Every successful business is even more efficient when they have a mailing list - and use it wisely to do email marketing. Having a mailing list is about more than just sending weekly newsletters; it’s about keeping track of your potential client base and making sure they know what’s on offer - so you get hired, they buy your product or read your blog posts.
For the sake of this article, we’ll talk about “clients” who “buy your product” - but they could be customers or readers, and your “product” could be a service, a digital or physical product (something you grew, or something you made), or your latest blog post.
Let’s start at the beginning now though…
If you’d prefer to watch a video on this rather than reading, check out the video below.
Email Marketing: What is a mailing list?
A mailing list is a list of email addresses that you’ve collected from your target audience - usually via your website, but you can also collect addresses offline. You can collect more information for your list, such as names, companies people work for, demographic or geographical data. You can use your list for several purposes, but it’s mostly used by businesses to send newsletters. Members of your email list are known as your “subscribers.”
Why do small businesses need a mailing list?
Your email list is your constant pool of “warm” clients. Imagine the whole of the internet as one big ocean. A small part of that ocean actually knows you - because they got something from you already, or maybe because they’re really interested in your product and you want to keep them up to date. If you get these people on your mailing list, nurture them and give them what they want, you’ll be the first on their mind when they actually need your product.
There are three main purposes for a mailing list:
Keep (prospective) customers “warm” (make sure they don’t forget about you), keep them up to date and interested in what you do
Teach people something
Why aren’t my social media accounts enough?
The first reason you need a mailing list on top of your social media accounts is that this database is the only one you really own. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter could decide to take your account down one day (or something may happen that makes you lose your followers); not so much with a mailing list, where you can easily keep a backup of your database.
Another reason you can’t just rely on social media is that you don’t reach all your followers with your posts. Or, you often reach people who are not your ideal audience and who’d never consider buying your product.
When you send out an email to your subscribers, you can be certain that the mail is going to sit in their inbox until it gets opened… or deleted, but even that requires action from your follower. At least, they’d have the chance to take a look at it!
Your social media accounts and your mailing list are not mutually exclusive and can work together well. You can use social media to get people to sign up to your mailing list and mention your social media in your newsletter, so people check that out as well.
One last (but not least) reason to get people on your email list is that they have a much higher conversion rate. People who are on your list and getting regular emails from you are more likely to buy your product. Even if they follow you on social media or are in touch with you directly, you’ll be able to plan a more efficient marketing campaign by sending emails.
Who should be on the email list?
When creating a mailing list and getting people to subscribe (see later), it’s important to keep in mind who should be on it. People on your mailing list should at least be potential clients. You’re looking for those who are members of your ideal target audience. To give you a few examples:
If you’re a blogger: people who read your blog. You can offer them exclusive content, early access or sneak peeks behind the scenes. Examples of this are our very own Dana of Piwakawaka Valley, Molly at Mommycoddle, or my own side project, Blogging Apprentice.
If you’re a virtual service provider/virtual assistant: your clients, former clients, potential clients (who may not need you right now), or people in your professional network who could help you promote your services. This especially works if you like to work with a specific type of client - you could send them information they want or need. If not, you can still let them know when you’ve got a special offer or a new service.
If you sell physical products: (a web shop, market garden, Etsy seller) - get your clients on there. If people purchased once and are happy with what they got, they will purchase again. You probably have plenty of examples of this in your inbox already - even if it’s just from Amazon or Etsy.
If you are a coach or online teacher: use your list to give people value and teach them little snippets, so they’ll want to learn more from you. Rachel Miller of Moolah Marketer is a good example of this, she doesn’t send out many emails, but she gives so much value (mostly links to great tools or informational videos) you feel the list is worth your while - even if you don’t subscribe to her course.
What is it you do? Drop it in the comments, and we’ll give you a few examples of how to create a mailing list for your ideal clients to connect with you.
How do I set up an email list?
Now you’re hopefully convinced that a mailing list would be a good thing for your business… next, how are you going to set it all up? Contrary to popular belief, it’s pretty simple.
When to set up your mailing list
The best time to set up a mailing list is before you even start your business. But if it’s too late for that, the second best time is now!
Having your mailing list set up before everything else has three main perks:
It gives you the chance to build your audience by showing off your area of expertise, so that when you do launch your business, you already have a pool of potential clients.
You’ll be able to keep people up to date on your launch - if they’re interested in what you (are going to do), you can keep them in the loop. To make sure you've got all the essential details covered for your launch - grab our 'Ultimate Launch Checklist' here.
