If you are looking for places to put that extra investment money burning a hole in your pocket, look for those companies that are servicing the e-mail needs of small- to medium-sized companies. E-mail is the great leveler when it comes to Internet marketing because e-mail works--and it works for most every company, despite its size or name recognition. That's why companies such as Constant Contact, which we use at my firm, have such a great business model. For a small investment that nearly any small business can afford, you can use Constant Contact to put an e-mail capture page on your Web site, upload your e-mail list, easily format and create e-mail templates, and send out e-mails that are Can-Spam compliant with the proper opt-out links.

I've used various programs like this in the past, but they've always had major drawbacks, especially when it came to user interface and ease of use issues. For some, you almost needed to become a programmer to use them properly. And they were overly expensive to boot. But those days are past with a new crop of e-mail tools geared towards the middle and lower end of the market.



Why are these tools so important? If you're a small-business owner, you may find that other interactive marketing channels just aren't a viable option. Managing an effective search strategy is costly, complicated, and can require an ongoing series of seminars to keep up with the latest techniques. Plus, you're in direct competition for keywords with folks that have much more money than you. Banner advertising? Forget it. E-mail really becomes the only viable option.

With a properly managed e-mail list, you open up a dialogue with your customer. The ability to upsell, cross-sell, and develop a small army of repeat customers is only available through e-mail.

And the more niche your business is, the more effective you can be through e-mail in driving sales. I like traditional Irish music but I almost never buy it from any of the large record outlets. I buy from small record companies like Green Linnet and Celtic Groove Imports that send me e-mails on a regular basis listing monthly specials or hard-to-find items.

You can't get much smaller than Celtic Grooves, a one-person shop selling imported Celtic items.The company's latest e-mail to me began like this: "You may have noticed that there haven't been any newsletters from me for a while. I still don't know if my computer got a virus or if it was just one of those unexplained Windows incidents, but I was basically off the Net for a month, and finally had to resort to the drastic "format C:/" to regain control of my machine."

I don't think you'll see anything like that coming out of Amazon.

It's not like I have anything against buying from Amazon, but Celtic Grooves reminds me that I like Irish music, and it's time I bought more. Amazon can't do that, because even with its ability to match my profile and past history with things I like, it's still too general and broad in its approach. I buy from Amazon when I think of something I want to buy.

Besides, I like a guy who needs to format his hard drive to sell me something. You just know he still has his 486 Gateway chugging away out there. And I know I'm going to get real customer service when I call him, not an automated machine.

I buy from my little Irish record companies when they remind me that I want to buy something. It's a push approach rather than a pull approach. Pull works for a large company.

A small company needs to be a little more "pushy."

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