AI, you can put it to the test and automate content and send times.

Make sure to be transparent about how often you plan on sending content, and always address readers by their name. This straightforward approach enables subscribers to feel the unique value your small businesses offer. 

Common mistakes in small business email marketing

Even when you’re following the “dos” of best practices in email marketing for small business, there are always some “don’ts” to avoid. 

For example, daily email blasts can lead to subscriber fatigue, and increased opt-out rates. Another mistake is clever wordplay at the expense of clear communication. Subject lines like “Don’t Miss Out – We’re PUNbelievable!” may confuse (and annoy!) recipients. 

Ignoring mobile optimization is also a big no-no, as we are seeing most people use their phones for email. Addressing recipients as “Dear Customer” instead of using their names can create a sense of detachment, which is the opposite of what you want. 

Last, please don’t overlook your analytics. If you don’t know your open rates, engagement, and conversion data, how can you identify areas for improvement?

Long-term success goes beyond sending content and waiting for sales. How small business owners manage email marketing is especially important – even more so as we transition into a cookieless future

Personalized, targeted communication has become vital as data privacy takes center stage. When we cultivate strong connections through permission-based marketing, business is bound to thrive.  

Take your small biz marketing up a notch

Marketing Cloud Growth Edition has data and AI capabilities that are built to help small businesses create better campaigns. 

Blake Miller
Blake Miller Senior Director, Product Marketing

Blake Miller, senior director of product marketing at Salesforce, has over 20 years of experience working in media and technology, primarily in product development, sales, and marketing. For the last decade, he has been focused on email marketing and advertising technology, helping brands create relationships at scale. Prior to joining Salesforce, he worked at ESPN and CareerBuilder. He has an MBA from DePaul and BA from Baylor.

More by Blake Miller

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