Your boss has given you a task: get more names in your email database before an upcoming sales promotion. They don't really know where to start, so they suggest getting one of the many email lists for sale on the web. To them, buying email lists sounds like the easy option—just purchase, import, and send.
With most things in life, if it seems too easy, there’s probably a catch. Purchased email lists definitely fall into this category. There are a few big reasons to suggest other options to your boss.
Primarily, remember that the main goal of a successful business is to delight your customers. Do you think that hundreds of random people will be delighted by a random, unasked for promotion in their inbox? Probably not. Most will instantly delete the email, unsubscribe, or mark your email as spam. Plus, if you buy the list from a company that gathered the names in less-than-ethical ways, you risk being labeled a spammer. And if that happens, having a small database is the least of your worries.
Many email services highly discourage their users from purchasing lists, because having email senders marked as spam can not only result in penalties that sender, but for all the accounts on that server. HubSpot even requires you to confirm how contacts were acquired before importing a list.
Selecting "not applicable" gives you a warning about compliance with privacy laws that should be taken seriously - you don't want to spend your time recovering from email penalties instead of delighting your customers.
So, what can you do to build your email list fast? Well, not too much (though a few of the items below can make an impact pretty quickly). But there are many things you can do that, in combination, will consistently bring in quality names to your database.
The one thing that’s guaranteed to build your email list is simply to ask! Everywhere! On your website, in the field, on the phone - any time you can ask without being utterly inappropriate (e.g. at a funeral), do.
Asking for Email Addresses Online
Does your website give customers the opportunity to share their info? Use one of these techniques:
1. Blog Subscription
The most obvious way to gather contacts is simply to ask people to subscribe to your email newsletter or blog. You do blog for your business, don’t you? A simple form in the sidebar and/or in each blog post is easy.
2. Contact Form Opt-In
People are already submitting their info to you. Why not include a checkbox to subscribe to your promos, blog, or news updates?
3. Run a Contest
Try running a contest, and ask people to enter with their email addresses. The prize doesn’t need to be huge, and will probably cost you less than the email list your boss wanted to buy.
The big difference is that people will be giving you their contact information voluntarily. Also, you know these people value what you offer—especially if you pick a prize that is particularly desirable to your buyer persona. For example, if you own an HVAC installation business, give away a prize related to home improvement that will attract homeowners.
Finally, don’t forget to let people know about your contest on the social media channels that allow this kind of thing! Just be sure to check the rules (especially for Facebook), so you don’t end up in the penalty box.
4. Refer a Friend
If you have customers who really love your product, they won’t have a problem letting their friends know about you. Be sure to include a way for people to do that easily, whether on your website or in your emails. Social sharing buttons that let people click to share are a great way to do this.
5. Email Add-Ons
When you do send out email newsletters, try including a button or other CTA at the bottom that encourages readers to forward it to a friend. This is a great way to expose new people to your valuable information without violating anyone’s privacy. If they like what they see, they might just subscribe.
Speaking of email, don’t forget the more common business emails you send out by the hundreds every day. HubSpot reports that when “P.S.” is included at the bottom of an email, it becomes the 2nd most-read part of the email. Adding a call to action in the postscript, for example asking people to subscribe to your blog, is certainly worth a try.
6. Social Media Opportunities
There are many ways to use your social channels to help build your email list.
When you answer questions on social media, include a link to a web page or blog post with more information. And of course, your site pages and blog posts will feature opportunities to subscribe.
You can, of course, simply ask people to subscribe in social posts, but be careful not to be “spammy” while doing it.
Speaking of social media opportunities, take advantage of Facebook's Call-to-Action button (seen in blue on our page below). It’s free and easy to use!
Getting Contacts Offline
You don’t have to restrict yourself to digital formats when gathering contacts to build your email list. Whenever you’re with others (again, unless you’re at a funeral) there can be opportunities to connect.
7. Public Speaking and Trade Shows
Once someone has had a chance to meet you in person and learn about your business, they’re a lot more likely to trust you with their email address. That’s why in-person events are a great time to build your email list. You could go old school with a clipboard and a pen, or bring a tablet and have people fill out a very simple online form.
If you’re speaking, you can always end by telling people the benefits of subscribing and giving them a URL they can visit on their smartphones to take the plunge. And don’t forget the old “drop your business card into the fishbowl” signup—simple, but effective.
8. QR Codes
QR codes are really flexible today. They can be linked to almost anything, including your subscribe page. Consider using them on printed materials like your business cards, print ads, post card mailers, etc.
9. Paper Forms
Just like your online contact form, paper forms can include a “would you like to subscribe?” checkbox. Examples include event sign-in sheets and order forms in catalogs.
10. Point-of-Sale Signups
It is becoming more common that sales clerks ask for some form of contact info when checking out. They could always ask if the customer would like to opt in as part of the checkout process. Certainly, that old fishbowl will fit beside a cash register.
11. Phone Orders
You’re already asking for a customer’s contact info when taking a phone order. What will it hurt to ask if they would like coupons emailed to them, too?
Whether you’re gathering email addresses digitally or in person, you’ll need to keep a few things in mind. It’s best to get in touch with new contacts as soon as possible after you get their email addresses. The longer you wait, the less likely it is that they’ll remember why they signed up, increasing unsubscribes and spam reports.
When you reach out to new contacts, remind them how you got their email addresses, what you’ll be sending them, and how often. Bait-and-switch is not a good long term strategy for building your email list. And, of course, if they ask to be removed, do so promptly.
Yes, quickly bulking up your email database is a tough project. However, if you make it a priority to build contacts naturally, you’ll end up with a great email list that converts leads into customers.
Just remember: buying email lists is likely to backfire, and those people didn’t want to hear from you anyway. But there are people out there who do, so why not go find them instead?