Even with no physical storefront some of the most successful businesses online rely on email marketing to promote products and generate sales. Think of how companies like Amazon, Groupon, Gilt and Zappos use emails to reach out to potential customers with timely and relevant offers. Email marketing can be especially important when you are in the business of selling something that is not a necessity (e.g: wine, travel, jewelry and other luxury products). Emails should make them want to make an immediate, spontaneous purchase that they weren’t otherwise considering.

Even with the surge in usage of social networking sites, email marketing is still the number one way to build and maintain relationships with thousands of customers or prospective customers over time, and when done well, will certainly generate sales.

With analytics you can garner insights about what your potential and current customers respond to, and what they don’t. Email marketing should be at the top of your priority list and the good news is that there is no large up front cost. The main cost is really your time.

Here is a basic checklist to help you set up email marketing for your business:

  1. Decide which email marketing provider you want to use, set up your template and add any lists you have collected. Some of the popular providers include Aweber, Constant Contact, MailChimp and VerticalResponse. The advantages to using a provider are that you can see analytics on open rates and click throughs on every email (this becomes increasingly important as your list grows), emails can be personalized by name, you can easily manage your list, and emails are less likely to get stuck in spam folders. It is MUCH easier to scale your business when you are using one of these providers.
  2. Set up a sign up box on your homepage. Ask only for name, email and possibly their zipcode.
  3. Decide whether you want to have people email confirm that they want to be signed up for your list. This is called a double opt-in and this means an initial sign up will receive an email to confirm they want to be added. Once they click then the address gets added to your list in your email provider account. This is the standard practice of many professional sites. By using a double opt-in it eliminates your chance of getting bad email addresses, however your list will take longer to build.
  4. Set up your autoresponders. These are emails that are automatically sent once someone signs up for your list. At minimum they should include a welcome email.
  5. Create an email schedule or editorial calendar and plan ahead for the next 6-12 months. Factor in holiday season emails.
  6. Content beyond offers: Include events you are pouring at, news about you, recipes & pairings, restaurants featuring your wines, harvest, new releases, etc.
  7. Your email design should mirror the same look and feel as your label, website etc. Your copy should include winery address, opt-out/unsubscribe, social media links, call to action, and create urgency.
  8. Test everything: Test how your email looks on mobile devices, test the time of day and day of the week that you send emails, test various subject lines, and the name the email is coming from in the “From” field.
  9. Use every opportunity to build your list. Opportunities could include tasting events and dinners, colleagues and friends. Send an email to your business contacts (including your LinkedIn contacts) telling them about your business and provide a like if they would like to subscribe.

Email marketing don’ts:

  • Be wary of offers to buy email lists or databases. In most cases it is not a good idea.
  • Do not add people without their consent. If you are manually adding people you they should have agreed to subscribe either by signing up on a list or have verbally told to they want to be added.
  • Don’t email too frequently as they will unsubscribe.
  • Don’t send the same content each time. Give each email a different theme and make it compelling.