How are you currently reaching out to your existing customers? There are a number of ways to gather email addresses, but the easiest way to get started is to host an in-store sign-up program at your cash registers. You’ve probably seen this done at local restaurants, where they advertise for a “free lunch” if you drop in your business card. You can do the same thing in your store. Create small business card sized sign-up forms that the customer can fill out and drop into a bowl, or allow them to drop a business card in. Provide the customer with some sort of incentive to drop the card in. Is there something you can give away on a monthly or quarterly basis? Perhaps a comic-of-the-month giveaway, or something of that sort? Once you have the email addresses of your customers, develop a monthly communications strategy that will enable you to stay in touch with your customers. Provide them valuable content about things they’re interested in.
The email campaign should be based on your business goals. What type of customers are you currently targeting and in what areas do you want to grow your business? What kind of promotions are your customers interested in? What sort of questions do your customers want answered? What sort of things are your competitors emailing customers about? What are they not emailing your customers about (hint: this is where you have an opportunity to step in!). This is the type of content you should include in your email marketing.
Once you have your email marketing up and running, another way to get email addresses is to start a referral program, where you ask your loyal customers to refer you to several of their friends. Offer a contest (e.g., to the customer who refers the most, or to a random winner) to encourage customers to refer your business. Your reward is the email addresses and hopefully increased exposure and expanded customer relationships.
If you have the budget, it’s best to use email marketing systems to manage your email communication. This way, you can tell exactly who is engaged and unengaged with your marketing efforts. Programs such as ExactTarget (www.exacttarget.com), Constant Contact (www.constantcontact.com) or Emma (www.emma.com) can get you started on the right track. By using an email marketing system, you can monitor who opens on your email and who clicks on the links within your email. This will help you set benchmarks and measure improvement as you move forward.
I’m happy to expand on any of these ideas for you; just thought I would toss a few surface-level recommendations out there. Good luck to you!
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I should have double checked my links! For Emma email marketing, the correct link is: http://www.myemma.com/.