Email marketing breakdown? Here’s your recovery plan

Has your email marketing broken down? Chances are it's fixable... here's your recovery plan.

Has your email marketing broken down? Chances are it’s fixable: here’s your recovery plan to help you rev up your email marketing.

If you own a car, chances are that at some stage it’s broken down. Whether it’s a flat tyre or something more serious, most of us have been there.

But just because your car’s broken down, does that mean that you decide that cars in general are broken? And you vow to never use a car again?


You’re far more likely to get your mechanic to fix the car. (Or if all else fails, you might get a new car.)

Yet when email marketing breaks down, people are quick to say that “email marketing is dead”.

Is email marketing dead?

No, email marketing isn’t dead: it’s simply evolved over time. Just like there’s more traffic on the roads; and we no longer use crank handles to start a car engine, technology changes and evolves. And that’s what’s happened to email marketing.

Yes, you might be finding it harder to grow your opt-in list. Yes, your open rates might be down. And yes, your unsubscribe rates might be up. But that doesn’t mean that all email marketing is broken; it just means it’s time you tweaked it. Just like a car needs fixing and servicing, so does email marketing.

Still not convinced that email marketing works?

If you need convincing that email marketing works, here’s how my own email marketing is looking at the time of writing. In the past year my email opt-in list has grown by 36%; open rates have increased by 34%; and my click-through rate has increased by 414% (yes, you read that correctly). And in terms of earning dollars, my email list provides me with a regular flow of repeat consulting and copywriting work, referral business and eBook sales.

How did I achieve these results? By following the tips I’m about to share with you. Nothing more and nothing less!

I should also mention that colleagues of mine who are black belts in email marketing are getting even better results than I am: they have larger lists, and through this they are able to make sales on a daily basis. What they’re achieving is inspiring, and shows us what’s possible – and they’re getting these results without spending very much money on their marketing.

Email marketing is possibly the most cost-effective customer retention method

Customer retention is a vital marketing strategy; and email marketing lets you communicate with your Customers, Members, Advocates and Raving Fans cost-effectively and time-efficiently.

Can you think of any other communication method that lets you communicate directly with all your fans for just a few cents? At this point you might be thinking ‘social media’ – but this doesn’t let you communicate directly: there’s a very good chance your updates may not be seen. With email, they’ll see your message in your InBox… and even if they don’t open your email, at least you’re still front of mind.

So yes, email marketing still reigns. If you’re not getting the results that you used to get, it indicates that it’s time to give it a re-tune and tweak.

Here’s your 11-point email marketing recovery plan:

1. Review your costs

Are you finding email marketing expensive? If so, you need to look at the costs. In particular:

  • Email newsletter software: if you find your current system expensive, shop around. Many of my clients are raving about MailChimp‘s free plan; it’s very good.
  • Labour costs: many business owners dislike writing newsletter content and setting it up. You have two main choices: either learn to do it yourself; or outsource it. One thing you don’t want to skimp on though is the content: we’ll come onto that later. Whoever does this needs to know what they’re doing, as it’s the content that will make or break your email marketing. So if you decide to write your own content, make sure you brush up on your copywriting skills.

2. Attract new subscribers continually

Just like cars need fuel, subscribers are the lifeblood of your email marketing and you need to work at continually attracting new (quality) subscribers. Make it easy for people to sign up to your list, for example by having a sign-up form on your website. And be sure to tell subscribers exactly what they’re signing up for: reassure them that their personal data will be kept private, and let them know how often you’ll contact them. Setting expectations upfront is a good thing.

These days it’s certainly become harder to entice new subscribers, and for this reason it can be a good idea to offer a high quality enticement. This could be a free eBook, Report or White Paper that subscribers receive in return for signing up. This gift should be geared to a common need your subscribers have; be of good quality; and not overly long (because you actually want them to read it!).

If you use social media, make sure that you’re regularly enticing your followers to sign up to your email list. It’s far more important that you grow your email list than your Facebook fans or Twitter followers.

Why? You want to own your customer data; you should not rely on a third party (such as Facebook). You have no control over Facebook. Imagine if the site closed down overnight for some reason: all your fans would be gone along with it. That’s why it’s so important that you focus on growing your email marketing list first and foremost: you shouldn’t build your business on someone else’s land, so to speak.

