As the owner of a small business or startup, you probably have a million different titles. “Chief GSD,” “Queen of Heart-to-Hearts,” or “Captain of Keeping the Lights On,” are probably but a few. And among those job descriptions, “Marketing Manager” often floats to the top.

As the marketing and sales lead at your company, you’ve got two very important tools to attract paying clients or customers: the phone, and email. While the phone is the most personal, it isn’t the most cost-effective way to spend your time, so if your goal is to build business quickly, email is an important channel to invest in. Let’s tackle some email basics for those just setting it up.

Here are 7 tried-and-true tips for sending effective emails to prospective or current customers.

1. First, are you actually ready to email lots of folks?

This sounds like a dumb question, but if you plan to send one-off emails for the rest of eternity, then you can continue to individually craft emails from your very email own account.

But if you want to send the same message to lots of recipients (with some personalization, like the recipient’s first name), then you need an email platform. Pro tip: You can set up your Gmail account to send up to 100 emails per day. If you plan to email more than that, here are a few options built for small businesses:

Each service has pros and cons to their pricing and functionality. But if you’re looking for simple and intuitive email platforms, any one of these should get you started.

2. Before you start writing, decide on your desired outcome

When writing emails, it helps to work backwards. Start by determining the action you would like your recipient to perform after receiving your email, then craft your content around that end goal.

For example, do you want to set up a call so you can close a sale? Donate to a cause for your fundraiser? Sign up for your monthly newsletter? Whatever it is, write it down. And then make sure that call-to-action (CTA) is front and center in your email. Cut the fluff, stay relevant, see results.

3. Be direct from the get-go

Everyone gets a million emails a day. And though yours is super important (it has to be, it’s yours!), it’s still competing for attention in your recipient’s inbox. A few quick notes:

Some subject line dos:

  • Keep it short, with a maximum of five to seven words
  • Relate it the contents of the email
  • When possible, customize the email with the first name of the person you’re emailing (if you’re sending a lot of emails at once, email automation software has an option to add this in)

Some subject line dont’s:

  • Pull a bait-and-switch: No one who opens an email promising a free trip to Tahiti is going to want an audit with your accounting firm
  • Use multiple exclamation points, all caps, or other overly excitable language
  • Use overly formal language
  • Overused salesy language, like “Exclusive offer you don’t want to miss”

It might be tempting to have a zazzy, weird subject line to get people to open your email. Though misleading subject lines might bump up your open rate, they also tend to build ill will. Make your subject line your thesis rather than your hook, and you’ll see your reply rates increase.

4. Keep your email shorter than you’re comfortable with

Keep it snappy! This is the most important tip, but, unfortunately, probably the one you’re most likely to ignore. For some reason, when people see a blank a page they want to tell their life story—it happens to all of us. I beg you, resist the urge. But before we move on I just want to note I’m a Virgo, I really love ice cream, and my parents raised me with the belief that…

You get the point.

The shorter your email is, the more likely your recipient is to read it. And the more likely your email is to be read, the more likely it is to get a response. There’s no reason for your emails to be longer than 5 sentences.

If you have a lot to say, put it in an attached doc (or link to a landing page) so that people engage with your content with an understanding of what they’re getting themselves into.

Granted, sending an attachment to people you don’t know will likely get you caught in a spam filter, so find a balance.

(Yes, I’m aware of the irony that the tip on brevity is actually the longest.)

5. Break. It. Up.

Just assume that whomever you’re emailing really hates reading. And when they get your email, they’re probably thinking “drat, another to-do.” So you’re fighting an uphill battle from the get-go.

Nothing turns off a reader like a text block. When putting your emails together, aim to never have more than three lines of text touching one another. It’ll do wonders for your read-through rates.

6. Keep your tone informal

Formality doesn’t exist anymore. I’m not quite sure what happened, but the Silicon Valley hoodie and jeans vernacular is now global. Treating your recipients with a formal tone tends to elicit formal responses which, in my experience, are almost always negative.

Now, that’s not to say there’s never an occasion where you should employ some formality, but in general, casual tones tend to get the best responses out of emails.

7. Make your asks specific (and have just one)

Ambiguous questions put the burden of decision-making on your recipient and, by extension, decrease the odds of them responding and committing. If you’re looking to set up a meeting with someone don’t ask for “sometime next week.” Asking for “Tuesday between 2:00 and 4:00” will get you a much better confirmation rate.

Your email should have one objective, and your ask should be solely focused on getting your recipient to complete that objective. Including secondary asks, while sometimes necessary, tends to reduce response rates and the resulting actions. Sometimes, putting a second CTA in the “P.S.” section can be a way to work around this.

With these handy tips in your back pocket, you can get to hitting the send button right away. And, if crafted succinctly and with your desired call-to-action front-and-center, you’ll see the email results you’re hoping for come streaming in.

Marshall Darr Marshall ran email at Gusto. He's also an avid fan, and occasional practitioner, of stand-up comedy.
Back to top