Engagement Without Strategy is Pointless

Engagement and digital strategy

I read a blog post by Seth Godin last week that had me shaking my head and thinking “He’s wrong!”.

Now normally I totally agree with Seth – he focuses on getting things done, being yourself, telling stories, and all the good things that help grow your business. But, this time, I don’t agree…

Here’s what got me so riled up:

“And then the internet comes along and it’s mysterious and suddenly we need an email strategy and a social media strategy and a web strategy and a mobile strategy.

No, we don’t.”

First, I’ll give him this – we don’t need a bunch of different strategies, one for every media channel or tool. But we DO need a strategy for how we’re going to handle this “mysterious internet.”

The lack of a digital strategy is what gets so many companies into trouble. Tweet this!

Without a strategy, the online world becomes a mess of disconnected forms of communication. We waste huge amounts of time and money jumping from one tool to the next, hoping that somehow this one will be different, that it will bring in customers, sell products, and generate revenue.

But, unless it’s part of an integrated digital strategy that’s aligned with our business goals, why would we expect social media, mobile, email, etc. to help us reach those goals? If we don’t know why we’re doing it, or what outcome we’re trying to achieve, how do we know WHAT to do?

Seth talks about the people on the other side of those tools – the human beings who read our emails, blogs, and newsletters – and engaging with them. Great. I like engagement. I can engage with people all day long. But will it bring me more business? Done without an overarching strategy that supports my business goals – no.

What’s the point of engagement if it doesn’t help grow your business? Tweet this!

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Why The Wrong Audience Can Sink Your Business

Are you talking to the right audience with your social media?Are you talking to the right audience?

I recently read an interesting report (the fourth annual 2012 Social Media Marketing Industry Report from Social Media Examiner) showing some of the differences in social media usage between B2C and B2B companies. Basically, they both use social media (in fact, over 93% use it). But B2B companies use LinkedIn (86.6%) and Twitter (84&) almost as much as Facebook (87%), whereas B2C companies are much more likely to use Facebook (96%).

Why the difference? It all comes down to knowing your audience.

B2B clients are far more likely to be employees, business owners, consultants, or other professionals – and they don’t hang out on Facebook while at work. Instead, these types of clients use professional networking tools (like LinkedIn) or look for business-related updates online (including on Twitter). In contrast, Facebook users are typically online looking for updates about their friends, checking the latest photos, and watching fun videos – areas in which B2C companies can provide content of interest to their customers.

The number 1 reason that businesses fail when they go online is that they don’t know their audience. Tweet this!

They have a product or service that they think is fantastic and they assume that everyone will want it. So they build a website, write a blog, send out tweets…. and nothing happens. Why? Because they’re addressing the wrong need or problem, or because they’re talking to the wrong audience.

For companies that are already successfully doing business in the ‘real world’, the lack of online success is nearly always because they’re not getting in front of the right people. Maybe they’re focused on Facebook when their audience hangs out on LinkedIn. Maybe they send out Twitter updates when their current (and future) customers would rather get email newsletters. They might as well be shouting in the wilderness – no one will hear them.

These companies also won’t hear their customers. They’re listening in the wrong places. I’m not saying to go out and ask your customers (and potential customers) what they want from you – surveys rarely give valuable information. But if you’re hanging out where your customers hang out, and if you’re actively listening to them, you’ll hear what their needs are, what problems they’re facing, and what kinds of solutions they’re looking for. Social media is a treasure trove of customer information that will help you grow your business.

So think carefully about who your audience really is. Is it the main decision-maker in a large company who wants to buy products that help the company be more efficient and cost-competitive? A new mom looking for information that will help her keep her garden looking its best with minimal effort? The arborists out climbing trees each day who want strong, lightweight ropes that won’t fray or break?

Where does your audience go online to look for information and connect with others? Hang out there for a while, listen, and learn what it is they’re looking for. Then figure out how you can provide that.

What are you doing to find and talk with your audience?

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Focus On Your Business, Not Social Media

Focus on your business, not social media

Why are you using social media?

If you’re like most business owners, I’m guessing it’s because “everyone else is using social media” or “we need more followers online”. But think a little more. What you’re really answering is the wrong question.

Perhaps I should’ve asked why you want to grow your business, or why you want to sell more products, or why you want more speaking engagements. The focus is, and always should be, on the business. Running your business will always provide the greatest return on your investment. That’s not to say that social media can’t help you achieve your business goals – but only when you’re clear on what those goals are.

“Are you using social media, or is it using you?” Tweet this!

Last week I spoke with a business owner who asked me to help build his company’s Facebook strategy. He was very focused on why Facebook was a priority for his company – the opportunity to engage with customers, the large number of “Likes” he could attract, and all the cool apps that could be built into his company page. But there’s one thing he overlooked. His customers are largely government and municipal employees, most of whom are prohibited from accessing Facebook at work!

He was answering the question “how should I use social media?” when he should’ve been asking “how should I grow my business?” It’s the answer to that second question that will tell you which tools to use. Do you want to make more money? Be famous? Help others? Be clear on that answer and then ask how social media can help you achieve that.

