BusinessWise by Mary Strope
How to Use E-mail Marketing to Boost Sales

As postage costs and the allure of the Internet continue to rise, e-mail marketing is becoming an increasingly important tool for the small crafts business. Unlike post office mailings, e-mail advertising is virtually cost free. Artists are using e-mail marketing to announce their show schedules, to drive customers to their Web sites and just to keep their customers up-to-date via e-mail newsletters.
If done correctly, e-mail marketing can be a powerful and effective marketing tool. If done incorrectly, your Internet service can be revoked, your e-mail customers may request removal from your mailing list, and the cyberworld may come down on you pretty hard.
"You don't have to spend a fortune buying complicated e-mail and list management software," says Chris Maher, artist and Web designer. "If your list is small (a few hundred addresses) your current e-mail program can do the job. If you are comfortable working with your Web site, insert a simple e-mail collection form on your home page."
Most e-mail programs allow the user to set up "group" addresses. You can set up specific groups by region or zip code, by show attendance, or by use -- like people who buy from your Web site, or customers who buy a specific line. Think carefully about the best way to group your customers, and familiarize yourself with the software's limitations as to how many names can be in a single group.
Beginners should read the fine print in the Terms of Service of their Internet Service Provider (ISP). Your ISP will have specific rules that prohibit unsolicited advertising or "spamming." In addition, your ISP may have rules against e-mail that is likely to be perceived as deceptive, misleading, profane, offensive or inappropriate. An ISP has the right to terminate your service if you violate the rules. Know the limits of your agreement, and ask for clarification if you don't understand the terms.
Begin building your list by having sign-up sheets in your booth during a show. "People who see my work at shows are my best Internet customers," says Larry Berman, photographer and Web designer. "They have already seen my work in person and appreciate its quality.
A simple sign-up form on a clipboard can be placed on your sales table. You should collect the customer's name, e-mail address and zip code. Later, you can use the zip code to target specific geographic areas and set up groups. While you write up the sale, ask the customer to sign up for your e-mail mailing list. This solves the problem of sending unsolicited e-mail, as your customer has agreed to join your list.
Both Maher and Berman advise craftspeople to begin collecting e-mail addresses immediately. "You don't have to have a Web site to begin collecting e-mail addresses," says Berman. "Later on, when you do have a site, you can invite those customers who loved your work at shows to the [site's] "grand opening."

Sample Sign-up Sheets 

For a copy of a downloadable sign-up sheet developed for the Ann Arbor Art Fair by Maher and Berman, visit Berman's web site at  www.BermanGraphics.com/forms.htm.

"You can expect 20 percent or more attrition of your e-mail list," says Maher. There are several reasons why e-mail addresses go bad. Some addresses are lost on input -- you might not be able to read the customer's handwriting from your sign-up form, or they might accidentally transpose numbers or letters when writing in the address. Also, some people don't know their correct address or give you only part of the address.
And finally, e-mail addresses, like phone numbers, can change. "With regular mail," says Maher, "the post office will forward your letter if the customer has left a forwarding address. Otherwise, your letter is returned and your postage is wasted." The cyberworld doesn't forward e-mail. It sends back a message saying the e-mail was undelivered. You must then manually search and remove the address from your list.

Your e-mail ad should carry some sort of inducement or call to action.

Never insert your group list into the "to" or "cc" portions of your messaging system. Put your own address into the "to" field and use the blind carbon copy or "bcc" function. That way, the recipients will not see the full list. This protects your list from competitors and protects the privacy of your recipients. It also eliminates having to scroll down a full page of addresses to get to the heart of the message.
The subject line should identify the message. If you type "Markdown sale" or "Save 10 percent" for the subject, the recipient may think they're being spammed and delete the message. To avoid this, your Subject line should be strong, carefully thought out, and identified as coming from you. For example, I might use the following: New Work by Mary Strope, or Special Offer from Strope Studios.
Although e-mail is considered a casual means of communication, your message should still be well-written, using correct grammar and spelling. Misspelled words and typos convey an unprofessional image. Don't assume that the recipient understands all the e-mail acronyms and jargon in use today. E-mail can be written in plain text or in HTML (hypertext markup language -- the language of the Web). Maher advises using plain text. "You don't know the type of software the recipient uses, the speed of their computer, or their skill level," he says. "It's better to use plain text and include a live link to your web site where you have all the color- graphics and interesting features available."
We've all received e-mail where the text format was lost on transmission. The sentences are indented or space is added between words with annoying lines of the ">" symbol. To avoid this, do not hit the "enter" key at the end of a line of type. Let your software's "word wrap" function do its job, or click your cursor on the next line of type. Test your message by sending it to a few friends who use different types of e-mail services. Ask them to print and fax the message back to you so you can see exactly how it will look. This way, you can practice composing a message that is easy to read and pleasing to the eye.
Do not attach files to your e-mail. People are wary of viruses that are transmitted through e-mail attachments and may not open unsolicited messages with attachments. Furthermore, downloading and opening an attachment can take a long time on an older model computer and may be beyond the skill level of the recipient.
Your e-mail ad should carry some sort of inducement or call to action. What is it that you want the recipient to do? Come to the show? Visit your Web site? Buy your work?
Bill Coleman, photographer, uses his e-mail list as a "special club." "Our e-mail list is privy to Bill's newest work, before it's seen at shows," says Carl Inglesby, who says he is "the guy who drives the van." The email ads direct customers to the Web site where the new work is posted. "When Bill's new book comes out in March," says Inglesby, "his e-mail customers will receive advance notification."
Berman e-mails his customers prior to a show with a special discount. "I give my customers a 10 percent discount if they print a specified page from my Web site and bring it to the show," he says. This allows Berman to track how well his e-mail ads are working.
Always include a way for the recipient to "unsubscribe" from your mailing list. This can be accomplished with simple written directions such as "to unsubscribe, e-mail me with the words "please remove" in the subject line."
Include a link to your web site The customer is more apt to go directly to your site if a link is provided, than if they have to write down the address and view it later on. Not all e-mall programs, however, are capable of opening these live links; some people therefore also include instructions for less-computer-literate customers such "If this link doesn't open when you click on it, simply copy the URL, paste it into the URL box at the top of your Web browser, and hit your enter key.
If your mailing list is large, you may want to invest in an address capture and list management program. Both Maher and Berman recommend WorldMerge. WorldMerge, available at www.world-merge.com for $49.95, allows you to quickly and easily generate large numbers of personalized e-mail messages using your "Internet-ready" database of recipients and a "template" e-mall message. It works with Microsoft Access, Microsoft Excel or a text-delimited database. It's super fast, broadcasting as many as 6000 messages per hour. You can download a free 30-day trial version from the Web.
Another avenue would be to use a Web-based list collection and management form installed by your webmaster. Maher recommends SubscribeMe, available at www.cgiscriptcenter.com for about $150. This type of tool allows your Web visitors to input their addresses directly on your Web site minimizing the problems created by manual-ly inputting addresses. It automatically sends a "thanks for subscribing" message adds the addresses to a database, and allows you to remove incorrect addresses easily.
Whether you use your current e-mail system or invest in more advanced software, e-mail marketing, if done correctly, can increase your sales and drive business to your Web site.
Mary Strope is manager of crafts marketing for George Little Management (GLM). She is responsible for the development of the Handmade sections at the San Francisco International Gift Fair, Washington Girt Show, Boston Gift Show and the Dallas International Gift and Accessories Show. Prior to joining GLM in l997, Strope was the executive director for the Michigan Guild of Artists and Artisans, a national organization that sponsors retail craft fairs, including the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair. She is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University with a degree in arts management.

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