The basics of building an email list

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Derek Halpern from Social Triggers says, quite forthrightly, “if you’re not building an email list, you’re an idiot”. Curses aside, it’s hard to disagree with him. It’s also true that you can never have more customers than you have names on a list.

I believe that these two statements go hand in hand, because the number of customers you have will always represent a percentage of your total contact list with whom you’re maintaining regular contact. Needless to say, if you work it in the right way, increasing the size of your list with quality people will increase the number of quality customers you have.

A big mistake that I see a lot of businesses making is not sending campaigns because their list hasn’t hit a critical mass yet. That’s a sure fire way to spend your life talking about using email marketing but never actually getting around to doing it! Whether you have 10, 100 or 10,000 people on your list, the time to start is now.

In this article, I’ll cover some ways in which you can build your email list. Some are more straightforward than others, but all of them have been proven both in my business and those of other companies around the world, to be successful in growing lists.

Golden rules

Whichever list-building methods you use, there are a number of generalised principles which will ensure that:

  • you get the right people on your list in the first place
  • people want to be on your list!
  • people know what to expect from you in future communications
  • you get as many of the right kind of person on your list as possible
  • you get the best results

By following these simple guidelines, you’ll build a list that will become a really powerful asset for your business.

Make the benefits clear

To grow your list, people have to want to be there and they have to want to hear from you regularly. To make that happen, you have to give them a compelling reason why they should be a part of it.

“Sign up to our newsletter” just isn’t enough nowadays, and yet it’s a very common element included on business websites. Unless your brand is strong and recognised enough, and your customer base is large enough, “sign up to our newsletter” is unlikely to be a big enough incentive for someone to give you their name and email address. People just don’t care enough about receiving your newsletter, possibly due to their preconceptions of what most businesses include in a newsletter: useless information.

Remember, their email address is valuable to them, because they more than likely already receive a number of promotional emails from businesses, some perhaps even in your industry. You’re fighting for the right to be included in an already busy inbox.

However, if you explain at the point of sign-up, whether on a website, a feedback form, an order form or in person, exactly why they should be on your list, you can start the process of turning a sceptic into someone who genuinely looks forward to receiving what you send them.

Use the following examples as inspiration for creating your own:

“Enter your email address below to receive our weekly email, packed with simple tips you can use to grow your business quickly.”

“Pop your details into the form above, and I’ll send you our monthly update containing the industry’s best home insurance offers before they even hit the press!”

“If you’d like a copy of our ‘Seven Steps to Contentment’ audiobook, enter your email address in the box above and you’ll also receive my fortnightly wellness advice by email.”

Ask for the minimum information needed

When asking people to join your list, you should bear in mind that they probably have a million things to do that day, and that signing up to receive emails from you falls pretty low on their list of priorities. The two things we can do to move it as high up their list as possible are:

  • Provide a compelling reason to do so, as described above
  • Make it as easy as possible to sign up

The information that you really need might vary depending on your industry, but we’re looking to remove any potential barriers that might prevent someone from entering their details. If you sell insurance, you might need to know whether a person is in the market for domestic or business insurance. A personal trainer might wish to tailor the emails they send, splitting subscribers into two groups: people who are looking to lose weight and people who are aiming to be fitter or more toned.

That’s all useful information to know if you’re prepared to do something with it. When deciding what information to collect, consider how you’re going to use it, and whether it’s genuinely useful to know. If you’re unsure, scrap it. The minimum you need is a name and an email address. That’s all.

This is also the reason why I prefer single opt-in over double opt-in. We have to remove the barriers that will prevent a person from joining our list.

Manage expectations

Making it plainly clear what you’ll be sending and how frequently will help you to keep your subscribers happy and, more importantly, will keep them on your list.

The flip side of managing expectations is actually doing what you’ve said you’re going to do. If you’ve said that you’re going to send a monthly email containing tips on how to build your business, or a weekly email with health and fitness advice, then that’s exactly what you need to do – the content you promised, with the frequency you promised.

Combined, doing this in the right way will mean that there is less chance of people unsubscribing from your list or marking your emails as spam. It’s far easier to build a list where you’re keeping the existing subscribers than it is to plug the gaps of those that are leaving.

Have a procedure!

I can’t emphasise the importance of this enough. If you want the best results, then list-building is not something that can be done just once – it’s a constant process that should be integrated into every part of your business. Mentioning to your sales team that you want to collect email addresses from new prospects or customers just won’t cut it, but holding them accountable to following a process or script on how how they can do it effectively will help you to generate a good quality list which grows steadily with every person they interact with.

Nathan Littleton

Nathan Littleton

Nathan is a marketer, professional speaker and author who specialises in helping businesses to grow by attracting and winning more customers.

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