Last Updated on June 20, 2022

Email marketing is an extremely useful tool and is most certainly still an effective mechanism to drive responses and sales, as we have written about before here. An opted in email list of people who have told you that they want to hear from you is one of the most valuable marketing resources that your business has, however it does take time and effort to build up such a list – it isn’t something that happens overnight.

The introduction of GDPR in 2018 does mean that it is not as easy to build up an email list as it once was, but it is still well worth putting some thought and effort into building up an opted in email list.

You are not alone if you find the concept of building a completely opted in database from scratch to be a daunting task. However, being able to send marketing materials to an email list of prospects who have specifically subscribed to receive your content (email newsletters, promotional materials, offers, nurturing email campaigns etc) really is worth the effort.

So how do you go about setting up and growing your list so that you can start nurturing a list of opt-in prospects as soon as possible?

  1. Attract prospects with valuable content.

We are big fans of using high value content to attract new prospects to you. “Content” can take a lot of forms but you almost certainly have really useful pieces of content inside your organisation that can be reformed and used in your prospect marketing. Things like industry reports, e-books, guides, white papers, webinars, webinar recordings, how to videos, blogs, infographics and so on can all work to offer educational value to your potential clients. It’s very important that this content has genuine educational value to the people in your target market. Thinly veiled sales materials will not work here. The content has to be valuable enough to make someone want to receive more of it, so re-badged sales brochures aren’t going to work here.

Your valuable content is published on your website and then disseminated through every possible channel including your social media platforms to draw visitors to your website to read it. If you become a subject matter expert or thought leader in your field you will naturally begin to attract more visitors to your website and socials. When they get to the website and they’ve enjoyed the thing that sucked them in, you can then use every possible trick in the book to get them to subscribe to your list…. More on those methods to follow, but good initial content is the starting point.

  1. Gate some of your most valuable content

If you are able to produce a range of excellent high value content then you could easily put some of the “meatier” pieces behind a gate.  By this I mean a system where the user is required to submit their email address in order to access the content. This is a very effective way to increase your database, if you have premium content to offer. The same process works for webinars (either live or on-demand) – your prospects only get access to these events if they give you their email address and so you include some terms in the booking allowing you to subscribe these contacts to your email list. However, as already mentioned above, this only works if your content has real value to the people in your target market.

  1. Set up an email newsletter and take every opportunity to invite people to subscribe

You don’t have to have an email newsletter. You can of course collect people’s email addresses and then just mail them with sales campaigns. However this approach is likely to lead to people unsubscribing from your list as they will soon get bored of only ever hearing sales messages. Better instead to set up a regular newsletter – this could be weekly, monthly, quarterly or whatever suits you and makes sense to your customer base – and then use this to push out more of your good quality content to people who signed up. You can include sales messages in that newsletter of course, but it also needs to include some genuine ‘news’ – educational content that has value to your subscribers such that they will want to remain as subscribers.

Get into the habit of using every touchpoint with clients and prospects as an opportunity to ask them if they want to subscribe to your newsletter. Consent can be gathered verbally, so if you are speaking to someone on the phone or at a trade show you can ask them if you can add them to your email list. The only requirement is you keep an audit trail so you have a note should their consent ever be queried. If you are in an email chain with someone, you can ask them if they’d like to be added to the list and file the email if they say yes. Add a newsletter subscriber link to your email signatures. Use a pop up on your website asking people to subscribe to inviting them to download a piece of your gated content in exchange for subscribing.

  1. Use other email lists  – bought data

Renting and buying email data is still an option and you can use mailings to these third party lists to drive people to your content, not just to convert and become a customer but perhaps as a first step to subscribe with you directly (via the content and subscriber options you are offering). This is a really good and quick way to step up your email marketing and drive specific people to your specific content to start a conversation with you and then also to opt in with you for future marketing.

Using third party email lists is not in contravention of GDPR but you do need to do a bit of due diligence with any such list that you buy in order to make sure that it is GDPR compliant. Be aware also that many email systems such as Mailchimp, for example, do not allow you to load third party data in so you may need to use a separate system for sending out emails to those lists. Be careful too to ensure that the rented names stay separate from your opted in list. Typically you rent third party data for a year after which time you can only continue to mail those people from the list who actually opted in with you directly so you need to be sure that you can accurately track that.

  1. Build email opt in to all your processes

Spend some time looking at all the ways prospects and customers interact with you and see if you can build in subscriber options at all of these points. Can you add marketing opt in to your checkout forms on your online store? Can you add it to your contact form? Can you build it into your email signatures? Think about the technology you are using and make sure you understand all of the routes someone gets in touch with you or gives their details and use these as opportunities to collect opt ins where possible. Make sure you are including marketing opt in consent at every opt in point with a checkbox and a link to your privacy policy, as required by GDPR.

  1. Use an email tool like Mailchimp and pull all subscribers into the list

Tools like Mailchimp and HubSpot make it easier to manage the collection of subscribers. Mailchimp for instance will allow you to create a popup on your website, a contact form and has APIs into other tools like WooCommerce and Thinkific meaning you can plumb everything in to suck contacts all back into a single Mailchimp audience for future emailing.

  1. Understand a bit more about GDPR – generic versus personal emails / customers versus prospects

It’s important to understand the GDPR implications of email marketing so you are comfortable with the law and what you can and can’t do and of course to be clear about how your processes are complying. For instance if you have a list of existing customers you may well be able to send marketing emails to these people already. If you have a lot of generic emails (like [email protected] [email protected]) which don’t contain any personal information then you may well be able to send marketing emails to these without any additional consent steps. Take some advice and do an audit of what you already have in house to get a jumpstart on an initial list.

  1. Allowing and managing unsubscribes

Before you start sending out emails think about how you will enable the unsubscribe process and how that will be managed. Many email tools handle this for you (like Mailchimp) so it won’t be too much trouble if all your marketing email is sent via that tool. If you use multiple tools or are starting from scratch then spending time making sure there is an unsubscribe option on all the emails and making sure this works and feeds back every time is vital. Apart from anything else, GDPR requires that you give people a means of opting out of your mailing list that is no more complicated or time consuming that how they ended up getting onto the list. If someone is able to subscribe to your list in a single click then they need to be able to unsubscribe in a single click as well. Another good reason to use a system such as Mailchimp that handles all of this for you.

  1. If you offer a newsletter then make sure you actually do send one out from time to time!

If you are going to start collecting subscribers and asking people to opt in for your marketing and marketing newsletters then make sure you actually send one out. Even if it’s quarterly to start with, that gives you a routine and timeframe for sending it out – and new content to put in it each time. You cannot store people’s emails forever without mailing them. GDPR requires you to keep the email for no longer than is necessary. If someone subscribes to your newsletter and then hears nothing from you for three years it would be very hard to argue that keeping their email address that long was really necessary!

How we can help you

We have some other resources on our website that might be of interest if you’re planning to ramp up your email marketing. If you would like to learn more about Mailchimp then our on demand Introduction to Mailchimp webinar might be useful.

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