Does my business need a mailing list?

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email marketing

Yes, you need an email list. Whether you run a service business, sell products, write a niche monetized blog, or however you make money with your website– cultivating a mailing list will increase your profits.

How? If your business tends to have a quick purchase decision and repeat customers, a mailing list will make more repeat customers and increase their value. If your business has a long lead time on the purchase decision, a mailing list will help you retain more customers all the way to the end of that buying process.

What is an email list?

An email list is a list of names and emails of people who have given you permission to email them. If you’ve been shopping anytime in the past decade, you probably know that retailers are clamoring to get you to sign up for their marketing lists so they can tell you about their latest deals and products directly in your inbox. That’s because mailing lists work. (But your emails don’t have to be like theirs!)

But email lists aren’t only for product based businesses. Maybe you are thinking “I don’t have any new products or sales to tell people about.” You can still benefit from a mailing list.

If you run a service business, wouldn’t you be able to charge more, if people thought of you as a trusted expert and an authority in your field? A mailing list can help you establish those bona fides.

And wouldn’t you sell more if, when customers were done with the “research” phase of their buying journey, you were the top expert on their mind? A mailing list can keep you top-of-mind when the customer is ready to pull out their wallet.

A mailing list helps you to get leads coming to you rather than you constantly reaching out to them by running sales, special deals, or paying out the nose for ad clicks. It allows you to sell, not by competing on price, but by being genuinely helpful.

Can’t I just use social media instead of an email list?

You may already have an established “audience” of customers who have opted in to hear from you on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or other social platforms. On that platform, you may be building your brand by posting examples of your work, connecting with potential customers, educating them by writing about your product or service or showing how they can benefit. That can be really beneficial, especially if that platform is where your ideal customers primarily are.

But if social media is the only way that you have to connect with your customers personally, that’s really risky! After all, that means a third party is the go-between and they can cut you off from your audience whenever they want.

And they’ve already done that over and over, so it’s not like we weren’t warned. Social media algorithms have drastically reduced the “reach” that business posts have because it’s usually not the kind of content that goes viral and keeps users endlessly scrolling.

So even if you have a large audience of interested customers, a tiny fraction of them will even see your content. After all, why would Facebook or Instagram show customers your content for free, when they can charge you to artificially “boost” your posts in your customer’s feeds?

Don’t let social media hold your business over a barrel. You can build a platform that you own by cultivating a direct connection to your customer’s email inbox.

How do I set up an email list?

If you’ve already got a website, you’ll need to choose an email marketing service that works for you. The purpose of this post isn’t to push one choice on you over another, and I don’t have an affiliate relationship with any of them. I happen to use Mailchimp myself, but I won’t say that’s the best choice, it’s just the one I use. There’s other options like ConvertKit, Sendinblue, Flodesk, etc. They have advantages and drawbacks, and different price points from free (for a limited number of subscribers or limited tools) to a fair chunk of change per month.

Once you’ve got an email marketing service, you’ll need to follow their instructions to generate a signup form for you to copy and paste into your website, or if you use WordPress you can use a plugin to create a form and integrate it with the email marketing service.

If I manage your website for you under my website care plan, I can hook all of this up for you without you needing to touch any code.

How can I get people to sign up?

Once you’ve got the mechanics taken care of, and you’ve got a handy form to get their name and email flowing from your website to your mailing list, how can you actually motivate customers to give you permission to email them?

Email addresses are valuable, and so is the customer’s time. So they won’t hand over the keys to their inbox for nothing.

To start and grow your email list, think about the problem or problems that your business solves for your customers and develop a single piece of content will be your “lead magnet.” This content can be a checklist, a simple high-level tutorial, a worksheet, a curated resource list– the important part is that it be:

  1. Specific & digestible– it should solve one real problem that your ideal customer is experiencing.
  2. Valuable– a good rule of thumb is if you feel like it’s worth paying for.
  3. Positions you as the expert.

It might take you a few days to get this piece of content ready, especially if you’re fitting it in between running your business, but it may allow you to passively attract customers for years. Is that worth it? I think so!

Sometimes business owners are concerned that they’re giving away the golden goose if they write up a marketing asset that helps the customer solve the problem, but let’s face it– you bring a lot more to the table than can be written in 1-3 page PDF document. You won’t be replaced just because you shared your expertise– you’ll be encouraging potential customers to know, like, and trust you by helping them out.

And as they say, talk is cheap– the real value is in getting the work done. When it comes down to it, your ideal customer doesn’t want to spend the time when they can hire the work out.

After I get them to subscribe, what do I email them about?

Your mailing list can consist of emails that educate and inform your customers, while establishing your credibility as an authority in your market. Think about the last question a customer asked you on the phone. Had you gotten that question before? Do you think it’s the kind of thing customers are searching online? You can be the business that answers! When you begin to note down questions customers repeatedly ask, you will have more and more ideas for what kinds of emails you can send.

Here’s some real-life examples of content marketing that has been effective for some businesses that I work with:

  • a retail plant nursery writes regularly about what’s in season, what can be planted right now, what plants are due for pruning, fertilizing, or sheltering, what weather trends are developing, and what workshops are upcoming at their store.
  • HVAC contractor- seasonally appropriate energy/cost saving tips (different documents rotated for the season)
  • Wellness providers– tips for stress management and  self-care to support patients in between visits

For example, an HVAC company might have seasonal emails that provide tips for controlling heating and cooling costs.

I don’t want to annoy customers by writing too often…

I totally get this. Usually the real underlying concern is feeling gross about being pushy or sales-y. But if customers truly opt-in, and what you email is actually valuable, they won’t be annoyed; they’ll want more. So be genuinely helpful, deliver value, and don’t sell with every email. Tailor your email frequency to your particular audience, but don’t be too shy, and don’t worry about unsubscribes too much. You don’t need a huge audience, you just need to reach the ones who really want what you’re selling!

I hope this has encouraged you to try your hand at email marketing! It can really transform a business. If you need help getting started, please email me on the contact form.

Kelsey Barmettler headshot

Kelsey Barmettler

I'm a web designer near Tucson, AZ and I write these articles to help business owners (including my clients) be more informed and empowered about their websites.