Let’s be honest: can you think of a company that doesn’t use emails to interact with its clients? …

For almost all digital companies, email is still the number one professional tool for communication and thenumber one channel for sales. This is why every startup and every entrepreneur make great efforts to build this channel, and it all really starts at the beginning— a list of people to email ie clients! If only it were as simple as clicking your fingers and “snap” you have that audience that is passionate about your product or service… alas, like everything else in this world, you have to earn that valuable attention from prospective clients!

And once you have their attention, you can start to interact with your audience and jump into that exciting realm of email marketing. Along those lines, this post will help you along the journey with the a checklist of 4 core elements to excel at email marketing: 1) create an email list 2) grow your list 3) keep in mind best practices and 4) avoid these rookie mistakes

How to build a mailing list

There are a myriad of ways to collect emails, but at the end of the day, you’re going to want to focus on two things— finding the right channel to increase subscribers and making sure you’re providing them value (and of course with their permission first!). To do so, try out a number of these methods and then scale up faster with the points further down on growing your mailing list.

1) Collect emails on your website. This could be a fully functioning and beautiful website you’ve built, a blog (where anyone can subscribe) or it could be a launch page just testing your MVP. Either way, you need to make sure you’re CTA is to “continue the conversation” by collecting your audience’s email.

2) Create a list from your address book / previous email interactions. Your community, the people you interact with on a daily basis are a great place to start building an email list and to then provide you feedback on your emails. To create that list of all the folks you’ve been interacting with, we humbly invite you to check out our own service, Flashback, which scans your past emails to create an email list overnight. An important point to note is that Flashback not only provides their emails, but a complete list with their name / telephone / company / role and much more so that it’s valuable to you beyond just their email, and of course so that you can personalize the emails with their names and not just a “Hi,” which’ll often land you in spam if you’re not careful.

Once you have that list of 250, 500, or 3000 people, you should consider doing an “opt-in” to your new list as we all know what it’s like to suddenly be on someone’s list for “Los Angeles Real Estate Offers” or “Raise Money for …”.

3) Ask for help. This could be as simple as asking your current community ”do you know anyone interested in this?”. Your first customers/clients/interested subscribers will probably be among your most important and will help you continue to hone your product/service, so having folks that are particularly interested (early adopters) will be very valuable in the long run. You can also jump onto forums with any questions, presenting what you’re doing and that’ll help move your early community forward.

More specifically, I’m currently reading a great book by Jason SurfrApp (yes he sold his name which was just one of his notable creative ways of making a living while having fun) where he talks about launching new businesses and how he reached out personally to 20-30 members of his community— so, before building a “list” for his business, he interacted with his community and got great advice, and also a channel that eventually helped him to promote his efforts. Think “tribe” as Seth Godin describes it.

4) Choose your platform. There are a wide range of platforms to use for your email marketing and to host your email list. While we do this internally (and send email via Amazon), to get started you might check out Mailchimp, intercom, customer.io, aweber or a number of other more startup-friendly platforms (personally, I’ve had good experiences with the first 2 and would recommend them as there are free for smaller lists when you’re getting started). Otherwise, here are the big hitters reviewed as a top 10. And if you are going to be communicating about multiple topics, you’ll need to consider list management as well.

How to grow your list

1) Provide value. This is the most important point of this entire post. To gain someone’s confidence and for them to become a client of yours, you need to convince them that you’re someone worth listening to and worth trusting. You can provide value in so many ways— it could be advice via email, a free service (seo analysis, auto-updating address book— hint hint, check out Evercontact!), a webinar, interesting content. The list goes on, but in a dense online world these days, you have to make sure that you’re not asking for something before you’re providing something of value first. After that value has been provided in some way, make sure you’re collecting their email, or have already collected it in order to access that value.

2) Guest-blog and then send engaged readers to a specific landing page to collect their emails, maybe in exchange for a white paper, ebook, access to a premium trial etc.

3) Host or co-host a webinar . Check out this nice read from Derek Halpern on how he collected 1058 new subscribers in less than a month with a unique webinar he hosted. Likewise, we partnered on a webinar with ContactMonkey last year with on mastering your inbox and it generated over 300 new subscribers.

4) Start a twitter #chat within your niche.

5) Seed your valuable content (blog posts etc) within forums such as growthhackers, hackernews, reddit etc. We do this regularly within growthhackers and hackernews and it always pushes 500-1000 and sometimes even 4000 new visitors to the blog.

6) Make a ‘how-to’ video within your niche and add a CTA at the end pushing towards a landing page where you engage them and collect their email.

7) Make sure you have social sharing buttons on your websites so that people can easily share your content and grow your audience. Humbly ask for shares within your email marketing (a clicktotweet never hurts… and I’ve included one below in this post ;-) ), or “forward to a friend” buttons on your newsletters.

8) Cross-market with another startup and exchange newsletter mentions, immediately gaining access to their list. You’ll need to experiment with this and find the right partners— we’ve found it to be very successful with certain communities and within others not at all.

