The first thing anyone needs to do before creating an email list is define what the list is for.
The classic list most everyone starts with personally is “Jokes” — a list of friends who share your sense of humor that you think would enjoy the same jokes and cartoons you do, so you can forward jokes you get. It’s the classic first online “viral” thing that was sent by email! You either did it yourself …or hate it when you get them from your friends, right? Now it’s time to think about how email lists can be used for business.
For business, most think their audience is “Customers, of course!” and stop there. But that’s not specific enough. Do you really mean existing, paying customers? All of them, or a subset? What about prospective customers? What about vendors you buy from? It’s not as easy as just saying “Customers.”
So it’s smart to sit down and describe who you want to reach, and for what purpose. Hint: you may need more than one list!
I did just this with Emailified when I came up with the idea in late 2015. I already have a fair number of mailing lists, for different purposes, and now I needed a new one. My oldest is my This is True newsletter list, which I started way back in 1994 — the Dark Ages of the Internet. That was an easy definition: readers who would enjoy a fun, thought-provoking newsletter about people who got into the news because they didn’t think. Because that was interesting, I got all sorts of press coverage, publicizing my list.
With Emailified, I needed to be a bit more specific. My audience here is small business owners who need to use the Internet to market their businesses, but are overwhelmed by the tech and want help getting going with an email list.
(Funny aside: What’s a “small business”? The federal Small Business Administration ought to know, but sure enough, nothing is simple in government: they offer a Table of Small Business Size Standards — really! The opening page for that is here, if you care. When I went to that page, what popped up? A form titled “Sign Up for Email Updates from SBA”!! Yes, they want you to sign up for their email list! Bottom line: I think you know if you are running a small business or not, so I don’t feel the need to define it.)
Why not large businesses? They have I.T. departments with full-time professionals to handle their email marketing. Yet small businesses can (and should!) compete with them: you’re not Amazon with their huge staff of computer nerds, but you can still do business online, and can still use email to bring customers in and keep them coming back. All you need is to know how — and that’s what Emailified is about. Companies like Amazon don’t need me, so they’re not in my target definition, but you probably do need me, and you are. Knowing this helps keep me focused.
You may have your own web site, and you might even have an “email list” compiled in your personal emailer, like Gmail or Outlook, and are finding yourself overwhelmed with it, and figure there has to be a better way. There certainly is: my main list has tens of thousands of subscribers, and yet I have to do almost nothing on a day-to-day basis to maintain it. If you’re trying to do business online, I can help you, and you’re part of my audience definition.
Your audience definition will vary depending on what kind of business you run. A restaurant, for instance, is likely to have local people who have already been there to eat before, and knowing that will help keep you focused. On the other hand, if you have a web site that sells art supplies, your list will mostly have non-local …what kind of artists? Painters? Sculptors? Photographers? What? Sit down and figure it out: who, specifically, will be interested in being on your mailing list, and why? When you get clarity on this, it will greatly help you focus your efforts: you have no need to pitch iPhone accessories to people who only have Android phones. Yet if you sell a wide variety of smartphone accessories, you might want two lists: one for iPhone owners, and another for Android owners. Getting the picture?
So sit down and write down who your audience is, or who your audiences are, plural: get a handle on what you need before you start building your solution.
Once you are clear in your mind about what your list is for, you can use that information to invite subscribers to get on your list and engage with you. You make an offer as to what it is they’ll get when they subscribe, and then they decide if giving you access to their inbox is worth it or not. And when you’re ready to send a message, do a self check: does this message serve the purpose that you defined, and your subscribers agreed to? If not, then don’t send it. If so, you’re golden, and likely to get good engagement with your audience.
And if you’re not yet on the Emailified mailing list yet, sign up so you know what to do next!