Small business owners are used to balancing a number of chores, and marketing is usually one of them. Almost half (47%) of all small business owners manage their own marketing, according to a 2016 report from LeadPages.

Do-it-yourself marketing can be tough.

To help small business owners create and send emails that customers can't ignore, here are six predictions that should steer your marketing efforts in 2018:

1. The sales funnel will continue to change

For years and years, marketers and sales teams believed customers all took the same approach to buying a product. They became aware of product, did some research, decided which product to go with, made a purchase and then magically morphed into a loyal customer. It's a nice, straightforward process – and it doesn't apply to today's customers at all.

Consumers are digitally savvy. They might learn about your product on social media, Google your business, read an article on your blog, research other companies and read online reviews before they make a decision.

To sell products today, you have to realize the many ways a customer can interact with your brand and create content that helps customers along their buying journey.

In 2018, make efforts to understand how customers buy from you, and start creating content for each platform that gives customers the information they need to make a purchase.

2. More small business owners will embrace automation

To promote your product or service via email, you need to send emails with regularity. But, finding time to create and send emails isn't always easy for small business owners.

Save time by creating emails and scheduling them to arrive in subscriber's inboxes. How? Email automation.

With automation, you can trigger emails to send based on a scheduled date. So, you can create a Fourth of July email now, and schedule it to send on July 2.

You can also automate emails based on actions. If a subscriber visits your website, clicks on a link in an email, or leaves items in a cart, you can pre-make emails that will automatically send to subscribers when they meet the criteria you set up.

This year, incorporate automation into your marketing routine to reclaim some time.

3. Email automation tools will get easier to use

Automation tools often have a high learning curve, which is why many small business owners have stayed away from them. Who has time to learn a new tool?

It's also hard to establish a workflow for automation. How do you set up a trigger so an email automatically goes to a subscriber when he or she clicks on a link in an email?

This year, you'll see visual workflows that help small business owners automate emails. You might drag-and-drop triggers into a timeline, for instance, rather than use a complicated series of drop-down menus and parameters.

Automation should also become more affordable. Cost is another barrier that has kept small businesses away. This year, more competitive pricing will help every marketer – at any level – access automation tools.

4. Personalization will become a necessity

Back in the day, owners knew the name of every customer. Today, customers still expect that level of personalization even though they may never meet the owner face-to-face.

To provide a personal message to your subscribers, you'll need to deploy every personalization technique you can. That means going beyond adding a subscriber's first name to the subject line. You'll need to explore new ways to offer relevant messages.

Collect information from your customers at every touch point, and use it to create on-point messages.

Try these advanced personalization ideas:

  • Segment your contacts by interests
  • Use dynamic content to change certain features of an email that are relevant to each subscriber
  • Set up a preference center so subscribers can tell you what kinds of emails they want and how often

5. Businesses will suggest more relevant products to customers

How often do you suggest products to your customers? If you're not doing it on a regular basis, you could be missing out.

Customers want brands to show them products or services that are relevant to their life. Netflix, for example, suggests TV shows and movies based on what viewers watch. Pandora asks music lovers to 'like' songs so it can play similar tunes of interest.

In 2018, model your email marketing after Pandora. Start tracking visitor purchases and viewing history so you can create personalized emails from the data.

Here's a great example from Amazon that suggests products that a customer might be interested in:

6. Predictive measurements will help business owners gauge success

Right now, the best way to judge the success of your email campaigns is to review your metrics. You likely check your open, click-through and conversion rates, right?

They're good measurements of success, but in 2018, a new kind of measurement will hit the scene.

Thanks to super computers that can crunch numbers in nanoseconds, predictive measurements will become must-watch metrics in the future. As the name suggests, predictive measurements will predict a customer's behavior. For instance, they can tell you which segment of new customers will most likely become loyal ones.

It will take some time before you see predictive measurements on the dashboard of your favorite email service, but it's something to watch for. Once they arrive, they'll give you a new parameter or success.

Wrap up

For small business owners, time is a valuable commodity. By understanding what trends will steer email marketing this year, you can prepare for them, and adjust your campaigns accordingly.

This year, email marketing is all about knowing your customer, creating personalized emails and using tools that can help you streamline the process.