Imagine a marketing channel where people give you permission to send them messages directly. It exists—its called an email list.
Why Start a Mailing List?
Nearly everyone has an email address. Your audience may be scattered throughout different social media channels, using one or two more heavily than the rest. But most probably have an email address they check at least once per week if not more frequently.
The people on your list—if setup correctly—have opted-in to receive your emails. They want to consume the content you’re creating. And you know this because they’ve asked to receive it. This is a stark contrast to social media marketing, where one is constantly battling algorithm updates in an effort to interrupt someone’s scroll. (But having a presence on social media is important!)
And because people generally opt-in to a mailing list to receive an offer or to learn more about a topic, they’re often pre-qualified. This is one reason why email marketing is usually one of the highest converting channels.
There are so many possibilities when it comes to starting a mailing list. If you’re a wedding photographer, you could use an email list to connect with recently engaged couples and stay in touch with past couples (the latter is especially helpful if you also offer family photography services). And if you have an online store, email lists are a great way to send educational content and keep people informed of recently added products.
Choosing an Email Marketing Platform to Build Your List
There are plenty of email marketing platforms to choose from when starting a mailing list. We used list out a bunch of recommendations, but now we only recommend one email marketing solution: ConvertKit.
We recommend choosing an email marketing platform that can scale with your business. There can be issues when switching from one platform to another, so it’s best to choose something you’ll be happy with for a while.
We’ve used at least half a dozen different email marketing solutions. There’s definitely something positive we could say about each, but the one we’re STILL using is ConvertKit. It’s simple enough that anyone could get started using it, but has enough advanced features that it leaves room for a business to grow into it.
ConvertKit: Email Marketing for Professional Bloggers
ConvertKit markets itself as an email marketing tool for professional bloggers, but can be used by other types of businesses, too. ConvertKit is a great tool because it’s simple, flexible, and intuitive. We are currently using ConvertKit.
Convertkit is tag-based rather than list-based (like MailChimp). This means you have one list, but subscribers are able to be “tagged” with different labels (this process can be automated). For instance, if someone subscribes to your list to receive a guide about off-camera flash, they might receive a Lighting tag. When you send emails or create email sequences, you can make sure you’re only including people who are interested in that topic.
You’ll likely find that other marketing tools you’re using will have an integration with ConvertKit since it’s such a popular tool.
The Convertkit customer support team usually answers questions quickly and provides updates if something isn’t working as it should. I also appreciate that they share upcoming features on their product roadmap.
There is no free plan with Convertkit, and it will cost you $29/month (0-1000 subscribers) to get started.
MailChimp: Email Marketing Platform
We highly recommend ConvertKit. However, if you need to start with something that’s free, MailChimp is a good enough place to start.
MailChimp is a very popular and easy-to-use platform that boasts over 14 millions users. While the free version does not give you access to many automation and advanced features, it’s easy to start using and an inexpensive way to start building a list. MailChimp has e-commerce features, but you’ll have to upgrade your subscription to access these features.
The drag-and-drop campaign builder make it easy to build beautiful emails, and they also have a collection of pre-designed templates to choose from. This is particularly helpful if you don’t have an in-house designer.
Collect Emails using a Lead Magnet
If your only tactic of collecting email addresses is through form on your website that says “Subscribe” underneath, you’re probably pretty disappointed with the results.
One of the best ways to collect email addresses is through a lead magnet. A lead magnet is an incentive you provide in exchange for, in this case, someone’s email address. It might be an ebook, guide, or ticket to a free webinar. Lead magnets are almost always free.
How it generally works: Someone sees a pop-up or advertisement for your lead magnet, which they click on. This brings them to a landing page that provides some more details and a form to submit their email address. After submitting the form, they receive an email to confirm their subscription and get access to the incentive.
Whatever lead magnet you choose should on some level prequalify your leads. For instance, if you’re a wedding photographer, you might run a lead magnet that’s titled 20 Questions You Must Ask Your Wedding Photographer. Who would be interested in that downloadable? Most likely recently engaged couples who are on the hunt for a wedding photographer.
<<Check out our Landing Page Template: Available for Showit and WordPress>>
How to Create a Lead Magnet
If you’re familiar with Adobe InDesign, you can create your lead magnet there and convert it to a pdf. But if not, no worries—there are plenty of other solutions. Canva is an easy-to-use, drag-and-drop designer made especially for those who have no technical design training. And another great hack is to design the lead magnet in PowerPoint or Slides and then export it as a PDF.
A good lead magnet should:
- Resonate with a specific audience: It always seems that when one tries to speak to everyone, they reach no one. Be clear about your intended audience.
- Have an eye-catching title that is, ideally, benefit focused: You’re competing for people’s attention against lots and lots of other content. How will reading this guide benefit the reader? Try incorporating that benefit into the title.
- Educate and lead to further action: What should readers do after consuming the lead magnet? This question is tied to the purpose of the lead magnet. If we’re using the example above, and your lead magnet is 20 Questions You Must Ask Your Wedding Photographer, you might share what people should look for in an answer and subtly work in your own answers to those questions. This is a great way to educate prospects on your services and the experience you provide. You might also tell your lead how to inquire about your services at the end of the guide, or encourage them to check out some of your recent work.
Creating lead magnets can take more time than creating other content so it’s important you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve with your lead magnet. Collecting emails is not the end-goal. Making a sale is the goal, so make sure you’re creating high quality leads by creating highly focused and intentional lead magnets.
What should I send in my emails?
