Email Marketing Guide

2. How to Build an Email List to Market Your Business

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Small Business Marketing

How to Build an Email List to Market Your Business

Jul 07, 2023 • 10+ min read
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      As a small business owner wearing many hats, you often have to juggle multiple responsibilities and tasks at once.

      To help your business grow, it’s all about making the most of your limited time and resources and finding the solutions with the best returns. There are countless options for marketing strategies, but the most efficient option is relatively simple yet powerful: an email list. 

      For small business owners, your list is your livelihood. Think of it as your modern-day Rolodex or a collection of people interested in your business, either current or potential customers.

      Even better, you are in complete control of your email list. Website rankings or social media algorithms can change, but owning your email list gives you the power to connect with and market your business directly to customers. In today’s world of constant connectivity, being able to cut through the noise with direct communication is invaluable. 

      Your email list is one of your most powerful resources. Take control of it and make building and growing it a top business priority.

      Why an Email List?

      Amid all the flashy marketing and new technology modern customers face, an email list may seem slightly outdated. But even with advancements and changes, countless businesses stick with their email list because of their simplicity and effectiveness. Social media channels may grow or fade, but email lasts. And even as customers move their physical addresses, most stick with the same email addresses. 

      In that way, an email list is a way to stay connected and control your direct marketing.

      Email lists are also proven marketing powerhouses. 80% of business owners say email marketing increases their customer retention. And on the customer side, 59% say marketing emails influence their purchasing decisions. Clearly, customers are paying attention to email marketing, which can lead to big returns for businesses. 

      And then there’s the strong ROI. Many other direct marketing efforts—like direct mail or pay-per-click advertising—are expensive. Email marketing is cost-effective and has a proven track record of getting results. For every $1 spent on email marketing, the average return is a staggering $42. Compare that to 22:1 ratio for SEO marketing or a paltry 2:1 for pay-per-click website ads, and it’s clear to see that email marketing reigns supreme. 

      Those are returns you won’t see on any other channel, especially one accessible to businesses of all sizes and industries.

      Algorithms change, and search engine rankings can move, but an email list that you own gives you complete control to market your business directly to customers with an authentic brand voice.

      You don’t have to work in the tech space or have a certain amount of revenue to grow an email list. That’s the beauty of it—even grassroots, in-person efforts can help any business, anywhere, grow an impressive email list. But it doesn’t happen by chance. It needs to be a top business priority.

      Building Your List

      Building a strong email list takes time and perseverance. There are two primary methods for growing a list: online or offline. Online efforts can reach a wider audience, but in-person or offline methods can grow personal connections to local, interested customers. 

      There isn’t one guaranteed method for building an email list. Many businesses utilize a combination of approaches, depending on their budget, resources, and the needs and interests of their customers and community.

      Let’s look at some of the most common and impactful methods. 

      Online Lead Generation  

      Businesses of all sizes can benefit from sharing their message online to foster leads for their email list. This method is common for larger or digital companies, but can also play a role for smaller brick-and-mortar companies. 

      Especially online, people don’t generally give their information away freely. They want to get something beneficial in return. Depending on your business, that could be a discount, free product, exclusive content, or something else.

      Offering discounts can cut into the bottom line, but sharing knowledge and content is inexpensive. What insights, knowledge, or resources could you share with customers? What would entice them to sign up and share their information? With creativity, you can create unique content that resonates with potential customers. 

      Some examples include the following:

      • A small boutique can create a guide to local attractions, such as date night spots, local hikes, or the best views of the city.
      • A clothing store can offer a style and fit guide to help customers know how to dress their bodies in the most flattering way.
      • A healthcare company can provide patients with healthy recipes, easy at-home exercises, or a chart to track their vitamin intake.
      • A restaurant can share online cooking classes, a printed guide to picking the best meat or produce, or a chart of when certain items are in season.
      • A construction company can compile a list of local contractors or steps to take for DIY projects.

      No matter what you create, make it scalable. If you create a PDF document or video, you can easily share it with every customer who gives you their email without any additional work past the initial creation.

      Content creation can power impressive email list growth. It all comes down to knowing your customers and delivering unique content that matters to them. For instance, an online thought leader creates short PDFs every quarter that highlight industry trends. Sharing a link to this PDF on social media channels and in-person events brings in thousands of emails because people want access to exclusive free content. Within a year of following this strategy, she had more than 10,000 engaged potential customers on her email list.