My Facebook devotee wanted to grow his business so that he could share wellness tips with more people to help make their life a little easier. He didn’t really want to “engage” or be “liked” or develop Facebook apps. Given his available resources, his audience (who couldn’t even access Facebook at work), and what he wanted to accomplish, an email campaign would be far more effective. He just needed to ask the right question.

So the next time you find yourself jumping on a social media bandwagon, stop for a moment and ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish with your business. Not with social media, just with your business.

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Why We Should Step Away From The Computer

Step away from the computer to build your business

I feel guilty.

Today is Wednesday. I usually post to my blog on Tuesday but I was so busy with client work that I just didn’t get to it. And so this morning I feel guilty. Why? Because I didn’t do something I’d committed to doing (publicly, no less!).

But then the thought comes up – given the huge volume of client work, was it better to write a blog post or focus on my clients’ needs?

Of course it’s possible to justify either answer. And, as a digital strategist, you’d probably expect me to say that it’s most important to maintain consistency, meet reader expectations, and add to the SEO’d content on this blog.

But that’s not what I’m going to say. Instead, I think we should all take more time to step … away …. from …. the … computer …  Here’s why:

  1. Connection with our clients will always be stronger face-to-face or over the phone. Facial expression and voice inflection add far more to the conversation that any emoticons or written words ever will. If we want to build strong, lasting relationships, we need to get in front of people.
  2. Blogging and social media can become addictive. As a psychologist, I’ve seen too many people focus their time and energy on the online world, rather than their family, friends, and clients. The rush of instantly seeing how many people read your post, liked you on Facebook, or retweeted your Twitter update can become more satisfying than anything in the “real world” – often with hugely negative personal and business-related consequences.
  3. The stress of developing and publishing great content day after day, or week after week, can become overwhelming. I have clients who are incapacitated by the perception that they simply must write that blog post, send out that newsletter, or update their social media channels. Today. That, somehow, the world will come to an end if they don’t do it. And the stress pushes them to the point that they simply can’t do it – they can’t think of anything to write, they get stuck trying to make it perfect, or they decide that their message isn’t worth sharing. While they agonize over the online world, their real world business suffers.
  4. Is it really helping your business? It’s easy to get caught up in “doing social media,” but why are we doing it? What outcomes are we seeing from all that effort? Have we measured the impact? Without a clear return on our effort (or at least an good understanding of the outcomes we expect to see down the road), it may be time to step away from the computer.
  5. Online tools may not be the best answer. What? A digital strategist saying “go old school”?! But, as I’ve said many times before, it’s not about the tools – it’s about tying your digital strategy to your business strategy and then developing/using the tools that best support that. Be 100% clear about which tools best support your business goals, and why. If it’s blogging, social media, e-newsletters and the like, then go for it. If it’s not, then let yourself off the hook and do whatever else works.

The sad fact is that no one is sitting by their computer holding their breath and waiting for your next post or update. If it’s a day late, it’s a day late. And if you don’t write anything at all this week, that’s ok. Your loyal readers, customers, and fans will still be there. They may wonder what happened, they may even email you – which is a great opportunity to step away from the computer and give them a call!

What are you doing to step away from the computer? Tweet this!


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The Perils of Perfectionism

The Perils of Perfectionism

Have you ever held back from implementing a new idea, publishing a blog post, or updating your website because it’s not quite perfect?  I know I have. And I’ve regretted it.

I had an interesting conversation with a client yesterday about why his blog hasn’t been updated in four months. He told me that he has half a dozen draft posts already written, but none are “good enough to publish.” So, while he polishes each draft to perfection (while also taking care of the myriad of critical activities needed to run a business), his blog languishes. It looks neglected. Potential customers assume he’s not engaged in his business – and they take their business elsewhere.

Many of us are afraid of failure. If we publish or implement something that’s not perfect, what will people think? What if they don’t like it? Or buy it? What if we fail? It’s an uncomfortable thought and it drives us to keep working on something until it’s absolutely perfect.

The thing with perfect is that we never get there. And so we sit and do nothing while our competitors pass us by. They know that putting something good out there is far better than putting nothing out there.  They focus on implementation – not perfection.

In the online world, implementation is everything. Customers can’t read your mind; they can only see what you publish. And “good enough” truly is good enough. Businesses that are successful online implement now and perfect it later – often based on customer feedback and analytics. It’s far easier to get it right when you have data to use.

Done is better than perfect. Tweet this!

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How To Get People To Open Your Emails

How to get people to open your emails

Which would you rather have – a 1000-subscriber email list with a 10% open rate, or a 500-person list with a 50% open rate?

It’s not all about the size of your list! If subscribers don’t actually read your emails, you might as well not bother sending them.

So how do you encourage people to open your emails?

If you’ve been following this 5-part series on email lists, you’ll know that building trust is a critical first step in creating a list that helps grow your business. What you do before sending that very first email sets the stage for everything that comes after, including whether or not subscribers open your emails. Make the sign-up process quick and easy, be clear about what you will and will not do with a subscriber’s email address, let them know they can unsubscribe at any time, and avoid using questionable sign-up processes (like pre-checked boxes on the opt-in form).

