Email marketing is incredibly important for small businesses, but it can be a daunting and overwhelming process — and often, it’s hard to know where to even start. Before you get discouraged, though, know that there’s a lot to gain from putting time and effort into a designated email strategy. Email offers a great return on investment (about $42 per every $1 spent), and for many small businesses, it’s the primary means of acquiring new customers and retaining existing ones.

Everyone has to start somewhere. In this blog post, we’ll go over the baby steps that your small business needs to take in order to get off the ground running with an impactful and effective email marketing strategy.

1. Build Your Contact List

Your email marketing efforts aren’t going to go very far without a hefty list of subscribers. And for that, you need to gather your prospects’ email addresses. Make sure that you have a way to track the email addresses of visitors to your site, and create an easy and obvious way for visitors to opt-in to your email marketing list.

Permission-based opt-ins are key here. Sending emails to people who did not explicitly give you permission to do so is a great way to end up in the spam folder — or worse. You’ll also have recipients who are less engaged, less interested, and less likely to convert. On that note, while you should be tracking prospects’ emails for your own data-gathering purposes, don’t send an email to someone unless they’ve given you permission through an opt-in.

2. Segment Your Audience

You can learn a lot about your audience from tracking the behavior of individual visitors on your website. In turn, these insights can better inform your email marketing strategy and provide you with an opportunity to segment your contact list and target the right content to the right people.

Segmentation can happen in a few different ways, but for the purposes of email marketing, the easiest and most efficient way to start segmenting your contact list is to look at what stage they are at in their purchasing journey — i.e., awareness, consideration, or decision. Have a list for post-purchase marketing as well.

Put those in the same stage of the buyer’s journey on the same list, and from there, optimize the content you send out to guide them further along toward a sale. If you want to segment your contact list even further, you can narrow down your lists by separating those in the same industry, have the same job title, download the same resource, and so on.

3. Write Your Content

Your emails are only going to be as good as your content, so it’s crucial that you focus on creating content that’s original, digestible, relevant, and above all, valuable to the person who is receiving it.

To figure out what kinds of content you need to create and what topics you’ll want to be focusing on, look at your segmentation lists. Think about what the people in each group need, and what kinds of content will help answer their questions and provide them with the right resources for advancing along their journey.

4. Add CTAs

Regardless of what list you’re targeting with your content, all of your emails should have one thing in common: a clear call-to-action on the page. These CTAs will certainly vary from list to list and campaign to campaign, but they’re an integral part of effective email marketing and the best way to get real value in return.

Your CTA doesn’t have to be (and often won’t be) to drive a direct sale. Instead, you’ll want to aim for a range of conversions directly related to your content and campaign calendar — for example, downloading a guide or reading a particular blog post. Regardless of what the CTA is, make it a focal point of the email and track conversion rates carefully. Speaking of which….

5. Measure Success

The data is there, so put it to use. Look at email metrics like open rates and click-through rates to judge how your emails are performing. Then make adjustments based on what you learn. Successful email marketing requires constant tweaking of strategy, and you’ll learn all that you need to know to do it if you track and measure where it counts.

Need more help with email marketing metrics? Download our free Email Marketing Metrics Handbook.

6. Incorporate Newer Content Over Time

With automation, email marketing can be a pretty much set-it-and-forget-it endeavor. But you’ll still want to circle back regularly to make sure your content is still relevant and up to date. Make sure that you introduce newer contact as it’s created to replace older content, and that you’re not just sending out the same, dated stuff over and over again.

You can make email marketing work for your small business regardless of budget or staffing resources. Follow the tips above to get started and see just how far a good email strategy can take you.