Sarah Selecky is a busy gal. She's an author and creative writing teacher; she regularly updates her website with special events, class schedules and news; she's active on Twitter (follow her at @sarahselecky) and maintains a twice monthly email newsletter with writing ideas and inspiration. (If you're a writer or creative type, it'll be hard not to sign up. Need proof? Take a look at a recent newsletter here.)
Read on to hear Sarah's refreshing and inspiring answers to five questions, plus a bonus question.
Tell us a little bit about what you do and how you use email to reach your audience.
I'm an author and a creative writing teacher. Last year, when I launched This Cake Is for the Party, I created an email campaign to let everybody on my list know about my book. But mostly I use email to keep in touch with my writing students — my campaigns let them know about my upcoming courses, workshops and contest deadlines, and I give them instruction and inspiration to motivate their writing practice.
Your emails have fantastic response rates (more than a 60% open rate on average). What's your secret?
I did not build my list in a rush. I've always believed that it would be better to have 100 people on my list who really love what I send to them than it it would be to have 1,000 people on my list who don't really care about my emails. I feel very grateful to the people who subscribe to my newsletters! There is so much stuff that fills our inboxes every day. I am honored that people sign up to receive my emails. So when I write my newsletters, I keep that respect at the front of my mind. I never forget that every single person on my list is a passionate and busy human being. I try to write emails that I would welcome in my own inbox: inspiring and energy-giving (not energy-sucking). I try to keep the clutter out of everything I send. I hate clutter, especially in my inbox!
Since you're a writer, does crafting good emails come naturally to you? What advice would you give to folks who are staring at a blank email campaign (or blog page or computer screen), feeling stuck?
I wonder if being a writer actually makes it more difficult sometimes! With an email, I don't have the time to write a draft and go over it for days and send it to an editor to make it "perfect" before sending it. I always take a deep breath and cross my fingers before I press send!
The best advice I can give people who are feeling stuck in front of the page is this: Write your emails and newsletters and blog posts as though you are writing to a dear friend or client. I always use Emma's personalization feature when I send my emails out, but when I write my newsletter, I pick the name of one of my clients and I actually write the whole letter with that person in mind. I'll literally write, "Dear Olivia," and write a letter to Olivia. This makes it much easier to write honestly and openly. I truly care about all of my clients — but when I write my newsletter to a big general group of people, it's hard to get that care to come across.
Describe your book, This Cake Is for the Party, in 8 words or less.
Stories about people trying to love each other.
Where do you draw inspiration?
From everywhere! But especially the natural world. I live in Toronto, and it's a big, noisy city. As much as I love it here, I grow noticeably dull (and so does my work) if I don't pay attention to the way water moves over rocks, or the way an ant crawls up a blade of grass, or the way tree branches look like capillaries. It's easy to get so busy that I feel out of touch with nature — and this is not good for my writing.
What unrealized dream are you going to fulfill before the end of the year?
This is a big year! I am getting ready to launch an extraordinary digital writing workshop this September. It's called Story Is A State of Mind, and it is the culmination of what I've learned from over ten years of writing, teaching, editing and coaching clients from around the world. I have designed the course for beginners and seasoned writers alike – this course is everything I know about how to write powerful, authentic stories. I am so excited about this because it is exactly the kind of writing course that I would want to take myself. There's video, audio and text — it's pretty special.
Of course, I'm also excited to launch this project because once it's online and ready to go, I will have the time to do something else I've wanted to do for a long time — write my next book.
How to create emails that retain their design and style on smartphones
It's 3 a.m. Do you know who's reading your email? A recent Return Path survey revealed 16% of email is viewed via mobile devices and 1 in 3 Americans own a smartphone. Chances are, at least one insomniac with a donut in hand will be reading your email. Design accordingly.
Since mobile is gaining so quickly, I asked Anna Yeaman, creative director at Style Campaign, to share her experience with designing emails for mobile devices. Read on for her six tips to optimize your email campaigns.
6 simple mobile email design tips by Anna Yeaman
1. Rework your creative for touch
Fingers are less accurate than a cursor, so you'll need to increase the size of your links and spacing. In Apple's Human Interface Guidelines, they recommend a minimum target area of 44 x 44 points. Elements you'll need to rework include CTA buttons and stacked links, e.g. table of contents and navigation.
