Starting a small business is no small feat; especially when you’re working with a small audience.

Setting up shop in Collingwood, Ontario — a small town situated in Southern Georgian Bay — Dan Plouffe and Julie Card wanted to find a way to help small businesses connect with their local customer base.

With this idea in mind, they started, an online portal where local businesses are featured through online listings and event announcements.

Over the last decade, Dan and Julie have built the site into a premier destination for people to find the latest news from their favorite local businesses.

Success didn’t happen overnight — but with the right tools, Dan and Julie were able to build a dedicated audience and grow a successful business.

Here’s a closer look at how they did it.

1. Make it easy for people to sign up

Before starting mycollingwood, Dan had been using Constant Contact at an advertising agency. “It was a no brainer for us to be using Constant Contact right from the start to build our audience,” Julie says. “We already knew it was a really robust and affordable solution.”

Dan and Julie started by creating an online sign-up form for people to opt-in to the mycollingwood email list. They then added a link to the form on the mycollingwood website, making it easy for new visitors to sign up.

“At first we only had a sign-up form on our website, but once we realized how well it worked for us we’ve added it to our social media sites and pretty much anywhere else we can possibly add it,” explains Dan.

By promoting their newsletter on their social media sites and website, they have grown their list to over 4,000 contacts.

2. Offer your audience something of value

To spark consumer interest, Dan and Julie hold a weekly special on their site — an offer they call Double Dollars.

Every Wednesday, the site features half-off gift certificates to local businesses. Before the deals are available for purchase, Dan and Julie send out a preview email to let consumers know which businesses will be featured the next day.

“We’ve been doing the Double Dollars offer every week since 2007,” Dan explains. “And every single week we see the offers sell out within a couple minutes of being posted. The response is unbelievable!”

By offering something their audience finds valuable, Dan and Julie maintain a high open rate that averages 40 percent. Their click-through rate is also way above industry average, reaching over 20 percent.

3. Use reports to tweak your strategy

Even with impressive email results, Dan and Julie like to check back with their email reports to see where they can improve.

“When we send out our monthly newsletter, we send out updates on things like new business openings,” says Julie. “One thing we’ve noticed is that dinning and food listings get three times the amount of engagement as other posts.”

Julie and Dan keep track of their open and click-through rates to see which contacts are most engaged and what topics are generating the most interest. “We have a really good understanding of our audience, which helps us shape our content,” Julie says.

“We can even look at who read specific posts and target them with future messages about a particular topic,” Dan adds.

4. Combine the power of email and social media

As their business continued to expand, Julie and Dan wanted to explore how social media could play a bigger role in their marketing efforts.

Knowing they had developed a loyal following on Facebook, they decided to offer a reward to their fans and grow their mailing list.

“We were looking for ways to do a social campaign to see what kind of lift we could get,” says Julie. “Increasing our email database was our biggest goal.”

To spark interest Julie and Dan ran a special sweepstakes on their Facebook Page for a $50 gift certificate. The results were better than they ever suspected.

“We had an overwhelming success with 373 new sign-ups . Our page received 139 new Facebook Likes as well,” Dan says. “I thought that was really significant for just a week-long sweepstakes. We’re eager to try out another promotion again soon.”

In total, the offer was shared 44 times and resulted in almost 700 page visits!

5. Rely on quality support

Running a fast-paced business means Dan and Julie don’t have time to work through their technical questions on their own.

Even as experienced users, they are glad they can call up Constant Contact whenever they have any questions.

“I recently had some white space in a newsletter I couldn’t get rid of,” Dan recalls. “So I called customer support and they explained the image needed to be resized and the issue was cleared up immediately. A great thing about Constant Contact is if you’re having a problem, you can just pick up the phone and someone will solve your problem in a matter of minutes.”

For Dan and Julie, their small town is their strength.

“We’re in rural North America with a very small audience. But that just means we have to get creative,” Dan says.

Creating an online portal where businesses and consumers can connect, and keeping consumers engaged with valuable information and deals, Dan and Julie have made their website one of the most visited sites in town.

Think about the ways you can do more to connect with your community. Whether you’re brand new to email marketing, or looking for some ways to improve, choose one of Dan and Julie’s tips to bring into your own strategy.

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