Now, however, companies don't need to spend a lot to get a lot, if they have the latest version of FileMaker or can spare $15 a month to subscribe to Constant Contact, a leading Web-based e-mail marketing service.
Designed specifically for small businesses, both FileMaker and Constant Contact provide easy-to-use templates and tools that allow you to compose, send and track e-mail campaigns that get top results without hurting your bottom line.
FileMaker Pro: More Than a Database
Teri Coates, the office manager at Castle Vineyards, a small winery in Sonoma, Calif. that bottles 3,500 cases of wine each year, is not a marketing expert. But every quarter she becomes one, thanks to FileMaker Pro and Winery Pro, a FileMaker Pro industry-based application.
With just a few keystrokes, Coates can target a specific group of customers for example, wine club members in California who want to pick up their orders as soon as they are ready and send them an e-mail letting them know their wine has arrived.
Similarly, each quarter, again employing easy-to-use features built into the Winery Pro/FileMaker Pro database, Coates puts together a newsletter, letting customers know of any upcoming events or new products. Once the e-mail has gone out, Coates simply enters the date and subject line of the e-mail and any other notes into the database for easy reference and tracking later on.
"Winery Pro is a really good system," says Coates. "It's very stable because it's based on FileMaker Pro, and it's easy to use. "We're a small company with only a few people, which means we wear a lot of different hats. With FileMaker Pro and Winery Pro, we're able to get all our e-mail marketing out in one fell swoop."
Made for Small Business
The whole point of FileMaker Pro is to make database management and now e-mail marketing simple and affordable for small businesses.
"We have solid research that shows our customers have a strong need for e-mail marketing," says Chuck Spink, a senior product manager at FileMaker.
That's why FileMaker Pro 8, which was just released in September, includes a new e-mail campaign management Starter Solution, which is free to all FileMaker Pro customers.
"With a tool like the e-mail module, you can personalize your communications," explains Spink. "You really need to engage your current and prospective customers. With FileMaker Pro, you can target the recipients according to the characteristics you have stored in the database. You can also include attachments to the e-mail and embed a URL link."
Spink gives the example of a small bike shop looking to attract new customers as well as entice existing customers to buy more.
"Let's say you have a new catalog that has this fancy mountain bike. You could attach that PDF file directly to the e-mail. You can also embed a URL link to an HTML page, so you can actually create a cause for action for these businesses by saying, if you are interested, click on this URL."
Editor's Note: Embedding URLs in, and attaching files to, e-mail can be part of an effective marketing plan. However, disreputable scammers often use this tactic in an effort to steal personal information or pass along viruses or spyware. Many people are justifiably leery of any e-mail with links and/or attachments. Our advice: send e-mail with embedded links and attachments only to your established customers who know and trust you.
Other FileMaker Pro 8 features include cross-platform and Web-publishing capabilities, the ability to convert an Excel spreadsheet immediately, a one-step "Find" capability that lets you target a specific group of individuals matching a specific set of criteria and easy-to-use templates for creating e-mail campaigns.
FileMaker Pro 8 also lets you track e-mail campaigns by printing individualized bar codes or promotional codes in e-mails and then placing detailed notes in each customer's file so you can create reports on current and past campaigns. Best of all, FileMaker Pro starts at only $299, which, considering how much it does, is a pretty good deal.
Constant Contact: A Subscription to Success
Constant Contact offers small businesses a lot of e-mail marketing tools and expertise for the buck. For only $15 a month, you can send unlimited e-mail campaigns to up to 500 prospective and existing customers. For just $30 a month, you can increase that number to between 501 and 2500 people.
Constant Contact "makes sure that your current e-mail marketing practices are always state-of-the-art, whether that's e-mail formatting, authentication and delivery, or understanding issues like what time of day and which day of the week is best for sending your e-mail," explains Gail Goodman, Constant Contact's CEO. "All of those issues are always changing. And when you work with a service provider like Constant Contact, all of those best practices are delivered to you either through the software itself, which is always kept up-to-date, or through our hints, tips and coaching that we deliver via e-mail along the way."
"We have over 100 templates, which lets customers give their e-mail campaigns a professional look," says Goodman. "You pick a template, upload your logo and then choose your colors, pick your fonts, and write your content. The result is an e-mail campaign with your company's branded look and feel."
You can also embed URL links and insert coupons. And if you have any trouble, you can pick up the phone and speak to a customer service representative.
Best of all, you can try the service for free for 60 days.
Constant Contact in Action
That's what Anne-Marie Kennedy, the owner of Beacon Hill Baskets, an online gift basket store, did and she couldn't be happier.
"When I signed up with them about 16 months ago, I had a very small e-mail list with less than 50 people," explains Kennedy, who tried the free trial in order to see if the e-mail marketing service would increase the number of prospective customers and bump up her basket sales.
"I send out a monthly newsletter, too, so I was able to touch those people twice during the 60 day trial."
If sales increased, even slightly, Kennedy thought the service would be worth it. "I set up an account and exported my database. It was really easy. They have these wizards that walk you through everything," explains Kennedy. "I customized my mailings so they looked really professional."
Today, Kennedy has over 2000 contacts in her database, about a quarter of them existing customers and half of those repeat customers. Not bad for a company that opened for business in May 2004.
Use E-mail Judiciously
Kennedy attributes part of her success to not inundating her customers with e-mail. She tries not to e-mail more than once a month, except before key holidays such as Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas when she schedules extra e-mails to catch customers who like to order early and to catch stragglers as well.
"I even use it for smaller holidays," says Kennedy. "I had these real cute cookie bouquets for St. Patrick's Day, so I sent out a very brief e-mail. I probably made a half-dozen more sales than I would have had I not sent out that e-mail."
And because Kennedy uses Constant Contact as her database, all of her client information is centralized and easy to access.
"You can keep a listing of past purchases, if they bought from you in the last six or twelve months, what they bought and their buying preferences. It's a huge time-and-cost saver," says Kennedy.
In addition, "campaign-based feedback is available real time from the moment you send a campaign," says Goodman.
Constant Contact also lets you know when you get new subscribers and sends you a regular newsletter filled with e-mail marketing hints and tips, covering topics such as what your "from" address should be, how to write a great subject line and how not to be a spammer.
The most important advice the company gives to small business customers is to "make sure the information that you communicate is relevant and valuable," says Goodman. "We like to say, when you look at the content, make sure it's two-thirds about your customers and only one-third about you."
Expert E-mail Marketing Tips
- Only e-mail when you have something legitimate to say
- Time your e-mails accordingly, i.e., if Mother's Day is important to your business, plan your campaign accordingly, sending out staggered mailings that catch both early birds and procrastinators
- Keep your e-mails short and sweet
- Understand your customers and try to engage them, customizing your mailings as much as possible and including a call to action
- Keep notes on each campaign and each customer, so that you know what works and what doesn't
- And above all, be patient. It takes time to build a customer list. Just keep at it without bombarding your customers with daily or weekly e-mails. If you are patient and persistent enough, they will come
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff writes about business and technology and contributes regularly to SmallBusinessComputing.com.
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