Yes, this second. Well, not this second exactly, but very shortly after reading this! Email addresses may be the most valuable form of personal information you can obtain from customers. They’re more valuable than social media follows (yes, you read that correctly), even more valuable than phone numbers. When it comes to marketing, chasing emails might be the single best use of your time.
The reason for this is simple. Email is the most effective form of direct marketing. Statistically, every credible analysis shows that email campaigns convert better than other kinds of marketing, including the consistently-overrated social media kind. Customers can ignore tweets and Facebook updates; they’re only voices in a crowd. But emails have to be engaged with. They have to be addressed, even if it’s only to delete them!
The psychology behind it is fairly straightforward. The overwhelming amount of content online conditions us to scan, skim, and mostly ignore what we see (even fantastic small business blogs). However, because our email inboxes are more personal spaces, we’re more likely to give that extra fraction of a second’s attention to whatever’s in it. Whatever it is— even advertising— it was sent directly to us, as individuals. Because we have to at least delete it (even if it’s from Google’s convenient “promotions” tab), we are forced to engage with it just long enough for it to have a chance of getting through!
As the online business world moves forward, I predict that email addresses will be worth their weight in gold. They’ll be something people are less willing to give out, as even the average consumer realizes their value. Companies, then, will be willing to pay more and more. Consider how your browsing habits are already being sold to the highest bidder, with more of that likely to come. Imagine what businesses who pay to know what you’ve Googled would pay for your email address! As an entrepreneur, you can take a page from this playbook.
How To Use The List
Putting the targeted ad schemes of big businesses aside, how can you as an entrepreneur use email addresses to your advantage? It comes down to relationship-building. By having regular email interactions with your audience, offering them valuable content (not just ads), and otherwise engaging with them directly, you can create “true fans.” You can foster the kind of relationship with your audience that sustains independent business.
In fact, building your email list should be one of the first stages of building a business— even before you build a product! Using your expertise to become a trusted voice in your industry is step one. Then, turning the people who listen to you into the people who buy from you requires two things: valuable content, and bringing those listeners to your website. Note that I say your website, not your Facebook page, not your Twitter account, not your Etsy account. Your. Website. Wherever you find followers, you’ve got to take them away from the 3rd party platforms and migrate them to your own corner of the ‘net.
Email is crucial to this. If you can get email addresses, you can have more intimate conversations. It’s the difference between talking to someone at a table in a quiet restaurant and yelling to them in a crowded club. By creating useful content and offering it in exchange for an email address, you can start the relationship. By creating useful content and emailing it along with links to your own website (and the occasional sales offer), you can convert!
Creating Customers Through Email
Start with your website. If you have a business of any kind, physical or online, you need a website. Then, fill that website with useful, genuinely valuable content. Have videos. Have infographics. Have pdfs or e-books. But above all, have text. Blogs and other written content are the key. Not only is it often more convenient to consume than other media, it’s also crucial to SEO.
Next, add opt-ins. Your website, chock full of goodness as it is, should be asking for one thing from every visitor: their email address. In fact, it’s a good idea to offer some extra content in exchange for an email address. Access to a free course or webinar, a bonus goodie like an infographic or short e-book; whatever it is, make it well worth the simple act of typing an email address. Use an email marketing service like Sumo for your opt-ins; it’s perfect for independent businesses (including ours).
Then, go out into the great wide Internet and find your audience. Engage on social media (but don’t worry too much about collecting follows). Go to conferences. Speak at live events if you can. Guest-blog on websites in your industry. Podcast, host webinars. Do it all! But whatever you do, remember the goal: to get those sweet, delicious email addresses and bring everyone to your website.
The process of building your email list is a long one. There are strategies, but there are no “hacks” or tricks to getting the volume of qualified email addresses you’ll need to really sustain your business. It takes a consistent, long-term effort. You’ve got to make yourself valuable, credible, and worth corresponding with. My only regret regarding my email list is that I didn’t start building it far, far sooner.
The good news is that the longer you do it for, the easier it gets. Your first 100 emails will be harder to get than your first 500 or your first 1,000. It’s worth the time, and it’s worth the effort. Your product can change. Your advertising and marketing can change. Your team can change. But a purposefully built, long-standing base of true followers is irreplaceable. That’s the heart of your business.