This week we chatted with Hunter at AWeber, an email marketing company with a focus on small businesses. Read on for tips and tricks to take email marketing for your business to the next level!

Corey at Shoeboxed: I’ve personally used AWeber for a long time.  However, some of our readers, particularly those who are new to email marketing and/or use a different provider, might not be that familiar with your company. What does AWeber do and what is your role there?

Hunter Boyle: AWeber helps small businesses grow with email and social media marketing tools. We have over 115,000 customers, and in my role as Senior Business Development Manager I look for ways to keep improving our service, internally and with partners, so our customers can keep growing their businesses. Since we’re also a small business, we like to focus on relationships and evolving our service to fit customer needs and feedback.

SBX: Many Shoeboxed users own a small business.  Why should a small business owner use email marketing software?  Is it complicated to learn and deploy?

HB: Study after study shows email marketing has the highest ROI of any channel: The DMA says every dollar spent on email returns about $40, and 68% of small businesses say email performs better than social media. Small businesses need to get email marketing right. And the good news is, it’s not as hard as you might think.

With features like drag-and-drop message editing, editable templates for sign-up forms and email newsletters, easy to understand analytics and integrations with popular social media, ecommerce and mobile apps, growing your business with email marketing no longer requires a full-time developer or designer. If you’re familiar with standard word processing tools and online forms, you will find email marketing interfaces work in much the same way now. And if you’re not, you can probably find a teenager who is!

SBX: When choosing an email software vendor, what should a small business owner consider?  What features are most important?

HB: First of all, since email has been around for many years, pricing and features are fairly close. So among the factors that have the biggest impact, deliverability tops the list, because your subscribers need to get your messages consistently. Integrations with social media and other tools will help you tackle vital marketing functions, so an open-source service gives you that flexibility and room for growth with other services. And finally, since most small businesses don’t have a big staff or email experts, top-notch free customer support and educational resources to help you get started and excel in email marketing – a live, knowledgable person to call when you have a problem – is a feature that will always rank very high.

SBX: Each small business owner has a unique set of needs.  But can you, on a macro level, describe the features of a good a email marketing program… autoresponders, newsletters, etc.?

HB: You’re absolutely right – the mix will be different for every organization. However, there are a few keys to success that every business should follow for email.

For one thing, your emails must provide real value to customers and prospects. Their needs, challenges, wins and feedback are a lot more important than what many newsletters publish. Keep the “what’s in it for me” angle in mind to inform your content, publishing schedule, offers and especially the sign-up process, because while email still tops the ROI charts, you need to stand apart to get subscribers and keep them engaged.

Finding the ideal mix starts with a combination of listening to customers (and reviewing your analytics) and testing. That may sound tough, but it pays huge dividends. You want to give your readers what they want, right? So ask them: How often would they like to get updates? What’s their biggest challenge and how can you help? Plain text or HTML format? Whether you use a multiquestion survey, or break it up into single poll questions and sprinkle them into emails (and/or social channels) individually, you can always improve your marketing with input from your customers.

Once you know the issues they want you to address, you can map out the content and formats that work best, such as an autoresponder series for new subscribers, plus a regular schedule for newsy updates and promotions tied to social channels. And pay attention to the analytics to see how the engagement level – opens, clicks, conversions – meets your email goals. That will inform your testing approach.

SBX: Many small business people, as you know, are short on time.  That’s one of the reasons they use Shoeboxed – to essentially outsource their paperwork management.  How much time does a small business owner need to devote to create a “useful” email marketing program?  Can it be outsourced?

HB: Depending on budget, owners can outsource a significant chunk of their email, from hiring a designer to create a template for newsletters or promotions, to having developers customize opt-in forms or apps, to having writers create fresh content.

Several years ago, that approach was the norm. But just like blogging and desktop publishing, and services like Shoeboxed, email marketing tools have evolved to make things simpler for non-technical professionals. If time is short, a small business owner can work with a talented freelancer to create and grow a very successful program. Many of our customers do just that.

SBX: Can you give us some KPIs to judge the success of an email campaign?  Open rates, acquisition rates, revenue, etc.?

HB: Like the program components, these will vary somewhat for each organization. That said, I’m a big fan of the idea of creating an engagement scorecard (see an excellent example here), which offers a more comprehensive snapshot of how your audience is responding. Short of that, I’d recommend focusing more on conversion rates and list growth – your true ROI drivers – than opens, clicks and similar stats. For instance, a high open and click rate are both good, but if your traffic is clicking through without converting, you’ve got a funnel problem that needs attention. And if your list isn’t growing, you need to find new ways to get the word out.

SBX: Finally, a more open-ended question – any email marketing tips or tricks you can share?  I attended your presentation at Affiliate Summit, of course, and I walked away with a variety of actionable tactics.

HB: Thanks, Corey, that’s great to hear! Why don’t we share that presentation with your audience? Check out “25 List Building Tricks: Ideas, Examples and Resources to Improve Your Email ROI” and connect with me on Twitter (@hunterboyle) to let me know what you think. I’d love to hear feedback and field any questions from your audience. Cheers!

SBX: Hunter, thank you for your time!

Hunter Boyle - AWeberHunter Boyle (@hunterboyle) is an authority on content marketing optimization. He’s the Senior Business Development Manager for AWeber, which helps startups, small businesses and nonprofits grow via email and social media marketing.