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Q: Steve, I appreciate all of the low-cost marketing methods you have been sharing lately. For my business, we have found that doing a lot of online social networking makes a big difference. But most of my friends who are self-employed are not doing this. I think it's a mistake. — Mike

A: Last week, I wrote about how critical it is today to have, not just an online presence, but a professional, robust, powerful Internet presence; how you need to embrace social networking, and how your website is as "important today as a business card was in the last century" (Rod Kurtz, Inc. Magazine)

This week, I would like to drill down into maybe my favorite e-marketing tool – e-mail marketing. There are all sorts of ways to use email to grow your business, but for my money, the bread-and-butter, best ways are e-newsletters and actual emails.

But don't just take my word for it. When it comes to e-mail marketing, there may be no more knowledgeable a source than Gail Goodman, the dynamic CEO of Constant Contact, one of the top email marketing companies in the world.

Goodman started running Constant Contact in 1999 and has since grown it into a business with more than 250,000 customers. She was named the Best Entrepreneur in the 2007 Stevie Awards for Women in Business, and her company was number 16 on Entrepreneur Magazine's Top 50 fastest-growing women-led companies.

So when I recently spoke with Goodman about why e-mail marketing is so effective, she was, not surprisingly, a source of great ideas. To start with, she says, the essential power of e-mail marketing is that it "facilitates repeat sales and word of mouth referrals while also keeping you visible. It is also very affordable and stretches your marketing dollar."

Think about it. People forward emails. That is a form of word-of-mouth advertising. The same is true for e-newsletters. As such, e-mail marketing both helps with customer retention as well as customer acquisition. And that it takes little more than some sweat equity makes it quite attractive in this economy.

Goodman says that today, e-mail becomes even more important since it allows you to forge a connection with customers, and that can make the difference between someone being a one-shot and a repeat customer.

For maximum effectiveness, Goodman advises that your email correspondence be all about them, not you. Of course you can and should use e-mail to announce a sale or some other special, but to be truly successful, the savvy e-mail marketer will use e-mail to connect with their customers.

Says Goodman, "Don't use e-mail or e-newsletters to always ask for an order, instead, use it to help your customers. If you own a restaurant, for example, send out a recipe or a coupon." The important thing, she notes, is that you use your e-mail to stay in, well, if constant contact, then at least regular contact.

This leads to her other important point, namely, that not only must you get permission ("It is not like direct mail where you can just send mail to anyone"), but that in fact "permission is perishable."

When someone opts-in for your e-newsletter or otherwise gives you their e-mail address, Goodman says that "it is, of course, not permission for daily e-mails, and it is also not permission to wait a year. Use that permission wisely."

If you do that, if you create and grow a list of customers and their e-mail addresses, and then use that list to stay in touch by making your correspondence about them, and thereby forge a connection with them, then you will be well on your way to becoming a master e-marketer.

Today's Tip: One of my favorite business shows is MSNBC's Your Business, on Sunday mornings (and not because I am an occasional guest.) The show is full of great ideas, insights, and real world strategies. Aside from hosting the show, the multi-talented host JJ Ramberg is also small business owner herself. It is fun to watch and I always learn something new. Steve says check it out.

© 2010 Steven D. Strauss, www.MrAllBiz.com