The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 23.43

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Original photo by Justin Morgan on Unsplash

The very fundamentals of Email Marketing

Every day, you get emails. Many of them are newsletters, and newsletters are driven by email marketing systems. In this article, I look at the very fundamentals of email marketing – what it is, how it works, how it can help you, and what you will need to know and do to use it.

What is email marketing?

Simple enough: email marketing is, as the name suggests, marketing via email.

You sign up for a newsletter, or download a freebie from a website, and you’re in someone’s email marketing list. You now get emails from them. If you’re reading this story in your email, you’re in my email marketing list.

There are a couple of things that make email marketing special.

Email marketing is permission marketing

Most marketing is broadcast marketing. You put your message out into the world hoping people will see it. If you see it often enough, you’re likely to pay attention, or think about the brand or product next time you’re looking for something like that.

Problem is, there’s so much broadcast marketing out there, we’ve become really good at ignoring it.

Email marketing, on the other hand, requires that you (the receiver) give the sender permission to send you emails. You’re indicating that you’re interested in what they have to offer, and you’re giving them permission to show up in your inbox.

Emails are persistent

Social media marketing has a problem. Every message you send out on a social media channel is ephemeral – it lasts for a very short time. Your message on LinkedIn or X-Twitter may show up in someone’s feed, but they will only see it if they’re not distracted by all the other noise.

Emails, on the other hand, are persistent.

An email lives in your inbox until someone deletes it. The chances you will at least see the subject line is vastly greater than a post or a tweet. If the subject line is compelling enough, you may even skim through it. If the content is something you’re interested in, you may read some or all of it.

You own your list

If you rely on social media for marketing, you have to build a following. That following is platform-dependent (for example LinkedIn or X-Twitter). If the platform dies, or changes their algorithms, your following disappears.

Your email list, on the other hand, is yours, forever. So even if you are active on social media, you should also be building an email list. It’s yours, and it won’t go away.

How email marketing works

It’s not easy to send an email to 100 people, never mind 1,000. This is where email marketing service providers come in.

Here’s how it works:

  • You sign up for an email marketing service like ConvertKit.
  • You get people onto your email marketing list (hosted by your provider).
  • You use the provider platform to send emails to the people in your list.

People usually get in your email list via a landing page or your website. You embed a form on a page where they enter their details (usually at least a first name and an email address). When they submit the form, their details get added to your email list.

That’s the very basics of how email marketing works.

But email marketing service providers (or ESPs, as they’re sometimes called), are of course experts in email, and they’re competing with each other, so they provide features that help you and set them apart from the competition.

Here are the most common features.

Pretty emails

We don’t read emails that look bad.

Almost all ESPs offer customizable email templates that make your emails look good. You can insert your logo, customize the brand colours, and generally make it look pretty. Insert images, calls to action – anything that will help your subscriber stay and read rather than trash the message.


All ESP’s have the ability to personalize emails.

If you have someone’s first name, you can personalize the email to say “Hey Joe” instead of just “Hello there”.

The more information you have about your subscribers, the more you can personalize your emails. If you know someone is in a specific industry, you can insert industry terms. If you know which problem is most important for them, you can customize the message using those terms.

Of course, to personalize an email, you need to first have the information. This requires additional effort on your side, but the value is well worth the effort.


Most ESPs also offer automation – the ability to take action based on someone’s response to your emails.

The most common form of automation is an offer sequence. You send a series of emails to entice people to buy. If they buy half way through the series of emails, you don’t want to send the rest of the offer emails – you want to jump straight to the thank you email. This is one of the things automation can do for you.


You don’t want to send an offer to someone who previously purchased a product or service from you.

So when someone purchases a product or service, you add a “tag” that indicates they’ve purchased it. This puts your subscriber in the “segment” of subscribers who purchased the product or service.

Next time you send the offer, you only send it to people who are not in that segment.

How email marketing can help you

Email marketing can help you in many ways. Here are the top reasons.

Stay top of mind

The first advantage of email marketing is staying top of mind. If people regularly get valuable emails from you, they are more likely to see an offer for a product or service next time you send it out.

Build trust

This story goes out by email to my subscribers (it’s also published on my website and a couple of other platforms).

This is how I build trust. I’m not trying to sell – I’m providing helpful information that can help you decide if you should be considering email marketing for your business. I give this information freely, because a) I wish I had had it when I started out and b) the people who find it valuable are likely to read other emails from me.

Qualify leads

You can spend an awful lot of time qualifying your leads. Chasing people who are not really interested in what you have to offer is a waste of time. Phone calls and meetings are a waste of time if the lead isn’t interested, or isn’t interested right now.

You can relegate a lot of this time-consuming lead qualification to email. If someone responds to an email (for example, by clicking a link), you will know that. Based on what they do (or don’t do) you can customize the next emails that go to them, or even suggest a call or meeting.

Make offers

Of course you can also make offers for products or services.

Many successful email marketers will send valuable information in the email itself, and include offers in the footer. This is a low-key way of selling that usually looks something like: “when you’re ready, here are 3 ways I can help you”.

Completely automated marketing, lead nurturing and sales

There are some entrepreneurs who even use email marketing to completely automate their marketing, lead nurturing and sales with email marketing.

It usually goes something like this:

  • They offer an email course on a subject you’re interested in (on their website).
  • You sign up for the course, which is delivered via email over a couple of weeks.
  • You get a “special offer” after the course is complete.
  • You purchase online, and the product is delivered online.

There are people who do this successfully, but it requires effort to set up. Do it well, and you can go on vacation for 6 months and still be making money.

Should you be using email marketing?

I would like to give this an unqualified yes, but there are caveats.

The upside

On the upside, email marketing can be tremendously powerful. It can help you build trust, qualify leads, automate a substantial part of your marketing, lead nurturing and sales, and build a database of clients and prospects you own.

With email marketing, you’re more visible than on other channels to market. This doesn’t mean you don’t have to do broadcast marketing – you still have to get people on your list.

Think about it this way:

If you announce a new product or service on social media, only a fraction of your following will even see it. On email, 100% of them will see it. And if they trust you, they are more likely to pay attention.

But you will have to invest the time and effort to make it work.

The caveats

The two most important things to know are:

  • Email marketing has to be an integral part of your marketing strategy. If you just do it because others are doing it, you will not get the results you’re looking for.
  • Email marketing takes time. Like all sophisticated tools, it will take time to learn and get good at it. It takes time to maintain. If you’re already overloaded and overwhelmed, don’t even start.

You will also have to learn new skills:

  • The email marketing platform. Most email service providers have made their systems easy to use, but it still takes time and effort to learn.
  • Persuasive writing. Email marketing is writing – and you will need to learn to write well. People will only read your emails if they’re written well.

And finally, you will have to develop the discipline to stick to your schedule. If people expect an email every Saturday (as my subscribers do), you have to deliver every week. This takes time and discipline, and life has a way of throwing our best plans awry.

So if you’re wondering if you should be email marketing, I would say yes. But don’t go into it with the idea that it’s a magic bullet.

Hope that helps. Let me know if you have any questions.