      It’s important to remember that lead generation doesn’t have to happen solely online. Smaller businesses that thrive with in-person relationships can leverage that human connection to gather an impressive email list. Don’t think of your size as a deterrent; consider it a benefit that can set your business apart.

      Collecting Emails at Point Of Sale

      One of the easiest in-person ways to gather emails is to simply ask for them at the point of sale. As a customer makes an appointment, makes a purchase, or asks a question, ask them to provide their email address. 

      You’ve already done the hard work of getting them into the store; don’t let them walk out without giving you a way to contact them again. Customers can ignore or scroll past a social media post or billboard, but it’s harder for them to say no to someone standing before them.

      Aside from simply asking at the point of sale, you can also connect email addresses to further connections with the business. This tactic goes back to the rule of thumb of providing a resource in exchange for gathering personal data. Consider asking if customers want to provide their email addresses for any of the following reasons:

      • If they want to be notified when a specific item is in stock
      • If they want to know when new items arrive
      • If they want to be the first to sign up when you open bookings for the next quarter
      • If they want to receive a form to send feedback or suggestions
      • If they want to be invited to an exclusive sale

      Make it easy for customers to provide their information securely, such as an iPad near the point of sale where they can submit their email to a form, or have employees enter it directly into their computer. People are more likely to share information when they know it is secure, as opposed to writing it down where it could fall into anyone’s hands. 

      Loyalty Programs

      No matter the industry, few customers can resist a good loyalty program. Who wouldn’t want the chance to earn discounts or freebies for a business they already visit? Loyalty programs can also bring in new customers because they show there’s value to be found. 

      Emails gathered through loyalty programs are valuable because they show customers are interested in creating a long-term relationship. 

      To start, establish the outline of your loyalty program. In its most basic form, this includes asking two questions:

      1. What customer action is tied to loyalty? It could be spending a certain amount of money, filling a punch card with a certain number of products, visiting the store each month, or a variety of other actions that reflect their shopping or spending habits.
      2. What do they get in return? A loyal program provides some kind of reward. Customers may earn a free or discounted item after reaching a spending threshold; be invited to exclusive events or to shop sales early; or get discounts, company swag, or easier access.

      The loyalty and reward will vary depending on the industry, size, and budget of your business. What matters most is that the loyalty program is enticing to customers and sustainable. Customers won’t want to sign up and give their email addresses if they aren’t interested in the reward or if the threshold for loyalty is unattainable. 

      To gather email addresses for loyalty programs, make sure the sign-up process is easy and provides an exclusive welcome benefit, such as a discount, event, or content. Ask guests to sign up as they pay the bill, place QR code signage around the store or restaurant that links straight to the sign-up page, and post about the loyalty program on social media.

      Discount Code Opt-ins

      Everyone loves a discount, especially in an unstable economy. Many customers are willing to provide their email addresses in exchange for a discount code or exclusive sale. The discount doesn’t have to be very big, but there’s a psychological drive for customers to save as much money as possible. 

      A discount code doesn’t necessarily connect with a loyalty program, but is often a one-time deal for signing up for emails.

      Cowboy Chicken, a restaurant chain across Texas and Oklahoma, invites customers to sign up for the Campfire Club. Members receive a monthly email with discounts, coupons, and restaurant updates. New customers are incentivized to sign up to receive a free peach cobbler dessert. Offering a relatively low-cost free item or a discount can incentivize customers to provide their email addresses.

      Collecting Business Cards

      A classic but effective way of building an email list is to physically collect business cards. Many small businesses and restaurants run regular drawings or contests, with entry coming from placing a business card in a bowl or box.

      Collecting business cards is effective because of its simplicity. It doesn’t require customers to write anything down—all they have to do is put their business card in a bowl for a chance to win. A business card drawing also builds community and connects customers to the business. It goes from being a place they once visited to somewhere they have a memorable experience. 

      For best results and to gather the most email addresses, be transparent about the drawing. Clearly state when the drawing occurs (weekly, monthly, etc.) and the prize (discount, free services, a free meal, etc.). The more information you provide, the more likely people are to enter. On any signage, be sure to state that customers will be added to your email list—the last thing you want are angry customers feeling they were spammed. 

      When it’s time for the drawing, collect the email addresses from the business cards and add them to your list. Follow through with the winner and share the results as you run another drawing.  

      About the author
      Michelle Kaiser

      Michelle is a writer, editor and communications professional with a degree in public relations.

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