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How to get more people on your email list(s)* and keep them there longer

(* Yes, plural. See tip # 6)

You should already know that building a marketing list is an important part of growing your business, yet far too many businesses treat list development as an afterthought, or worse, ignore it completely.

Building a list has absolutely zero downside, and it allows you to:

  • Reduce costs. Emails are mostly free to send.
  • Test new offers and products fast. Before you spend marketing dollars on that newspaper ad offering “10% off this week only”, you can run the same offer to your list and learn that it’s a terrible offer before you waste your ad budget.
  • Control your reach. Think Facebook posts are free and that’s all you need to do? Think again. FB only shows your posts to a small subset of your followers and they sell ads too. Do you think they are going to help you market for no cost? No, they aren’t.
  • Build a relationship. Most marketing requires more than one attempt at getting that sale. Communicating over the long term helps build awareness, trust and tribe.

Why isn’t everyone doing it?
FUD. Fear. Uncertainty and Doubt.

  • Fear: businesses are often afraid they might offend or push people away by asking for a sale. Keep that up and you’re out of business.
  • Uncertainty: Not being sure how to email, how to follow-up or how to handle more business are all solvable problems that you can deal with when you actually have the problem. Just get started and worry about the fallout later.
  • Doubt: “This won’t work in my business”, “email marketing is dead”, “business email is spam and my business will get shut down”. All nonsense. Remember when they said that the Internet had made postal marketing obsolete?

Thirty years later, direct mail is still a billion-plus dollar industry and for good reason – it works. So does email.

The challenge is that nobody wants to be "on your list". Too many marketing emails, self-serving SMS messages and other badly-made marketing messages cause people to be increasingly contact-shy, which leads your target audience to engage less, use fake or unattended email addresses, or other behaviors designed to undermine your marketing efforts.

Because “drip-marketing”, the continual flow of marketing over time, is so effective, you want people to not only get on your list, but to stay on your list.

Here are some ideas on ways to get more people to opt-in to your lists and to keep them there longer.

1) Less is more

Capture less info than you want.

It is proven that signup rates decrease based on how much information you require at capture time. I know you want to know "everything" about your potential customers, but your signup form is not the place for it. In most instances, all you need is an email address, or maybe a phone number for some service-based businesses. 
Leveraging intelligent CRMs or marketing tools, can gather additional client information as the relationship develops.

2) Have a Compelling Offer

"Subscribe Now!". Ugh.  How many times have you seen that button? "Join our List". Yikes. 
I said it before, let me shout it: NOBODY WANTS TO BE ON YOUR LIST.
People need some compelling reason to agree to accept your marketing messages.
Offering something of value is a reliable and battle-tested method of getting people to willingly* part with their (supposedly) private information.(*See #4)
Offering some valuable information for free serves a dual purpose. Clearly, capturing their email address for follow-up marketing is a good thing; less obvious is that this is your chance to “strut your stuff”, and let people get a feel for who you are or to anticipate what it might be like to work with you directly.
The key takeaway should be that you have to lead with your best information, not some obvious clickbait that they’ve seen dozens of times before, and usually for free. 
Other “lead magnets” might be a legitimate newsletter subscription or a giveaway - it's different for each business and often you have to just experiment and see what gets the best results.

3) Easy on, easy off

Make it as easy as possible for people to get on your list AND off of it. Single-click signups, "join with FB/Google" options, "Click to unsubscribe", etc.
In your communications, make it one-click easy for people to stop your marketing emails. While that may seem counterproductive, your goal should be a happy list, not an annoyed one.

4) Don't be a Stealth Bomber

Just because you grabbed someone's email for transactional purposes (order confirmations, shipping, etc) DOES NOT mean they should be automatically added to your marketing emails.
It's fine to ask though, and along with *every email address you acquire, it's fine to redirect them to your Compelling Offer (#2 above)
This doesn't mean you should never email a customer again just because they aren't on your main marketing list, but a list that has said “yes” once, is more likely to say “yes” in the future, and less likely to flag your emails as spam.

5) If you hate it, they do too

Think about all the annoying and intrusive marketing junk you've received over the years. How much joy has that brought you? 
A few questions to consider are:
“Is this email all about me just trying to make more money?”.  People see right through naked cash grabs. “Me, me, me” emails are tedious and show a genuine lack of interest in your customers.
“Is this email bringing value to my readers?” Is your “3 Great TIps to look Fab at the Beach” email nothing more than a post about eating less, going to the gym and using sunscreen, followed by a link to your latest swimsuit line? 
A good rule of thumb here is, "if it bugs me, it'll bug my customers." Keep that in mind whenever you are considering stuffing your lists with questionable emails and you'll be on your way to building - and converting – the right kind of list.

6) One list to rule them all?

Why multiple/segmented lists make more sense.

It may seem like your life would be easier if you could just send one big message to everyone and be done with it, but that’s rarely the case. A 50% offer to get new clients may be perfect, but you don’t want to effectively cut your prices in half for existing ones, right?

I’ll talk about multiple lists here, however if you have the proper CRM or mailing software, you can get the same effect via segmentation. That’s another topic but the concept is the same..
Remember that you should have at a minimum two distinct lists/segments. In a nutshell, they are 

  • People who know you 
  • People who don't

Each group should see different offers, different updates, different blog posts and frequently different prices. You can’t cover both groups with your basic ad in the local Pennysaver

It’s a lot, we know

Nobody said this would be easy, and there are a lot of moving parts to get right. The good news is that you don’t have to get everything perfect to get results. Take these ideas one at a time and just get started.

About the Author(s)

David Marlowe

For small business - especially startups - marketing presents unique challenges. I can help you build a proper foundation while not overspending and also point you to things that matter not distract.

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