Why “Build Your Email List” Might Be the Wrong Advice

Why “Build Your Email List” Might Be the Wrong Advice

How To & Business Tips Marketing Tips

Is building an email list really that important? And if you do decide to build one, how should (or shouldn’t) you go about doing so?

If you run any type of business and you use the internet, you’ve probably heard all of the online marketers and coaches pushing you to build your email list. They like to tout that it’s the best way to grow your business. But is it really?

Well brace yourselves, because around here, we have an unpopular opinion about email lists. While gathering emails and sending out newsletters can be helpful for some types of businesses, for others it can be the absolute wrong focus. In many cases, it can backfire, turning off potential customers, and ultimately reflecting poorly on your brand.

It really depends on what kind of business you operate.

Is a Mailing List Right for Your Business?

What’s Good for You vs. What’s Good for your Customers

As an entrepreneur, you’ve likely invested a lot of time and energy into developing your business. Of course you feel like whatever it is that you offer–whether it’s a product or a service–is important. However, you need to learn to be objective. When you’ve poured your blood, sweat, and tears into your work, it means something to you but does what you have to say really qualify as newsworthy to your subscribers?

Will People Care?

Who cares? Of course you care about your content, but will your readers care? People are interested in what benefits them. Not you as a business owner, but themselves; as people first, and only as customers later.

Not everything that you want to say will be of the utmost interest to your readers. If you aren’t adding substantial value, it’s better not to pester your contacts with another email in their inbox. Really stop to think about what kind of business you run, and how your news and updates would add value to your potential subscribers’ everyday lives.

What Works

For example, businesses that are entertainment-based, that deal with specific hobbies, or seek to foster connection and community are types of businesses that can be very successful with newsletters. Why? Because people are inclined to seek out pleasure and personal benefit. Businesses that operate around these personal interests attract subscribers based on their leisure interests and/or desire to stay connected to others with similar interests to them.

Case in point: I used to run a dance studio. At that time, building my email list made perfect sense. We had a dance community where people had an active interest in learning more about news related to dancing. While I did share information about our dance classes, I also included announcements about events, shared great dance videos, and made music suggestions. There was a sense of camaraderie and community among my newsletter recipients. Of course, there was a promotional aspect to the content, but there weren’t any tricks or catches to signing up for the newsletter.

That’s how it was in the early days of email newsletters, before virtual business operations became omnipresent. Remember when you only received a few emails a day, and you were excited to see what was inside? How does that feeling compare to the one you get when you check your overflowing inbox these days?

How Not to Build Your Email List

Nowadays, it’s another story. Email, though extremely important, has started to turn into a heavy obligation and a chore. We all receive so many emails, and hearing from businesses too often can feel like spam.

Given this, it’s perhaps not altogether surprising that there’s a message that’s been going around and is being voiced strongly: that you have to build your email list. This message is usually coupled with advice on how to go about doing so. It’s often suggested that you offer something for free on your website in order to get people to opt-in for your mailing list. Everyone likes a giveaway, right?

There are some big problems with this model. First of all, as I’ve already established, we all receive way too much email. Receiving yet another email—especially when you didn’t really want to sign up for it in the first place—can be really obnoxious.

Secondly, even if someone wants your freebie, when you don’t just give them what you’ve promised but instead require that they sign up for your mailing list, there’s a feeling of being tricked. If your offer is really enticing, people may sign up for it, but most of them will feel forced into opting in. “Well, I don’t really want to sign up for this mailing list but I guess I will to get my free X. Rats.”

As a result, after people receive your freebie, they’re rarely excited to hear from you again. If the freebie was outstanding and gave them something really valuable, they might stick around, but if they only signed up for your opt-in out of obligation, they may end up unsubscribing once they get tired of deleting all their unread emails. Worse yet, this whole song-and-dance can leave them with a negative impression about your brand.

Mailing Lists: A Better Way

What if you took a different approach?

Wouldn’t your brand be a lot stronger if your visitors didn’t feel like they were being coerced into something when they visited your website? Offering something for free isn’t a bad idea at all. It’s the requirement that goes with it that’s the problem.

When you offer something of value for free, without any strings attached, you can earn your potential customers’ trust while also establishing yourself as an expert. This is the key behind content marketing.

If your free offer is, for instance, a downloadable “How To” guide with valuable tips, tools, and resources that your visitors will be enticed by and will benefit from, why not just give it to them without the required sign up? At the end of the guide, give them the option of signing up for your newsletter; explain that if they found what they read to be helpful, they can sign up by choice to receive future updates with similar useful content.

Imagine how differently your subscribers will feel about your brand if they’re able to sign up for your valuable updates out of their own volition, rather than feeling they’ve been forced into it. They’ll respect you so much more! Plus, you’ll have attracted a potential new customer whose values and interests actually align with your brand’s.

On the other hand, for a lot of businesses you might be better off skipping the newsletter altogether. Instead, focus on continuously adding quality content to your blog. This will attract visitors to your website of their own free will, it’s great for SEO, and people will respect you for generously sharing information without expecting something in return.

Depending on your offer, there might be times when you can’t provide your value-add without getting back to the client directly by email. That’s understandable. For example, we offer a free social media evaluation where we can’t give feedback to our readers about what they’re doing well with their social media marketing and what they could improve upon without first knowing what their business is. We need to be able to go and check out their website and social profiles, perform an analysis, and then get back to them with a personalized evaluation. For that, we ask for their basic business information and email address, but it’s not a newsletter sign up.

The Final Word

Of course, almost any kind of business can have a successful newsletter that people choose to subscribe to, and enjoy receiving.
Mailings related to hobbies, entertainment, personal interests (similar to my old dance studio), and community-oriented information are all particularly great for newsletters, but even professional services can have a successful mailing list when people sign up by choice.

The keys to a successful newsletter are to offer value, never coerce people into signing up, and to have a trustworthy brand that’s so generous and open with useful content that people are inclined to sign up of their own free will. You’ve worked so hard to create a great business. Let your valuable content speak for itself and you won’t need to resort to sneaky (and let’s face it – tired) gimmicks to build your potential client base. Your business can, and should, be able to stand on it’s own two legs.

If you need help creating or managing a successful, value-add, non-spammy newsletter campaign that people actually want to read, we’d love to offer a hand. Contact us and we’d be happy to discuss if a newsletter makes sense for you, and how to best make it an asset that will help you to grow your business.

Todd Foster

As a dedicated Digital Marketing Strategist at Barker Social, I am passionate about helping businesses unlock their full potential online. With a focus on results-driven strategies, I aim to deliver measurable success for our clients.