Millions of Americans are living their entrepreneurial dreams by running a business from home. Many entrepreneurs start with an idea to sell a product or service, working part-time out of a home office, kitchen or garage. Some leave the corporate world to become independent consultants, offering their skills to companies on a per-project basis. Still others turn their hobbies or sidelines as eBay sellers into successful home based operations.

Whatever your skills or passions, the rewards to owning a home based business are undeniable. Be your own boss, make your own hours, enjoy more time with family, earn income doing something you've always wanted to do; you're free from the constraints of a traditional work environment. The flip side is that there's no marketing or sales department to bring in business and keep it coming. You are it.

The Ideal Marketing Tool
If you're running a home based business, chances are your resources are limited. Your challenge is to get business and keep it coming. That's where e-mail marketing can help without breaking the bank. E-mail marketing is a fast and easy way to do the following:

  • Reach out to your contacts directly and let them know you are open for business
  • Encourage repeat and referral sales by reminding customers you're there
  • Share your expertise so customers turn to you as a trusted resource
  • Create promotions that boost business and keep your brand alive
  • Conduct effective DIY marketing on a cost-conscious budget

2 Ways to Grow
E-mail marketing works for any kind of home based business, whether you're a jewelry maker or a dog groomer, a freelance accountant or an online seller of collectibles. Let's look at two types of e-mail marketing that can build your home business: newsletters and promotions.

Create an e-newsletter-- A simple e-mail newsletter lets you share free advice, insights, and success stories with current (and potential) customers. This sets you up as a trusted expert in the eyes of the people on your list. When they need what you offer, your e-newsletter will help make sure that you come to mind. Come up with a few content ideas for your newsletter--design tips, recipes or financial insights--and ask people in your network what they'd like to read about. Customers, associates, friends and family are a great source of topic ideas. Worried about doing a lot of writing? Don't be. Newsletters can be short with just a few paragraphs of useful information.

Send promotional e-mails-- Combine your newsletter's informational content with promotions that stimulate demand for your products or services. If you're in a gift-oriented or other retail business, the holidays create natural opportunities for promotions. If you're a consultant offering services, your business may be more cyclical or seasonal depending on clients' needs. You can also plan an event or a sale to create a business booster during otherwise slow times. A 10 percent off coupon, open house, or a free sample or consultation are examples of popular e-mail promotions.

5 Tips to Get Started
1. Choose a reputable e-mail marketing service provider. Features to look for include affordable plans, a variety of easy-to-use templates for different kinds of e-mails, e-mail list management, a commitment to e-mail marketing standards and best practices, and access to support and helpful resources.

2. Collect e-mail addresses. Even if your mailing list is just a few friends and family members, that's enough to get started. Grow your list by collecting names during your regular course of business, whether it's at a home product party or a chamber of commerce event.

3. Get permission. Before you send anyone a commercial e-mail marketing communication, remember to get permission. Permission is perishable, so don't wait months to e-mail someone after you get their contact info. And you must offer a way for recipients to unsubscribe or opt out of your mailings.

4. Make your first mailing count. This could be a simple announcement that you're open for business or an e-mail that welcomes people who recently joined your list. Thank recipients for joining and tell them who you are, what you offer and why you're e-mailing them. Your first e-mail is your opportunity to make a good impression and show the benefits of being on your e-mail list. Include a "forward to a friend" link so people can easily share your correspondence with others who might be interested in what you offer.

5. Create a schedule. Plan to communicate with customers via e-mail at least six times a year. Once a month is even better. If you plan to e-mail more often--and you may if you run events or weekly specials--make sure you are providing information your contacts value.

Customers and prospects might not need your products or services at the moment they receive your e-mail, but the key is to keep your business on their minds. That way, when they're ready to buy--or when they hear of someone who needs your products or services--they'll think of you.

Even if e-mail marketing is the only marketing activity you do, it can help you connect with customers and encourage referrals and repeat business. You don't even need to have a website to get started. As long as you have a computer in your home office (kitchen or garage), e-mail marketing is a great way to grow your home based business.