Use Mail Merge to send bulk emails

By Wesley Hartman

Q. I see all these different bulk email products, but I don’t have time to learn another software. Is there something very simple I can use?

A. Bulk email software is a great technology to keep in touch with clients. It offers several features that are important for marketing, but I understand that sometimes we just want to send an email to a smaller, specific group of people, not to a huge list. Additionally, the interfaces for some of these products can be sensitive to formatting, and we can end up spending more time than we want, trying to fix alignments or reformatting blocks of text versus what we are used to when using Outlook.

I want to reintroduce you to an old function in Word, but with a feature that you might not be using: Mail Merge using email through Outlook. Our walk-through project is sending email reminders to a list of clients to make estimated payments. To begin, open Outlook so that it is running (note that this feature is available only on the Outlook desktop app, not in any web app). Next, open Excel to a new spreadsheet. We want to set up a sample file with some data in it. We will have three columns with titles: “Email Address,” “First Name,” and “Q3 Estimate.” In those columns, we are going to have some sample information. I recommend that you use a few email addresses you have access to so you can see the emails go to the different mailboxes. Add in some sample names and some random numbers to represent a quarterly estimate (see the screenshot below).


Save this file to a location such as your desktop and name it Q3 List.xlsx. Next, open a new Word document. Go to the Mailings tab, click on Start Mail Merge, and select Step-by-Step Mail Merge Wizard (see the screenshot below).


This will open the Mail Merge wizard on the right side of the window. The default is Letters, but since this is a walk-through for using email, change it to E-mail messages and click the link at the bottom, Next: Starting document.

The document will change layout to an empty white space because we have told Word that this will no longer be printed on a sheet of paper and will be sent as an email. Removing all the margins that simulate a sheet of paper makes it feel more like an email.

Return to the wizard on the left. We will leave the bullet on Use the current document and click the link for Next: Select Recipients.

At this point, we have our email, but we need to bring in the information from the spreadsheet that we created earlier. Back in the wizard, we have some different options. We will use an existing list. You can see the other options where you can use Outlook contacts. Typing a new list is also an option, but, ideally, we will want to source our information from an existing location. Click the Browse link to open a file browser window. Select the List file that we created in Excel and click Open. With the Select Table screen (see the screenshot below), we only have one sheet, so click OK.


The final screen of this trio is showing you the rows that were brought in from the spreadsheet (see the screenshot below). We will want to send all these, so click OK.


Back in the wizard, we can see that the Current list shows the file we brought in. Click Next: Write your e-mail message.

Next, let’s put in the content of our email. Since this will be a reminder email to a list of clients with third-quarter (Q3) payments due, we will keep it simple.

Hello < First Name >,

Hope all is well with you.

I just want to remind you to make your quarterly estimated payment of $< Q3 Estimate >.

Let me know if you have questions.

Wesley Hartman

I use < … > just to denote where I will put in the merge fields. This is not anything special, just a placeholder. We have two of our columns represented in the block of text — the first name of the client and the Q3 amount. Now, highlight the in the body, click More Items in the wizard, select First Name, and click Insert. This will change the to <>. The Cancel will change to Close; click the Close button. Repeat these steps again but for the . Once you have completed this, go back to the wizard and click Next: Preview your e-mail message (see screenshot below)


You will now have a sample of what the email will look like. Using the arrows in the wizard, you can flip through the merged emails where you can see the name and the amounts change to the information from your list (see the screenshot below).


If everything looks good, we will complete the merge by clicking on the link in the wizard Next: Complete the merge. This will bring you to the final screen of the wizard. Click the link Electronic Mail. A pop-up will appear to confirm the email addresses and a subject line. Confirm the To: is using the Email_Address column from your spreadsheet, enter a subject line, and click OK. The emails will be sent immediately. Be sure you are ready to send before clicking that final OK (see the screenshot below).


The emails will be sent using Outlook, and you will see them in your sent items. Additionally, the emails look like they are coming directly from you instead of a bulk email service.

Let’s discuss some caveats to this feature. It is not the best for large-scale bulk emails. If you want to send out a newsletter, it is best to use a service that is designed for that purpose. If you want your signature that is normally part of your regular emails, you will need to add that to your document. The best-use case for this feature is when you want to send a targeted message to a specific subgroup of clients. The information we used in the example can be pulled from your tax software. Keeping our clients informed on tasks they need to complete throughout the year creates another touch point by which we can serve them.

About the author

Wesley Hartman is founder at Automata Practice Development and director of technology at Kirsch Kohn & Bridge LLP.

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