2. Push the contrast
Low contrast is not advisable on small screens, as elements become hard to read. Email on the Kindle is B&W Webkit, another reason to run a quick grayscale test.
3. Disable auto-scaling fonts
If your text is under 12px, the iPhone automatically scales it up, potentially breaking your layout. HTML navigation and pre-header text are particularly vulnerable.
To turn off auto-scaling add the following code:
Better yet, make your fonts bigger. Windows Phone 7 recommends no smaller than 15 points; Apple recommends a 17 – 22 pixel font.
4. Define the viewport
Safari on the iPhone uses a 980px wide viewport. This means any template hosted on the web that's less than 980px wide will appear zoomed out. To correct this, you need to define the viewport for your mobile version and mobile landing pages.
Here's the code:
<meta name="viewport" content="width=width of your layout, initial-scale=1.0; minimum-scale=1.0, user-scalable=yes" />
5. Put some content on the first screen
You don't want branding and navigation to take up the first screen, burying the content users want.
It requires a lot of scrolling to get to the first article in the Smashing Magazine newsletter. While I like that the table of contents has jump tags, the links aren't designed for touch.
6. Narrow the width
When email is viewed on an Android, only a portion of the screen is visible by default (roughly 320px). Unlike the iPhone, the Android doesn't scale content to fit the screen. To make navigation even more difficult, the min/max zooms are extremely limited.
If 320px (iPhone 3 screen width) is too skinny, try a layout between 480px-520px. The Android, Windows Phone 7 and Blackberry all have popular devices that use a 480px resolution.
Anna Yeaman is the creative director and co-founder of email creative agency Style Campaign. Visit Style Campaign's blog for more ideas and examples, and follow Anna on Twitter at @stylecampaign.
Emma has been in Denver for just over three years, and I've called the city home for the same amount of time. (Has it really been that long? Wow.) Being in a satellite city has its perks, one of which is the opportunity to build relationships with local Emma clients and participate in community events that I'm passionate about.
Two years ago Emma was invited to be the email sponsor for the first annual Step Up for Cancer event, put on by Generous Cancer Foundation. It's a great cause, and we said yes without hesitation. We've continued to be a sponsor ever since.
It's hard to imagine that I can help fight cancer by literally taking a step upward. You know, as in taking the stairs. But on August 7th, stepping up to help fight cancer is exactly what I'll be doing, along with my fellow Coloradoans and the supporters and staff of over 40 Colorado nonprofits at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. We'll run or walk the 1,765 stairs in the stadium, and in doing so, we'll raise money for a participating non-profit of our choice.
That's what makes Step Up for Cancer so unique — it was created with the sole purpose of benefiting other nonprofit cancer organizations.
Even though this is Emma's third year sponsoring, this will be my first year participating. Interested in joining me? There's stil time to register! Visit Step Up for Cancer's website to learn more. I would love to see you there.
New online service Emailium brings emails from thousands of companies together in a fully searchable database
As a budding email marketer gains footing, he might subscribe to an email newsletter that in no way stands to benefit him personally, but is good to receive from a professional standpoint. For me, it was PetSmart – an unusual choice for a rational person who owns no pets, but a sound decision for someone who wants to get a better grasp on what kind of messages the pet owners of the world respond to. A few years and countless subscriptions later, I wouldn't wish my morning inbox on anybody. I receive emails from stores in which I've never set foot, from companies in industries I've never encountered in my daily life … and that's to say nothing of the abundant emails from companies, publications and personalities I'm personally invested in.
Why do we do this? Because we like to have our boots on the ground, so to speak. We love to encounter new and different email tactics and strategies, and to engage them in the same way a dedicated follower would. Every so often, you come across an email campaign so inspiring, you almost want to write the company a thank-you note. And yet, when the time comes to prepare a presentation with email examples, or to seek out new ideas for fresh content, we must scour our archives, knowing that, even though we're drawing from libraries of hundreds – thousands – of email campaigns, we're only sampling a tiny slice of the email marketing landscape.
