When I went through business school I wasn’t taught the fundamentals of small business. It wasn’t until I started researching online business after graduating that I came across practical advice regarding the core facets of successful small business. There was one thing in particular that was continually hammered into me as I read more and more about building profitable businesses – the targeted mailing/contacts list is vital – and the web is the perfect vehicle to collect and maintain a list whether your business operates on or offline.
List Based Direct Marketing
As I delved further into online marketing I realized more and more that nearly every extremely successful online marketer has a highly targeted list, probably many lists. The key, especially for long term success online, was having a list of people interested in your products or services. Fundamentally list building uses the principles of direct marketing, which was developed in print media long before the web came along. The rules haven’t changed, but the delivery method has evolved into something available to businesses of any size, offering a global reach, and it is all thanks to the Internet.
Most business owners know from experience that it’s easier to sell to people that have already purchased from you. Current customers face less inherent risk when it comes time to buy again because they know what to expect from you and what you sell. The mailing list is the mechanism to maintain communications with customers and convert them into repeat customers, or to encourage them to tell their friends and bring in new customers. Without the list you lose access to the best marketing tool you have at your disposable.
When it comes time to sell your business buyers will look for potential future growth and earnings. The best potential for future earnings comes from current customers (repeat sales, up-sales, word of mouth marketing, market research, etc). Without a list, your business’s potential for future income is reduced and consequently the current value is less.
Automating List Building
The message is pretty clear. No matter what business you are in currently or will start in the future you should be building some form of list, preferably multiple lists for different types of customers (potential prospects, first time buyers and repeat buyers for example).
Before I studied my way to the realization that an email list was so important I was already collecting list data, I just wasn’t doing it very well or had no purpose behind it. I collected customer registration information for BetterEdit.com, my first real business project because I knew from time to time I would have to contact my clients. I maintained a newsletter that collected email addresses, at my ex-hobby site MTGParadise.com because I knew it was a good way to keep bringing people back to my site.
My list building has matured since then. I proactively collect specific user data now and have a system of autoresponding emails sent out to various mailing lists. I use a professional list building, newsletter handling and email autoresponding service called Aweber that handles the collection and distribution of all my email communications automatically. Every single time a person comes into contact with one of my websites they are put onto a mailing list so I always have access to people that are relevant to my business. I don’t necessarily proactively email to every list I build because it’s not always appropriate, but it’s comforting to know that I have a formalized and efficient communication method available and reliable technology backing it up (I used to keep hand-written lists on paper – you can imagine how efficient and reliable that was!).
What Data Should You Collect?
There is only one mandatory variable to collect – the communication agent. In my case it’s the email address or the RSS feed subscription. For others it may be the telephone or fax, mobile phone or mailing address. Of course you can collect as much or as little data as appropriate as long as you keep things in balance. Beware large forms, they tend to turn people away, focus on what really matters and keep sign-up resistance low.
Keep List Building In Mind
The important thing is to focus on building communications with people. Even if you don’t make any money now from your business if you have an audience that shares a common interest or trait (a target market) and you have a reliable way to communicate with them through a list, then you have an asset. How you make money or benefit from the list is up to you, but without the list you don’t have the potential.
If you currently operate a business take a look at your information collection procedures and see if there are ways you could start to build a list. If you have any online forms – a contact form, order form or feedback form, any of these can be the mechanism to start building a list. If you work in retail you sign up customers to a newsletter or mailing list when they buy so you can keep in touch with them after they leave your shop. If you work as a service provider, create a free report that people can download from your website as sample of what you do and build a list of interested prospects. The options are endless, just make sure you take advantage of them when you see them and that you have the tools to do so through services such as Aweber.