Many small businesses are wary of email marketing but it is still one of the most effective ways of increasing sales.

How do you keep in touch with previous customers?

How do you attract new customers?

How do you turn a connection into a paying client?

These are all things that can easily be achieved with the right email marketing system.

However, choosing the right platform, avoiding spamming, GDPR, wrangling automation, linking to CRMs are all issues that cause concern so we asked Helen Lindop to answer questions from our members.

Helen is a CRM and email marketing consultant for small businesses who shares lots of information and free newsletter templates at www.helenlindop.com

This is a transcript of a live Q&A in the Drive the Network Facebook Group 

Choosing the right platform

J Laurence Sarno You mentioned you’ve lost patience with MailChimp. What’s your current preferred platform?

Helen Lindop It really depends on your needs, there isn’t a one size fits all. A good alternative for people who are on the free Mailchimp plan is Mailerlite.

Marie Devlin  Would be interested in your recommendation/pros/cons of MailChimp vs HubSpot.

Helen Lindop It really depends on what you want to achieve, I’d always start with your goals and then find a tool to help you reach those. Hubspot does a lot more than just email marketing and can be too complicated for many smaller businesses. I would say that you’d look at Hubspot when you’d outgrown a platform like Mailchimp. That said, I reckon there are much better platforms out there than Mailchimp.

Kathy Salaman  What advantages does Mailerlite have over Mail Chimp?

Helen Lindop The advantage is greatest for people just starting out. Both offer free plans, but with the Mailchimp free plan you can only have one list (known as audiences in Mailchimp) and you can’t have automations with more than one step in them (e.g. you can automatically send out a free PDF, but you can’t send a sequence of emails). Also, many people find the Mailchimp interface clunky and confusing, Mailerlite is simpler to get around.

Charlotte Ashley-Roberts  I moved over to Mailerlite from MailChimp and I’d say it’s easier to use and there’s lots of video tutorials. Also easier to split into groups etc

Marie Devlin When choosing an email/crm system for your business what are the key things you should take into consideration?

Helen Lindop Always start with your goals – I have some clients who just want to stay on people’s radar, so only need a simple newsletter-style monthly email and one client who has an ecommerce store with an email sequence when someone buys, a shopping cart abandonment sequence and a product page abandonment sequence. So there are very different situations.

In terms of CRM, some businesses want a customer database with a history of their communication with them, plus reminder to follow up. Others need that and a full sales pipeline plus more. So it depends very much on what you need.

Let me know if you need any more specific info!

Helen Lindop I give my other top picks in this post: The best Email Marketing Platforms for Small Businesses 2020

Moving platforms

Helen Lindop It’s usually not as scary to move as people think. Moving the data over is often straightforward if you tag properly, things like automations and integrations take longer. How to move to a new email markeitng service 

Charlotte Ashley-Roberts Where’s the best place to find out *how* to automate? These sites aren’t always intuitive. It was my biggest barrier to getting it done

Helen Lindop You can automate such a huge range of things now that it’s hard to find your way around all the info unless you decide what you want to automate first. For many businesses, following up with people who have shown an interest in your business or bought before is the best place to start automating because it’s a really effective way of making more sales. And is so easily forgotten.

Marie Devlin When you talk about automating marketing, is it possible that if someone downloads a pdf from your website or social media platform, that this can be linked back to your CRM system and trigger a series of appropriate follow up to move potential buyers further through the funnel? Hope that makes sense

Helen Lindop Yes, that’s marketing automation! 😁 Most email marketing platforms will do this now, although the level of complexity/flexibility varies a lot. As does the price.

When is enough enough?

Charlotte Ashley-Roberts How many emails should one send, over what period of time and is there a benefit to leaving time in between?

Helen Lindop It really depends on your goals and your audience. I always suggest starting with a frequency that you can maintain consistently (both in terms of being able to create enough quality content for your mailings, and to physically send the emails), get some data and then work from there. If you increase the frequency and lots of people unsubscribe, that may be a reason to drop it again – although if the people who unsubscribe aren’t buyers then that may be OK.

Visuals and text

Anne-Marie Miller I just downloaded your email templates yesterday. Very helpful thank you and I’m sure I will use them. For other emails though, is there any reason why a newsletter couldn’t be purely visuals (other than titles/links say)?

Helen Lindop  The problem is that many Gmail users don’t download the images, so never see them. So your emails always need to ‘work’ whether the images are visible or not. Also check they work in plain text as well as HTML.

Who should be on the list?

Andy Boothman If you’ve never done this before, what’s the first step to getting people to sign up in the first place? Second question, once you have sign ups what do you do? Start an excel file? Jump straight into a CRM platform? Can you give a beginners guide to the process when starting from scratch.

Helen Lindop There are many ways of getting people to sign up including having some kind or discount or freebie when they subscribe. It’s important that you make it clear they are also going to receive marketing emails from you when you do this, though. There are lots of tips about how to do this on my blog.

I would always use an email marketing or marketing automation platform to manage this for you rather than Excel.  Partly because it’s just easier that way and the starter level tools are inexpensive or even free (Mailerlite and Hubspot CRM have free plans). But also because it’s bad practice to email in bulk from say Gmail or Outlook. But as I said above, I don’t recommend jumping into a platform until you’ve decided what you need – what are your business goals? What do you need these tools to be able to do to support those? What do they need to integrate with (e.g. do they need to integrate with your website, shopping cart etc).

7 Reasons why a CRM is better than and Excel Spreadsheet. 

Charlotte Ashley-Roberts Would you recommend unsubscribing people who aren’t engaged?

Helen Lindop It’s generally a good idea to clean up your lists because a) otherwise you may be paying for subscribers who never open your emails and b) the platforms prefer accounts to have subscribers that are engaged. But you need to be careful because whether someone has opened an email or not isn’t always tracked 100% accurately. A better guide is whether someone has clicked a link in your email. So it’s better to delete those people who haven’t clicked in 6 months rather than those who haven’t opened in 6 months.

Ann Hawkins This can depend on the type of information and the type of subscriber. I’ve got people who’ve been on my list for more than 10 years who pop up now and then to say they like reading my posts, and even though they’ve never bought anything ask me not to take them off  the list.

Susie Tobias I have a client who currently uses a WordPress plugin to send out their monthly e-newsletter. I’ve been trying to convince them to switch to a different platform for years. They have a lot of “role” email addresses on their subscription list – info@, admin@ etc.

Helen Lindop Those role email addresses aren’t good news. They tend to have a lower open rate than named email addresses and so it will affect their stats. Some platforms go as far as not allowing them (e.g. Aweber) so I’d check this before signing them up. Off the top of my head I don’t know one that is totally happy with these. I think I’d try to get them to reduce these if possible, although I know it’s not easy.

Common mistakes

1) Not doing email marketing because some expert says it’s dead and they should be using (insert current bright shiny tool) instead. (Note, this expert often doesn’t know anything about email marketing!).

2) Managing your customer database from an email inbox/ post-it notes/fridge door/ memory.

3) Focusing on marketing to strangers when you stand a much better chance of selling to existing customers or ‘warm’ people who know you.

4) Deleting all your data because of GDPR.

There are lots more great tips from Helen on her blog at www.helenlindop.com and she is planning a beginners course on this topic so keep in touch by signing up to her list and on Twitter @HelenLindop