Build Your Online BusinessWelcome to the sixth installment of Build Your Online Business (BYOB). Want to learn more about this awesome guide. Head here

So if you asked me `Natalie, if you had to start over again what is the one thing you would have done differently from the beginning?” I would say it’s this: Start an email list! My friend Matt Goldfarb summed it up so well in our recent webinar:

“Having a List of dedicated fans and clients is the single most important asset any business can have. Having a list is the best way to deepen a relationship with your audience. It’s where you share your story, your purpose, and your insight. It’s where you can turn prospects into rabid fans.”

When I think about how many visitors I lost in the early days because I had nothing to offer and no way of being able to contact them again, it makes me kick myself. I also had this strange perception in my head that `list’ and ‘building’ were two dirty words. In fact they are two of the smartest words ever.

List = your tribe. Building = profitability.

Money doesn’t grow on trees, it grows in your list and all those times you’ve heard that your list is your business, it’s true.

Money tree courtesy of Shutterstock

Actually your `list’ is really your blog subscribers, newsletter readers, Twitter followers, Facebook or MySpace friends — these are all people who have given you permission to contact them. Seth Godin calls these lists and groups ‘permission assets’. The more relevant and valuable messages you send these people, the more trust and credibility you earn with them — and the more likely they are to buy from you.

SeeWhy studied a sampling of 60,000 ecommerce transactions across a variety of sites in February 2011. They charted where the traffic was coming from initially, and then only recorded the people who actually loaded items into their shopping cart from the online sites. Look what reigned supreme in terms of sending them there in the first place? Yes you guessed it – email.

 

Now you’re impressed by the results, let’s get down to the basics of how to start a list.

What is an email list and why do you need one now?

As my friend Ashley Ambirge so rightly put it,

an email list is essentially a way for people to sign up and agree to receive communication for you–whether it’s new blog posts, special offers, exclusive communication or a standard newsletter, for example. And every single successful blogger, internet entrepreneur or small business owner who leverages the internet to market themselves HAS AN EMAIL LIST.  This is non-negotiable.”

As you can see on my side bar I have a rather large panel that asks you to get your Highflyer newsletter, on a weekly basis, by giving me your details. In return I’ll give you my kick as free eBook the Social Media Workout for Entrepreneurs – highly popular by the way.

Behind this pretty image is some fancy code from Mailchimp, my email client of choice. This code captures the name and email of the person opting in to receive my updates. They effectively become a subscriber once they’ve confirmed a second time that, yes indeed, they do want to hear from me. I prefer the double opt-in message as it means you really want to hear from me as you went through two steps to confirm that.

Most email clients like Aweber, Mailchimp and Constant Contact allow you to collect much more information like a phone number, website, answer to a question, location etc. However studies show that asking for just an email field–not, even a field for a name–are those that convert the best, in terms of getting people to sign up. However, in my opinion I ask for a name too as who wants to communicate with someone they don’t even know on a first name basis! How impersonal. That’s not how you build a tribe.

The Real Benefits of having a list

Two words – communication and relationships.

Relationships:

How do you build friendships? You talk about things you have in common, you build trust based on what you both do and know and divulge to each other over time. Treat your new tribe member like a best friend, get them interested, get them into your sales funnel, make them feel good, help them out, offer them heaps of value and, sooner or later, if they like you enough they will buy from you and view you as a trusted resource.

It really is all about relationships. Think about it. You buy from people and brands you like, know and trust.

Communication:

If you don’t call, email or meet up with your best friend often enough they’ll think you’re ignoring them or you’re just not as close as you used to be. Big lesson I learned early on. I didn’t want to bother my new tribe members to regularly, so once a month, fairly inconsistently, I’d send out a kind of branded email, with some interesting stuff and hope to not intrude in their inbox.

Seriously wrong angle to take. They forgot about me. Once a month this email would arrive and they couldn’t remember who I was or why I was emailing so they’d either just delete it or unsubscribe. People want to hear from you, regularly, about useful things, that benefit them and make them happier/ wealthier/ lovelier/ smarter/ more free/ more positive/ more fit – you name it – provide massive value consistent with your brand and topic.

Think about every email list you’re part of and what makes you open that person’s email every time? Is it because you find incredible value in it? Do you like what they’re promoting? Do they have funny stories? Useful tips? Timely videos?  You have become conditioned to open their emails because there’s a reward for doing so – you benefit.

If you do this with your own emails then not only are you building your authority, credibility and likeability with your audience, you also have a greater likelihood of your readers opening your emails with promotions and offers, because they’re used to it This means they’re more likely to buy from you too. This can take 7 or 8 touch-points by the way so don’t be disheartened.

Knowing your list

One of the activities I’m constantly looking to improve is knowing who is listening and reading my Highflyer newsletter. The more I know about you, the better I can cater to your needs.

Luckily email clients like Mailchimp tell you a wealth of information like how many people opened your email, who clicked, who didn’t, what time the emails were opened, where in the world and what percentage of your list cares. Common industry open rates are around 20% and click rate around 3%.

There are ways to better segment your opt-ins. At the time of opt-in you can have separate lists. For example you’re a beautician who wants to send out a separate mailout to those clients interested in pampering services vs esthetic treatments.

