The Most Important Piece Of Your Marketing Puzzle


Marketing really is a massive jigsaw puzzle, isn’t it? One of those 1000 piece, double-sided nightmares that takes months to put together. You dump the whole box of pieces onto the table and begin sorting them out, trying to make sense of them all. Get the pieces with the flat sides out to the edges so you can begin to frame the picture. Make sure all of the pieces are right side up, and that none have fallen on the floor (and be sure to keep the kids and pets away!). Find the four corners, and begin to look for the big patterns. The easy connections.

Yet there’s no picture on the box for us to look at, is there? Nothing to show us specifically what our own marketing puzzle is supposed to look like when it’s finished.

But like every puzzle, there are corner pieces which have to be there. Pieces which, if you put them in place from the very beginning, make everything else a little easier and more effective.

Email Marketing is just such a piece, and putting it into place is easier than you think.

The key is to start from the very beginning.

Unlike monetization of sites, which we’ve always recommended should come over time, email marketing is something that needs to be baked into the very fabric of your site and online business right when you begin, and that it continues to evolve right along with your business.

If you’ve been in business or had your website for a while, and haven’t yet implemented email marketing, that’s OK. It’s certainly never too late to start. But for those of you who are thinking about starting your business, I’m going to walk you through how to put this first piece in place, and how your marketing puzzle can be filled in from here.

Email Marketing For Online Business Owners

This is by no means a new concept. Email marketing has been around since two days after Hotmail launched in 1996. As soon as email moved out of the education and corporate environments into something every consumer has access to, marketers began taking advantage.


In fact, it took less than two years for the word “spam” to be entered into the Oxford Dictionary, and for the Data Protection Act to be amended to enforce the requirement of opt-out’s.

Yet for many, email marketing remains something that only big box stores and retail outlets do. Yet it’s the solopreneur who can, perhaps, be most effective!

We’ll get to why that is in a moment, but first we should talk what email marketing really is to the online business owner, and how to get started.

Start Your Email Marketing

At its core, email marketing is simply a way that you can communicate with your customers and prospects. In that way, it’s not unlike phone calls, direct mail, or even social media. But there’s more to it than that.

It’s all about identifying and building an audience for your business, an audience of people who are or might be interested in you and what you’re doing, and how that applies to them. Keep that in mind, as it’s a critical point.

Have you ever tried to do that one business at a time?

Back in 2011, I was looking for a new way to leverage my experience in online marketing, and started working for a company that built websites for local small businesses. The model was simple: go door-to-door to every small business in an area and secure appointments with the owners to talk about their web presence.

It was brutal work; cold calling at it’s worst. I spent day after day walking in and out of at least 50 businesses a day, and was lucky to get 5 – 10 appointments. And of course most of those 30 minute appointments led to No as well.

The problem was that not one of those small business owners was pre-qualified other than the fact that they had a business within my territory. Not one had previously expressed any need or interest in the kinds of solutions I was offering.

What if, instead, some of those businesses had come to me? What if I’d been able to get them interested in a topic which, by their very interest, demonstrated that they might be interested in one of my solutions?

That’s the core of email marketing. While technically it’s a form of communication, when done right, it becomes an effective part of your business strategy because you’re communicating with people (via email) who have demonstrated a real interest in you.

Email is the most effective channel for direct marketing.
(Direct Marketing Association 2013 Study)
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And it works. Time and again we see successful SBIers who have created a real audience for themselves by working hard and using the tools and processes to build real businesses.

In fact, that’s an area where SiteSell continues to set the bar. SBIers have been able to use email marketing to reach their audiences for years. Their websites have been incredibly successful at bringing in interested, targeted traffic, and getting those visitors to sign up to receive email. Now, SiteSell has partnered with MailChimp to bring incredible levels of functionality to SBI! – details that we’ll get into shortly.

As I said though, the key is to start from the beginning.

To that end, make sure that every page of your website has a form or link inviting visitors to sign up to receive your emails. Even if you don’t yet know exactly what those emails are going to entail, don’t lose out on potential subscribers early on.

Evolve Your Email Marketing

In the early going of building up your online business one page at a time, you will also be building up your number of email subscribers, your list, which means it’s a great time to learn! I will tell you right now, from personal experience, you’re going to make mistakes.

Like anything else we do in life, marketing using email is something that needs to be learned, and it will require practice on top of reading articles like this. If you start practicing right away, you can work through those awkward teenage years when it’s just you and a few other people on your list, as opposed to making a mistake in front of hundreds and thousands of subscribers.

And as you practice and improve, you’ll learn not just the technical aspects of sending emails, but also the marketing and relationship-building aspects. What it is that you actually need to communicate in those messages.

Believe me, that’s not any clearer than the rest of the marketing puzzle. But the good news is that if you start early, and are consistent at it – not just in delivering your emails regularly, but in also watching how each email performs, how each message you send is received, and then improve on that for the next time – you’ll get better and better and see greater results over time.