You’ll be able to put sign-up forms on your website, in your social media profiles and anywhere else it could be useful
In other words, your list could grow automatically - even before you’ve got your business up and running. Sure, you may not have many people on it from the start; we’ll talk about how to grow your list later in this article.
Choosing your email service provider (ESP)
Dozens of companies offer to host your email marketing platform - they’re called email service providers or ESPs.
Here are just a few of them:
MailChimp is very popular as it’s free for up to 2000 subscribers - it’s not the easiest to learn though.
At the Farmish Collective, we’re working with MailerLite. It’s free for up to 1000 subscribers, easy to get started with and has more options available than MailChimp - and we love how they’re a small company with great customer service.
The sign-up process
Setting up the sign-up process is one important thing to get right before people join your list.
The forms you put on your website (or elsewhere) so people can sign up for your mailing list are extremely important. Do you get really excited when a website says “join our mailing list to get a weekly newsletter with lots of tips and tricks?” Neither do I. Every business has a mailing list, everyone likes to send out newsletters with tips and tricks - so what makes yours special? How would your ideal client benefit from getting the newsletter - and how can you convince them of that?
Make sure you put up forms in all the right places, (e.g., sidebars, footers, at the end of blog posts) so people can easily sign up and don’t need to go looking for information on how to do that. If you can, make a landing page specifically for your mailing list signup!
Privacy, Security, and GDPR
On May 25th, 2018, the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) a new law relating to data protection and privacy came into effect in the EU. However, it’s relevant for everyone using email marketing around the world, as if you have any subscribers in the EU, you need to make sure your business is GDPR-compliant.
The main implication for your mailing list is that people have to give active consent to be added to it. No more using a checkbox that’s ticked by default, sneakily adding people to a list after they download a freebie, or sending them emails because they happened to drop by your shop last year.
If you want more information about GDPR and what it means for your business, we are loving the resources lawyer Suzanne Dibble is providing.
Double opt-in and confirming the email address
You have probably heard of double opt-in. People who want to sign up to your mailing list can fill out and send a form - which triggers an email being sent to them, in which they have to confirm that they really want to receive that newsletter (and that yes, this email address is correct).
While single opt-in (where people are subscribed as soon as they send out the signup form) is easier from the point of view of your followers, we would still favour double opt-in for the following reasons:
You want subscribers who really want to get your newsletters - even if that means clicking an extra button.
It makes sure the email address is correct, and that your emails won’t end up in the junk mailbox.
Thank you - landing page
Once people have signed up to the mailing list, of course, you should thank them for it.
There are three ways to provide such a thank you page:
You can have an automated thank you page generated by your Email Service Provider (ESP)
Many ESPs give you the option to host your own “thank you” landing page directly on their servers.
Most ESPs also give you the option to redirect people to your own thank you page. This is great, as it also allows you to give your people a direct call to action: let them share it with their friends, visit your blog, join your group,...
Many mailing lists also offer a “welcome sequence” to their subscribers. This lets you introduce yourself to them, tell them a bit about yourself and your business - but also allows them to tell you a bit about themselves, maybe click a button so you can segment them (see later), or even fill out a survey.
How to get subscribers for your mailing list
There are dozens of ways to attract people and convince them to subscribe to your mailing list, here are just a few ideas:
A pop-up form on your website
Forms on your website in other places - above the fold, in the sidebar, in the footer
A separate landing page on your website that tells people all about your mailing list and why they should join it
A signup button on your Facebook page
A link in your Instagram profile
Dedicated pins on Pinterest
A link in the video description on YouTube
Offline: ask real-life customers to write down their email address if they’d like to get the newsletter
A checkbox when they check out on your web shop, asking them if they’d like promotions or updates
The important part is that people always have to give their permission for you to add them to your mailing list. Tricks like buying email addresses, adding them to your list in a sneaky way - that doesn’t work… and really, why would you want people on your mailing list if they don’t want to get your newsletter in the first place?
Opt-ins, lead magnets and, content upgrades
Technically, offering people something for free (in exchange for their email address on your list) is the number one way to get people to subscribe. If you’re targeting the right people with the right offer, they’ll love what you’re giving away.
An “opt-in” is anything you are offering in exchange for people opting into your mailing list. A “lead magnet” is anything that attracts leads (potential clients or customers). Opt-ins are usually lead magnets, but not all lead magnets are opt-ins (some don’t require you to opt into anything, but allow the owner of the list to use your data in some other way).
