Despite the growth of the social networks and the plethora of fancy new tools to connect with people, email marketing is still the number one way for small businesses to maintain relations with customers and prospects. For most businesses email marketing comes top with SEO in converting prospects to customers, so even though it may not be the coolest kid on the block, it is still one of the most effective online marketing strategies out there.

Amongst the many tips you can find on email marketing, building your own list has to be the most important, and this is where email marketing stands out above other online marketing activities. By building your own list, which includes customers and prospects, you know those people want to hear from you as they’ve opted into receive your news. From there, you need to make sure your messages are thought out, and not just bombard your subscribers with promotions.

To make sure your email marketing campaigns actually build relations with customers and prospects, rather than send them running for the hills (well, at least unsubscribe), there are some simple rules you need to follow.

1. Keep your list fresh. If you use a third party email provider such as Mailchimp or Aweber, most of the subscribe / unsubscribe process is automated, so you shouldn’t have to spend too much time manually updating your list. But beware of using an out of date list of customers in the first place. If you’ve an old database of customers who you’ve not contacted for a couple of years, then they won’t be expecting to hear from you. I would either contact them separately and mention that you are going to be sending a regular newsletter which they can unsubscribe from at any time (which is a good excuse to get back in touch), or, start with a recent list of customers and prospects. Furthermore, don’t add people to your list just because you have their business card. It’s polite to ask first!

2. Personalise it – don’t make it look like a round robin type letter. Most of the email providers make it easy to personalise newsletters with a first name, e.g Hello John etc, so make use of it. It’s much nicer to receive an email that’s personalised than just launches into the message. Well, I prefer it anyway, and chances are, your customers will too.

3. Include useful information, not just promotions. This is important if you’re going to use your newsletter to build relations with your list. The number of times I receive ‘newsletters’, which aren’t newsletters at all, just promotions and often without any introduction. If you want your newsletter to generate sales and enquiries, then just bombarding your subscribers with a promotion and no message or thought put into the message will turn them off and just send people to the unsubscribe link. Generally try to keep your newsletter to 70% informative and 30% promotional. This will ensure your newsletter does its job. If you want to send out a promotion in between, then do so, but don’t overdo it!

4. Make is easy for people to unsubscribe. You may not want people to unsubscribe, but with the latest email legislation, you have to have an unsubscribe link in your newsletter. The number of times I’ve tried to unsubscribe and can’t, or requested to unsubscribe from a newsletter which has taken ages, is very annoying. I end up reporting the sender as spam. Don’t forget that people unsubscribe for all sorts of reasons and if people do, don’t take it personally. It’s better to have a list of people who want to hear from you and you can build relations with, than people who don’t.

5. Use a third party provider. I still receive newsletters sent via Outlook, Hotmail and similar email clients and no doubt you do too. If you do this, then stop now. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) don’t like people sending mass mailings from personal email addresses, and chances are more of your emails will end up in spam filters than in the inbox, so your subscribers won’t see your news. There are many good third party providers who handle all the sending out for you, enable you to format your newsletters nicely with a variety of templates, ensure better deliverability and report back on how many people opened your newsletter. Popular providers include Mailchimp (who I use), Aweber, Vertical Response and Constant Contact.

If you follow the above rules and etiquette, you’ll get far more out of your email marketing, and find it is successful for building and maintaining relationships with your customers and prospects.