Of course, in order to evolve, we all need a place to start, so here are some initial ideas on what you might send or talk about in an email to your growing audience:

  • Share new articles or content
  • Share updates or new services offered
  • Share news and information from other sources
  • Ask questions
  • Share stories about yourself or your customers

There’s a secret element though, one that I can’t just tell you. It has to do with finding the balance between great content for your emails that’s impactful and engaging for your audience, and content that you’re able to regularly reproduce within the confines of your business.

I could spend all week working on an incredible research report that my audience would love, and that might convert many of them into paying customers for a product, but is that a good business investment? Will I get more revenue from sales than I invested in time?

Maybe. Maybe not.

It’s an area that you need to explore. And it’s one of the reasons we’re excited about working with MailChimp, since the MailChimp service offers more advanced features like list segments and split testing.

That just means that instead of one huge list, you could have your list divided into different parts for people who have different interests or problems, and communicate with those people specifically if it makes sense to do so. And split testing is simply sending two different messages or variations to a 50/50 split of your list, and measuring which variation performed better.

We will be getting into a lot more detail on that level of email marketing next week.

The point is that as your email marketing and your skill set evolves, you can begin to take advantage of the options your tools provide to test your ideas.

Advance Your Email Marketing

Practicing and testing your emails and email messages will certainly put you on the right track toward improving and advancing your marketing. I’ve got two more ways for you.

First, here are some essential tips and tricks when it comes to your email that you’ll be able to use right out of the gate.

Email Marketing Do’s

  • Determine a schedule for your emails and stick to it. Don’t just email whenever you feel like it.
  • Collect First Name, Last Name and Email right from the beginning. You can omit fields later, but you can’t update old data. If you decide you want to address your subscribers by name but you haven’t been asking for their names, now you have a problem. And personalizing your emails is always a good idea.

    PRO TIP: In MailChimp, you can insert a tag anywhere within your text to have MailChimp use someone’s name, something you’d typically do as a salutation in the beginning. But if some of your subscribers are missing first names, you can get around that using this snippet:
    Hello *|IF:FNAME|* *|FNAME|*, *|ELSE:|* Friend, *|END:IF|*
  • Create a digital asset that you can offer someone who signs up for your list. This might be a report, white paper, eBook, checklist… anything that you can create as a digital file and send to them, even if you do it manually yourself. It gives them a real reason and benefit for signing up, and if you create the right kind of asset, their interest in it will automatically tell you something about them.
  • Consider mixing up the content of your emails. Instead of always sending teasers to your latest article, sometimes send your list a tip or some information that they wouldn’t be able to get any other way.
  • Always send a test email to yourself and test each every link. Twice. And make sure to review for spelling and grammar as well. Don’t rely on spellcheck.
  • Understand that, over time, some people will lose interest in your and your emails and stop opening them. That’s ok! It’s natural that some people will no longer need the kind of information you’re sending, but won’t bother to unsubscribe. It’s actually a good idea to routinely clean up your lists of people who clearly haven’t engaged with you in a long, long time. If you do that periodically, and are still seeing declining opens of your emails and clicks on your links, that’s when it’s time to re-think your email strategy.

Email Marketing Do Not’s

  • Do not subscribe people to your list from your personal email contacts, social media, or anywhere else. Let people opt in organically to your list and your email marketing will be tremendously more effective.
  • Do not send more than one email per day.
  • Do not ever, ever sell your list unless it’s being sold with your entire business.

Now, are these rules? No, they’re more like guidelines, really, particularly when it comes to frequency of email. Use your own judgement, and feel free to “break the rules” if you think it’s a good idea.

The second way that you’ll learn more about email marketing is to avail yourself of one of the best online education systems available: SBI!

SBI! is the world’s only all-inclusive package of tools and processes to help new online business owners get started, and includes a best-in-class set of online tutorials and business learning guides. It’s called the Action Guide, and it literally walks you step-by-step through the entire process of starting your business. SBI! includes a growing knowledge base of information and a community of like-minded SBIers who have all “been there, done that” and can answer whatever questions you have about email marketing, or anything else!

P.S. Talking about the secret of email marketing reminded me of one of my favorite Billy Crystal films, City Slickers, and the conversation he has with the old rancher. Listen to what he has to say:



“Do you know what the secret of life is? This. One thing. Just one thing.”

That’s what you’ve got to figure out.

But with with SBI! Community of thousands, you’re not alone. Join SBI!, and be sure to join our email list so that you won’t miss the rest of our email marketing series.

Mike Allton
Mike is an award-winning blogger, speaker, and author at The Social Media Hat, and Brand Evangelist at Agorapulse where he strengthens relationships with social media educators, influencers and agencies.