In the last blog I wrote, I discussed the benefits of email marketing. However, even once you see those benefits clearly, you might ask a natural follow-up: how do I create an email list?

That is a great question that just about all businesses in the early stages of digital marketing efforts would ask. Possibly, the question would be asked with some trepidation, but fear not.

Though it may seem really challenging to create a list of email addresses, it isn’t. It may take a little bit of time and patience. However, if you follow some best practices, you’ll soon have an email list with real people reading and using your content! And if you play your cards right, there will be people on your mailing list that look forward to your emails!

Before I share the best practices for a highly engaged email list, I must warn you. There is a shortcut that is full of pitfalls and thorns: the path of buying or renting an email list.

Why Buying or Renting an Email List Is Not Worth It

Buying or renting an email list seems like a no-brainer. It seems easy, too.

If you find yourself reading a seller’s website or listening to a sales pitch, the deal feels even more irresistible. You put down some money, and you are promised a list of email addresses instantly. You will send your emails to these lists and sales will skyrocket, paying back your investment ten times over.  Right?

Unfortunately, no.

Indeed, when you buy an email list or rent an email list, it almost always ends up hurting your business, not helping it. A quick look at all the ways a purchased email list can end up not registering well with your customers helps to demonstrate why this method rarely works.

The Hurdles of Sending an Unwanted Email to a Bought or Rented List

  • Your email marketing software usually won’t send emails unless the customer has opted in.
  • If your email does send, you have broken the law in many jurisdictions, especially in Europe, where recipients must give “informed” and “unambiguous” consent.
  • Your email may not go to email addresses that are checked regularly. (Even though the company from which you bought or rented the mailing list claims all the addresses are real, the company may not tell the truth. Besides, even if the email address is real, that doesn’t mean someone is actually checking it often.)
  • Pretend the email does send, and it does go to a regularly-used email address. It may well be put into a spam folder, either by the email program or by the recipient.
  • If your email does get sent, and it goes to a regularly-used email address, and it winds up in the recipient’s inbox instead of their spam folder…they are likely so annoyed by an unwanted email that they delete it. And they associate your company with shady tactics and all kinds of other unpleasant feelings.

As you can see, that is an awful lot of hurdles to clear for your email to be a success.

Your Investment, Then, Becomes Worthless

In short, if you buy an email list or rent an email list, all the benefits of email marketing disappear. So, instead of the 300% ROI you dream of, you are lucky if you make your money back.

But what can you do instead? How can you create an email list that you know will not only go to real people, but will go to engaged consumers?

You can employ several best practices to get a free email list for marketing that is highly effective and drives revenue. However, all these best practices hinge upon one key point, which I will cover in the next section.

Start By Offering Something to the Customer for Giving Their Email Address

The way to build your email list for free is simple. You ask people to give your company their email address, and they do.

Why would anyone give you or your company their email address? Simple: you give them something in return!

What you give them may depend on if they are established customers or potential customers.

Established Customers

One very simple technique for acquiring email addresses is to ask customers to supply an email address at checkout. Most of the time, they will. Indeed, often their internet browser will fill the field in for them automatically.

You could even make email a required field at checkout. However, I wouldn’t suggest that because there are still some people who don’t have email. Many more just don’t want to supply one. You don’t want to alienate those customers.

Great, you have their email address! Does that mean you can instantly send them a ton of marketing materials? No – if they are from the EU, they need to opt in to receiving marketing emails. And in general, it’s just nice to get permission before sending marketing!

Prospective Customers

What you specifically choose to give people who aren’t customers yet depends, of course, on your business. However, what companies give someone for adding their email address to the list almost always falls in one of these three categories:

1. A Free Helpful Resource

If you choose this method, you give potential customers electronic content that is related to your industry. You want it to be high-quality content. Indeed, hopefully the customer would be surprised that it’s free; they will consider the free resource a great deal. This content could be in the form of a manual, a how-to guide, an e-book, a thought leadership piece, a webinar, an infographic, a subscription to a blog, a helpful tool, or more. Really, a lot of different digital products can help you connect with customers.

For example, an interior decorating company could send a booklet with 5 DIY tips. Or, the same company could send an article that reveals the latest trends in office furniture. Finally, the company could have a tool that allows people to upload a picture and identify a paint color along with complementary colors.

