As Cary Heise says, “I thought I knew everything that was going on in Raleigh. Then I had children.” In an effort to no longer feel out of the loop, the mother of two created Social Butterflies, an online guide to local kid- and family-oriented events in the Raleigh, N.C., area. Four years after sending her first email to just seven people, Cary’s business has grown to include more than 2,000 subscribers. And Cary doesn’t generate all the content herself; the readers (who she calls her “friends”) are always submitting ideas to keep others in the loop. It’s a big help to Cary, who is still the business’ only employee.

In celebration of National Small Business Week, we caught up with Cary to discuss how she’s been able to build such a strong online and offline community.

How has Social Butterflies changed over the years? Do you serve a different demographic now than when you first started the business?
My readers are parents, mostly moms, of young Raleigh-area families. That demographic has not changed the last two years.

What advantage does being a small business give you over your larger competitors?

My readers know me and trust that I am giving them the most current and relevant information. My readers are welcome to submit ideas knowing I am going to receive and personally respond to their emails and requests. Not only do I have relationships with my readers, I also have personal connections with each and every local small business that advertises with me. Also, being a local, organic small business gives me flexibility and agility. I can react quickly to changes and updates.

Your strong relationships with readers and local businesses must have multiple benefits.

It’s true. For instance, I know many of the local children’s consignment sale owners and cross-promote with them twice a year. I offer them advertising in my newsletter in exchange for handing out Social Butterflies cards to their thousands of buyers. They also add me, the Social Butterflies logo, and a link on their sponsor page. In addition, I cross-promote with online businesses that have the same demographics but different content. I have a button ad for an online resource for youth sports and they provide one for Social Butterflies on their website.

You’ve built a very impressive mailing list. How have you done that?
I’m not shy about asking my readers to please forward emails and invite friends to subscribe. I started a very simple website in 2010 as a home base for new readers to find us online and I use the Constant Contact application there on the homepage for readers to easily join the email list. I am very happy to now have the “Join My List” Facebook app on the Social Butterflies NC Page as well. I have made that tab the welcome page. Those who haven’t been to the Facebook Page before are asked immediately to join the email list.

Earlier this year you won an All Star award for your email marketing. What are some of your secrets to your success with an email-based business?
I only send out one newsletter each month. If I send out any more than one, my open rates decrease considerably. My readers are busy parents. They don’t have time to read any more emails than they already have. Most often, I hear that readers have a folder for Social Butterflies emails and they save the email and refer back throughout the month. I know what my demographic likes — free, small town family events, and all the better if they can bring their pet with them! I don’t send an email right before the weekend; families are too busy then. And I would never send an email out mid-week of a holiday weekend. I would wait for the week after the holiday to send out the newsletter, giving families time to settle back into their routine.

What role does having a Facebook Page serve in your business?
I love having the Social Butterflies NC Facebook Page for posting events that have come in after the monthly newsletter has already gone out. “Sharing” a Facebook Page is almost easier than forwarding an email sometimes. Word of mouth, or Sharing a “Liked” Page, is free. It’s the best advertising.

Come back tomorrow to learn about another small business that’s making a big difference!