Mr. Obvious says that the answer to this question is “Yes” 99.9% of the time. There might be some odd situation where continued communication with your market is not desirable but that is extremely rare. If you are in a business that does not need to communicate with your customer or prospects then stop reading this right now because it will be a waste of your time. All the successful email lists we have seen, have one attribute in common, they create unique and valuable content that engages their audience. Creating engaging and valuable content isn’t particularly easy, so you have to be ready to commit.
Building an Email List
The first challenge is always to build the list. There are thousands of ways to do that, all of them hard. There are ways to cheat, like harvesting software or buying lists but those can result in branding your business as a spammer. Building an email list requires investment in both time and money. The first step is to gather up all your existing contacts and load them into an email system. Next, build subscription processes into your website so people can subscribe to your information. Then build a landing page to sell the value of your subscription. The problem here is that when you have done all these basics you will not be satisfied with your list because it will be too short. It’s not that you are unreasonable it’s just I know you will not be satisfied because nobody ever is.
Advertise Your Email List
If you have unique and valuable content then advertising should be straight forward and highly responsive. Since email subscriptions are normally a free offer, the conversion rate should be very high in Search assuming you are staying on topic with your keywords. In this area you need to make sure you consider the Display Network because free stuff can often work well in that world. One thing you need to do here is make sure that you figure out what a subscription is worth to your business so you know if this is a good investment.
Pick Up the Phone
Another tried and true method for building your email list is to use the phone to gain permission to email. To make this work you need to have a very quick offer of value that the person finds attractive. This is also a good way to start the conversation with potential customers or clients.
Why You Cannot Buy an Opt-in List
First let me get this out of the way, there is no way to buy an opt-in email list because any list you buy or harvest is spam. Even if the person opted-in to receive information they did not opt-in to receive your information. There are plenty of places to buy huge lists for some very cheap prices but just know that using that list clearly puts your business in the spam email business. Some people offer tools to gather up email addresses published in various parts of the Internet to build your list and again this is spam because you lack permission to send them email.
The world is not black and white and there is plenty of Gray in marketing
There is a gray area here where reasonable people disagree and that has to do with contacting a public email address for the purpose of obtaining permission. The purist will say this is spam but some believe that posting a public email address is an invitation to contact that email for business purposes. A public email address is an address published on the website specifically for the purpose of contacting the business. If the business took any steps to stop the gathering of the email, such as the use of a form rather than a public email address, then gathering that email is spam. Gathering any type of personal email from any source is spam.
You have an Email List – now what?
Share your knowledge and expertise with the world and build relationships. In this day and age it is nearly impossible to “Sell” the majority of the people and that is why direct sales efforts fail 98% of the time. What you can do is demonstrate your skills and expertise in your field. When they need what you do they will invite you to compete. Today people do business with those they trust; they trust those that help them understand.
The DIY Audience
Some people have expressed concern about sharing what they do because they think the customer will just do it themselves and to some degree that is true. However those DIYers (Do It Yourselfers) are never going to engage your business either way so the business you lost you never had. The DIY audience will try to do the job and sometimes fail. When that happens, they will turn to real experts to finish the job. We have seen businesses that actually play off this dynamic with tag lines like “We Repair What Your Husband Fixed”.
What if your writing skills are challenged?
Let’s face it not everyone is a great writer but that should not stop you from talking to your audience. You can engage a ghost writer that can add the words and prose to your thinking but you need to make sure that it stays within your voice and message. When you work with a writer make it clear what your values and beliefs are and that they express those in the written product. There is nothing worse than turning this over to someone that lacks your passion for your business.
Your email list requires maintenance because the more you use it the more you lose from it. Losses come from many sources with the most common being unsubscribe requests and email address change. Email lists have different attrition rates driven by the quality of the content you send, the frequency of the use, and most importantly how the receiver feels at the moment of review. In many cases with a monthly distribution to a qualified list the loss will run from .5% to 2.0%. This varies widely but once you start sending your list it will settle into a range that you can plan from. Look at your monthly loss and use this to create your plan for replacing those losses.
There are lots of great systems for authoring and sending your email content, our favorite is Constant Contact. It is a solid system with all the services most businesses need. A good system will help maintain multiple lists, monitor errors, and help track the result from your content. Some CMS (Content Management Systems) will include a simple email system but you want to make sure you check this out before committing to it. We have seen several CMS that do a fair job of publishing the site but a lousy job of managing an email list. There are some great services out there that are fairly cheap, like Constant Contact, so there is no good reason to compromise on the quality of your email system.
The purpose of the email newsletter is to create an image of your business in the minds of your prospects and the paint for doing that is your content. If the stories you tell are of value to the audience and engaging, then email is doing its job and the sales will happen. It is nearly impossible to sell someone something they do not want and you are not going to change that. What you can change is who they contact when they want your product or service and in that game 50% of the battle is showing up and being top of mind. The newsletter gives you the opportunity to do that.