3. Email subject lines must be amazing!

Subscribers will choose whether to open your email or not based on your subject line. And to write an enticing subject line means you need to have good headline writing skills. Click here to see what makes a good headline.

If your headline isn’t strong enough, the rest of the content is immaterial. So writing a good headline is essential.

Many email newsletter systems let you send “split test broadcasts” (or “A/B testing”), which will let you test and measure different headlines to see which gets the best open rate and the best click-through rate. Give that a try, so you can see what your subscribers respond to.

Hint: if you did this a while ago (say a year or two ago), do it again. The world has changed since then, and so have people’s needs and motivations.

4. Develop a strategy for your email marketing content

This is where many people trip up, as they’re not clear on what they should be doing. There are 3 different kinds of email marketing, and you need to be clear on what they are, and the difference between them.

  1. Email newsletters: Most of the content (around 80%) should be focused on adding value to your reader, e.g. an article that they will find interesting or beneficial in some way. A maximum of 20% of the email should be sales-based. (And be sure to feature the value-added article first, and only then the offer.)
  2. Sales emails: Pure sales emails are an important tool in your email marketing toolkit, but use them sparingly as readers tire very quickly of being bombarded by sales messages.
  3. Autoresponders: These are a series of automated emails that arrive in short, sharp succession after sign-up. After all, you are most at front-of-mind when people have just joined your list. Autoresponders are generally short; have a personal tone; and are about adding value. Here’s some information on Autoresponders from AWeber.

All of these require a different approach. And the content for each of these will be very different… and ideally you will be engaging all 3 techniques. After all, if you were to drive your car just in one gear, your journey would be slow and frustrating, so you use all the gears available to you. Same with your email marketing: to get it cranking, you need to use all the techniques at your disposal.

You will need to suss out a way to mix the different email marketing methods: the email newsletters, sales emails and autoresponders should be working harmoniously together.

If that sounds hard, I’m afraid you should grit your teeth and do it, it is OK! It is worse to keep doing what you’re doing (and not get results) or to omit email marketing from your marketing campaigns altogether. After all, a mechanic often has to do diagnostics to find out what’s wrong with a car, so this is you doing the same thing for your business.

To give you a starting point, here is an email marketing calendar suggested by AWeber.

5. Create the content that fits your strategy

Now that you have a strategy to work to for each email, the goal of your writing work becomes a lot clearer. And be sure to treat your list like the VIPs that they are and give them quality information.

Quality content means including graphics and captions, as well as good writing. And be sure to provide links to your website where your readers can find more information.

Hint #1: Less is more. Rather than cram in lots of content and lots of articles, let one high-quality article be the feature of your email marketing. One clear theme will be more memorable than a multitude of messages.

Hint #2: This is the bit where most people get stuck; they’re not sure what their readers find most interesting/beneficial, and what they don’t like. There’s only one sure fire way to find out for certain. And that is covered in the next step:

6. Ask your readers for feedback

Email marketing can be a weird feeling: you spend hours toiling over it; hit send; and often you get zero feedback. If it weren’t for your statistics, you’d be wondering if the emails ever got sent!

If that’s how things are feeling to you, you need to get some feedback from your readers. And not just any old readers, but your biggest advocates, i.e. the kind of A-Grade customers you’d like to have more of.

If you know them well enough, ask them personally: be sure to ask open-ended questions to get their feedback, i.e. questions beginning with: how, why, what, when, etc.

Another option is to do a quick online survey to see what readers think. Just make sure you keep it simple (just 3 quick questions), and offer a prize draw incentive for those who take part. After all, their feedback is vital for your business, and as no-one really enjoys filling in forms, it’s wise to acknowledge that they’re sticking their neck out helping you by offering a reward.

There are free online survey tools you can use: SurveyMonkey is a popular option, and there are plenty of other services too. (Just do a web search for “free online survey”.)

7. Are there any treats in your email newsletters?

… or in other words, do you treat your readers like dogs?

Dogs love treats. And once you start giving them treats, they’ll want more and more. In fact, they’ll start expecting the treats – and boy will you get big, sad looks if you come up empty-handed!

Same thing in your email newsletters. Is there a little extra something you can easily slot into your emails? This Copyblogger article will give you some ideas and tips on creating this kind of email content.

