5 Signs It’s Time to Outsource Your Email Marketing (and 5 Tips for How to Do It)

by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

Marketing is essential for attracting customers, but many small businesses don’t have a marketing department or even an employee devoted to marketing tasks. Learning to outsource your email marketing will keep you ahead of the curve.

“Marketing of all sorts, including email marketing, gets pushed to the back burner — or worse, never even makes it onto the stove” says Abigail Stock, founder and chief digital strategist for Little Digital Co. in New York City. “But small businesses need and deserve to focus on proactive marketing and PR strategies that can get them results, especially during seasonal dips or slow periods, which most small businesses grapple with often.” And email marketing continues to prove itself as a cost-effective method for reaching customers.

Are you unsure whether you’re doing enough with your email marketing program? Here are 5 signs it’s time to find a partner that can help:

1. You only email customers at the holidays or other one-off occasions. “Showing gratitude and offering best wishes is a wonderful practice,” Stock notes. “But once a year is not enough to maintain a meaningful connection.

2. You don’t have an email marketing list. Simply selecting every name in your address book and hitting “Send” is not a strategy. In fact, it’s not even compliant with CAN-SPAM laws.

3. You still use an email client (e.g., Outlook) to send bulk mailings. “Among other reasons why you shouldn't, this can be considered spam and cause problems with the user's ISP,” cautions Robbin Block, creative marketing strategist at Block Media & Marketing in Seattle, WA.

4. You don’t deploy graphics and calls to action effectively, if at all. A block of blah text in multiple fonts and colors isn’t going to entice readers to think, feel and do what you want them to.

5. You have no idea if your email marketing is getting read, much less producing business. Just having a “feeling” that things aren’t working is no reason to quit, says Carrie Hill, co-founder of Ignitor Digital in Glenwood Springs, CO. Or to keep plodding along. You need actual metrics.

If any of these scenarios sounds familiar, it’s time to think about enlisting the services of a professional. Here are some questions to ask potential partners about outsourcing your email marketing:

What experience do you have working with businesses of my size and/or in my industry?

It’s always better to work with someone who understands your business and your industry. The ideal partner will have several small business clients and direct experience in your field. Ask to see examples of their work for clients like you, and get a few references. “Concerning content, industry knowledge can be very important. That doesn't mean a generalist couldn't learn enough, however, say, from you and marketing research,” Block says.

How and why do you think email marketing will resonate with my audience?

In addition to knowing your business type, a consultant must understand your customers and prospects — and how they consume email content. This is key when outsourcing your email marketing. “It's also important to understand your customers’ purchase cycle to determine appropriate times to mail and how frequently,” Block says. A general understanding of your demographic — or new ones you want to attract — provides a solid foundation for deeper research into the habits and preferences of the current and future clients your business depends on.

What are realistic goals and key metrics that we should measure?

If what your potential partner is promising sounds too good to be true, it probably is. “As with anything, email marketing requires smart planning, consistent execution and the willingness to change course as dictated by analytics and measurement,” Stock notes. At a minimum, you want to track bounce and open rates, conversions, click-throughs and forwards; measuring social shares can also be helpful. Tracking this information over time helps you and your partner learn what’s working so you can do more of that rather than the tactics that don’t get results. They also should use A/B testing to gauge effectiveness of subject lines and calls to action.

How can we work together?

Many email marketers have processes or programs that they want their clients to fit into. That can be useful, but not if it doesn’t work for you. “Set up a 6-month promotion calendar with the agency you hire and let them design a template you like,” suggests Hill. This allows you to work together at a lower risk for both of you. If you want to train existing staff or hire new talent, Hill says to ask about setup and training. “Have them set up your account and help you get the sign-up form on your Web site,” she says. “They can design your initial template and train you how to write effective messages. Then you can consult with them a few times as you get into the swing of it to be sure you’re doing it right.”

Will I be a little fish in a big pond?

“You want to make sure you get the provider's full attention, not be secondary to bigger clients,” Block cautions. If you’re on a growth curve, it makes sense to choose a partner who handles businesses slightly larger than yours so they can accommodate you as the enterprise grows. If you plan to stay small, a sole proprietor or other micro-enterprise could be the perfect fit. “Operationally, the partner/consultant should understand the main differences between a small business and an enterprise-level client — that means different tools, costs, impact, etc.”

If it’s time for professional help, use these questions to find a partner that’s right for you. And if you’re still content to handle email marketing yourself, keep these questions on hand for the day you decide to reach out.

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