By David Payne

Over the past few years, I’ve gotten more excited about good ol’ email. Huh? Yes,  I realize in our mobile, real-time lives, this might sound surprising. And it was to me, too. But there’s something about this ubiquitous technology that has real power in reaching a large audience in ways that are even more powerful than social media.  And, like social media, email is a great tool to strengthen the bonds of a small business and its best customers.  If you’ve been considering ways to market – especially in ways that are free – stay with me here.

If I owned a small neighborhood business (say, a restaurant), I would think about email in three ways.  First, you need a method to regularly gather email addresses from your customers.  Second, you need to put some thought into what your emails are saying, how they are worthy of your customers’ precious time, and how often you want this email news to go out.  And finally, like all free things online, someone has to actually create the email, so you’ll need a person who is willing and able to put the time into a worthwhile piece of information.

To begin, your email doesn’t have much value and won’t have much momentum if you don’t have a day-to-day system to collect email addresses of your customers.  In the beginning, there’s no reason to over-think this part.  Make it a part of your staff’s customer interaction to ask for an email address.  For example, have them mention it after the customer pays and give the customer a slip of paper for them to write it on.  Also, be sure to include a link on your site to collect email addresses, so you getting the virtual crowd as well.  But don’t stop there – continue to think of creative ways to gather email addresses and keep it going.  Just like Twitter or Facebook, each person that give you their email addresses is now a “follower.”

Next, you have to consider what the email will say and how often you should send one. Content mainly depends on your industry, but one thing is universal – make sure the content matters to your customers. If you are a small accounting office, you’ll be tempted to write only about best practices in accounting.  While this should be included, this isn’t going to excite your fans to open an email only about accounting – include fun facts, community activities, etc.  And as far as frequency of the email goes, unless you are an event space with weekly events, you should only be sending something out either monthly or quarterly.

The final big consideration around your email is actually creating it and sending it out.  Luckily, a robust industry has grown up around providing the tools to easily create emails, make sure they get through spam filters and are able to be viewed correctly in all types of mail clients.  The two that most quickly come to mind for me are MailChimp (a local Atlanta company!) and Constant Contact.  Both are worth investigating and much better than not using an email provider (a bad idea).  Both have free packages if your email list is small.  Also, email should be given to a reliable employee, so that it goes out consistently. Like all things, this is a reflection of your business and overall brand.

Who would’ve thought email would be a hot topic in 2010? But it’s still one of the best way to use technology to consistently put your best business foot forward in front of the largest cross-section of your customer base – even if they are probably viewing it via mobile device!

David Payne, a local entrepreneur, began www.scoutmob.com & www.skyblox.com to help local businesses utilize new media.  You can contact him at dave@scoutmob.com or @davempayne on Twitter.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.