While the majority of advertising is currently being geared towards social media platforms, email marketing campaigns continue to play a pivotal role in the promotion of small businesses. However, before you begin bombarding every person on your email contact list with your business’s most recent newsletter, you need to make sure that your messages aren’t being filtered out as junk mail. So, how do you keep your email marketing out of the spam folder? Gene Marks and Elizabeth Larkin discuss how small business owners can successfully create an email newsletter campaign.

Executive Summary

2:33—Today’s Topic: How Do I Create Effective Email Newsletters for My Small Business?

3:59—If your email advertisements look suspicious, you run the risk of being labeled as a spammer and blacklisted by your current marketing service.

4:47—Before you begin sending out any email advertisements, make sure that every person on your contact list has formally opted into your business’s newsletter. This prevents any spamming complaints from your recipients.

7:04—When in doubt, consult with your email service providers to make sure you can contact potential clients who have not officially subscribed to your email list. If you’re still unsure whether that would be appropriate, use your personal email to contact those people.

9:14—Take advantage of the tools provided by your email market services, such as spam tests and templates. These tools can help you create emails that won’t get stopped by your recipients’ spam filters.

10:16—Gene explains how 529 tax plans allow you to save for your loved ones’ future education.


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Elizabeth:Welcome back to the Small Biz Ahead Podcast, I’m Elizabeth Larkin from The Hartford. I’m talking very, very quickly today.

Gene: No, you’re doing fine.

Elizabeth: Really?

Gene: I’m keeping up.

Elizabeth: I had a little extra caffeine this morning. So today we’re going to talk about a reader’s reaction to one of your articles that was posted on Small Biz Ahead.

Gene: Ah. Positive, I’m sure.

Elizabeth: You know what, every time you post an article on Small Biz Ahead we get so many comments on it. People telling you you’re a horrible person …

Gene: I’m a jerk, I’m bald…

Elizabeth: …and other people totally agreeing with you. But this actually wasn’t a very controversial article you wrote for us. It was called “Five Big Email Marketing Mistakes You Should Avoid.” After the break, we’re going to go through some of those mistakes and then we’re going to answer a question from Mark P. in Warren, Michigan, about how to set up a newsletter.

Gene: Email marketing, not only is it far from dead, Elizabeth, it is very much alive and popular. It is thriving. More and more of my clients have been refocusing themselves on email marketing, because they realize people…you get newsletters right? I read them.

Elizabeth: Yeah. After we hear from our sponsor, we’ll be right back to tackle that topic.

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QUESTION: What are the rules when it comes to sending newsletters?

Elizabeth: Here’s today’s question, it’s from Mark P. in Warren, Michigan. I think it’s Michigan, right? The initial is “MI”?

Gene: That’s Michigan. Yes, Elizabeth, that would be Michigan.

Elizabeth: All right, I’m sorry.

Gene: “PA” is…

Elizabeth: Pennsylvania

Gene: “CT” is…

Elizabeth: Connecticut.

Gene: Good! One more. “FL.”

Elizabeth: Florida.

Gene: Good! All right.

Elizabeth: Those are easy ones. Actually “PA” doesn’t really make sense for Pennsylvania.

Gene: Well the last letter is an “A” so it’s Pennsylvania.

Elizabeth: That’s true.

Gene: Like Connecticut, like “C” and the last letter is a “T”.

Elizabeth: I’m sorry, everyone. I’m sorry. Obviously Gene had a lot of caffeine today.

Gene: I’m a specialist at state abbreviations.

Elizabeth: So Mark P. from Warren, Michigan asks, “Gene I read your article ‘Five Big Email Marketing Mistakes You Should Avoid.’ I have a question. Are these email marketing services…” because you did suggest some in your article.

Gene: Yes.

Elizabeth: We will link to this article so you can read it. “Are these email marketing services supposed to be only used to contact someone that opted in to your newsletter or somehow contacted you at some point? We have a list of potential contacts that have never heard about our company but we are concerned about being labeled as spammers if we send them emails or newsletters through our services.”

I just want to jump in really quickly and talk about the different people he’s talking about. You can have a couple different audiences here. People to opt in to receive your newsletter. That means they signed up at some point and were told “I am going to get this newsletter.”

Gene: Right.

Elizabeth: Then people who contacted your business, like maybe they sent in a contact form and it included their email. Those are people…let’s call those the people that contacted you.

Gene: Right.

Elizabeth: So we have the opt in, people who contacted you, and then he’s also talking about a third group of people, potential contacts. I don’t know how they…I mean if they contacted the business, I guess we’ll call those people “contactors,” but I’m not sure how he got that list together. Gene, I’ll let you run with this.

Gene: I struggle with this all the time, guys. I’ve been using email marketing services for years and I’ve been shut down on a few of them.

Elizabeth: I bet you have.

