(This is the third article in my Online business basics series. You can find links to the other posts in the series on this page: Online business basics)
A mailing list is an essential tool in business, yet many new online business owners don’t have one. So why is a mailing list so important and how can you start your own?
Why a mailing list is so important
A mailing list is crucial because most people aren’t willing to get out their credit card the first time they hear about you. Instead, they prefer to get to know you and your content bit by bit over time. As they get to know you, realise you’re good at what you do and that you can help them, they’ll be willing to dig out their credit cards and make a purchase.
A mailing list allows you to stay in touch with people after they’ve left your website, to show them you’re an expert and to keep them updated with what you have to offer.
Setting up your mailing list
The first step is to sign up to a mailing service provider. There are many services, such as Aweber or Mailchimp. It’s far better to use one of these services than just sending out mail from your email application (e.g. Outlook) for several reasons: 1) when servers see bulk emails coming from one address they often assume you’re a spammer so you email may not be delivered, 2) it’s difficult to manage mailing lists this way and 3) you can’t set up autoresponders – more on these below.
There are two main ways of sending out emails to your list. The first is a broadcast email: this is an email that’s sent out to all of your list at the same time, for example a monthly newsletter. This can be scheduled to be sent at a certain date or time or you can just click ‘send’ whenever you’re ready. The second is an autoresponder, which is sent to list members automatically at certain time intervals. For example, you might create an e-course by setting an autoresponder to send emails 2, 4, 6 and 8 days after each person signs up to your mailing list.
Broadcast emails are good for sending your list news and updates. Autoresponders are good for information that won’t go out of date quickly. You can use either or both types of with your mailing list. I use both with my Business Plus Baby mailing list: I have a few autoresponders that are sent in the couple of weeks after you sign up to show you around Business Plus Baby and I send regular news broadcasts too.
If you have a shopping card system, you may already have a built in autoresponder, so it’s worth checking that out before you sign up to a new mailing service.
Getting people to sign up
The best way to do this is to have your newsletter on the front page (and possibly even every page?) of your website. Make it clear what your readers what they’ll get by signing up to your newsletter (updates, discounts, a free e-book…) and keep the sign-up form short. In the last few years people have become less willing to hand over their email addresses – probably because they are wary of spam. Your chances of getting people to sign up will be greatly increased if you offer them a freebie that is of real value to them. For the best results, you need to approach your newsletter sign-up process in the same way as a product you charge money for. Just because it’s free, doesn’t mean that people will ‘buy’ it easily!
Also, try to keep the language you use friendly and welcoming – ask people to ‘join’ rather than ‘subscribe’, for example.
Some internet marketing experts say that they have more success if they don’t use the word ‘newsletter’ at all. Well, the words ‘monthly newsletter’ are pretty boring! So you could try calling your mailing something like ‘the insider’ or anything else that makes it more engaging.
How often do you send your newsletter?
In general, anywhere from once a week to once a month is about right. It can depend on your subject – if it’s fast-moving and news-driven then more frequent could be better. It’s important to be consistent, too. That because it suggests to your customers that you’re organised and reliable. Plus if someone signs up to your list and doesn’t hear from you for three months, the chances are they will have forgotten who you are and may report you as a spammer! This is one of the reasons I set autoresponders to go out in the first few weeks after someone signs up to my list. If the worst happens and I don’t send a mailing for a while, at least new people on my list will know who I am when I do email them!
Building a Relationship
There are several different ingredients that make up any relationship and mailing lists are no different. Trust is essential and that’s why it’s important to do everything you can to avoid looking like a spammer. Your mailing list members will also want to trust you to send them useful or interesting information. So think about what your audience expects from you (How to articles? Up-to-the-minute news? The latest bargains or trends?) and deliver that to them consistently.
Getting the balance between ‘sales messages’ and ‘non-sales content’ can be tough and you’ll probably need to experiment with this. The experts all have different opinions, but I found a good starting point was 90% non-sales to 10% sales messages. So if you’re setting up an autoresponder, 9 of your 10 emails could be pure information and your tenth could ask the recipient to buy something. Or around 90% of your monthly newsletter could be ‘how to’ information and 10% could be sales messages.
Something else to consider is the subject of your email. If it’s full of capitals and word like ‘FREE!’ and ‘BUY NOW!!!’ it’ll probably be a turn-off for your readers – that’s assuming it even gets through their spam filters! It’s best to keep your subject as a description of what’s in the email, but try to make it interesting or intriguing. Think of your subject as a headline – not easy to get it right, but it gets easier with practice.
The best way to ensure your email is opened is to build a relationship with your readers, so that they know when they get an email from you that they’re in for a treat. That way they will be looking out for your newsletter (or whatever you decide to call it!) because they don’t want to miss anything you send them.
Here’s the link if you’d like to take a look at my own mailing list! 🙂 Sign up and I’ll send you copy of my e-book Running a business around a family: 9 steps to success.
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