By doing this in each newsletter issue (and yes, just newsletters, not sales emails or Autoresponders), your readers will start looking out for them.

8. Ensure your template is appropriate

All this wonderful content you’ve created needs to go into a branded email newsletter template. This should look smart and professional. But most importantly of all, your template needs to be smart phone compatible. Why? An increasing number of people read emails on their cell phones, so if your template is a few years old or not specially designed for cell phones, people might be unsubscribing and deleting your emails simply because they can’t read it.

Test and check your template; if it’s not cell phone compatible, you need a new template urgently.

9. Write a sequel (or two)

Have you noticed how many popular books (and movies) have sequels? For example, there are seven books in the Harry Potter series. ‘The Hunger Games’ is a trilogy. So is ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. Many authors and publishing houses have realised that readers want more and more and more. Each book leaves you wanting to read the next book.

Use the same approach in your email newsletters: rather than making each one a stand-alone blockbuster, write a mini-series. And then tell the reader that that’s what you’re doing, because then they’ll look out for the next email newsletter, as they’re already anticipating it. This does wonders for your open rates!

I’ve been using this approach myself, (a) by sometimes writing a mini-series in my email newsletters, and (b) including a short blurb with a teaser in a section entitled In the next issue. My open rates have never been looking healthier. Sure, it means you have to plan your content in advance (read: being organised and planning ahead), but it is very well worth it.

10. Re-evaluate the frequency

Are you sending your emails too often – or not often enough? Generally speaking, the more frequently you can send email newsletters (with quality content that adds value), the better.

If your email newsletters have broken down, rather than send the newsletters less often, you should tend to the items on this recovery plan and then send your newsletters more often!

Why? Life is incredibly fast paced and is speeding up. You need to keep up, rather than slow down, if you want your business to thrive. You can slow down when you’re retired. 😉

11. Be consistent

The biggest email killer by far is not being consistent in your frequency. Getting the newsletter out on time, every time is essential… no excuses. If you do not do this, believe me, it gets noticed. Your customers and prospects will start questioning your professionalism: they’ll wonder if you’re so slack in all aspects of your business. Whilst that sounds harsh, remember that people will judge you based on what they see (or don’t see), and will make assumptions about your business based on that.

So how do you get your newsletter out on time each time? My tips are to:

  • Draw up a production schedule for the next year. Identify (a) the send-out dates and (b) the materials deadline dates. Give yourself some time to put the newsletter together.
  • Write these dates and deadlines in your diary… and stick to them!
  • Use quiet times to your advantage and pre-prepare content in advance. Email newsletter systems will let you queue things waaaay in advance. So if you know you’re going to be on holiday, get that newsletter set up a week or two (or more) before you leave.


Email marketing continues to be the most cost-effective way to build relationships with your customers and to generate sales. If your email marketing isn’t delivering results, it’s not the medium that’s at fault, rather the implementation of it. So get under the hood and tinker and fine-tune till it’s humming again! (It may even perform better than it did before it broke down!)

If you follow this recovery plan, your email marketing could be zooming along more quickly than ever!

If you follow this recovery plan, your email marketing could be zooming along more quickly than ever!


How to generate more repeat business with a reminder system

Do you enjoy the convenience of receiving reminders from your mechanic when your car is due for a service? Or the vet reminding you that your dog needs its vaccinations? Or when the florist emails you to remind you of your spouse’s birthday?

These reminders are beneficial for both consumers and for businesses.

Why a reminder system is good for business

A reminder system is great for any business, as it means more repeat sales. Repeat business is desirable because it’s eight times cheaper than seeking new business. Getting existing clients back is a no-brainer if you want to maximise your profits!

But how do you implement a reminder system?

Implementing a reminder system might sound like a good idea – but where do you begin?

The best systems are computerised, rather than relying on human memory. The latter is just too unreliable – you need to systemise it. And the first step in systemising is to outline your after-sales process.

What’s an after-sales process?