Gene: Constant Contact, for example. Which is awesome, they’re a great service. We were getting into a thing where every six months we would go to send out a newsletter and we were being told “You’re not allowed to do this, contact our auditors.” If you can imagine. We would contact, and they would say “Listen we see on your newsletter list you have a lot of “sales@” and “info@” addresses. Those are suspicious. How are you collecting them, what are you doing with them? Did they opt in? Did they not?” We’d explain to them yes and what we do, and we sell software that is geared towards salespeople so they happen to have those addresses. They would say “fine” and eventually open us up.

Here’s the bottom line, Elizabeth. For these email marketing services, they don’t want to know about spammers. They want everyone on your list to have opted in. Period, black and white, that’s it.

Elizabeth: They can get in a lot of trouble.

Gene: Right, it’s not even just them getting into trouble. Their job is not to compose your email and it’s not to design your email, it’s not even to give you any content ideas. Their job is to deliver your email. That’s all their job is. Now they give you a lot of tools to work with. And again, Constant Contact, Mail Chimp, My Emma, all these great services. JangoMail is another one that’s great…there’s a bunch of them. The really good ones, their job is to deliver your email. If they start sending out a lot of emails that are spam or that people didn’t opt in and people get complaints and whatever, the main email service providers, the Gmails, the Yahoos, the Microsofts, they’re not going to allow emails to come from their servers. There goes their business. If you’re Constant Contact you’re like “We gotta make sure that our subscribers are sending out…”

Elizabeth: Are on the up and up.

Gene: Yeah, otherwise we got a problem. Our whole business model gets…it’s a problem.

Elizabeth: What would you recommend for Mark, then? He has these contacts, would you recommend he emails them and says “Would you like to opt into our newsletter?”

Gene: I’ve learned this the hard way, Mark, I’ve tried it all. I’ve tried just throwing people on our email list, I’ve tried buying lists and blasting it out to people, whatever. It always gets me into trouble, just full disclosure. I’ve tried all that stuff. I’ve got a pretty thick skin for people complaining “Take me off your list,” and whatever…

Elizabeth: You kind of thrive on it.

Gene: I kind of enjoy it a little. But the email service providers, that’s where I draw the line because I can’t use them anymore. I don’t want them to blacklist me. To answer your question, yes. Everybody’s got to opt in. You should have on your website…and by the way, the good service providers will provide you with these tools. A sign up button, for example, that you can put on your website and you say, “Hi, thanks for reaching out to me. Would you like to sign up to our newsletter? If you would, click this link.” Then they opt in. That’s what you want them doing is opting in.

Elizabeth: For his current list right now where he just says contacts…he actually calls them potential contacts. Would it be okay to email those people once and ask them to opt in to the regular newsletter?

Gene: You can ask your email service provider if that’s something they would allow doing. I don’t know if they’re going to be that helpful. What I would recommend that you do is send emails from your regular email program. Not to thousands of people at a time but maybe 50-100 a day. It should be a personalized email saying “If you’d like to sign up for our newsletter, here’s a link, please sign up there.” Then you’ve got the process in place to do that.

Elizabeth: That sounds good.

Gene: People complaining about you to their email service providers, they will shut you down if you get enough complaints. Then it’s a real pain to get yourself back into status.

Elizabeth: I’m going to offer a challenge to Gene and I. He does not know about this ahead of time. Let’s say you’re a small business and you want to build your email list. If you come to Small Biz Ahead, click on the podcast tab, scroll down to this podcast and open the show notes. In the comments, ask us a question, tell us a little about your business and we will come up with a couple ways you can get people to join your email list.

Gene: Sure, I’ve got lots of ideas.

Elizabeth: A couple email marketing ideas for you.

Gene: Yeah I’ve got lots of ideas to do that.

Elizabeth: That’s a little gift from Gene and I to you.

Gene: Because we care, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: We do, we do.

Gene: We care about you.

Elizabeth: I want our listeners to build their email lists.

Gene: Absolutely right.

Elizabeth: It’s a really great thing to do. We could go into all the stats, but if you don’t have an email list, it really is worth cultivating that now.

Gene: Correct; eMarketer does a study every year on email usage, and it’s still the primary way of communication for 95% of the businesses in the US and Western Europe. Email newsletters get read. It’s a good, valuable thing. In the article I wrote though, I gave some tips about how to best send out your newsletter, because you don’t want to send out junkie newsletters. If you follow some of those rules in the article and team up with a good email service provider…the email service providers want to do everything they possibly can to get your emails through. If you are going to do, take the time to use one of their templates, but also use one of their spam tests. They will scan your email and look to see and tell you how probable it is it might be caught by your recipients’ spam filter. Those tests are actually very helpful to do. It takes a few extra minutes but it’s worth it.

Elizabeth: Alright, we’ll be right back with Gene’s “Word of Brilliance.”


Elizabeth: We’re back with Gene’s “Word of Brilliance.” Gene what is your word this week?

Gene: It is another non-word. It is a number…

Elizabeth: A name?

Gene: “529” is what it is.

Elizabeth: It’s a college fund, right?

