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E-mail marketing

Every business—even if it only has one employee—needs to grow, and email marketing is one of the tried-and-true methods to do that. Thanks to the wealth of options and services available, getting started with email marketing is not as complicated or daunting as it may have previously seemed. The first step is to figure out the types of messages you want to send, and then select the email marketing platform that fits your requirements. As you can see from the above table, email marketing tools are all different, with different support options, contact management features, email builders, and of course, prices.

You can go out and get a full-blown marketing automation platform, but many businesses will find that the sweet spot is one of the many pure-play email marketing services out there. This list focuses on email marketing, so we didn't look at CRM and other automation features. Small businesses will see that these pure-play services can be used to craft an extensive marketing strategy. Some platforms have third-party integration with shopping cart tools, CRM, and other applications, which means there is even more room for growth.

What to Look For
Before you can decide which email marketing tool meets your needs and which package to buy, you need to figure out how many contacts you have, and how much you anticipate growing. Most services are good about growing with you and moving you up and down the tiers as necessary. Some services push you into large-volume pricing sooner than others—iContact and Constant Contact move you into custom pricing at just 15,000 and 10,000 subscribers, for example.

Some services offer free plans, others have limited free trials. Pricing is generally based on number of subscribers, and sometimes, on how many messages you plan to send in a month. Read the small type to make sure the plan you are selecting offers what you need. Some tools give you plenty of room to grow even within the tier, and others require you to upgrade to a more expensive plan. Consider how much you expect to grow your contacts database and how soon that will happen. Most services offer month-to-month plans, but consider how quickly you may outgrow your tier before committing to a quarterly or yearly plan.

What's the Focus?
One thing we learned in reviewing the services listed here (and many more!) is that even though the packages are very similar, they are not identical. Some are more about visual design and others focus on contact management.

You will see in the table above that we flagged some of the tools as not offering auto-responders. The problem is that nearly every single company on this table has the ability to automatically send an email to a contact when they are added to a list, but not all of them let you create event-based auto-responders. Do you want to send contacts happy birthday messages or coupons to thank them for their loyalty? That's the distinction this table makes, so keep that in mind when evaluating the tools.