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How local email marketing helps small businesses get customers through the door

by Kate Lindemann  |  November 6, 2020

7 min. read
Salon owner using an iPad with hair stylists working in the background.

Email marketing is a cost-effective way for any business to connect with customers, including on the local level.

Companies try all sorts of strategies to make their marketing emails seem personal, and small businesses are already at a huge advantage. The community connection is already there.

If you want to use email to promote your small business, this guide is for you. We’ll go over how to get started with local email marketing, plus types of emails that work great in a local context. All you need are some simple tools, and a basic understanding of your business and your customers.

Keep reading to learn:

  • How to pick an email marketing tool
  • How to build an email contact list
  • Effective types of local marketing emails

Pick an email marketing tool

As with any project, you’ll want to use the right tool for the job. Dedicated email marketing platforms like Mailchimp are relatively inexpensive and make the whole process much easier.

These services usually start around $10-20 per month, and even offer free options if your mailing list is under a few thousand contacts.

Email template options on a laptop computer screen.

What should you look for when choosing email marketing software? Here are a few key features:

List management

Email marketing platforms allow customers to sign up to a mailing list on your website, or with a link you provide. Customers can manage their subscriptions themselves, freeing up your attention for other things. You can still add and delete contacts manually, but most of the work managing your list happens in the background – an attractive prospect for busy business owners.

Customizable templates

It’s never been easier to make your emails look good. Just add your logo, change the template’s colors, and you’re good to go. If you want to get a little more creative, take some time to familiarize yourself with the basics of good email design.

Performance metrics

With email analytics, you can watch your list grow, see what kinds of emails your customers interact with most and improve your technique over time.

A/B tests

A/B testing takes the guesswork out of email marketing by letting you run experiments. Let’s say you have two great ideas for email subject lines. One small group of subscribers will get one subject line. Another will get the other. Whichever subject line gets the most people to open your email goes out to the rest of the list.

Of course, for these results to be meaningful, you need to have a big enough list: at least 1,000 contacts. For smaller lists, don’t worry about A/B testing. Just use your intuition and look for patterns in performance over time.

Build an email contact list

Before you start sending out marketing emails, you’ll need an audience to send them to. Try these strategies to gather customers’ email addresses and build a mailing list.

Owner collecting a customer's email address for local email marketing in a trendy small store.

Offer discounts or special access

Offer your customers something in exchange for signing up to your mailing list. The sign-up bonus could be something like a discount on their next meal at your restaurant. Or maybe newsletter subscribers get first dibs on tickets to your comedy club’s most in-demand shows.

Business transactions

You can also collect email addresses during regular business transactions. Use an online booking system for appointments, or offer to email customers their receipts.

Just ask them

As you ring your customers up, just ask. Have a tablet ready for them to enter their info, and build up your list one customer at a time.

Leverage your web traffic

The online equivalent to asking at the register is a pop-up window on your website. Keep your pitch short and sweet, and mention what they get out of signing up. Maybe it’s exclusive deals. Maybe they’ll be the first to know something.

Always keep adding to your mailing list – even after your campaigns are up and running. The beauty of email marketing is that as your contact list grows, you reach more and more people with the same amount of effort.

Now what? Ideas for local email marketing

Once you’ve got an email marketing tool and customers’ email addresses, the real fun begins. It’s time to send some emails. What emails, exactly? That’ll depend on your business and marketing needs.

Woman ringing up a customer in a trendy, industrial business space.

As you iron out a local email marketing strategy, there are three key things to keep in mind:

Be yourself – Sending emails that fit with your business and brand will be far more effective than trying to follow some idea of what email marketing ‘should’ be.

Be consistent – Don’t surprise customers with a new personality every time you pop up in their inboxes. Pick a style and voice that fits your brand and use it in all your emails.

But not too consistent – While your voice and design should say the same, mix up your content to keep things fresh and interesting.

Need some ideas to get started? Here are seven versatile ideas for local email marketing to adapt to your business.

1. Have something to announce

Think about what your business is doing to stay fresh, and use your email marketing mailing list to keep customers up to speed.

Decorated donuts lined up on a cooling rack.

Flavors of the month – My local donut shop introduces new seasonal flavors every month. Their email announcing the new flavors – complete with mouth-watering photos – gets me heading over to try one every time.

Events – Local email marketing is the perfect way to promote in-person events. Classics include cafe open-mic nights and bookstore readings. Of course, other types of businesses can host events too. An accountant could offer a crash-course in personal finance. A dry cleaning service might organize a winter coat drive for a local charity.

New products – Whether you’re a bookstore with new releases, a boutique carrying a new designer or a restaurant with a seasonal menu, make sure you showcase the latest and greatest you have to offer.

Customers sitting in a modern cafe with black-and-white photographs on the wall behind them.

New art on the walls – Coffee shops have long turned their wall space over to local artists, contributing to a creative atmosphere and emphasizing ties to the community. Any business with a physical location can employ the same technique, and an email announcement introducing each new artist amplifies the message.

2. Show off your expertise

If you run a business, you’re probably a local expert in something. Show off your knowledge and build customers’ trust. A salon’s hair care recommendations, a record store’s music picks or a local grocery’s guide to wine pairings would all make excellent email content.

3. Promotions!

People need to feel like they get something valuable out of being on your mailing list, and everybody likes free (or discounted) stuff. So be sure to throw some promotions in the mix. You can also make your email subscribers feel special with exclusive access – maybe first dibs on coveted Valentine’s Day reservations at your restaurant.

Baker sprinkling flower on raw bread dough in the industrial kitchen of a small bakery.

4. Team up with other local businesses

Your business and the one next door probably have the same customer base. Join forces to reach a broader audience. Let’s say your deli is going to start using bread from a local bakery in your sandwiches. Congratulations, you’ve just created a co-branding opportunity! Announce the partnership to both mailing lists. Their customers might start frequenting your deli, and you drum up business for the bakery. Everybody wins!

5. Ask for reviews

I don’t need to tell you how important reviews are for local businesses – or that dissatisfied customers are more likely to leave them than satisfied ones. It’s a safe bet anyone who joined your mailing list is a fan of your business, so ask your most loyal customers to put in a good word for you. Plus, the act of leaving a review might prompt your customers to reflect on what makes your business special and appreciate it all the more.

6. Peddle your merch

People feel a strong connection to their local bookstore and coffee shop. Got tote bags and T-shirts with your logo on it? Let your customers know, so they can represent around town.

Five identical green T-shirts hanging on a display rack.

7. Lean into the season

Planning marketing emails around holidays and seasons makes them feel fresh and relevant all year long.

And, of course, gift-giving holidays are always a great opportunity to make a sale. Every December, your customers’ inboxes fill up with emails from Apple and Starbucks suggesting headphones and gift cards as stocking stuffers. Remind them they’ve got local options too.

Take your email marketing to the next level

Once you’ve settled into an email marketing flow, you can start finetuning your strategy.

Get inspired by creative email marketing examples. Experiment to improve your click-through rate. Figure out the best email cadence to keep your customers engaged.

Most importantly, have fun with it. Local email marketing is most effective when it’s a genuine reflection of your business’s personality and its role in the community. If you’re happy with your marketing emails, your customers will be too.