How to Build an Email Marketing Strategy for Your Startup

From building a community on Discord to creating content on TikTok, new and emerging marketing channels are worth experimenting with as a startup. But there’s one tried-and-true channel that your business shouldn’t ignore: email. Building an email marketing strategy creates a direct link between your company and your current or prospective customers that forges connection, loyalty, and trust, one email at a time.

Email marketing for startups can propel product growth by keeping subscribers informed about new releases, educating them on how to get the most of your product, and serving as a two-way communication channel where they can seek support. A survey of 1000 small business owners and decision-makers found that 64.1% used email marketing. Learn how to build an email marketing strategy that turns subscribers into sales, from growing your newsletter list and selecting an email marketing platform to crafting compelling campaigns and following email marketing best practices.

What is email marketing for startups?

Email marketing for startups is a growth strategy that uses email to send educational, promotional, brand, and sales content to prospective and current customers who have opted-in to your email list. Startups can use email marketing techniques to drive customer acquisition, improve customer retention, and build better brand recognition.

The benefits of email marketing for startups

image alt text

For early stage startups with a limited budget and minimal marketing capacity, email marketing can have a significant ROI—driving significant sales from a single send out. A 2022 survey of over 2000 marketers found that email marketing brought in $36 for every $1 spent for companies in the software and technology industry. By starting email marketing early on and sending subscribers useful content, you can grow your newsletter list and build an audience that pays dividends down the line.

Build a direct customer communication channel

Email marketing provides a direct communication channel between a customer and email subscriber, bypassing an algorithmic intermediary on social media. Businesses can use this open line of communication for any number of marketing and customer initiatives—telling subscribers about your company, requesting feedback on your products, or revealing more about your company and the people behind it.

Promote cost-effectively to your target audience

Compared to marketing channels like paid advertising, email marketing is relatively inexpensive. Email marketing platforms generally charge based on the number of emails your company sends. In the early days, as you build your subscriber list, your marketing costs for sending email will be low. However, costs do increase as your mailing list increases.

Send segmented and personalized content to specific cohorts

As your list of email subscribers grows into the thousands or tens of thousands or more, you’ll likely want to segment your list—dividing it into more specific groups like “free users” and “paid users” or “product 1 users” and “product 2 users”. Mailchimp, a popular email marketing platform, found that open rates were 14.31% higher and clicks were 100.95% higher for segmented campaigns compared to non-segmented campaigns. Email marketing allows you to send more personalized and tailored content to specific groups, rather than sending a generalized message to everyone on your list.

Grow customer trust with regular outreach

People who subscribe to your list generally expect to hear from you at a regular cadence —whether that’s once a week or once per month. By continuously sending relevant content, your email list will build familiarity with your business. If they’re not in need of your products or services today, regular reach out and communication builds consideration for tomorrow.

Drive leads and sales to your products

Your email marketing strategy should include a mix of content—from educational and informative to brand building and social proof. However, a strong email strategy also includes a promotional and sales email that provides a clear call to action (CTA): try our product.

By including a CTA in your emails, linking to the sales or product page on your website, you can track the effectiveness of your emails and see whether they convert subscribers to sales.

Email marketing best practices

image alt text

Email marketing is an opportunity to experiment with new ideas and lean into creativity, opting for a unique strategy rather than replicating that of your competitors. However, there are email best practices you should follow that will lead to better results and reduce the risk of having your emails marked as spam.

Comply with email marketing laws and regulations

Comply with laws and regulations related to spam, privacy, and data protection. This includes obtaining consent from subscribers before sending them emails, providing an easy way to unsubscribe, and protecting subscribers’ personal information. Be aware of email marketing guidelines to be in compliance with regulations like GDPR and CAN-SPAM.

Optimize for mobile experiences

A 2021 study found that a majority of email views—41%—come from mobile devices, followed by 39% on desktop. With a growing number of people checking their emails on mobile devices, it’s important to optimize for mobile. Ensure that you select a responsive email design that adjusts to different screen sizes.

Consider A/B testing your emails

A/B testing, a common feature of many email marketing platforms, involves sending different versions of your email to a small sample of your subscribers to see which performs better. The winning version is then sent to the rest of your email list. This strategy will help improve your results over time.

