The United States Postal Service is experiencing a massive drop in revenues. More and more people, especially seniors, have computers, Internet access, time and the desire to stay connected via email. Plus, the relative return on investment on snail mail is dropping, making it cost ineffective for bulk mailers.

When it comes to email marketing, some financial professionals feel a little overwhelmed. Why should you do it? When should you do it? How should you do it? Should you do it?

The answer to that last question is a mostly unqualified “yes.” Unless your target market as a whole does not own computers, you should already be utilizing this medium as a form of both client generation and retention. Here are some tips, tricks and best practices to help you along the way:

Time it Well. Monday morning seems like a great time to communicate, right? Well, perhaps not. If you’re talking about communicating with clients who expect that Monday morning email from you, that’s one thing. If you’re communicating with a prospect who doesn’t know you as well, remember that Monday morning is, for many people, the time when they go through and delete unwanted mail from their inbox. You could get lost in the shuffle.

Introduce Yourself. Always try to make your first correspondence—or the first in a long while—personal. Remind prospects of how you met, and let them know why you want to be contacting them electronically. Make sure that your first subject line is personal and does not appear generic in any way, or they might delete you with their morning SPAM dump.

Be Regular. This applies mainly to ongoing client communication. A regular weekly or monthly correspondence with financial news or tips is a great way to keep that relationship on track. Choose a time and day and be consistent.

Try to get a feel for what your clients want, and don’t be afraid to ask them what (or when) that is.

Automate Your Campaigns. Setting up automatic campaigns not only helps you save time, it helps to keep your marketing consistent. Decide what you want to send, when and to whom. You should be reaching out to clients and other contacts in a personal manner as often as you can, but you should automate regular correspondence, for example, weekly updates, prospecting drips or financial news. An automated campaign should help you stay on track without pulling your hair out.

Always Ask for Permission. If the recipient has not expressed interest in receiving communication from you, it’s spam. Spam is the use of electronic messaging systems (including most broadcast media and digital delivery systems) to send unsolicited bulk messages indiscriminately. I cannot discourage spam strongly enough. It’s against federal law—the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 specifically—and it’s completely ineffective. The number of educated, savvy consumers who have purchased anything from a spam email is in the single digit percentages and dropping.

The only gray area is how to define whether a recipient has authorized you to send emails. Some feel that if a person provides you with an email address, you are authorized to send sales- or marketing-related emails. Others feel that you must explicitly ask permission first before sending those emails. Most respected companies are leaning towards explicitly asking permission first.

Always Include “Unsubscribe” Information. You don’t have to use a fancy online system for unsubscribing emails from your lists. If you’re legitimately not sending spam, it shouldn’t be much of an issue. But due to the level of spam most of us are receiving these days, some people are on edge. If they decide they don’t want to hear from you anymore, give them a way to tell you that. It can be as simple as including a statement along the top or bottom of your correspondence stating, “I enjoy sending you information, and I hope you find it valuable. If not, and if you’d rather not hear from me, please reply back and let me know.” 

Email is definitely where it’s at these days in terms of cost-to-benefit ratio and ease of use. Just remember, above all, to make your communication meaningful—otherwise, it’s a waste of (cyber) space.