Many business owners make the mistake of ending their sales process at the sale, but it’s what happens afterwards that impacts on whether that customer is going to come back to your or not. So make sure you do some of the following when a sale is completed:

  • Courtesy call to ensure your client is happy.
  • Feedback form (and acting on feedback given).
  • Thank you card: hand-written and sent in the post.
  • Newsletter sign-up: be sure to ask all customers to sign up for your newsletter.
  • Referral card: make it easy for your customers to refer their friends and colleagues.
  • Reminders: a-ha, yes, the all-important reminders! These could be phone calls, SMS messages, or emails – whatever’s appropriate to your business.

So how do you implement the reminders?

Unfortunately there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for this: you’ll need to do some research around software solutions that are suitable for your business. But it’s well worth doing, because of the extra sales and profit you’re likely to make.

The software solutions may be a generic CRM system (“Customer Relationship Management”), or there may be something out there that’s specific to your industry. Researching your competitors to see what they do can be a good starting point!

Of course, you may choose to go with a manual pen-and-paper system… the main thing is that you do implement some kind of systematic reminder process.

After all, not only is it good for your business, but most of your customers will be grateful for the reminder too!


What’s a “normal” open rate for email newsletters?

Sending email newsletters can be a weird experience. Sure, you have a feeling that you’re doing the right thing by keeping in touch with your clients… but how can you tell if they’re actually having an impact?

After all, whenever you hit that “Send” button, it can be like sending your message into the Great Online Void. And that can play havoc with your feelings.

How to deal with the emotion-sucking Great Online Void

First of all, if your email newsletter campaigns feel like a Great Online Void, you need to remember why you’re sending the emails in the first place. And that reason is to stay in touch with your customers, and therefore stay front of mind. It’s all about communicating with them; making them feel valued; and maintaining a relationship with them.

If that doesn’t give you warm and fuzzies, then the fact that these newsletters are likely to be producing repeat business and also referrals should definitely leave you feeling good!

But tell me about facts, not just about emotions…

Facts are vital when it comes to email newsletter campaigns, and that’s why using specialised email newsletter software is such a good idea. The software measures your campaigns, and gives you data, with one of the key measurements being the “open rate”. That is, how many people opened your email newsletter.

But what does this open rate data mean?

Having the open rate data by itself can be meaningless…. how are you meant to know if the numbers are “good” or “bad”? You need something to benchmark against.

Email newsletter benchmarks

Here’s that all-elusive benchmarking information… and that is, that a good email open rate is considered to be between 20% and 40%. If you’re in a business-to-business industry, then the open rates should be at the higher end of that scale; and if you’re dealing with consumers, then the open rates are usually at the lower end of that scale.

Side Note: those are the percentages I’ve always worked to. While researching this article, I did find some recent statistics from email newsletter providers Mail Chimp and Constant Contact. However their percentages tend to much lower than those my clients achieved. I’d be very unhappy if my clients’ open rates were this low!

But wait-a-sec, that seems really low – most people aren’t opening my newsletters!

Ah, but let’s remember WHY you’re sending your newsletters. And that is, to keep in touch with your customers so you stay front of mind. And you’re doing that just by them seeing your company name in your In Box. OK, so it’d be nice if they were to open your newsletter, but it’s done its job to some extend if (a) your customer has seen your name, and (b) they don’t Unsubscribe.

Of course, it would be nice in the ideal world if everyone were to open your newsletters all the time, but we don’t live in that ideal world. We have to be happy with what we’ve got, and work our darndest to improve things by continually sending top-quality newsletters. It’s a constant effort to maintain (or increase) those open rates.

What does it mean if open rates start dropping off?

If your open rates are falling issue after issue, don’t panic straightaway. There are a number of different reasons as to why open rates fall off:

  • The database is ageing: open rates tend to fall over the years, as people tend to switch jobs and make other changes in their lives, meaning that their email address becomes invalid, or that they don’t need your product or service any more. That’s totally normal.
  • You’re not attracting new subscribers: the issue in the previous point is enhanced if you’re not regularly attracting new subscribers. Gaining new subscribers takes continual effort.
  • The subject lines are boring: many people will decide whether to open your email or not based on the attractiveness of your subject line. If your subject lines aren’t enticing, many people will stop opening the emails. Great subject lines are vital, and some split-testing around this will help you discover which subject lines work best for your target market.
  • The content is falling short of expectations: if people aren’t enjoying your content, they’ll stop reading your newsletters. However, this is the first conclusion that many business owners jump to, yet you need to look at the previous bullet points first of all before making any radical decisions about your newsletter content.


