People hate getting spam more than junk mail. For small businesses and nonprofits, though, this might be a good thing. The CAN-SPAM Act basically outlawed the sale of subscription lists, which means businesses should build subscriber lists by hand. What better way to get to know your customers than by getting in the weeds with them?
The best way to build your subscriber list is to provide an opt-in form for your website—some email service providers (ESPs) can even put forms on your Facebook page. Opt-in forms will build a list of people who want to hear from you. Be sure to plan your form well. Many enterprises are tempted to require extra information that might make prospects skittish; on the other hand, you want to be sure to collect enough information to personalize and automate your marketing. Each business is different, so each plan for yours.
An email form on your website doesn’t preclude adding subscribers manually, however (for example, you shouldn’t risk prompting someone who hands you a business card at a seminar or trade show to go to your opt-in form.) Even so, don’t buy a subscription list from anybody! Also don’t export your customer relations database (CRM) into your subscriber list—you are only asking for trouble down the road with your ESP. Your ESP has to keep their server reputations clean for the rest of their clients. If your campaign gets a lot of SPAM reports from people who didn’t opt-in, they can’t keep serving you at their other customers’ expense.
Be careful if you collect addresses from your point-of-sale (POS) systems. Be sure to include boilerplate that emphasizes permission to send marketing emails. Train your staff to use that language. Be sure to have documentation ready if your ESP challenges your subscription list.
Once you’ve managed to build a large, diverse subscriber list, you can start thinking about personalizing and automating your email marketing content. Personalization helps your prospects trust you, and were shown to lift transaction rates and revenue per email six times higher. In the same study, automated email responses to opt-in forms were shown to increase responses as well.
I have been directing email campaigns for businesses and non-profits for more than five years now. I built large lists from scratch for the automotive industry. Send me your RFP to get your email marketing started.