This is where Emailium, a brand new, fully searchable database of the email campaigns of thousands of companies, comes in. The brainchild of entrepreneur and seasoned email marketer James Paden, Emailium collects the accumulated email campaign history of hundreds of companies and presents them in intuitive, organized and searchable galleries. One example: We tried out a new shade of "Emma Blue" in the background of our July newsletter. We liked it, but let's imagine we wanted to take a look at some other color schemes that might work well. If I wanted to scour my collected "email example" folders for a potential match, I might have to set up camp in the office over the weekend. But with Emailium, I can search the database for other email campaigns containing that color's hex code (#3E7E97, if you're curious). Within moments, hundreds of email campaigns containing this color appear in a neatly thumbnailed, paged library.
The range of companies represented is impressive, with luxury shoe brands arriving alongside electronics shops, hockey equipment manufacturers and Broadway theater companies. You can refine your searches as much as you need, so if you only want to see examples of campaigns with "Halloween" in the subject line from retail companies, you can filter your search by subject line content and by industry (the industry filter, while still in beta, seems to function well).
Emailium isn't just for design inspiration, though. It's a good way to get a closer look at any featured company's email campaign strategy, from their sending frequency to their subject lines to their special offers. So if there's a company that you or your client is particularly interested in — because you admire their brand or because you share an industry — you can follow their history in their email archive. Don't see the company you're looking for? With just a few clicks, you can submit a request to have it added to the roster, and Emailium will email you when it's been added.
For email marketers who work closely with their clients on design, copy and mailing strategy, Emailium is a massive time saver. It's free to try out a few searches, and with a paid subscription, you can export emails to share, save your most common searches and tag your favorite emails for later reference. If you spend a lot of time in the email marketing trenches (or digging trenches through your own inbox in search of inspiration), you'll probably wonder how you ever got along without it.
How Emma staffers stay connected while working remotely
At Emma, we're big on community among our staffers. Our main office in Nashville includes ongoing events around the house like the standard Friday Beer:30 (kegerator included) and weekly Wednesday catered lunch. We also participate in unique activities throughout the year like Juneteenth, Jack and Back and Ellie's Run for Africa. Activities like this improve our working relationships and get us more motivated to conquer the world of email (in a friendly, stylish way, of course).
Our Nashville office is about 100 folks strong — and growing — while our Portland office has over 10 people. In Denver, we have two folks, plus two more in New York City. And in Austin, I'm an office of one.
So, how do you participate in community when you're in an office of one or two?
How we stay connected
Those of us in remote offices fly in for some of the bigger events in Nashville, like Emma's holiday party and talent night, but it's also up to us to navigate what community means for Emma in Denver, New York and Austin.
On a daily basis, we have an ongoing flow of IMs and phone and video conferences that allow us to keep up-to-date with Emma projects and teams but also enable us to say hello and ask if Cars 2 was as good as Cars (it isn't), and if the green chili queso fries at Alamo Drafthouse are as amazing as they sound (they are).
On collaborative projects, we stay on task with online tools like Jive, Basecamp and Dropbox; they provide an archive of tasks and conversations and also allow us to interact on projects across multiple departments.
We're an email company, so as you can imagine, email is in heavy use but it's also done smartly by using group aliases so we can connect with particular groups of staffers, in addition to individuals. We even have a few unique, not-quite-work aliases for the latest viral video or the epic "Phil Collins vs. Peter Gabriel: Which former Genesis member had the better career?" debate.
Not just working, co-working
We've joined the co-working trend this past year, too, coming in to a communal workspace every day with other local freelancers and entrepreneurs. The chance to plug into our community is better than working alone from home or in a single office. Plus, it gives us a chance to learn about similar business challenges and share our experiences with fellow "coworkers" who just happen to work for other businesses.
As a business developer, I find co-working spaces particularly motivating because I have an opportunity to share local resources, make connections and learn about the marketplace we're all working in together.
By the way, if you happen to be reading this in Denver, New York or Austin, please stop by and say hi. We'd enjoy an afternoon chat or AM coffee at Green Spaces, New Work City or Perch.
You're part of our community, too. What can we learn from you?
How about you? If you're a remote employee, how do you collaborate? Does your company have a unique way of developing corporate community? We'd love to hear your experiences. Please leave a comment below or drop us a line on Twitter.
