5 Things to Do Before You Build Your Email List


By now, you should know my stance on buying email lists: don’t do it. Once my client understands why this tenent is such an important foundation to a healthy email marketing practice, they are typically very ready to start building their own in-house list. But there are potential pitfalls to avoid down this path as well. Here are 5 things you should think about before you start to build your email list that will help you avoid these obstacles and build a healthy in-house list:

1. Who should be on your list?

Step one of any list-building exercise should be focused directly on who you want to add to your list. If you are building a list of prospects–people you hope to later sell your products or services–think about who you need to talk to: what’s the persons role, title, industry, need, issue, budget, etc. If you’re a non-profit, think about why you need to add people to your list.

Ask such questions as what you will need these new contacts to do on your behalf later (e.g., volunteer, donate, activism, etc.). The better you can qualify the people you want to add to your list before they end up on your list, the more productive your list will be.

2. What are you going to say?

The rule of thumb for basic database marketing is that success is roughly based 40% on your list, 40% on your content, and 20% on creative elements. So, after taking care of the first 40% (who will be on your list), consider what are appropriate messages for that audience. This will effectively cover almost 80% of your overall success criteria. Here are some questions to consider:

Are you trying to educate them about the nature of your offerings, are you trying to network and begin other conversations, or are you sharing other information with them? Will you need to send them a series of emails to effectively provide all the information they need, or will the message be contained in one-time emails that will be delivered on a regular schedule?

3. How can you further qualify your contacts?

With the message (i.e., item #2 above) in mind, you can begin constructing a series of emails designed to help them through the entire process, perhaps qualifying your list at each pass. For example, you could start out by asking for only a little bit of information (such as just their name and email address) in order to send them a white paper.

Then, with your follow up email, offer them a podcast, in exchange for a little more info (such as their company name and their title). Finally, you might invite them to a webinar, and here you might ask for a phone number. Knowing what your entire message system might look like will not only help you bring your audience through your processes nicely, it will also help you understand what if needed on your end to make it happen.

4. How soon (and how often) will you send an email?

Once someone joins your list, when will you send the first email? When will you send follow up emails? In virtually all cases, there should be some sort of “welcome” email … something that will help confirm that they did indeed submit their email address to some system, perhaps shows them the ropes of your organization, sets some level of expectations on the nature and frequency of emails you will be sending, etc.

5. How will you measure success?

This should really be one of your first steps, because by knowing how you will be measuring your own success, you can better build systems that fit your needs and help you achieve your goals.