email marketingWhat is EMS and how to choose the right one
It can seem daunting to think about how to create professional looking HTML emails to help promote your business. If like me, you’ve come from a corporate background, there was always a myriad of bods in the IT Department to sort this sort of stuff out!

When running your own small business, the bad news is you are the IT Dept (and the Marketing Dept too)!

So where do you start?
The easiest way to create smart HTML emails is using Email Marketing Software (EMS). These software systems are usually hosted web-based solutions and have user-friendly  HTML editors that enable you to create your own HTML emails without knowing anything about writing code. You can brand with your logo and own brand colours. You may need some help from your web or graphic designer to create a email header image but that isn’t a big job and only needs to be done once.

However, there are hundreds of providers out there. That in itself can be a barrier for small businesses starting along this route.

I’ve evaluated and used many of the most popular US and UK-based EMS for my own clients. So I thought I would share this with you to help you make the right choice.

For around 3 years I used Constant Contact which is one of the EMS options you could consider. Constant Contact is very good and having used it, I can recommend it. It isn’t the cheapest option if you have a small database (less than 2000) or if you want to send emails less frequently than monthly. As they only offer a pay monthly option.

The key criteria for selecting your EMS will be:

  • The size of your email database now and how you think it will grow over the next 12 months
  • Frequency of your emails
  • How much support you need
  • Cost

Some key questions to help you decide…
Most of the EMS providers offer very similar functionality and some pretty impressive email marketing capabilities. However, there are some differences worth considering…

Is your database less than 2000 email subscribers?
A free solution is Mail Chimp (for less than 2000 subscribers and sending up to 12,000 emails a month) and it offers a very easy to use interface, great reporting, integrates with Google Analytics and social media. It also has some very advanced functions for more accomplished email marketers (like A/B split testing, dynamic content and subject line selector). Mail Chimp also has some of the best off-the-shelf templates around. I have found their live chat support to be very helpful and quick when you do get stuck!

Do you send emails less frequently than monthly?
Most EMS charge by the month so if you only send an email quarterly or every 6 months, it’s better to choose something like Mail Chimp which has a pay-as-you-go option which is very cost-effective.

Do you prefer support from a real person?
EMS providers like Mail Chimp, Constant Contact, AWeber and iContact do not offer support by a person – only online knowledge bases, FAQs and live chat/email support. If you prefer more hands on support and expert advice, an option like Pure360 or SignUpTo would be better for you. These companies are UK based and provide an account manager. Or you can use another EMS and use someone like me to provide the expert support!

Will you need to use a lot of images?
If you have an e-commerce website you will need a lot of product images and even service businesses can benefit from adding attractive images to their emails. Not all EMS offer free image hosting. Constant Contact only offers 5 images for free, then you have to pay an extra USD $5 a month for unlimited images. Still very affordable but this is quite frustrating and limiting in your email design and content.

Will you need to integrate with your existing database?
All the systems enable you to easily upload using a CSV file or manual typing of email addresses but they also offer, off the shelf integration with the main database and CRM systems like Salesforce and SageACT. Mail Chimp also integrates with low cost, small business orientated CRM systems, Capsule, Zoho and Highrise. They also offer custom API integration for other systems. You may need help from your web developer or IT support company for this one. Means both databases stay completely synced with each other and avoid contacts slipping through the net and not being part of your email contact strategy.

When selecting an EMS, keep an eye out for these important functions:

  • Pre-prepared HTML email templates
  • Free image hosting
  • Own brand domain (“From” field)
  • Automated list management of bounces/unsubscribes
  • Website sign-up form creator
  • Spam checker
  • Email client testing
  • Free test sends
  • Real time reporting (and exporting of your reports)
  • Tracking of deliver, bounce, open and click through rates
  • Integration with Google Analytics
  • Social media sharing
  • Email archive for your website
  • Free support

The majority of these systems offer free trials – so review against my functionality checklist and then take the plunge to find out which one you get on with best!