How to Build a High-Quality E-mail List If you want customers to sign up for your newsletters, just ask.

By Gail Goodman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

More and more people are getting the information they want on the run (with Blackberries, iPhones, netbooks and other mobile communication devices). Attention spans and memories are short; time is in limited supply and the consumer's inbox is hot real estate.

That's why a high-quality, permission-based e-mail list is the heart of any successful online marketing campaign. Your content and promotions are only successful if they're getting to the people who care about your business or cause. When someone opts in to your e-mail list, they're telling you they'd like to know more about your business, they are granting you a precious moment of their time and attention. That's extremely valuable in today's hectic world, where people are more selective about what information they choose to consume. So, how do you add more customers to your e-mail marketing list?

The answer is simple . . . just ask! Before you can share your expertise and build relationships with your audience via e-mail communications, you have to ask for their permission.

The 4 Rules of Permission
While the apps, tools and opportunities for online marketing may have changed, the rules of permission-based e-mail marketing remain the same:

  1. Permission is the law. Permission isn't just polite, it's the law. It's what separates legitimate e-mail marketers from spammers and gives you a competitive edge. Ask for it, get it, keep it. Don't abuse it.
  2. Permission is critical. What has changed in the battle for the inbox is consumers' perception of spam. At one time, "spam" meant creepy, typo-riddled e-mails peddling pornography, cheap pharmaceuticals, money-laundering scams and the like. Now recipients perceive any unwanted or unknown e-mail as spam, even if it's from a legitimate business or organization. Getting permission before you send someone your e-newsletter proves your trustworthiness, shows respect for your customers and connects customers to the information they want.
  3. Permission is perishable. Just because someone gave you permission to add him to your mailing list once doesn't mean it's eternal. You have to keep earning permission over time, and give people the chance to opt out if they decide they no longer want to hear from you.
  4. Permission is not transferable. Beware of lists sold by third parties. People want to hear from the businesses they know and trust--not strangers. Likewise, don't assume that just because a customer has given you permission for one e-newsletter that it applies to another.

Tips for Building a High-Quality E-mail List
The trick is to ask customers to sign up at every opportunity. Here are a few ways to find new subscribers and build a better, more powerful list.

  • Ask customers to sign up for your newsletter list online and offline, and make it fun and easy:
  • Put a "Join My Mailing List" box on your homepage and link to a newsletter archive.
  • Promote your e-mail newsletter on your blog and social media profiles. Add a "Join My Mailing List" box to your Facebook page. Post teasers for your e-mail newsletter on Twitter, linking people to an archive where they can peruse past issues. Send a message to LinkedIn contacts telling them about your newsletter and inviting them back to your website to subscribe.
  • Keep a sign-up sheet and a printout of your most recent newsletter issue near the cash register.
  • Include an e-newsletter teaser and sign-up link on your business cards and on other printed media.
  • Hold a contest for employees, sales reps and other members of your team to incent them to ask for sign ups.
  • Offer a free report or coupon to new subscribers.
  • Give customers a way to select areas of interest and preferences when they sign up, so you can send them targeted content.
  • Send a welcome e-mail to acknowledge subscribers that have signed up. Use this opportunity to set expectations for what they'll receive and how often (include a link to a previous campaign or newsletter issue).

Take a look at the tips above to see where you may be missing opportunities to build a bigger e-mail list. There may be entire segments of your market and audience that remain untapped. You won't know if they're interested unless you ask.

Gail Goodman is the author of Engagement Marketing: How Small Business Wins In a Socially Connected World (Wiley, 2012) and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based Constant Contact Inc., a provider of email marketing, event marketing, social media marketing, local deal and online survey tools and services for small businesses, associations and nonprofits.

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