If you do spot your email open rates dropping off, the above list gives you a remedial tool kit to work through. However, don’t be tempted to change everything at once – you could be throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Do some tweaking and testing over a number of issues to see how that goes. And if you’re not getting anywhere, then try something else.

The main thing is that you do keep communicating with your customers, despite any hiccups in your open rates. Keeping the relationship going is vital.

And that’s exactly what you need to remember if you ever get the feeling that you’re communicating with the Great Online Void: you’re not, you’re communicating with your bestest and nicest customers. Even if you don’t hear from them in response, you should allow yourself to feel some warm, fuzzy feelings in the knowledge that you’re maintaining your relationship with them. Besides, regularly communicating with your best customers is the best kind of marketing you can be doing, so keep it up!


Are your email newsletters suffering from the “message in a bottle” approach?

When you were a kid, did you ever think of sending a “message in a bottle”?

You know, scrawling a note, sticking it inside a bottle, sealing the bottle, and then casting the bottle into the ocean, wondering where it’d end up and if it you’d ever hear back from the recipient.

Wondering if your message got anywhere is fine for childhood playtime, but not so good in business

Are your email newsletters suffering from the "message in a bottle" approach?Yet in the business world, so many business owners take the “message in a bottle” approach to email newsletters. By that, I mean that they send their email newsletters from their desktop email programme (such as Outlook).

Why is it a problem to send email newsletters from Outlook?

There are a number of problems with sending your email newsletter from Outlook (or any other desktop email system):

  1. Deliverability: There is a very good chance that emails sent this way will get blocked by spam filters, as they can pick up that emails sent “en masse” could be unsolicited (spam) emails. This could even mean that you get permanently “blacklisted” by certain email systems – this is something you want to avoid at all costs!
  2. Lack of reporting: you have no way of measuring if your email got delivered; how many people opened it; and how many people click the links in your email newsletter. So you’re really just sending your email, hoping it will arrive at its destination, not knowing for sure if it has or not.
  3. Formatting: emails sent from Outlook might look OK at your end, but they might not look so great at the recipient’s end. (And don’t be tempted to send the newsletter as a PDF attachment – it’s very unlikely it’ll get opened!)
  4. Legal compliance: it is very easy to ignore the legalities of sending email newsletters. Amongst other things, it is a legal requirement to offer an Unsubscribe option, and to include a postal address of the sender within the email.

So how should you send your email newsletters?

The best way to send your email newsletters is via special email newsletter software. The features differ from system to system, but most of them offer the following benefits:

  • Reporting and analysis: you can see how many people opened your email, and how many people clicked on the links. This allows you to find out what interests your customers and prospects the most.
  • Split testing: you can test and measure what your readers respond to best, for example by changing the subject line or offer. Over time, this will help to make your emails newsletters more focused and removes a lot of the guesswork involved in the “message in a bottle” approach.
  • Spam word testing: various words can trigger the spam filters, and if your spam count is too high, there’s a good chance your email will be blocked. Most email newsletter systems will let you know how your newsletter scores, and which words might cause issues. This increases the likelihood of your email being received by the recipient.
  • Templates and formatting: email newsletter systems allow you to set up a template, giving your emails a professional look.
  • Subscriber management: the system gives you a sign-up box you can put on your website so prospects can sign up for your newsletter. Plus your subscriber database is stored with the email newsletter system, so it’s always ready to go. And if a subscriber wants to Unsubscribe, they can easily do so by clicking a link, without you having to do anything at your end.

What are the most popular email newsletter systems?

There are a wide number of email newsletter systems. Most of them are web-based, so you can access it from any internet-connected computer in the world.

Some popular choices for web-based email newsletter systems include AWeber and Mail Chimp. If you do an internet search for “email newsletters” you’ll find many other suppliers too.

The way the prices are structured varies from supplier to supplier, so check them out. Most systems offer you a free trial so you can try it out first. Many also offer really good resources and information on how to get the most out of your email newsletter campaigns.

Once you get the hang of the email newsletter system (yes, like most software, it takes a bit of getting used to), you’ll never want to go back to the “message in a bottle” approach again. You’ll love the fact that your email campaigns are so much easier to manage and measurable, so you know exactly where your emails are going.