your email

Your email is a small business lifeline—but you need to have a solid database in order to maximize ROI.

By Kayleigh Toyra

Ideally, a business will start building up email contacts before it even begins to operate, and establish a valuable list of addresses by the time it’s up & running.

Customer and subscriber data can be leveraged to set up targeted email marketing, carry out surveys, and keep customers updated about everything that’s happening with the company. In essence, it’s a direct line to your customers.

But that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes email marketing is overlooked or misunderstood, and all that information goes uncollected for years. So what happens when there’s a shift in perspective and a company suddenly wants to make the most of the marketing power of email?

Well, for a start, there’s no need to even think about buying any email contacts. Despite what you may think, it’s entirely possible to build up your own high-performing email list, even if it should in theory have been started years ago. Here’s how you can do it:

Decide Your Target Audience

You’ve probably heard of the GIGO adage: garbage in, garbage out. Well, it certainly applies to building up an email list. Every email address on your list should offer meaningful value and at the very least have some kind of proxy association with whatever it is you’re marketing, so you should note down what contacts you’re looking to make and seek to work towards them with your overall strategy.

If you go about things the wrong way and end up with various questionably useful emails in your list, it will undermine the entire thing. This isn’t to say that every email on the list should be of exactly the same type — provided you tag things properly, you can segment the list when necessary to target different niches. It just means that more doesn’t mean better.

Don’t add clutter in the first place, and you won’t need to clear it out later when you realize that only 0.5% of your emails are actually being opened.

The less engaged your email list, the more likely your emails will annoy people — and even see you as spam. So don’t rush out and try to cram everyone in just because you feel pressured to market via email — do it right so that you only have to do it once.

Identify Your Best Incentive

The average user won’t just hand over their contact details for nothing, especially in this time of data leaks and tightening regulations. They need an exchange of value, and they want something pretty good to justify letting you into their inbox, so you’ll need to work out what you can offer them as a compelling incentive.

Since your company has been around a while, you will probably have built up some internal training documents, and possibly even some blog posts relevant to your industry. If that’s the case, you can try collating that content and reworking it into an in-depth resource you can offer in exchange for that all-important email address.

You can also get some excellent ideas from thinking about times you’ve given out your own email address and reflecting on what persuaded you in those cases. Free software trials? Free ebooks? Discounts? And how were the offers worded? Can you create a powerful email sequence to support your free asset and encourage customer success?

If you don’t think you have anything worth offering right now, you’ll need to develop something totally new. Don’t worry too much about the cost of starting from scratch — if the finished product is good enough, it’ll repay that investment through signups soon enough.

Choose an Email Service

Even if you don’t use it to store your email list (that can be in any kind of spreadsheet), you’ll need an email service provider (ESP) to handle all the technical elements of creating, sending, testing and optimizing your email campaigns.

Since you don’t have an email list yet, you probably don’t have an ESP— or, if you do, you have signed up for it but never actually used it. That’s why it’s best to consider your requirements as they are now and approach the matter with a clean slate.

ESPs vary by features, interfaces, pricing structures, and support structures. You can read reviews, watch service demos, and use trials if you wish. While some ESPs have free plans, I wouldn’t advise relying on them, because you’ll typically run up against disabled features or harsh sending limits.

You may want to give an email newcomer like Moosend a try. It’s a relatively new addition to the email marketing scene, but all its pricing tiers offer all the features of the full platform. Your mileage may vary though, and there are plenty of other email options you could investigate. You may also find that you need chatbots to supplement your email efforts. If you’re in the ecommerce or SaaS business, chatbots are highly recommended.

Provide Opt-In Opportunities

Having picked out a suitable ESP, you’ll need to start thinking about when, where and how you’re going to offer that incentive you chose earlier, because how you offer that value is about as important as the value itself.

Your email service should have the facility to set up an opt-in form that you can use in your emails or add to your website. Aim to ask for only as much information as you feel you absolutely need, typically an email address and possibly (though not necessarily) a name. The more information you request, the more hesitant a user will be to provide it, so tread lightly.

With your form created, deploy it wherever it seems like a good fit, stopping just sort of counterproductive saturation. Put it in appropriate places on your website and in your email templates, supported by useful text and visuals. If you already have any generic forms on your website (such as a contact form), you can replace or adapt them to also bring in addresses.

And whatever you do, make sure the user gets the incentive after providing their details. You may already have their email address by that point, but how favorably do you think they’ll view your chirpy marketing emails if they feel hoodwinked?

Seek More Website Traffic

Now that you have everything configured to capture, store and target email contacts, it’s just a matter of getting as many relevant visitors as possible to your opt-in forms. Since email isn’t going to be the best growth option (emailing people to request their email details has limited effect), the goal for the foreseeable future should be to get more eyes on your website.

There are various ways in which you can go about doing this. Here are some good options:

  • Use PPC advertising
  • Write guest blogs
  • Optimize your website
  • Expand your content
  • Establish social media authority

The more traffic gets to your site, the more contacts you’ll gather, and the more widely your email marketing will reach. Keep doing good business and it won’t be very long before you’ve built up a strong and highly relevant email list.

If you’ve been in business for some time without establishing any email contacts, you haven’t missed your opportunity. Email lists need to be continually refreshed as old contacts become inactive and new users show interest, so the important thing is having the right gathering process. Sort that out, and you’ll be well on your way to having a strong array of high-value sales prospects.

Kayleigh Toyra is a content strategist and marketer currently based in Bristol. 

Email stock image by TierneyMJ/Shutterstock