I have a confession: I built an email list, but I didn’t do it on purpose. Like many of my marketing endeavours it happened almost by accident. Growing my email list was a bit like raising a cactus – I stuck it in a virtual pot, left it to fend for itself and it turned into something beautiful. Here’s how it happened.
Birth of an Email List
The strange thing is that I’ve had an email list for years. Well, if you count the earliest subscribers to this blog as a list. Way back when this blog was in a different place and didn’t even have a name, I learned about RSS and Feedburner and set things up so people could sign up for blog updates. I did nothing with the email addresses I collected, having no idea that I COULD do anything.
What I’ve learned since: If you’re going to market to people, have a purpose in mind, otherwise you’re wasting everyone’s time.
Step 2: The Newsletter
In a parallel but in my mind completely unrelated move, I decided to start a newsletter to bring additional value to my audience.
I used the newsletter to:
- highlight articles I had written on other blogs
- link to blog content readers might have missed
- promote other writers
- give some insight into my life as a writer
- mention resources I’d found useful, with a couple of affiliate links which I didn’t promote particularly heavily (heck, if I’m honest, I just put them there and hoped a couple of people might click).
Between you and me, I still didn’t really know what I was doing. At first, only my blog subscribers got the newsletter, but I soon realized it needed to go wider. That’s when I started experimenting with online email marketing applications. I started with Constant Contact, but didn’t like the interface and clunkiness (maybe it was just me, but I found creating a newsletter hard work, despite – or maybe because of – my background in creating magazine layouts.) Then I went to EzEzine, which had a free version, but where you had to add all the bells and whistles yourself even with a paid version.
The Right Tools for the Job
People liked the newsletter, which I published monthly for the first five years. But I STILL wasn’t doing anything with the email addresses I’d collected. But my list kept growing and then it was time to move to a more robust platform that actually told me something about the people who had signed up for my updates. A couple of years ago, I moved to Aweber, and it was a revelation. All the data on opens and clicks was golden because I could see what people liked and what they didn’t. OK, so I had to pay for the tool, but it was definitely worth it.
What I learned from that process was that using the right tools makes a world of difference. If you’re going to market to people (whatever your definition of or comfort level with that term) get a tool that gives you measurable data.
A Growing List
Despite my benign neglect of the list, people kept signing up, replying to me and even occasionally buying a product. Once I started using Aweber and digging into the stats (yes, I’m a stats junkie), I started taking it more seriously. In particular I wanted to know what people found useful and what turned them off. I also wanted to know how to keep the list alive (as an aside, I don’t think of my newsletter subscribers as a list; I think of them as people I’m connected with who deserve to get good value even from a free newsletter). One of the most useful posts I’ve ever read comes from Ana Hoffman on cutting the dead weight from your list. I’ve taken most of her advice.
What I learned from Ana is that if people are not opening your emails or clicking on a couple of links, then they aren’t really part of your list at all.
There’s something quite liberating about pruning my list, which now stands around 700 members, who may or may not overlap with a couple of thousand Twitter, Facebook and Google+ connections. I publish the link to my newsletter on those sites too so that everyone I’m connected with has the chance to see it.
Email List Changes
About a year ago I stopped sending my newsletter monthly – instead I send it about every 6-8 weeks. It was a reflection of my own dissatisfaction with those types of emails. When I do send it, I try to pack it full of value. Strangely, this has made no major difference to the amount of feedback I get from newsletter subscribers, though if anything I get a bit more interaction than before. So here’s what I’ve learned from the process as a whole:
- If you provide value and are genuine with people, they will respond.
- If you email regularly, your list will grow, but fast growth isn’t always a good thing unless your subscribers are really engaged.
- If you experiment, you will find out things about your list. For example, on my last newsletter, I used the title of the first article as a subject line. That resulted in a 73% open rate, which is pretty good.
I’m still learning about what to do with email lists. So far, my subscribers seem pretty happy with the value they get – and that’s the most important aspect of it for me. It’s a work in progress, though, because there’s always something to learn – got any tips or resources to share?
This post is part of the June 2012 Word Carnival — a monthly group blogging event specifically for small business owners started by Tea Silvestre, the Word Chef. Check out the rest of this month’s excellent lineup here. (Image: Auntie P/Flickr)