6164645352_edba5b4dff_zHave you waded through your own inbox lately? The water’s rising at an alarming rate.

And in the inbox, your customers don’€™t care that you’€™re a small business. At that moment of decision, when cursors are poised between open and delete, the playing field is completely level. You’€™re fighting for eyes with Amazon and all the other mega players.

Here are 10 tips that will help your small business compete:

1) Always Begin With A Specific Goal In Mind

Ask yourself why you’€™re emailing your customers and what you want them to do, then make sure your subject line reflects that purpose.

Hint: Email newsletters are a great way to maintain and strength relationships, but they’€™re a very poor tool for recruiting new business.

2) Go Pro

If you’€™re serious about building relationships with your customers via email, professional companies are a BIG asset and great investment of time and money. Mailchimp, Constant Contact, and iContact are all excellent performers.

3) Segmentation

Targeting the right customers with the right message is critical to your long-term email marketing success. For example, let’s say you’€™re a real live rock star (how’€™s that for a fun scenario?) and you’€™ve booked a show in Memphis. Don’€™t email everyone. Instead, pull and send to a list of your Memphis area fans only. This segmentation helps prevent “€œlist fatigue”€ that can lead to the dreaded unsubscribes. Segmentation also provides real value to the people you’ve targeted, rock fans in Memphis for example.

4) Personalization

Emails that begin “Dear David”€ (John, Kate, etc.) are much more effective than emails that begin without a greeting or with just “Hello from fill in the blank€.” Adding a first name is part of building a relationship, and it’€™s simple, an automatic function with most email marketing tools.

5) Frequency

I recommend that most small businesses consistently email their entire customer list on a monthly basis but rarely more than that. Emailing too often will ultimately lead to lower open rates and higher unsubscribe rates. Twitter, Facebook and blogs are much better tools for more frequent communications.

Hint: It’s ideal to send out your monthly email on the same day each month, the first Tuesday, for example. If you’€™re doing a good job of relating to your customers, they’€™ll actually look forward to it.

6) Content Matters

Don’€™t forget that your customers are fans of what you sell/provide. So give them some in your monthly email. Providing exclusive content, tips, or offers is a great way to keep your list members engaged and looking forward to your next email.

7) Give To Get

If you want something from your customers, be prepared to offer them an incentive in return. Let’s say you want list members to attend an event or sale, lend their support to cause or contest. Offer coupons, savings, or recognition as a way of saying thanks and building loyalty.

8) Analytics Rule!

Another advantage of using a professional email tool is the analytic reporting. Monitoring key statistics like open rates, new subscriptions and unsubscribe rates will help you better understand the effectiveness of your email marketing efforts and respond in a timely manner.

9) Cross Promotion

Always use your emails to cross promote the other places where you connect with customers. Provide links to your Twitter feed, Facebook page, and/or your blog in all email messages. And on those social sites, make it easy for your customers to sign up for your email list.

10) No Spam

It’€™s very important that you do NOT add people to your email list who did not personally sign up . Remember, emails are great tools for maintaining and strengthening relationships (or sales), but highly ineffective at recruiting new customers. Adding unsuspecting names to your email list will only foster a negative impression and might even get you dropped by your email provider. Don’t do it!

Instead, use Facebook, or better yet, do what I do: commit to consistent blogging using high value content, including key words from a tool like BoostSuite. That’™s a great way to attract new eyes!

[Photo Credit: Maria Peagler]