9) Use pop-ups on your blog. Yep, you’ll definitely annoy some readers (the writer himself included) but data doesn’t lie and we’ve found that pop-ups increased our conversion by over 200%.

Must-dos with your email marketing

1) Make sure your list is opt-in. You might have an older list that is mostly out-of-date or people in the list that never really opted in— if they haven’t asked for your email, it will be hard to convince them of the value at the start, and it might even get a few spam clicks, and eventually more if they’re really not interested in what you’re sending. This’ll not be good for your overall sender reputation.

2) Provide value immediately in the email, starting with a rockin’ email subject which will strongly impact your open rates. With every email, remind yourself of the 4 Cs: Clear. Concise. Compelling. Customer-centric and infuse this in every interaction you have with your clients.

3) Use Mail Merge or try out a platform that allows you to personalize your emails with your subscriber’s first name.

4) Ask for help. Before sending out a mass email, test out the terrain a bit and send the email off to the 5-10 people you trust and whose opinion you value. They’ll help you fine-tune your message before shooting it to all of your subscribers.

5) Ask for help 2. After you’ve provided a lot of value to a email subscriber of yours, ask them to return the favor. This could be “word of mouth” referral for the service/advice you’re offering. This could be eventually upgrading to your service. It could be for a review of your service… the potential is endless, but the key is to have built confidence beforehand.

6) Be CAN-SPAM compliant. There are plenty of factors to keep in mind, but above all, make sure you always have an unsubscribe link at the bottom of your emails.

7) Set up a drip email campaign that is time and trigger-oriented. There are times of the day that increase opening rates significantly and for most marketing emails we’ve found greatest success during or right after lunch time. Likewise, if you have a product where you can email users when they take a certain action, there’ll be a much higher CTR as the timing is more pertinent to them.

8) Track your performance. At the very least, you’ll want to know open rates / CTR / unsubscribes for each of your emails. Most SaaS email marketing platforms have this included in their offer, and you should make a habit of checking these regularly and seeking correlations between your content/results.

9) A/B test your emails. Try seeing how changing your tone affects your metrics. Your community will most certainly enjoy a specific kind of interaction over another. Likewise, try formulating your “offer” in different ways. Try out a ton of different subjects to see which engages readers the most. Try humor. Try emotionally motivated copy. Try a long vs a short email. Try, try try and then choose the best version and then tweak it again.

10) Connect with your community outside of email on twitter, facebook, linkedin, google+ and if you’re just starting out, choose just one of those platforms to really scale up (but of course be present on all of them). This’ll help develop your community in more personal ways than email sometimes offers, and of course then helps with the efforts on email as well!

Avoid these rookie mistakes!

1) BCCing a “hello”, “hey all” to 250, 500 or more people… because these days, no one has time for a non-personal email. Do a mail merge or use a professional service with a mailing list where you can at least insert your subscriber’s first name.

2) Don’t mass email before you’ve done your “pre-launch efforts”. An email blast right at the start probably isn’t the best way to get up and running with your business/new project. Instead, consider writing 3 emails each day to the folks that really count in your tribe, and once you’re starting to get great, positive feedback and are ready to “go live” with your project, go live! (see point 3 in “building a list” and do it like Jason did).

3) Don’t send spam. Spam is “irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large number of recipients.” If someone hasn’t given you their email address, or if you’re not providing value, don’t send that email— it’s hurting your business, not building it.

4) A boring subject. A boring subject is a great place to start— say in the most simple way what your email is about, and from there, make it fun, make it something that EVERYONE wants to open. Once it’s compelling enough, think of another subject and A/B test them… but don’t settle for a weakly engaging subject, otherwise, you’ve lost your audience’s attention, and might have even lost it for the next email as well.

5) No obvious call-to-action in the email. An email without a main action, a valuable action for your audience, is a worthless email. Make your CTA clear and strong so that your audience gets the value they want!

6) Not thinking mobile. Up to 65% of emails are first read on mobile phones. Wild right! That’s great news because upwards of 75% of companies are not sending responsive emails, so the market is wide open for the players that are doing it right! Get ahead of the crowd before everybody catches on ;-)

CLICK-TO-TWEET: 65% of emails are first read on mobile. Get email marketing right, and start with these tips!

7) Not spell-checking your emails. Share it with a colleague or two before clicking that “send button” to a list of thousands ;-)

8) Not checking out your metrics. If you don’t know how your community is reacting to your emails, you’re never going to improve and really, you’re probably never going to succeed. You should love to see these stats and if not, learn to love them!

In conclusion, the possibilities with email marketing are endless, and yet, at the end of the day, it’s still human interaction and the law of the land is clear: the bottom line is to think “value” and “community” and to analyze how your efforts are engaging those kind people who have given you their attention. Beyond that, and what we discussed above, there’s lot of room for more ideas on how to build, grow and engage your email list, so I’ll leave that to you, dear reader, and would love to hear from you in the comments on this original post here!