Segment your email list

Segmenting your email list involves dividing your subscribers into groups based on their interests, demographics, behavior, or cohort.This allows you to send targeted emails that are more relevant to each group, rather than a one-size-fits-all message.

Don’t overwhelm your audience

Find the balance between maintaining a regular cadence for your email marketing campaigns, but not overwhelming your audience with too many emails. If you send an excess of emails, they may be marked as spam by subscribers, affecting the deliverability of all your emails. Consider sending emails exclusively when you have something valuable to share with your audience.

Regularly clean-up your list

Remove inactive or invalid email addresses from your email list every few months. This helps ensure that your emails reach the right people and can improve your deliverability and open rates. A large email list is a vanity metric; instead focus on how engaged your list is.

Defining your email marketing strategy

image alt text

Crafting an email marketing strategy for your startup starts with considering your objective for this marketing channel: what does your business want to accomplish through email?

One goal might be customer retention, supporting existing users by sending educational content that helps them get the most out of your product. A different objective might be sales and conversions, sending free users discounts or persuasive copy that gets them to upgrade to become a paid user. Another might be brand building, helping customers forge a connection to your company and its overall mission. In some cases, it might be all of the above.

Your marketing objective will shape your email marketing strategies—from who you send emails to where you capture subscribers, what kind of emails you send them, and how often you send them to

Determine who you’ll send emails to

How you speak to subscribers should be personalized, based on their relationship to your business and product. Though you might have a single list with a wide range of subscribers, it’s worth considering how you might segment your list and tailor your message for the most effectiveness.

Here are a few groups to consider when you’re crafting emails:

  • Prospective users: These subscribers have shown interest in the startup’s products or services—perhaps subscribing to receive new blog posts from your company—but have yet to sign-up for your product. Emails to this group might include product demos and testimonials, free trials, and promotional offers to encourage them to take the leap.
  • Free users: If you’re using a freemium or free-trial model for your startup, these subscribers have signed up for the free version of your offering. Emails to this group might include information about new product features or invitations and special offers to upgrade to a paid plan.
  • Paid users: These subscribers have purchased or are currently paying regularly for your startup’s products or services. Emails to this group might include education about new and existing features and other content to drive retention.
  • Canceled users: These subscribers have previously used your company’s products or services but have canceled their subscription. Emails to this cohort might include incentives to reactivate their account or requests for feedback about canceling their subscription. However, ensure you’re not sending emails to users who have also opted out of your email marketing.

Decide where you’ll capture emails

Building an email list is an effective marketing strategy with significant ROI by converting a percentage of email opens into sales. Prioritizing the growth of your list, by capturing emails from as many places as possible, should be key to your email marketing for startups strategy.

Here are a few potential email capture points to consider:

  • Website opt-in forms: Add opt-in forms on your website, including the homepage, contact page, and blog pages, to capture leads and encourage website visitors to join your email list.
  • Landing pages: Create dedicated landing pages with offers, such as ebooks, whitepapers, or free trials, that require website visitors to provide their email address to access.
  • Social media: Use social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook to promote your email list and encourage followers to sign up.
  • Blog content: Include pop-ups or side-bar forms on your blog asking readers to subscribe to your email reading list.
  • Webinars and online events: Collect email addresses from webinar attendees by requiring email registration before attending your online event.
  • Chatbots: Embed unintrusive chatbots on your website to collect email addresses.
  • Online contests: Create online contests or giveaways on social media that require participants to provide their email addresses to enter.
  • In-person: Collect email addresses at industry events or conferences in exchange for low-cost swag like stickers or pens.

Determine the kind of emails you’ll send

Sending a continuous barrage of promotional emails to subscribers is a poor email marketing strategy. Instead, focus on a multi-pronged approach that includes a variety of email types that engage your audience—from educating them about your product to building brand awareness.