Recommended articles about time management, professional development and more
As an avid reader, I often stumble upon good articles on all kinds of subjects relevant to my work life, even if not directly related to email. Instead of focusing on email marketing this month, I'm sharing some non-industry link love. I hope the following articles will intrigue and enlighten you. And, well, maybe you've also always wondered about those ridges on quarters.
Getting more hours out of the day, doing your best work and finding inspiration: The Professional's Section
Using Emma's free feature to request customer feedback and take your business to new heights
I love a good challenge, so when I saw the opportunity to go skydiving *and* meet some Emma customers in person, I couldn't resist. Located in rural Chester, South Carolina, they are the Carolinas' premier drop zone and consistently draw adrenaline junkies from far and wide (even design consultants from Nashville, Tennessee!). I recently caught up with James LaBarrie, the general manager of Skydive Carolina, to discuss the experience I had using their service and an Emma feature he has found quite beneficial.
James certainly knows a thing or two about customer service. He once worked in athletics at Queens University of Charlotte, a long-time Emma client that formally introduced him to the service, and he quickly became a loyal user. So loyal, in fact, that he took Emma along for the ride when he left for Skydive Carolina. (She is so flattered.)
Skydive Carolina regularly uses the Emma survey feature that's free with every account because it's a great way to keep a finger on the pulse of their customers. James is passionate about the company's commitment to building relationships with clients and providing superior customer service.
"We aren't only hoping to please our customers," he says. "We are hoping to amaze them. But when we fail, I see it as an opportunity to create a raving fan."
Of course, an important element of the service experience is the customer's ability to easily provide feedback and the company's willingness to listen. With a role that is mostly behind the scenes, James does not get the opportunity to interact with each customer who visits. For him, it is often the survey alone that provides the valuable feedback they need.
"The survey is a great way to know when we're falling short and when all is well," he adds. And in those rare instances that a customer does not have the best experience possible, James has been known to follow up with them personally.
The Skydive Carolina survey inquires about everything from how easy it was to find the location to how much the client liked the photo taken during the jump; each bit of information helps James make educated decisions about the business. But it's not just about asking the right questions — James is also very intentional about asking at the right time as well. Jumpers receive a trigger email the day immediately following their dive, when the experience is still fresh enough to recall details.
From personal experience, I must say that I could hardly wait to tell *everyone* about my epic leap to earth — in fact, I'm fairly sure I even told the person ringing me up the grocery store. Most notably, I was eager to share my thoughts with the company that made it all possible. After all, they asked for my opinion … and I'm in good company, as quite a number of their guests have also chimed in with specific feedback about their adventure, and it's certainly information that James is eager to receive and use.
It's amazing how much information is available if you simply request it. When thinking about your own business, consider the difference that customer feedback could make for you and follow Skydive Carolina's lead. Heck, you may also like to follow their lead right out of a plane — you definitely wouldn't regret it!
Here's to surveyed customers, empowered email marketing and thrilling jumps.
A small business marketing consultant, Hamilton Wallace helps business owners who think they've hit a wall and aren't moving as fast as they'd like. His team's goal is to increase sales for their clients by realigning the client's message with what's currently going on with their industry. We chatted about everything from his favorite brands to how email has helped his clients succeed.
Describe your role in six words.
If you can believe it, I can narrow it down to five: Story finder and story teller.
Tell me about a success or two you've had using email to engage your clients' customers.
Even though it might not seem "sexy," one of our recent Emma successes is with a client that sells software, and they sell a relatively inexpensive piece of software to a small niche of customers.
When they first hired me, I took a look at how many customers they had. They ended up having over 250,000 registered users, but they never talked to them, and didn't give them opportunities to talk back. On Google Analytics, it was clear that a big chunk of their conversions were coming from people who were typing their domain name into a search, which indicated that a current customer had referred this new customer to them.
We helped them use Emma by sending 70,000 emails to current customers every month. The first time we sent, the president of the company got an irate email back from one of his customers that said, "You guys have got to be kidding me! You don't offer a Mac version of this product? You should be embarrassed. You all are the industry leaders. What's going on here?" The president forwarded the email on to the lead developer. Then, the developer took a weekend to figure out how to make it happen.
