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3 Kinds of Emails Your Customers Want to Get

May 03, 2021
A man and woman sit at a table, each looking at laptops.


This is the most common thing I hear from creative small business owners about sending emails to their email list or customers: I don’t want to bother them. 

Meanwhile, the average person checks their email 15 times a day -- presumably because they want to be “bothered” by something interesting, relevant, helpful, and personal. 

But once someone is on your list, what exactly are you supposed to send them? What emails do your customers and community want to get?

This is an ongoing exploration, of course. It involves experimentation and keen attention to what your people respond to. And we look at this in more depth in our Online Marketing course -- so if it’s something you’re interested in, consider that course as a resource. But today I want to give you the lay of the land in terms of the types of emails you could be using and directions for each. 


3 emails your customers want to get (if they are relevant, interesting, and thoughtful):

  • Relationship & Story Emails

  • Event Emails

  • Personal Emails


Relationship & Story Emails

These emails build a relationship and tell your story, with your customers and community. People use different words for this -- newsletters, emails, lists, email marketing -- but what we’re talking about is simply collecting emails from folks who sign up with you and sending them a periodic email. 

In terms of how frequently you send these newsletters, some folks send one once a week, while others stick to seasonal updates every 4-6 months. We do find it can be helpful to set a cadence that is doable for you (even if that means you’re sending emails infrequently) and then sticking to it. 

Keep in mind that these emails don’t need to be a typical newsletter in format. You can have it be an assemblage of tidbits… updates from the studio… an article you write… a simple letter from you… or something altogether different. In terms of content, consider including notes on the things you’re already thinking about, reading, and doing in your business. Think about the questions and problems your customers tell you about. For instance, how to wash your tea towels. Or other uses for your little pinch pots. Make sure there is plenty of content that isn’t directly about selling something, although it’s great if a lot of the content does relate to your art and products in some way. For instance, you might include content on any of the following:

  • Behind-the-scenes photos or background info of your design or production process 
  • Updates on the business or line (price changes, new products, new packaging, press, etc.) 
  • Answers to questions customers have (e.g., ingredients, care instructions, alternative uses for your products, etc.) 
  • Details that make your products interesting or unique (sourcing details, ingredients, etc.) 
  • Inspirations for your work, things you’re reading or listening to, etc.
  • Aspects of your story or background that you don’t tell elsewhere
  • Information on choices you’ve made around sustainability, diversity, or other business practices.
  • Spotlight on individual pieces or products (delving into the inspiration, production, use, etc.) 
  • Photos, stories, or testimonials from your customers or stockists


Event Emails

Event emails are emails you send that relate to something specific happening. Usually, this means setting up an automation in your email marketing software so that you’re engaging individual people in particular ways based on things they do or don’t do. For instance, a “welcome” flow of emails when someone signs up to your email list.

With these emails, I find it’s usually best to think about how you would treat an individual person if you had time to write and send individual emails to each person. So it’s not a matter of being salesy or aggressive -- it’s a matter of being attentive, being a good host, and making yourself available. One other thing to keep in mind is that it is great to treat different people differently. By setting up automations that send different types of emails and communications based on folks’ behavior, you’re able to meet people where they are at and make sure everyone feels valued.

For instance, these are simple event emails (or email series) that are easy to set up and tend to have very, very strong results in terms of building relationships and increasing sales over time: 

  • Welcome
    When someone signs up for your email list, it is wise to make sure they get an automatic email from you thanking them, giving them a bit more background about your work, and giving them additional ways to engage (links to bestsellers, connect them to social media, direct them to workshops you give, etc.) 
  • Cart Abandonment
    As you probably know, you can set up automations to email folks who added items to their shopping cart but didn’t complete the purchase. These don’t have to be pushy emails. They can be emails answering common questions, offering an additional discount, or simply making yourself available for questions. 
  • Post-purchase emails
    You’re likely sending your customers emails that let them know about shipping and logistics when folks place an order. But you could also consider thinking about what they’d enjoy hearing from you beyond those logistical emails. For instance, perhaps you send an email a week after their order arrives making sure nothing was broken and sharing tips on unexpected uses for your product. Maybe you send a series of three emails for styling their new scarf. Or maybe you set them up with a series of emails that profiles other customers and how they use your pieces. Maybe you email them about a year after they buy something with you to share news and updates and check in on their purchase.  


Personal Emails

The third kind of emails that are important to send (but easy to forget about) are personal emails. Don’t forget that every person on your email list (well, except for auto-signups) is a real individual that is interested in what you do. Every person who emails you with a question is someone that could be a longtime customer. 

When you respond to emails, remember that this interaction is an opportunity. Yes, you can simply answer the sizing question. But your wording, tone, and what additional resources you offer -- these all contribute to the relationship you’re building with your customer.

You can also send personal emails to your community, of course. You can reach out to individual people to make yourself available for questions. You can send personal thank-yous for orders. You can email individuals if they’ve been in touch in the past but you haven’t heard from them in a while. Yes, it can feel vulnerable to engage in this way. But remember that even when you send a group email, it’s also a personal email from you -- it just goes to many more people.  

There are two important aspects of personal emails to keep in mind:  

  • Templates
    It can be time-consuming to respond to customer emails in thoughtful ways. But if you have mini-templates saved in your email (or even a Word document), it can help you grab perfectly worded tidbits to use. For instance, maybe most of your response is unique to that person, but you grab templated chunks about your return policy or how to size a ring. This can help you respond in even more personal and thoughtful ways because you can invest a LOT of time perfectly wording the template that then pays off for everyone.
  • Tone
    Many people have a way of writing that is either very stern or is very, very informal. Neither of these extremes helps build a strong relationship with your community or customers. Try to look at your emails objectively -- as if it were an email you received from a small business owner. Consider the effect of your wording choices, and refine them to align with your intention.


More resources to help you explore email with your customers and community:

  • In this episode of the Making Do podcast, we explore the power of using email to engage with your community and build relationships. We check in with the authors of three really good email newsletters to hear about their approaches, what they get out of it, and how they think about email and social media in their business and life: Amelia Wrede Davis, Leela of the paper line The Rainbow Vision, and Dacy from The Mindful Closet
  • For thoughtful work about social media, distraction, and how we engage, check out: Indistractable by Nir Eyal, Deep Work and Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, the Social Dilemma on Netflix, and Marlee Grace's zine on offline practice.
  • We have in-depth courses at One Mill School on Online Marketing and on Storytelling for your business -- plus of course, community and coaching to support you. If you’re already a member, let us know if you have questions about those courses. If you’re not a member yet, we take applications quarterly

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