7 min read

How Small Businesses Can Build $50,000 Email Lists

The right emails to loyal customers at the right time can increase customer visits, order size and easily grow your sales by a big number.
How Small Businesses Can Build $50,000 Email Lists

In a busy world full of signal and noise, how can you be sure that your best customers are hearing from you, getting important messages about products and offers they would like to hear about, and that you are staying on top of their mind?

Easy: an email list.

It’s not Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other platform where your message will be swamped in a deluge of content. If your customers invite you into their inbox, it’s a sacred place where they are more likely to see your message.

It may sound like an odd idea: A restaurant with an email list? A grocer? A wine bar? A florist? An ice cream parlor?

But the key here is to laser focus your email list on your best customers.

If you keep it small, you can really get bang-for-your-buck, and it works best for small businesses that regularly have new or seasonal products and offers.

  • Restaurants can send a message about specials or seasonal dishes.
  • Grocers can send a message about seasonal arrivals and new or exotic products.
  • Wine bars can send a message about a new delivery of hard to get or in some other way special wine.
  • Florists can send a message about unique arrangements in short supply.
  • Ice cream parlors can send a message about special recipes and flavors that are available for a limited time only.

Here’s an example:

There’s a local farm in North America and they have an email that gets sent to 50 people in the local area. It doesn’t use newsletter software, there’s no website, landing pages or sign-up bonuses. You have to visit the farm, pay for your veggies and fill in a piece of paper attached to a clipboard. Then, every sometimes you’ll start getting emails. That is, if they remember to BCC you.

And their customers love this newsletter.

The farmer who writes it isn’t a best-selling author, isn’t a marketer, and probably spends very little time online because he’s busy being a full-time farmer. But still, even though writing newsletters isn’t his “job” he makes sure it happens consistently every week.

He does this, even just for 50 people, because he knows that the people on the email list are local, have purchased from his farm stall before, and are interested in hearing about this week's produce.

That’s why it’s highly effective.

Of the 50 people, up to 50% can visit the stall in a given week based on their weekend schedule and the strength of the produce available, because they now know about it versus not having any idea what fresh produce was available and defaulting to Wal-Mart.

If 25 people visit and purchase a $30 basket, that’s $750 per week. From a free email list and one short email.

Here’s why it works:

  • It’s timely. He sends this newsletter the day before the farm has its Saturday market. So people know exactly what they’ll be selling and can decide if they want to go, or how early they’ll line up (if they mention some veggies are in short supply… and there’s always a line). People get the email when they need it, eager to know what’s in store for the market the next day.
  • It’s got personality. You’d think selling organic veggies and homemade pastries could be somewhat boring or monotonous, but they tell a great story every single time. Everything from saving cows to mobster zucchinis. If you put your personality into it, you can create interest in anything.
  • It’s short. The people on the email list read it every week, end-to-end. That’s because while interesting, it is short and to the point. It doesn’t waffle, and the benefit of this is it doesn’t take long to write!
  • It’s consistent. The email gets sent every Friday night during the selling season. No excuses, no exceptions.
  • It’s simple. There’s no fancy mailing list software, no images, just plain-text with a story followed by a list of the produce that’s available. All bells and whistles have been stripped out (or never added in the first place). People get exactly what they need when they need it.

This strategy is about sending interesting and useful content to the people that need it, when they need it, with consistency. While letting your own and your small businesses personality shine through.

It’s underrated, underused, and highly effective.

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WIIFM: What’s in it for me?

Which businesses is it for? This is for any business that has returning customers, and doesn’t sell one-off goods or services.

What is the potential benefit? Email generates $42 for every $1 spent, and small businesses can significantly outperform this rate because you can also do it for free. The right emails to loyal customers can increase visits and purchases and easily lead to incremental spend. A business that can generate a $250 more spend and build a list of 200 loyal customers can make $50,000 more revenue  per year.

How much does it cost to implement? With our system, this initiative requires minimal set-up time of 1-2 hours and takes between 1 hour per month in effort, with no upfront or ongoing costs (our method uses free tools). This amounts to 12 hours a year, and a cost of $300 per annum assuming you have a $25 per hour rate.

How often should I revisit this? Setup once and then maintain.

Instructions for running this initiative

The instructions will help you implement a simple and free email marketing strategy, with great performance.

Step 1: Plan your Content Strategy

To begin, you need to plan the content that will work for customers and decide on the frequency at which you will send it.

The content should be simple and we recommend a two step content:

  • Engage your customers with a story
  • Inform that about the special products or offers available

Examples:

  1. Restaurants can tell a short, personal story about the local farmer who provided the seasonal ingredient, and then list the special dishes available that hero the farmers ingredient.
  2. Florists can tell a story about the history of the flowers being championed this week, and then describe the bouquets they have created.
  3. Ice cream parlors can tell a quick story about the inspiration behind this week's special ice-cream creation (a movie, something nostalgic) and then describe the product and how it celebrates that story.

This is where you can be creative and work with the characteristics of your business and product. Just keep it simple.

The frequency of your emails will be determined by how often you have a story to tell and a new or interesting product to share with your customers. Whatever you decide, just try to keep the frequency consistent.

Weekly, monthly or quarterly work best.

Step 2: Collect Customer Emails

Print out a simple table with a heading that describes the benefits of being on the list and two columns, name and email address (optional: add postcode as a third to get some additional customer insight).

Place this form on the main counter that most customers visit or where you normally have a conversation with your regulars. Think about whether there are multiple spots that make sense and have more than one form available.

Importantly, when regular customers come in encourage them to sign up for your email list. Train your staff to do the same thing.

Step 3: Add Customer Emails an Address Book

Using your existing email account, or after signing up for Gmail or any other free email provider, create a new group in your address book (this will make it easier to add all the emails to BCC every time you send an email).

Here’s how to do it in Gmail:

  1. Visit Google Contacts. You can find Google Contacts in the middle of the bottom row of your Google Apps tab.
  2. Click “Contacts”, “Frequently contacted”, or “Directory”.
  3. Select the contacts you want to include in your group.
  4. Choose the “Label” icon and press “Create Label”.
  5. Name your label and type your group’s name in the recipients box to send an email to them.

Before you send each email (at the frequency you choose, e.g. weekly) simply collect your sign up sheets and add the new names and emails to your group.

Step 4: Send your emails

Remember, you have one of two objectives:

  • Remind your customers you’re there, and/or
  • Inform them of a specific product or offer they’ll be interested in

Write up your email, have a colleague or friend proofread and edit it for you and send it to your email list group as a BCC. Done.

Step 5: Follow up to replies

A customer receives your email and replies with a question or comment. Brilliant! You have engagement. Make sure you track your inbox for a few days after each email and personally reply to each customer who interacts with your email.

Make sure you remove customers from your list who request to be removed.

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Key takeaways

Email marketing has a high return on investment.

Small businesses can get even higher returns if they follow the right strategy.

If this is a good fit for your business, get started today and start experimenting with email. You can always come back and refine your strategy as you learn more.

Print out some sign-up sheets and just get started.

Before you go...

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