Before this, they'd come to the conclusion that creating a Mac version of their software would be this gargantuan, expensive and time-consuming thing. But, because the company sent an email through Emma — giving the customers a channel to speak up — the developer came back to the president after that weekend to say that they could do it. And the happy ending to the story is that four months after the customer spoke up, the company is going to have a Mac-friendly version of their software available. It's one of the biggest, most positive things that could happen to them.
Another client I have does training for business writing. He was hesitant to communicate with his contacts at first because he isn't a "sales guy." So, we decided to take his two-day business writing seminar and break it into 52 parts, sending an email a week for the year. Our goal wasn't to try and sell anything, but to help people learn about business writing. He's been sending an email a week for almost six months now, and has never included a price, talked about a seminar or tried to sell a DVD.
About a month ago, a government agency — that had inquired two years ago and never followed through after inquiring — responded to one of his emails letting him know they were now ready to take advantage of his training. They signed a contract, and this new customer will account for about a third of his business in 2011.
How has email helped you grow your business?
I don't know that I can point to a client and say that "because of email, they're a client." I just think that the entrepreneur of today, who is my primary client, needs to be able to carry on an engaged conversation with their customers. This means they need to be able to attract traffic to their website and convert that traffic into leads or sales.
I'm probably as much of an emailer as I am an email coach. I believe that email is now and will grow more and more to be one of the fundamental skills that a business owner needs.
I've tried the approach of letting my clients choose which email service they want to use, and when the client chooses an email service other than Emma, they never send one email. And, when a client chooses Emma, they send emails. That, to me, is gigantic. I can't say that there is one reason why, though. It's like saying, "Why do people buy iPods?" It's not one thing — it's everything about the iPod. It's everything about Emma: You can talk to a human being. You guys do good design. Your interface is simple. There are times that I wish I could do more in Emma, but I think that you all do a good job at keeping it simple.
How do you stay on-top of trends and be that go-to resource for your clients? Where do you draw inspiration?
I'll answer you in two ways. One thing I try to do is follow people who, in my opinion, are smarter than I am and are doing similar things to what I do. I follow them on FriendFeed, Twitter and I subscribe to their blogs.
I also push myself to push my clients forward — to always test and continue testing. It's a constant battle to be courageous and continue to move forward. But, when my client and I stop being afraid for a moment, we come out knowing a lot more than we did before.
I have always considered myself a direct response marketer who generates leads and sales. The internet is the biggest direct response platform ever imagined. A fundamental part of direct response is testing. The wonderful thing about the internet is that you can test one thing this week, but completely change it the next, which is completely different from how you would have to test not too long ago.
Who is your brand crush?
Looking at someone who is generally in the same business as I am, I'd have to say Seth Godin. Everything he does is so focused on others, so genuine with zero manipulation, and that's his ethic. There's so much to aspire to there.
Company-wise, it's a tie between IKEA and Google. A lot of folks can relate to IKEA, and the reason they're my brand crush is that when you walk into a store, their ethic of "simple, practical and intelligent" is everywhere, from how you put the furniture together to how they communicate the products in the store, to, literally, how you put your dirty dishes and trays away in the cafeteria. Marketers spend a lot of time thinking about what we want people to do on our websites, and when you walk into an IKEA — they want you to go up an escalator, or drop your kid into a play area, and those really are your only two choices. It's very rare when you see a company that has such congruency in everything they do.
I have to say Google, too, because they are a "listening company." I would bet that their next quarter plan is the same as their five-year plan, and that is to intently listen and watch what people are doing, and give them a platform to support those things. They push products out into beta and watch. They kill the things that don't catch on and amplify things that do. I think this is what every company needs to do.
I want to relate that right back to email. Send regular emails to your customers, even if they have nothing to do with selling a product. It's just about communicating with them and getting that conversation going. Because if you do that, every once in a while you might just a get that customer who tells you how it is, that tells you what's wrong with your product – and they're right! Email is the best way to listen like that, and it's the communication of choice for most people.
Okay, let's switch gears. Which baseball team are you rooting for this year?
Ha! As close as I could get to answering you is to say the San Jose Sharks, which is a hockey team. I have to say, I don't really follow baseball.