Gene: It is, but…oh, see I’m glad that you said that. It used to be just a college fund, but no longer. It has been expanded. Let me explain to you what a 529 plan is, because you really have to consider getting one, whether you have kids or not. A 529 plan is an after-tax fund for you to put after-tax money away, but it grows tax-free and can be withdrawn tax-free without any penalties as long as you’re using it to purchase higher education or…because the rules have changed with the tax reform act now…private school tuition or religious school tuition as well.

Remember that a 529 plan does not have to be for your kids, it can be for anybody. For example, my niece just had a daughter. She’s one-year-old. She had a one-year-old party and she had this whole wish list of things to buy, all these crazy toys for a one-year-old. I refused to participate in that nonsense.

Elizabeth: Of course you did.

Gene: I got a 529 plan set up. This is for my niece’s daughter, I don’t even know, great grand-niece? Whatever. Great-niece is what I think it is. So I set up a 529 plan and I put $100 into it. It’s for her, it’s in her name, and it will grow, tax-free, over time. She might use it for private school some day, or religious school, or just saving up for college. I don’t know if you know this or not, but college is kind of expensive.

Elizabeth: Oh my God. Really, I had not heard that.

Gene: Yes, so the more help you can get growing your money tax-free the more beneficial that is. Not only am I going to do it for her, my niece and her husband are very, very nice people, but when their birthdays come, I’m not going to get them a dinner or a special…he’s into superhero DVDs…I’m going to put money into their daughter’s 529 plan. That’s the kind of guy I am.

Elizabeth: Perfect. That is Gene Marks gift.

Gene: You know who I learned this from? I learned it from, years ago…you know we have twins and my older one is eleven months older so they’re all the same age…back in the day I was told to set up a 529 plan. We did and put money away every year. I had some of my relatives, my parents put money into it as well. That grew and by the time they went to college, that really came in handy.

Elizabeth: That’s awesome.

Gene: Yeah, it was really good.

Elizabeth: You must’ve been exhausted for two or three years.

Gene: It was. We did not finish a conversation for about four years. We had more diapers changed…you know? As a memento we didn’t throw out any of the diapers, we saved all the diapers from our kids because we wanted to remember those years. Sometimes we bring them out…I’m just kidding. We threw them out.

Anyway, 529 plans are big. They’re regulated by your state. Every state has them. Talk to your bank, talk to your financial advisor, talk to your CPA, or you can Google “529 plan” and your state, and you’ll see plenty of people who offer them. When I set up the 529 plan for my great-niece, it was minutes. I did the whole thing online and then transferred money.

Elizabeth: Is there any tax benefit to you?

Gene: No, there is not. It’s after-tax money. The tax benefit is that it grows tax-free. Again, if it’s your kid and you’re going to help pay for your kid’s education, you might as well let the money grow tax-free. There’s no limit to what you can contribute. Like 401K plan you’re limited to like $18 grand a year…

Elizabeth: Not to get too controversial here, because that’s usually what you do.

Gene: Yes.

Elizabeth: I have heard a lot of people now, because college is so expensive, a lot of parents are like “I’m not even going to save for college because I can’t possibly do it, my kids are going to have to take loans out.”

I’m thinking this might be actually a way to do that without it being too painful.

Gene: Right. Everybody wants to save for college and this is a good way to do it.

Elizabeth: Not everybody wants to save for college.

Gene: Yeah, I know, but this could hopefully help people do that. Let’s not even go there about the cost of college, because that’s a whole other…forget about it.

Elizabeth: I know.

Gene: It is what it is. The hope is that if you’re a parent or grandparent or an uncle or an aunt and you want your loved ones to go to college one day and you’d like to help them out, every dollar would help. By the way, the money you take out doesn’t have to be just tuition. It’s college-related expenses, so you are qualified to take it out for textbooks, housing, food if you’re on a meal plan, not beer.

Elizabeth: That’s too bad.

Gene: Yeah. It’s very useful and we all know it will grow. One other thing is the 529 plan’s like a 401K plan for retirement. You can choose different funds, so it’s not just sitting there earning 2% a year. You can set up different stock and bond funds and decide where you want to invest it.

Elizabeth: Now can you use 529 for a trade school? It doesn’t have to be…

Gene: That’s a good question. It’s for higher education…

Elizabeth: I think a trade school would qualify.

Gene: I’m going to guess that it is, but I would definitely check first to make sure. But I would guess that a trade school would probably apply.

Elizabeth: It could also be used for a Master’s degree…

Gene: It could be.

Elizabeth: …PhD studies, okay.

Gene: That is correct. I think with the new changes to it from the Tax Reform Act, if you know your kids, grandkids are going to go to some private school in the neighborhood or Catholic school, or something like that, you can start putting money away. Ten years or twelve years from now when they get to middle school, you’ve built up a nice tax-free savings to help with the tuition. Those schools ain’t cheap either.

Elizabeth: Oh my gosh, yeah.

Gene: Yeah.

Elizabeth: Great. Thanks for the tips, Gene.

Gene: 529 plans.

Elizabeth: We’ll be back next week with another episode. Thanks for joining us.

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