More and more businesspeople tell me they've gotten religious about building their permission-based mail lists. They've been doing e-mail marketing for years, and they've come to realize that if they get serious about building their lists, they can bring in more business. It really works!

Building your list is even more important in a tough economic environment. Your list is your pre-qualified target audience. They know you and your products and services, and they've bought from you in the past. They're an easier sell and a source of referrals. That's why e-mail marketing is still the most effective tool in your marketing mix. For fractions of a penny per person, you can stay in touch with your best customers. So when they're ready to buy--even in a down economy--they'll think of your business first.

List-Building Essentials
Before you get started seeking out new subscribers, review these three e-mail marketing "commandments."

  1. Ask permission. E-mail marketing is different from other direct marketing. You need to ask before you add someone to your e-mail list. Only permission-based e-mail marketing works. We no longer trust or even open e-mail from people we don't know. And only permission-based e-mails get past the spam filters and into the inbox.
  2. Permission is perishable. If someone shares his or her e-mail address with you--whether on your website, at your store or when you meet at a business mixer--that person is now expecting to get something from you. Don't wait six months to send the first e-mail. He or she won't remember you and will delete your e-mail or unsubscribe immediately. Send a welcome e-mail and a copy of your most recent newsletter while the connection is still fresh in his or her mind.
  3. Provide an opt-out link. All e-mail campaigns must include a working unsubscribe link or instructions on how to be removed from the list. Purge those names from your list promptly--within 10 days. It's not just polite; it's the law.

Ways to Find New Subscribers
Let's start with the tried-and-true and end with the exciting-and-new. They're all great ways to share your expertise and valuable content with the people who might be interested in what you offer. That's really what list-building is all about.

  1. "Join My List" visitor signup box. Your homepage is the "must do" place to put a sign-up box. But it's not the only place. Include a sign-up link on your other web pages and in your e-mail signature block. Archive your e-mail campaigns and include a link to past articles near your signup box, so people will know what they're signing up for.

    Other places to invite mailing list sign ups include:
  2. In your store and over the phone. Keep a "join our mailing list" sign-up sheet at your cash register, and ask employees to invite shoppers to sign up. Put a sample newsletter in a Lucite stand on your counter so customers can see what they're signing up for. A visual is powerful! Offer an incentive for sign-ups, e.g., an e-mail coupon for 10 percent off the customer's next shopping trip.

    Ask for sign ups when doing phone sales or consultations, too. Don't forget to ask vendors, suppliers and business partners.
  3. At business networking events. When you meet colleagues at a business function, ask permission to sign them up for your mailing list. Put your website address and a line that says "sign up for my free newsletter" on your business cards and . . .
  4. . . . On all printed materials. Prompt people who receive your direct mail, brochures, fact sheets and other sales and marketing materials to visit your website and sign up for your e-mail newsletter and promotions. Point them to your website and give them an incentive to sign up, e.g., "Sign up for our newsletter and get a free report on [what you do here]" (or "a free consultation").
  5. Via blogs and social media sites. If you have a blog, include chunks of your newsletter content in your entries, with a sign-up link. If you're on social networking websites such as Facebook or Twitter, post to visitors or followers about your latest newsletter and encourage them to sign up.

Exposure on blogs and social networking sites can broaden your reach to find new subscribers. Then it's up to you to nurture those relationships and turn them into customers.

Want More Sign Ups? Don't Be Afraid to Ask
People can be a little shy about asking for an e-mail address. They feel it's an imposition. How will people know you've got a newsletter if you don't ask them to sign up for it? You're writing all this great content and sharing your expertise; the least you can do is offer it up to your new friends. If they say 'No, it's OK,' they're not rejecting you; they just don't want your newsletter.

You won't know if you don't ask. So just ask! Every "yes" is one more potential customer who can make your mailing list--and your business--stronger.