Well, it looks like I struck out with that question, didn't I?
A new way to segment your audience and send targeted messages
Google+ (Google Plus) may be brand new, but with the large early adoption rate and great features, it's only a matter of time before this social sharing platform is adopted by brands and businesses. As a brand builder and marketer, the Circles feature in Google+ suddenly becomes very attractive. With Circles it's not only super easy to categorize your followers (or audience), you now have a great way to target specific segments of your audience with custom messages.
Just like your custom email groups in Emma, Google Circles lets you apply the same logic to your followers.
For example, if you're an online retailer and you have some data on who is following you, consider breaking up your followers by location, customer type, size or "age" (that is, when they became a customer).
Now, if sales are lagging in the Southeast, hit that Circle up with a coupon that's only visible to them. Want to keep your largest customers happy? Send their Circle a quick note of thanks. Maybe you have a Circle of customers that only purchase a specific type of widget. You can send them industry news that the rest of your followers may not care much about.
The advantages here are pretty clear. There's less worry about bombarding your entire list of followers with information that may only be applicable to 10% of them. Your messages will be more relevant because you know exactly who your target audience is.
While Google admits that they still have some work to do for businesses to have a presence on Google+, what we've seen so far is promising. Word on the internet says other services like Google Analytics will be hooked up soon, as well.
The future is bright for audience segmentation and relevancy. Sign up for Google+ if you haven't already, and explore what it has to offer. And let us know the unique ways you're using it.
From opening your account to building your email strategy, we want your Emma experience to be fantastic
Is Emma really that different from other email service providers out there? I'm glad you asked. As a member of our direct sales team, my job is to help folks from all walks of life — and with different marketing goals and tasks — learn how Emma will make their jobs easier. Sometimes, Emma is a perfect fit for them, and other times, they might need to go another route – and that's OK. Either way, the Emma sales team is here to make sure we get everyone started on the right track with their email marketing plans.
So, you find out a bit about Emma and like what you see. What happens next? Sending out beautiful, professional email newsletters to your recipients isn't rocket science, but we believe it's a lot better when you've got a network of experts who have your back.
Let's take a look at what it's like to join forces with the bespectacled first lady of email marketing …
When you initially give us a call or inquire online, a member of our sales team is here to help you get started. A few of the details we'll share with you include:
Emma's pricing is all-inclusive, and we don't charge for add-ons like surveys, image storage or access to an online archive of your sent messages.
We offer a menu of fantastic design options so the design works for you, not the other way around. Your email stationery will be uniquely yours and look nothing like the law firm across the street that's (gasp!) using Template #203 from another service.
Our support team of real-live Emma experts is here Monday through Friday to help with questions via email, LiveChat or by phone.
You've decided to sign on with Emma (good choice). We'll set up your new account and login details, and send you a personal, informative welcome note so you know how to access your account and get started. You'll submit your design form based on the design option you've selected (usually Concierge Design or Studio Design), and then you'll wait a few business days before winning the design lottery.
How do you win that lottery? By getting a hand-crafted custom design by one of our lovely designers, like Taylor Schena or Jennifer Kasdorf. Once you submit your design form, they may want to chat more with you, to make sure they know exactly how to meet your design needs. But, they also want to get to know you better. Perhaps you'll find out you're both from Pennsylvania or maybe you'll swap vegan chocolate peanut butter cupcake recipes. In a few days, your design is ready. You can start sending emails right away, or request some revisions if you'd like.
Since you chatted with me or another sales team member, you know it's in your best interest to send your monthly newsletters on a, well, monthly basis. So it's time to add your contact list into Emma, build and send your first email. Not quite sure how to do this? Visit our handy Help Guide or chat with a member of our support team, like Casey Correll or Cortney Rockhill. They'd be happy to walk you through your first audience import and answer any other questions you have.
You're all set! You've created your first campaign, sent it to your audience and collected real-time response data. Good work. And the best part is, this isn't just some red carpet we roll out for first-time customers. Have a question about billing? Call us (800-595-4401). Have a question about your response numbers? Email us. Curious how to get started with surveys? Stop by LiveChat. Want to know where Emma gets her name? Well, it's really not a big mystery, but we'd love to tell you. We're happy to have you on board.