A “content upgrade” is added value you can offer from within an article; a PDF version of a recipe, a cheat sheet that repeats the bullet points from a blog post, an ebook you can buy or webinar to attend,... Many content upgrades can also be used as an opt-in for your mailing list.
Since GDPR, opting in for a mailing list requires an extra action from your subscriber - they have to give active consent not only to get the freebie but (second step) to actually get your newsletter as well (at least, if they live in the EU.) Since you have no way of knowing, it’s best practice to make sure that you’re GDPR compliant when it comes to all signups.
Sending emails to your subscribers
What to put in your emails
Once people are on your mailing list, the last thing you want to do is spam them with information or promotions they don’t want; this would lead to them unsubscribing rather than buying.
Entrepreneurs often worry about not having any “news” to share with their subscribers; news flash: newsletters are often NOT about actual news.
The important part of your newsletter is that it allows you to connect with your followers. Whether that means sending them a weekly app, game or website to check out, your three favourite videos of the week or a link to your latest blog post (along with a story from the farm), the important part is that it fits your brand and the image you want to convey - and that it’s (kind of) original, so people remember you for it.
If you’re not sure what to put in your newsletters, join us in the group and let’s brainstorm about it!
How often to send an email
That’s the next main struggle - many entrepreneurs think they’ll have to send out a weekly email from the start, and that becomes a daunting task. Now while weekly emails are the best *if you actually have something to say*, you can certainly get away with a monthly email - as long as it’s fresh, original, and reminds your customer that you exist and of what you have to offer.
I wouldn’t advise sending out less than one email a month, as people might forget who you are and why they signed up in the first place. But 12 emails a year, that’s totally doable for every type of business (yes, even yours!)
When to send emails
There is much to say about the best day and time to send out your newsletter. It partly depends on the content; if you’re selling something, then sending an email when your subscribers are quickly checking emails during a meeting or on the train is not ideal, (you want them to have their credit card nearby.)
However, there are more variables to consider when it comes to the best day and time to send out mailings:
Where are your subscribers located? Take time zones into account. Depending on your ESP, you could schedule an email to go out at the same time for everyone, or at different times, depending on the time zone.
What is their primary occupation and lifestyle? When do they have most time to read emails and surf the internet?
Is your newsletter business-related (would they want to read it during the day) or is it something fun for the weekends?
Keep your mailings from becoming spam
Your followers subscribed to your mailing list for a reason; you promised to send them a particular type of content, so live up to your promise and give them exactly what they want! As long as you do that regularly, consistently, and in a kind and considerate way - your emails will get opened and read.
Of course, you’ll get people who unsubscribe. They may no longer be interested in that subject, be overwhelmed with all the newsletters they subscribed to, not remember who you were and why they signed up in the first place. Things happen. Don’t take it personally!
Email marketing as a part of your sales funnel
If you’re doing it by the book, your mailing list is probably one of the initial steps in your sales funnel. Of course, it depends on how the sales funnel is set up - some sales funnels won’t involve your mailing list at all, while others are all about the emails.
The fun thing with mailing lists (at least, if you like analytics and statistics like me), is that you can get a lot of information from the newsletters you send out.
You can track mailings, see what links in your newsletters get clicked by whom, do A/B tests (sending different emails to different groups inside your list, to see what gets the best results), split or segment lists...
Segmentation is a great way to reach your followers in a more specific way (and with more specific offers). You can segment based on
Demographics: age, gender, location, etc.
Interests: Did they sign up after getting a free recipe or a tutorial for DIY woodwork? Did they click the link to “how to grow tomatoes” or “how to clean your chainsaw?”
You can also use your mailing list to create a custom or “lookalike” audience on Facebook - targeting people who are on your mailing list with Facebook ads for products they would love.
So tell us now… do you have a mailing list? How often do you send it, to whom, and what’s in it? Tell us and fellow readers here why we should join your mailing list… and maybe we will!
Disclaimer: This post (including all responses to comments) is for information purposes only and is NOT to be taken as legal advice for you or your business regarding GDPR compliance. As such, you may not hold us liable for any action taken as a result of the information shared in the post. For full guidance, you must seek professional legal advice regarding your specific circumstances.
Sandrine is a Facebook & Online Strategist. Born in Belgium with a passion for travel, she spends the majority of her time on her off-grid olive & almond farm in Spain. Her mission: helping others make their dreams reality - with an online business to support them.