Simply ask them a question as they opt-in or have separate sign up boxes. Danielle LaPorte offers a good example of this on her site with a monthly and weekly digest that you can see here.

Create a Ritual

So you are now building your list, what exactly are you going to do with them. I’d suggest having a content plan in place. Much like blogging, you need to know what you want to email out each week or month that will keep your readers enticed and coming back for more.

This took me some time to figure out and you should experiment. It’s OK if people unsubscribe – seriously it is. They’re just not part of your tribe. When I had my first person unsubscribe I was so upset. I immediately emailed them directly asking what factor made them leave and how I could win their trust back. Kind of funny in retrospect.

While they appreciated my email, they said they simply were receiving too much email and right now my newsletter wasn’t relevant to their situation. Fast forward a month or more of me doing this for each unsubscriber ( had very and still have very few) I realized it was always the same answer – too much email and the content was not relevant to them right now. While you can likely improve on what you offer in your email, remember you can’t and shouldn’t try to appeal to every person. Keep doing what you do best and your tribe will stick with you. Eventually you’ll have a thriving list of people who love you and you love back.

Motivating People to Sign Up To Your List

I always tell my clients to think about what makes them sign up to receive anyone’s emails and why that was. How often do you stop to think about what makes you add one more email to your crowded inbox? Usually it’s because of some unbelievably cool giveaway or freebie, or a simply brilliant reason why you’d be missing out if you didn’t. I’ve seen way to many sites say `Sign up to my newsletter’ with absolutely no compelling reason for me to do so. Please don’t do that!

People will sign up to your list if you:

  • Can solve their specific problem, or offer at least to do a damn good job of it
  • Motivate, inspire, inform them or make them happier, more productive, more successful etc
  • Think you’re worth hearing from – as in they’ve bought into you

I have to say the first of these is the most compelling one to increase your opt-ins. Who doesn’t like having their problem solved? You will be even more successful if you offer a giveaway in some form.

People get hung up on this when they really needn’t. For example you do not need to spend months slaving away on an eBook (like I did – although it’s been worth it as the feedback I get rocks my world).

Instead think about what you have in your hot little hands right now or in that wonderful brain of yours that someone else will find valuable.

Could you:

  • Create an audio recording of you talking through your subject matter for 10 minutes?
  • Write a `10 things you need to know about…’ list or report?
  • Create a short video showing your expertise, or better yet a video series that offer 3 minute tips on your topic?
  • Offer a short eBook with 10 slides of motivational quotes or beautiful pictures with a lovely message?
  • Offer a complementary 20 minute consult or coaching session?
  • Write a short manifesto on what you’re most passionate about

One REALLY important caveat.

While I did just tell you not to get hung up on this and take action to develop something today, you must not produce crap. This should be your best stuff here. Why? Because this initial offering sets the benchmark for every other interaction with you from then on.

It’s the basis for the decision your list will make on any future products you may produce that you will want them to consider buying. Imagine if you totally delight them with your free gift, they’ll be coming back for more and will know that any paid product you offer will also be kick ass – so make sure it is!

What to include in your newsletter

One thing I learned pretty quickly is to treat my newsletter like my blog. I continually seek to add better content to it week after week and tweak what’s resonating well and what’s not. I’ve cleaned up my design and finally have a template I’m happy with – what’s even better is I regularly get emails from people saying they love it and asking what template I’m using or how I went about designing it.

In general the same rule of thumb applies to email marketing as it does to your website:

  • Clean, attractive design that is easy to read with decent spacing
  • Use of sub headers to direct people where you want
  • An introduction, middle and end
  • Clear navigation – use of a side bar works well for advertising offerings on your website
  • Obvious call to actions – click here, share this, read the full article
  • Social Media share buttons to allow people to easily forward and share your newsletter
  • A photo of yourself and/ or personal message – people have to relate to you

Sign up to my Highflyer  to see how super simple my design is (it used to be a full on stylish newsletter). Now it’s all about pure content and value. If you like what you see and aren’t signed up then make sure you do! (Had to plug that didn’t I).

Thanks to my blog editorial calendar, which also includes my newsletter, I can plan what content I want to include which almost always aims to provide:

  • Useful blog post to read with a teaser paragraph and link to full article
  • Latest podcast or Toolkit Time video to check out
  • Major update on something I’m doing that matters or product launch or offering or next excellent webinar

Here are other things you can include depending on what it is that you do:

  • Link to free downloads of something you’ve just created
  • Affiliate promotion of somebody’s work that you highly recommend
  • Q&A – where you answer someone’s question from your community
  • Personal video message of the week/month
  • Photos of your latest adventures or something fun, funny or inspiring that’s relevant
  • Quote of the week/ month
  • Tip of the week/ month

The trick is to look at other peoples’ newsletters and what you like about there’s that work. Most people will not sit and read long newsletters unless they’re clearly broken up into relevant sections. All you need is the intro paragraph to each section with a link to learn more.

There’s so much more I could tell you but it’s all too much for this blog post, so just stay tuned to the BYOB series for updates, extra templates and goodies I will email you to make your life easier.

Leave a comment below with your major newsletter question too and I’ll make sure I do my best to answer it for you.