Email marketing is a necessity for most small businesses. For companies offering services or selling through an ecommerce website, the email newsletter (e-newsletter) is crucial for engaging customers, improving sales, and building brand loyalty.

An effective e-newsletter must be written carefully, however. Because when it’s done wrong, it can alienate and even annoy otherwise satisfied customers.

While I’m not usually a fan of ultimatums and absolutes, there are certain rules you must not break when venturing into the realm of e-newsletter distribution.

1. Never Spam Anyone

Don’t add an acquaintance to your mailing list because you think they’d like to receive your emails every month. Adding someone to a list without his permission results in spam — no matter how you slice it.

There are plenty of ways to urge people to sign up for your newsletter. Try promoting your newsletter on your website, blog, on your invoices and receipts, or at the sales counter if you run a brick-and-mortar store.

2. Write a Captivating Subject Line

While you’re not likely to offend anyone with the subject line “February Newsletter,” you’re not likely to get much attention either.

Instead, go for a subject that’s a little more intriguing, like “10 Things We Hate About Goat Milk Soap.” (That title will really grab some attention if you happen to be a retailer of goat milk soap, by the way.)

3. Instead of Asking for Money, Offer Something

Your e-newsletter should offer readers something — information, advice, tips, discounts — something that reminds them why they opted-in in the first place.

That’s not to say that your newsletter won’t help you sell your products and services. So leave off the hyperbolic “order now before it’s too late!” and maybe try offering a discount code or a tip of the month in your sidebar instead.

4.  Make Your Template Professional

Don’t use flashy animated graphics with dancing hamsters. Stick to your logo and business colors and make sure your content is easy to read. Black text on a white or very light background is your best bet for the main body of your e-newsletter.

If you work with a professional designer and you hear the words “I wouldn’t recommend…” come out of his mouth? Listen up!

5. Include a Call to Action

Your email should be short and sweet and contain a simple call to action. I know I told you not to ask for money, and I stand by that. Your call to action can sell your products without being slick or sales-y.

For instance, instead of a button at the end of your content that says “Buy Goats Milk Soap Now” you could try something like “Shop Our Seasonal Soaps” or “Save on Our Soap of the Month.” You get the idea.

Whether you sell services or products, e-newsletters are a great way to communicate with your customers and increase sales. If you’re thinking about starting an e-newsletter for the first time, I recommend saving some of the ones you subscribe to. Take notes and analyze what makes them effective.

Your turn: Do you send an e-newsletter?  Would you add any rules to this list?