Here are several kinds of emails to include in your marketing mix:

  • Educational emails: These emails provide useful and informative content about your products or services. These emails might include product tutorials, feature tips and tricks, and even relevant industry news.
  • Product marketing emails: These emails drive awareness of a specific product or service offered by your startup. These emails might include information about new features or product lines.
  • Brand marketing emails: These sendouts build brand awareness and create a connection between your company and a subscriber. These emails might include messaging about your startup’s values or culture.
  • Sales emails: These emails persuade subscribers to purchase your product. These emails might include special offers, discounts, or other incentives to encourage a sale.
  • Feedback emails: These sendouts gather feedback from prospective and current subscribers about their experience or opinion on your company’s product. These emails might include surveys, polls, or requests for customer reviews and testimonials.

Set your publishing cadence

“How often should I send emails to subscribers?” is a common question when starting email marketing for startups. But the truth is, there’s no definitive answer. Some sources suggest emailing at least once a month to keep subscribers engaged, but advise that sending emails too often can lead to readers tuning out or unsubscribing. Other experts suggest that email frequency should depend on your industry—with bloggers and publishers recommended to send daily while B2B businesses should opt for monthly sendouts.

However, they all concur on one thing: your emails should be consistent. Avoid ad-hoc sendouts and embrace regularity. Whether you’re opting for a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly cadence, send emails at a regular cadence that your readers will come to expect.

Choosing an email marketing platform

image alt text

With so many options to choose from, it can be hard to decide between the dozens of email marketing platforms on the market. Should you go with the well-known name or the most cost effective choice? Should you choose a simple platform or one with a slew of advanced automation features? Will you need design customization features or is your business content with out-of-the-box templates?

Choose a platform that’s simple and effective to start, but can scale with you as you grow.

Explore email marketing features

If you land on the web page of a popular email marketing platform, you’ll be bombarded with dozens of features—from customer journeys and priority support to segmentation and A/B testing. Some features will be essential for your startup, while others will be nice-to-haves or features you’ll never touch.

Here are 10 features worth reviewing before choosing an email marketing platform:

  • Ease of Use: Choose a platform that is easy to navigate and has a user-friendly interface. Look for a drag-and-drop editor and customizable pre-designed templates.
  • Automation: Look for a platform that offers automated workflows that can help you save time and streamline your email marketing campaigns. Automated workflows include welcome emails, onboarding emails, and drip campaign campaigns.
  • List Management: Select an email marketing tool that gives you the ability to segment your email list based on various criteria, such as demographics, engagement, and behavior. Look for the ability import and export your email list easily, in case you ever want to make a switch
  • Reporting and Analytics: Consider a platform’s reporting and analytics features. You should be able to track the performance of your email campaigns open rates, click-through rates, conversion rates), identify trends, and make data-driven decisions.
  • Integration: Research how well the email marketing software integrates with other startup marketing tools your startup uses. For example, if you use a customer relationship management (CRM) system, make sure the email marketing platform you can choose can integrate with those systems.
  • Deliverability: You want email marketing software that has a high deliverability rate to ensure your emails make it to your subscribers’ inboxes. Look for strong anti-spam measures and authentication options, like double opt-in.
  • Customization: Search for customization features like personalized emails that are tailored to your subscribers’ interests and preferences—from dynamic content to personalized subject lines.
  • A/B Testing: Check that your email marketing platform allows you to test different elements of your emails, such as subject lines, content, and images, to see which perform best.
  • Customer Support: Ensure that an email marketing platform offers various support channels, such as phone, email, and chat, and has a responsive support team to help with any issues or questions that arise.
  • Pricing: Check that a platform offers transparent pricing and has plans that fit your budget and needs and lacks hidden costs.

Five email marketing platforms for startups

Complete your own research into which email marketing platform works best for you—including chatting with other entrepreneurs and marketing teams about their preferred platform.

Here are five popular email marketing platforms that have a wide variety of the features mentioned previously.


Mailchimp is a popular email marketing platform that’s known for its user-friendly interface and extensive features. It offers drag-and-drop email design, customizable templates, and list segmentation tools to help businesses create and send targeted email campaigns. Mailchimp also offers audience insights, A/B testing, and integrations.


ConvertKit is an email marketing platform specifically for bloggers, podcasters, and other content creators. It offers easy-to-use email templates, automation workflows, and segmentation features for building an online audience. ConvertKit also offers customizable landing pages, integrations, and analytics.