Yes, these resources could detract from the company’s revenue in the short-term. However, it sets that company up as a trusted source later, especially since the logo and contact information is prominently featured. Plus, of course, the only way for the customer to receive the electronic resource is to give a valid email address—which the company then adds to the list.

2. Exclusive Deals

This one is fairly self-explanatory and is the same as what you might give established customers. Give prospective consumers coupons or discounts they won’t get any other way besides giving you their email address.

3. Entry into a Contest

The reward for someone giving you their email address in this case is that they can win something. However, one note of caution with this method is that you don’t want to give away something that is completely unrelated to your business. For example, a roofing business that is randomly giving away a new iPhone feels very gimmicky and almost like a bribe. It can work in the short-term to get email addresses. Yet, those customers likely won’t convert to a lot of revenue. Honestly, they will likely unsubscribe from your list quickly. However, a roofing company that gives away a free gutter replacement should get people who enter who could convert to customers.

Other Best Practices When Creating Your Free List for Email Marketing

Again, deciding what you are going to give people for supplying their email address is a crucial first step to creating an email addresses list. However, there are several other elements you need to consider while creating and maintaining your email list.

How To Let People Know Why They Should Be on Your Email List

Of course, it doesn’t do you much good to have some amazing content to give potential customers if they have no idea it’s out there. There are several ways you can get the word out:

  • Feature the giveaway prominently on your website. Have a clear call to action (e.g., “Enter Your Email in the Box to Receive _______”). Many companies choose to have this CTA appear as a pop-up after users have been browsing a page on the site for 5-20 seconds or when the user goes to exit. However, others will put the CTA somewhere directly on the website instead. (Note, this example helps show the value of a great website for your business.)
  • Use ads that can be targeted to your most likely customers. Of course, the most highly-targeted advertising that you can do is through social media or through search engines. However, there are other methods you can use as well. For example, you can place ads on streaming music services, ads on tangentially related websites, etc. Notice that the methods I have listed are electronic forms of advertising. When you are targeting email addresses, it makes the most sense to use electronic forms of communication to advertise.
  • Add a subscribe feature to your blogs. That way, customers who enjoy your content can sign up to receive alerts when you send out a new post (which they will be hankering to read if you follow our best tips for blog writing). And of course, you get to add that address to your email list.

Consumers Need to Have the Ability to Opt Out

In many jurisdictions, this advice isn’t just best practice: it’s the law. However, even when it isn’t legally required, giving customers this power is the best route. Yes, you may lose some addresses from your email list. But the ones that remain will be attached to consumers who are far more engaged. They have chosen to receive emails from your company.

One great middle ground you should also offer consumers is the right to choose which types of emails they want to receive from your company. Some customers may choose to receive certain types of emails from you rather than unsubscribe completely.

Every Email You Send Should Continue to Add Value for the Consumer

Getting customers or potential customers to give you their email address is only the first part of a thriving, successful email list.  If the content you send out is not valuable, consumers will hit that unsubscribe option I mentioned above.

My next blog post will be devoted to the types of emails you can send out. In the meantime, here are a few ideas for emails you can send consistently that consumers find helpful.

  • Newsletters that feature updates on new products/services
  • Free tips (e.g., a tutoring company could send out a math concept once a week or a nursery could send out plant care tips)
  • Messages that match your brand (e.g., a company that helps with the job search process sends out “Motivational Monday” messages to keep encouraging job seekers)
  • Coupons, discounts, exclusive deals – indeed, 44% of customers will look through their email to find a discount when shopping online!

Final Step: Watch Your Revenue Soar

If you follow these tips, you should pretty quickly amass an email list that helps you build an engaged, loyal customer base. You are virtually guaranteed a positive ROI. After all, while you may be paying a digital marketing agency like May Dream Design to help you craft powerful messaging, you will have created a free email list for marketing your company.

No wonder email campaigns see a median ROI of 122%!

Yes, these methods require a bit more patience than buying an email list or renting an email list. But in the long run, you will find your business in a significantly better spot.

Bottom line: With email lists, as with most aspects of business, a little bit of thoughtful strategy is going to give you huge returns.