Your SMB may have collected a number of customers’ and prospective customers’ email addresses and social networking contacts, but what do you do with them? Do you just blast out a random email to announce specials, services, or other important news, or do you take a more managed, professional tack? Hopefully, you will opt for the latter. If you do, one of the best tools I have found for this approach is Zoho Campaigns.

Even with just a free Zoho account, you can have a professional looking email campaign ready in no time. The Zoho Campaigns tool features:

There are limitations to the free plan. Here are some of the monthly plan limits and prices:

  • Free: 500 subscribers / 2,500 emails per month
  • $5/month: 500 subscribers/ unlimited emails
  • $10/month: 1,000 subscribers/ unlimited emails
  • $25/month: 2,500 subscribers/ unlimited emails
  • $45/month: 5,000 subscribers/ unlimited emails

And so on up to $350 per month for 100,000 subscribers and unlimited emails. The pricing is different for the pay as you use plan. You might want to start out with the Free account to make sure Zoho Campaigns will do everything you need.

Creating a campaign

First, sign up for a Zoho Account and then go to the actual Zoho Campaigns page (you can’t reach the Campaigns tool from your Zoho email account like you can the other tools). Click the Create Campaign link that is below the envelope icon (Figure A).
Figure A

You should see this Getting Started screen once you log in. (Click the image to enlarge.)

The campaign process is divided into three phases:

  • Basic details: Campaign name and email details
  • Content: The content of the email
  • The Audience: Who will receive the email

Before the campaign can be completed, you must create the list of recipients that will receive the campaign. You do not have to step out of the Create Campaign wizard to do this, you can complete steps 1 and 2, save the campaign, and then create the mailing list (you only have to complete step 1 before you can save). We’ll look at creating the recipients list momentarily.

The first phase of the campaign creation process is to fill out the basic details. On The Basic Details page (Figure B), enter the Campaign Name, Subject, Sender’s Name, Sender’s Email, and Reply To Address. Then,  click the Next: Configure Content button.
Figure B

The advanced options allow you to add Google Analytics. (Click the image to enlarge.)

In The Content section, Zoho Campaigns offers an incredibly handy WYSIWYG editor for HTML content. You can add images, drag and drop elements, format text, and copy/paste text into your email. If you’re certain you will use this format and layout again, make sure you click Save To Library so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you create a new campaign. Remember, consistency is important.

During this phase of the creation process, take a close look at the Mail Merge Tags. This step is crucial because it allows you to personalize the email. There are two types of tags:

  • Pre-defined tags: Tags created by Zoho that cannot be edited.
  • User-defined tags: Tags that you can edit for more customization.

To use a tag within content, click the tag, copy the contents, and paste the contents where you want them to appear. Sample pre-defined tags are:

  • $[EMAIL]$ – email address
  • $[FNAME]$ – first name
  • $[LNAME]$ – last name
  • $[SS:FBLIKEICON]$ – Facebook Like
  • $[SS:TWTWEETLINK]$ – Twitter Tweet

You can select the Mail Merge Tags category from the drop-down to reveal more tags. To create user-defined tags, you must go to Settings | Merge Tags. From this window, you can create as many custom tags as you need (Figure C).
Figure C

Creating user-defined tags is an advanced option that can propel your newsletter. (Click the image to enlarge.)

When you click the User Fields drop-down, you will only find pre-defined fields (such as email address, first name, last name, company name, etc). To really take advantage of user-defined tags, you must create user-defined fields (which will be recorded in the contact information). To create these fields, go to Settings | Custom Fields and create them there. After you create the new field (Figure D), you can then go back and create more powerful custom tags. The type of custom fields and tags you create will be dictated by the types of products and/or services you offer.
Figure D

A simple one-step wizard to help you create new fields. (Click the image to enlarge.)

The final step in the creation of your campaign is to select your audience. You can create different mailing lists for different announcements.

To add to or create a mailing list, you can either enter addresses manually or import them from a .csv, .xls, or .xlsx file. To do this, click either Add Contacts (to enter them manually) or Import Contacts (to import them from a file). Both processes are very straight-forward. Just make sure to save your mailing list with a unique name, so you can use different lists for different purposes in your campaigns.

In Figure E, you see the window where you select which mailing list you want to use for the campaign and click the Proceed button.
Figure E

You can select multiple lists for a campaign. (Click the image to enlarge.)

If this is one of your first campaigns, you will have to submit the campaign for review. Otherwise, you can just send out the campaign to your many happy recipients.