MailerLite is an email marketing platform for small businesses and entrepreneurs. It offers easy-to-use email design tools, customizable templates, and list segmentation features to help businesses create targeted email campaigns. MailerLite also offers A/B testing, automation workflows, and integrations.


ActiveCampaign is an email marketing platform that offers advanced automation and personalization features. It offers drag-and-drop email design, customizable templates, and list segmentation tools to help businesses create targeted email campaigns. ActiveCampaign also includes comprehensive automation workflows, integrations, and machine learning features to help businesses personalize their email marketing efforts.


HubSpot is a popular all-in-one marketing platform that includes email marketing as one of its many features. It offers easy-to-use email design tools, customizable templates, and list segmentation features HubSpot also offers comprehensive automation workflows, and CRM integration.

Developing email marketing campaigns

image alt text

While one-off emails can be useful once in a while, these standalone messages should just be one portion of your overall email marketing strategy. Instead, spend time developing cohesive email marketing campaigns—designing a series of emails to achieve a specific goal, such as nurturing leads, driving sales, promoting a new feature, or maintaining long-term engagement with your audience.

Define your target audience

Start building your email campaign by identifying your target audience. This includes their demographics, interests, pain points, and customer cohort By understanding who you’re talking to, you can create more relevant and engaging email content.

Set your campaign goals

Whether it’s to generate leads, increase sales, or drive web traffic, your email campaign should have a clear goal. Set specific and measurable goals that you can measure against at the end of your campaign.

Workshop your subject line

Your subject line is one of the most important elements of each email your startup sends. Craft something that’s attention-grabbing, relevant, and concise. Consider brainstorming multiple options and using A/B testing to see which resonates most strongly with your audience.

Craft effective messaging

Workshop the messaging in your email until it’s clear, persuasive, and to-the-point—whether that’s highlighting the benefits of a new product line or requesting feature feedback. Tailor your messaging to each email campaign’s goals and target audience.

Include a strong CTA

Include a prominent compelling call-to-action (CTA) within each email you send. This could be to click through to your website with a clear goal, like upgrading from a free to paid subscription or downloading a PDF resource.

Measuring your email marketing efforts

image alt text

Email is a particularly effective marketing channel because it’s simple to assess your results—you can judge the success of a single email or campaign, based on metrics like click-through rate and conversion.

Here are key metrics to judge the success of your email marketing efforts:

  • Open rate: This percentage of subscribers who opened your email. This metric indicates how well your subject line and sender name resonated with your audience and whether you have an engaged subscriber list.
  • Click-through rate (CTR): This metric is the percentage of subscribers who clicked on a link in your email. This metric is a proxy for how engaging and relevant your email content and CTA is.
  • Conversion rate: This is the percentage of subscribers who completed the desired action, such as making an upgrade, filling out a form, or downloading a resource. This metric measures how effective your email campaign was in achieving its goals.
  • Unsubscribe rate: This is the percentage of subscribers who chose to unsubscribe from your email list after a sendout. While it’s normal to lose some subscribers over time, a high unsubscribe rate points to problems with your email content or send frequency.
  • List growth rate: This is the rate at which your email list is growing. This metric helps you understand how effective your email opt-in forms and list-building strategies are.

Use this data to iterate on your email marketing strategy, reducing the number of emails you send if your unsubscribe rate soars or duplicating a tactic used in a particularly high conversion email. With the right email marketing strategy in place, your startup can effectively reach and engage with your target audience, build brand awareness, and drive conversions.

Grow your startup in 2023

Email marketing is just one way to supercharge your startup’s growth in 2023. Check out all of DigitalOcean’s resources for startups and SMBs in The Wave, our startup resource hub, for more company-building advice to help your startup thrive.

Make investments in your technology this year and sign up for a DigitalOcean account to start building your product on DigitalOcean’s virtual servers, databases, and more.


Try DigitalOcean for free

Click below to sign up and get $200 of credit to try our products over 60 days!Sign up

Related Resources

Product-Led Growth: How to Drive Adoption and Expansion
What is Brand Positioning? Definition, Benefits and Strategies
How to create a marketing budget

Start building today

Sign up now and you'll be up and running on DigitalOcean in just minutes.