It’s amazing how few people consider their email database to be their most important business asset. Though businesses come and go, if you treat your customers and peers and colleagues and competitors and friends as an important relationship, you always have something. When money comes and goes, it’s the relationships that will help you find the next opportunity.
Here are some thoughts on building email lists and keeping them valuable:
Ask All the Time
Always be growing. Make sure you ask at every turn for people to subscribe for free to your email newsletter. Put it in the signature file of your email. Ask every time you make a sale. Make that the ask you put forth at social gatherings. Put it on your business cards instead of the other 300 links you seem to think you need. Ask all the time. If your list provides value to people, don’t be shy on asking.
That said, never EVER add someone to your list without them opting in. Just because you have my email address, it doesn’t mean you’ve got my permission to add me to your database. This is a KEY value and is VERY important, and if I could highlight this entire part of the post yellow, I would. Please take this to heart. Adding people without asking violates the canned spam law, for one thing, but it’s scummy and ingenue, and it won’t get you a buyer.
Deliver More Value Than You Ask For In Return
Where most newsletters go wrong is that they are often just glorified product catalogs. If you’re writing only about your products, if you’re bragging about your services, if you’re just talking about your own offerings, you’re missing a great opportunity. The more value you can give to other people (and by value, I mean information or ideas that they can use whether or not they buy your products and services), the more yield you will get from your list.
For instance, if you sell pool supplies, write often about ways to do more with your pool. Write about non-commercial tips on improving your pool’s quality. If you sell legal services, give people pointers to stories that might help people make better decisions. Sometimes, and you can set the frequency, don’t even ask your readers for anything except the amount of time it takes them to read the newsletter. Want to stun people? Stop beating them over the head with sales requests every time you send mail.
The shorter your email, the more likely it’ll be read in its entirety. Think about it. You don’t have time to read 1,000 words, do you? Why give people 1,000-2,000 words when they can’t manage it? Look at the most successful commercial email marketers right now, and they’re writing no more than 500 words in a message.
Make Your Ask Clear and More Than Once
If you do have something to ask, then don’t mince it. Just ask. And if you want better success, make the call to action at the TOP of the email as well as at the bottom. Be very clear on what you want. “I’m asking you to buy our new version of software, because I know it’s going to change how you do business.” And then, after you’ve explained why (briefly!), ask again at the end. In the first ask, I’d put a link to the purchase opportunity, just as much as I’d add a button or link at the bottom as well.
The main point here is not to waffle. If you want someone to buy something, just ask. Be honest and genuine about it. It helps.
Ask for Referrals
Don’t be afraid to ask your existing list to refer you to more people who might benefit from what you’re doing. If someone’s enjoying your email newsletter, or finding it useful, make it easy to share. My email service provider, Blue Sky Factory, even adds social sharing buttons at the bottom of every mail I send, so that people can share with their Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other community. But even if you ask within the body of the letter, you’re getting to the point I think will be useful.
Okay, I know this is crazy, but it’s also very valuable. Be sure to invite people to unsubscribe from time to time. The reason, as you might have guessed, is that a committed list is much better than a list that’s just hanging on for no good reason. It’s far better to know who might make a good prospect than to think you’ve got a fat, happy list. I say invite unsubscriptions. It’s up to you to fight with me in the comments section on this one.
Your Mileage Will Vary
Your list will be different than mine. It’ll explain what it wants, either by unsubscribing in droves, or by taking action when you write things in a way that makes the best return. Realize that it will take testing and old fashioned asking to know what your list wants most. But the more time and effort and attention you give to your list, the more wealth you’ll get back from this effort. Try it. What’s the worst that will happen?
Chris Brogan is president of Human Business Works, an online education and community company. His newsletter about personal development and business growth is here. He’d love it if you subscribed.