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Why Small Businesses Need Email Lists & How to Start One

October 3, 2011

One of the most common phrases you’ll hear from web marketers is “the money’s in the list.” When they say this, they’re talking about an email list – regardless of whether it’s a subscription-based email newsletter that you send weekly/monthly or a list of contacts that you only email when you need some extra cash in the bank. But surprisingly, the email list is one of the most frequently forgotten aspects of small business marketing. Most people think back to how they handle spam email (straight to the trash bin), and they think that everyone else probably acts the same way.

But there really is money in an email list, providing that it is collected properly and kept warm with periodic emails (preferably resulting in tried and true conversion rates). An email list gives you that instant cash injection your business needs during tough sales months, or before a cost intensive marketing campaign or product launch. In the days of social media dominance, your small business simply can’t afford to go on without having an email list.

How to Use an Email List as a Small Business

Not every email list needs to be purposed for heavy conversions. Instead, small businesses can use their email lists in a variety of different ways.

Tip Fence-Post Customers: Some customers aren’t convinced enough to buy your products/services when they visit your site, but they can possibly be converted with further contact. One great way to use your email list as a small business is to ask customers to enter their email information for your newsletter. Some web developers will ask visitors to enter their email address as a way to qualify for special discounts on future orders, or in exchange for free things like instructional videos or an eBook. People like coupons and free things, so this can be a powerful persuasive technique.

Upsell Your Products: You can also ask customers to enter their email address after making a purchase on your site (offer further product updates, patch notes, or coupons as part of the email program). This is probably one of the most common ways that eCommerce developers gather email addresses for their list. With these emails, you can offer customers complimentary products to the ones they’ve purchased. For example, the company Halloween Express presents an email signup page after every purchase, usually offering additional products. If a person notes that they are purchasing their costume for an upcoming party during their initial checkout, that person is sent an email with a link to group themed costumes – as a possible way to convert the customer on group themed costumes for their party. In general, the more customization you can do with upsell emails based on the customer’s activity, the better your conversion rate will be with this type of list.

Provide a Friendly Reminder: You don’t have to make any offers whatsoever in your emails to take advantage of an effective email list. In fact, this is one of the foundations of effective advertising. For example, a company like Coca-Cola (which spends $2.5 billion a year on advertising) has few new products to advertise. Instead, their advertisements serve as more of a reminder that they still exist, and keeps customers thinking about their products. With an email list, you can accomplish the same thing with your customers – hopefully inspiring the “Oh! I was just thinking about what I wanted to drink with my lunch” kinds of emotions.

Emailing is More Effective than Social Media: It’s true – people tend to read emails much more carefully than they browse social media status updates. While you still have some competition in their inbox, you face nowhere near as many people calling for your customers’ attention when you email them.

How to Start an Email List Using AWeber

First of all, never buy your email list from a third party provider. These lists are fake at worst and outdated at best. Take the time to build your email list naturally, whether you use your existing customers’ information or a separate sign up form on your website (preferably both). One of the most popular (and easiest to use) email list building programs is AWeber, which allows you to:

  • Create an opt-in page for your website
  • Write welcome emails, follow-ups, and auto responders
  • Manage and organize your email lists
  • Automate email delivery

When you first create your account at AWeber, you’ll be greeted with a dashboard and a Setup Wizard at the bottom of the screen.

Email List Setup at Aweber

Email List Setup

Going through the Setup Wizard can be the only thing you ever do with the program (besides updating your email contacts and importing new emails), and it will still give you everything you need to launch an effective email campaign. Clicking “Do This Step” starts the wizard.

  1. Give your new list a name, to help differentiate it from other lists you might have or plan to start in the future.
  2. Add a description of the list (perhaps a few words about your email campaign) and the address you would like displayed as the “from address.” Remember that both of these items will be seen by your subscribers, so the description should accurately describe the purpose of the list (e.g. “The Pasta of the Month Email Club.”)
  3. Finish up the “unsubscribe” settings by adding more information about the list and clicking “Finish This Step.” This will update the Setup Wizard on the next page.
  4. Follow the next step to set up your confirmation email, or the email that participants will receive when they first sign up for your list. This acts as a double-opt in email, which asks users to confirm their subscription (and helps to keep your emails out of their spam folder). Both the unsubscribe and confirmation email links can be added to your website directly from AWeber.
  5. Follow the Setup Wizard to the next step, which is creating a welcome email. This email will be sent to people that complete the confirmation email, and should be the first email they receive. Most list builders use this email to welcome new members and let them know what to expect from future emails.
  6. Perform the next step of filling out the web form information, which will allow you to automatically imbed the email list web form on your site. You can choose from a variety of templates, and choose to have the template situated in your sidebar, or as a type of pop-up that is triggered when a visitor navigates to a certain page of your site. You can fully customize the form to fit your site.
  7. Paste the HTML for the web form anywhere you want it to appear on your site. Remember, you can create multiple boxes and any number of different emails to best fit the web form’s position on your site.

Once the web form is live on your site, you should begin to get sign-ups from your visitors (depending on how much traffic your website currently receives). If you aren’t getting the volume you’d like to see in your list, it might take some time. You can also promote the signup page through your social media profiles, or by including a link to the page when you write guest posts on other blogs.

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