If you offer email marketing to small businesses (or plan to), then you may know about some of the challenges that come with the territory. For example, with limited resources comes a big desire from smaller companies to seek a measurable and often, immediate return on their marketing spend – how can you address this in your pitch?

To gain a real-world insight into how designers can offer value to their clients, we sat down with Eddie Johnson at Hat Trick Media, a UK-based agency with over 4 years of experience in rebranding Campaign Monitor and literally dozens of small business clients. Whether you’re a seasoned designer looking to make email more appealing or simply throwing around ideas for a rebrand, Eddie’s advice is sure to help you refine your pitch, close the deal and measure the success of your campaigns.

Hat Trick Media team

Hi Eddie, lets start off with how your agency pitches email marketing to small businesses. What solutions do you offer, apart from simply sending campaigns? Does email marketing usually accompany services like web development, or is more often a stand-alone offering?

The majority of our early email marketing clients first engaged Hat Trick Media to build and update their websites. Email marketing was sold mainly as a feature to drive traffic to their site or to say hello to their customers, so we’d design them a template based on their online or offline collateral and help with their subscriber lists.

…allowing clients to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns for themselves is really compelling…
Just before Campaign Monitor and MailBuild merged in 2008, we really cottoned on to how great the software is and started offering email marketing as a stand-alone product within our portfolio. It meant that we could offer designed email communications to clients, instead of them sending email from a standard email client like Outlook. The fact that the reporting tools allow clients to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns for themselves is really compelling and makes email marketing a fairly easy sell.

We charge for template design, testing across the most popular email clients and helping out with data integration. In addition, we used to charge a monthly fee for access to the system, but found some clients only wanted to send bi-monthly or quarterly campaigns and so had to re-think this. We now charge £5 per send, then 1p per recipient for most clients, but for larger accounts we use an ‘all you can send’ monthly pricing model, which has won us some accounts.

That said, does offering email marketing to small businesses present specific challenges? What are they, and how do you overcome them?

…when pitching email marketing, I use a true story or case study that illustrates how great newsletters are.”

First of all, having limited resources – including money – tends to make small businesses wary of spending on marketing, especially if they can’t measure the outcomes. To address this when pitching email marketing, I normally use a true story or case study that illustrates how great newsletters are. For example, we had a client who sold telephone systems, who was aware that one of their existing customers was in the market for a new system. However, every time one of the clients’ sales guys tried to call the customer’s office, the gatekeeper – a receptionist – said he was busy or unavailable.

We sent an email campaign on behalf of this client, featuring a headline story about a wonderful new phone system. Consequently, this usually off-limits customer received it and really engaged with the offer, clicking through via the phone system story a number of times and even forwarding the newsletter to a colleague. Armed with the email campaign reports, our client sent just a single email to the customer, confirming that they’d seen that he had clicked a number of times, which to them suggested interest. As it turned out, the timing was perfect. The resulting sale of the phone system pretty much paid for the following year’s email campaigns for the client – without access to these reports, it’s unlikely they would have ever got that deal.

The resulting sale… pretty much paid for the following year’s email campaigns for the client – without access to reports, it’s unlikely they would have ever got that deal.

So, when the main challenge presented by a small business client is in regards to spend, we point to this story. Similarly, another of our clients knew he wanted to send email campaigns, but allocating money to other parts of their business had always taken priority. However, since the first campaign went out, he’s been saying that they should have done it earlier!

That said, the single most difficult aspect of selling email marketing is advising clients that they just can’t send to a list they’ve bought from a data company. We take permission really seriously, even if it means turning down an account. This was a lesson we learned the hard way with a charity-based client we have. When members joined this charity, they give their consent to be emailed with news and updates. Nonetheless, the first campaign we sent for them got marked as spam by many of their members. We couldn’t believe what had happened, but it made us realize that if a tightly-managed list could generate spam complaints, then there was no way we could successfully send to a purchased list!

In your recent email newsletter, you mentioned a particularly successful campaign you sent on behalf of The Grange Spa. In fact, the first booking received as a result of the email campaign generated enough business to cover the cost of the entire campaign. With this success story in mind, is ROI enough to justify the success of a small businesses’ email campaign, or are there other indicators, too?

Return On Investment (ROI) is the key consideration, especially as our clients become more savvy and aware that they can, and should measure results. Fundamentally, everything leads to ROI, but just as important as an immediate return is brand awareness, or the little reminders to customers that they’re here. Of course, familiarity does lead to increased business – thus contributing to ROI, but on a different timescale.

Overall, clients are delighted if they can get more cash in than they’ve spent, whether that’s per campaign or over the year.

Finally, what’s your advice to other designers who want to offer email marketing to small businesses?

Keep abreast of changes within the email clients.”

Keep abreast of changes within the email clients. Subtle changes, such as the green text bug in Hotmail really hurt us – it made some legacy templates hard to read as the text color clashed with backgrounds. The recipient won’t care that Hotmail did this, they’ll just reason that the sender thinks green text on a blue background is ok.

Also, clients need to understand what can be built and delivered. Many times we’ve created something that looks ace, then have had to strip it back because it looks so different in Outlook from our original design.


Many thanks to Eddie at Hat Trick Media for taking the time to answer our questions. For more on offering email marketing to your clients, take a look at our recent post on building brand awareness, or our lively collection of rebrander case studies.

  • Eddie

    Great job guys – the placement of the winning England rugby shirt from the 2003 World Cup wasn’t intentional. Promise.

  • Ryan

    Email marketing is a great way to not only drive traffic but to turn those customers that are coming in on an occasional basis, into a loyal customer. The opt in method is the best thing for small businesses to use right now due to its cost effectiveness and the ability to reach their customers at any time they choose.

  • Jacques

    Great idea on giving a story. Selling email marketing can be tricky for a lot of SME because if they have never used this form of marketing, they have nothing to compare it too. With a success story, you can really personalize your sale. Great advice!

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