Quick Guide to Building an Email List from Scratch!
By Jena Kroeker
As we enter a new decade in our freelance businesses, we may wonder if building an email list is an archaic concept. Is email still alive and well after all these years? Is it still a valid marketing strategy that will reach our target audience?
According to the statistics portal Statista, “e-mail has remained a central part of daily digital life.” It predicts that the number of global e-mail users will grow from 3.8 billion in 2018 to 4.4 billion in 2023.
What’s the reason for our continued reliance on this older communication channel? Kyle Nordeen puts it best in his article “Why Email Should be the Cornerstone of Your Digital Marketing Strategy”:
“Email provides a credible, long-lasting way to connect with subscribers. Sure, you can reach subscribers with a Facebook meme or a tweet, but the lifespan of social posts fade quickly. Research shows a tweet’s lifespan is 18 minutes, according to Moz. Your tweet lasts for mere minutes and then disappears into the newsfeed abyss never to be found again. An email is different. It gets prominent placement in an inbox and is easy to reference later on.”
But how do you go about building an email list from scratch when you’re just starting out in your virtual business? Here are some tips that can help you get started on this important component of your online marketing campaign.
#1. Identify Your Target Audience.
First of all, consider an email list like an invitation to a party, not a petition. Although you want the list to grow, it’s best to focus on the quality of the connection rather than the quantity of subscribers.
Here are some things to think about:
– What is my niche?
– What are my virtual services?
– Who might benefit from a long-term connection to my business?
In an article titled “25 Email Marketing Best Practices for Content Creators,” Kayla Hollatz stresses the importance of knowing your audience and suggests that your audience will likely evolve as your email list grows. She provides this important advice:
“When someone signs up for your email list, they are trading one of their most valuable digital possessions–their email address–for the opportunity to learn from you through your emails and downloadable freebies. Since email subscribers are more valuable than social media followers, a person giving you their email address in exchange for access to your content is a big deal.
“The more you get to know your subscribers, the more you’ll know how to serve them. And the better you can serve them, the more trust you will build. This trust is crucial when you start to pitch your freelance services, digital products, or physical products.”
And don’t forget to be flexible as your email list grows. The above article also recommends paying attention to feedback received through personal email replies and surveys. That way, you can stay in tune with what your audience wants to hear more about.
#2. Brainstorm content that is important to your audience.
In the realm of email marketing, it’s common practice to provide what’s called a “lead magnet,” some sort of free offer people receive in exchange for providing their email address. If you visit the Freelance University site, you’ll see this pop-up offering our “Ultimate Freelance Tool Kit” e-book.
It’s content that benefits freelancers and virtual assistants who visit the FreeU site and provides an opportunity to keep in touch with them about future training and other support services that may benefit their businesses.
In the same way, the website of digital marketing pioneer, writer, and speaker Ann Handley contains this opt-in box that invited me to sign up for her newsletter. As a writer, I was more than happy to give my email address in exchange for valuable tips that could benefit me in my virtual work.
After subscribing, I received a welcome email that invited me to write Ann back and let her know why I subscribed and what I hoped to learn so that she could offer me real value in return. Here’s an excerpt:
I emailed her, and she wrote me back personally! It truly means something to know how much she cares about her subscribers.
So in your own business, brainstorm what type of offer would make it worthwhile for people to join your email list. And at the same time, think about what offer best fits your brand and services. Here are some examples:
– Infographics, mind maps, or checklists
– Written or video tutorials
– PDF e-books or reports
– Weekly, biweekly, or monthly newsletters
– Online classes or webinars
– The list goes on….
And in an article titled “20 Great Lead Magnets to Build Your Email List,” Leslie Truex also describes how bloggers can continue building an email list using “content upgrades.” These types of lead magnets are niched or specific to a particular blog post. So, for example, on this blog post we could offer a free checklist people receive as a content upgrade when they sign up for the Freelance University email list.
#3. Establish your credibility and position yourself as an expert in your niche.
Now, this is something that won’t happen overnight, but is important to keep in mind. When people opt in to our email lists, we hope they aren’t doing it just to receive the free offer before hitting “Unsubscribe.”
To help new subscribers join with the intention of staying on the list, it helps to be a visible and active presence online. You can do this by consistently sharing valuable content that lets your expertise (and your personality) shine.
After all, many of us still receive emails in our inbox from friends and relatives, so we appreciate a bit of personal connection when receiving emails from businesses too. And we like to feel secure that the people sending us email know what they’re talking about.
Here are some ways you can establish your credibility:
– Consistently publish content in your online network of choice (e.g. regular blog posts, YouTube videos, podcasts, social media posts).
– Host your own online events like webinars, teleseminars, Facebook Live videos, Facebook Watch events, or Instagram Stories.
– Connect with your target audience by sharing valuable social media posts and participating in Facebook or LinkedIn groups.
– Write guest blog posts and participate in other live events.
#4. Make it easy for people to opt in to your list.
No matter how much people value your content and expertise, your email list won’t grow if people either don’t know about it or find it too hard to join. Thankfully, technology makes it possible to place lead capture boxes in many locations to collect people’s names and email addresses.
For example, Optin Monster is a powerful tool that allows you to create customizable forms using templates.
This tool can use “smart triggers” to display the form according to certain visitor behaviors, such as exiting your site, scrolling down the page, or returning to your site.
And opt-in boxes on your freelance website are just the beginning. Ryan Pinkham shares some more great options in his article “15 Creative Ideas to Grow Your Email List.” He suggests adding a sign-up button to your email, collecting emails when people sign up for an event you’re hosting, putting a sign-up form on your Facebook Page, or running a Facebook Ad.
When building an email list through buttons and opt-in boxes or forms, remember to keep the experience as pleasant and unobtrusive as possible so people aren’t turned off (by multiple garish pop-ups, for example). At the same time, don’t miss an opportunity to place an attractive lead capture box or sign-up button in as many places as possible.
#5. Patience and persistence are key when building an email list.
Building an email list from scratch can seem like a daunting task when you’re just starting out in your virtual business. But with an attitude of generosity and caring toward your subscribers, it can be a rewarding experience, not just in list growth but in relationships.
When you’re starting out, you may need to experiment with different ways of promoting your list. Thankfully, email isn’t going anywhere soon, so don’t worry about starting gradually and refining your approach as time goes by.
In a previous FreeU blog post titled “7 Online Predictions for 2020,” we discussed how email will keep living on, and the challenge is to help it compete with other channels like social media by remaining exciting and relevant. One way is to implement new developments in technology, like “dynamic email” in Gmail, where users can perform tasks like filling out questionnaires or responding to comments without navigating away from the email message itself. You can also use dynamic email to update emails with the latest content.
As Kayla Hollatz says in her article,
“Your goal is not necessarily to have the largest email list but to have the most engaged email list possible. If your email list boasts large numbers of subscribers but your open and click rates are dismal, it won’t turn into more conversions.
“You want to attract and nurture email subscribers who are excited to hear from you and want to open, click, and interact with all of your emails. In order to keep the inactive subscribers at bay, you’ll want to keep an eye on your cold subscribers and prune your email list regularly.”
That’s a great goal to have when developing an email marketing strategy for our virtual businesses. Quality is better than quantity when we’re building an email list, as it is in any of our interactions online.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.