One of my clients recently considered two options for building his email list to market his consulting services.


One option was to offer an online contest for a free iPad. Contestants would submit name and email address to enter the drawing. My client would add all contestants to his email marketing list. The other option was to offer a free e-book with management tips for business owners, my client’s target audience.

Option one appealed to my client who thought more people would enter the contest for the iPad. He ultimately chose option two, though, because he recognized a fundamental rule of email list building: Quality trumps quantity.

Yes, he may have attracted more registrants if he ran the contest. You don’t have to be a business owner to want a free iPad. He might have gotten 10 registrants for the iPad contest for every one registrant for the business tips book. But more than 90 percent of those registrants would not have been qualified prospects for his services. Any time he spent emailing those people would have been a waste of time and resources.

By starting with a smaller list of better qualified prospects, he will spend less on his email marketing while converting as many sales as he would have with the larger list. In fact, he might convert more because he is not wasting time on those who aren’t real prospects.

The same principle applies to many list-building tactics. Do you put a “drop your card here” bowl at your tradeshow booth? Do you indiscriminately collect business cards at networking events without first determining whether the person could benefit from your products or services? Do you purchase email lists or scrape lists from business directories. All of these tactics can add lots of people to your list. Lots of people is not the same thing as lots of prospects, though.

Here are three simple rules to apply to your email list building:

1. Ask permission.

Whether running a contest online or collecting contact information in person, always request explicit permission before adding someone to your mailing list. Your list may be smaller, but it will be filled with people who want to hear from you.

2. Tell prospective subscribers what they can expect.

What will you send? How often? What’s in it for them. If you describe the benefits, more people will opt-in. They’ll anticipate and welcome your emails, and they’ll be more likely to open and read them.

3. Mitigate fear and risk…

…by reminding people you won’t share their emails with anyone and you will honor opt-out requests (and then always keep that promise). This, too, will lead to more people opting-in with confidence that you can be trusted.

These rules apply both online and offline. Describe the benefits of subscribing above the online signup form and put that privacy statement below it. If talking directly with a prospective subscriber, explicitly ask permission, state the benefits and describe the privacy policy.

You’ll have a cleaner, better yielding list that will generate more business with less headache and hassle.


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