The best emails contain content that is valuable for the reader. That’s probably not the most mind blowing sentence you’ve ever read. But it’s true. One helpful thing you can do is segment your list by applying tags to subscribers based on their interests.
Let’s say someone subscribes to your email list to get a guide on off-camera flash, they might receive a Lighting tag. They could be sent tips on what lighting gear to purchase, or how to pose people in bright, midday sun with no shade. You might include a link to another article you wrote on your blog about workflows, and set up an automation so that anyone who clicks that link is also tagged Workflow Systems.
If you’re ever curious about what your subscribers want to learn more about, you can always ask. Send out a survey with a few good questions, and you’ll probably stock up on some great topics that you know people are interested in. Why guess what people want when you could ask them?
Regardless of the content you send, remember to be purposeful. Maintaining an email lists costs money, which means you want to create content that nurtures people on your list so they become buyers. This also means you want to treat your list with the utmost respect—more on that below!
The First Email You Send
When someone subscribes to your list, consider having them automatically subscribed an indoctrination or introduction sequence. An indoctrination sequence is an email sequence that gives readers more insight into who you are and what you do. These sequences often give readers access to some of your best content and ask readers to connect with you in other places like Facebook.
Put your best foot forward and offer value immediately. There are great resources over at Digital Marketer that can help you create email sequences (A word of warning: while this site has great resources, there is LOTS of information there. Don’t let yourself get bogged down in trying to create complex sequences. Just start with one email and build from there!).
How often should I send emails?
Consistently. People often worry about sending too many emails. But remember—people signed up for your list to receive your content. I’m signed up for a few lists that send me an email almost everyday, and I look forward to it! If the content is great and relevant, why wouldn’t I want to receive it?
I don’t suggest sending an email everyday, but one should be sent consistently. Going over a month without sending an email may result in people forgetting why they subscribed to your list in the first place and consequently unsubscribing. Email marketing, like social media, is another opportunity to build a relationship with your community. Are you able to build a relationship by sporadically and infrequently checking in with someone? Probably not.
A word about unsubscribers: A few people will generally unsubscribe from your list every time you send an email. This is normal, and you shouldn’t take it personally. If an email you send results in a higher-than-usual unsubscribe rate, perhaps do some investigating. Otherwise, move on and focus on the people who are engaging with your emails.
Designing Your Emails
Not a designer? No worries. Some claim that “un-stylized” emails convert better than designed-newsletter-type emails anyways. Why? Because it looks like an email coming from a person instead of company.
Additionally, many email marketing platforms have simple email builders. ConvertKit recently rolled out with a slick, easy-to-use email editor.
The value you add in the email is what’s most important, so don’t get bogged down in the design. Some lists I subscribe to are mostly text, and others look like a more traditional, stylized newsletter. The emails I open consistently are the ones that I know send high value content or have an interesting subject line.
We’ve added some styling to our emails, but it’s mostly text.
Respecting and Maintaining an Email List
Just because you send an email doesn’t mean that you’ll end up in someone’s inbox. There are different factors that affect deliverability, and some email service providers have better deliverability rates than others. There are also many factors you can control so that you have a better chance of your email reaching the primary inbox of a subscriber.
Getting Your Email Delivered
If you want to avoid being marked as Spam, we suggest following a few guidelines:
- Choose a reputable email service provider. ConvertKit has a good reputation.
- Have subscribers confirm their opt-in. This is called a double opt-in and it’s often the default/recommended setting for most email marketing platforms.
- Ask subscribers to move your email out of the promotions folder (Gmail) and/or add you to their contacts. If you exist in a person’s contact, you’re making known to the email provider it’s a safe email address.
- Pay attention to open and click rates. An open rate is generally given as the percentage of people opening an email, and click rate is usually given as the percentage of people who click on an email. (A quick Google search will reveal the standard open and click rates for your industry).
- Send quality emails. Provide your subscribers with value to keep them engaged.
- Write good headlines (and avoid using spammy sounding words). Good headlines can increase the probability someone opens your email. And avoid using words that sound like spam—email providers are getting better at detecting what an email is about!
- Don’t be shady. Don’t try to remove or hide unsubscribe links. If someone unsubscribes, don’t re-add them to your list. And don’t add people to your list without their permission, even if you think they’d be “cool” with it.
- Ask your email platform if there are ways to enhance deliverability.
If someone gives you her email address. Respect it! Don’t ever sell or lend emails to other businesses or people. If you’re going to share the email address with someone else (not recommended), it should be stated clearly from the outset!
Email List Maintenance
It’s also recommended that some mailing list pruning is done once in a while, too. Many email marketing platforms will allow you to sort your list so you can see who hasn’t engaged with your emails lately.
When first starting a mailing list, it can be difficult to remove subscribers. But having a lot of unengaged subscribers means lower open and click rates. Additionally these people can’t buy from you if they’re not opening your emails. Why pay for subscribers who are not reading, let alone opening, your email? It’s better to have 100 people on your list that open and read your email than 1000 who don’t.
We remove people from our list if they have not opened one of our emails for 90 days (in Convertkit, they’re marked as cold subscribers). We’ll generally send a simple email to this group of people that asks if they want to remain on the email list. If so, we ask them to click a link in the email. If not, no action is required and we’ll remove anyone who hasn’t clicked the link in 7 days.
Starting a mailing list is easier than it’s ever been, and it’s a great way to engage with your community. There are a lot of resources out there to help you get started and answer any questions you have along the way. Do some research but don’t get bogged down by trying to do it all. Choose a provider, create a lead magnet to collect addresses, and start sending emails!