After a person has signed up, here are some ways you can encourage them to open your emails.

1. Set Expectations

  • Before people even sign up, let them know how often (or when) they’ll get emails from you and what will be in the email (e.g., special offers, tutorials or how-to’s, white papers).
  • Send a welcome email immediately after a subscriber signs up to tell them again what they’ll be getting and when.

2. Be Consistent

  • Do exactly what you’ve said you’ll do. If subscribers expect to hear from you every Tuesday, send them an email every Tuesday. If they expect coupons, send them coupons. The more you deviate from what subscribers expect, the less likely they’ll be to open your emails.
  • The first few weeks are most important for a new subscriber – it’s when they decide whether or not your emails are worth opening. Write a series of emails that new subscribers will get over the first few weeks – something that will keep them engaged and “train” them to open your emails in the future.
  • Use an autoresponder to ensure that your emails go out on a regularly-scheduled basis that you can maintain over the long term.

3. Offer Great Content

  • Make sure you’re sending material that subscribers can really use, or that they value.
  • Avoid sending frequent promotions or affiliate offers, unless it truly adds value. People don’t like to feel that they’re constantly being sold to.
  • Put some effort into making it clear, short, grammatically correct, and nicely laid out (if you’re using HTML).

4. Minimize the Chances of Getting Caught in Spam Filters

  • Avoid ‘spammy’ subject lines and content. Words like “FREE!” often get caught in spam filters (but not always – it depends on how the word is used). If you’re not sure, check the spam rating for your email (all reputable email marketing providers, such as AWeber, can rate each email on how “spam-like” it is) and edit the subject and content to minimize that rating.

5. Ensure Email Gets Delivered

  • This sounds obvious, but unless you’re using a reputable email marketing service, your bulk emails may not be delivered. Some email providers don’t even let you send out bulk emails. So check with your provider to make sure emails are going where you’re sending them.

6. Use a Recognizable ‘From’ Name

  • Use your company, newsletter, website, or personal name (whichever is most relevant) in the ‘from’ field so subscribers will instantly recognize who the email is from. Generally, a person’s name will generate more email opens than will a company or other “inanimate object” name.

7. Use a Catchy Subject Line

  • The first thing subscribers see is your subject line. If it isn’t interesting, they won’t open or read your email – it’s as simple as that.
  • Keep the subject line short. While the optimum subject line length is open to debate, it’s clear that many subscribers will only see about the first five words (for example, if they’re checking email on a smart phone). So put the most important part of your message at the beginning of the subject line.
  • Make the benefit of your email clear. It should be something useful to readers and specific.
  • Make it stand out by using square brackets at the beginning of your subject line. For example, an email in my Tech Tips weekly series would look like this: “[TechTips] Creating a Gravatar.” Each week the subject line is different, but it always starts with [TechTips].

8. Tell Subscribers What’s Coming Next

  • If you can, give subscribers a little “teaser” at the end of each email – give them enough information to know that the next email from you will have something in it that they’ll want to read. Don’t be spammy and don’t oversell, but do give them something to look forward to.
  • If you’re not sure what will be in your next email, at least let subscribers know that you’ll be sending them another email in the near future.

9. Remind Subscribers Why They’re Getting Your Emails

  • People don’t always remember who you are or why they’re getting your emails, especially if they haven’t read your emails (or you haven’t sent any) in a while. So remind them. Include a few words at the end of each email telling them what they’ve signed up for and when they did it (most email marketing services make it easy for you to do this).

10. Make it Personal

  • Write your emails as if you’re talking to one of your best friends. Keep it conversational and intimate, as if it’s just you and your friend. This helps readers feel like you’re speaking to them, not to an anonymous crowd.
  • I’m of two minds about this idea but am putting it on the list because, in some situations, it works well. Use the “personalize” features in your email – for example, use a subscriber’s first name in the salutation. This only works if you’ve collected that information during sign-up AND are sure that it’s correct – which isn’t always the case.

11. Test the Best Delivery Times

  • People are busy. They don’t always check their email inbox. So look at your analytics to see when people are opening your emails (day and time). Run a few tests by sending emails on different days and different times of the day to see which result in the best open rates for your list. Every list is different so don’t rely on published accounts of “the best time to send emails” – test it with your list.
  • This also applies to delivery frequency. The sweet spot is probably going to be somewhere between three times a week and once a month. Send emails too often, and people will tune you out. Too infrequently, and they’ll lose interest. So test it and see what works best for you. And be reasonable; remember point #2 above – only set a mailing schedule that you can maintain in the long term.

Have you tried any of these methods of encouraging people to open your emails? What’s worked for you – and what hasn’t? Let us know!

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Reach New Readers: Stop Preaching to the Choir

reach new readers

How do you reach new readers, subscribers, buyers, or customers?

Think about it – the people visiting your website, following you on Twitter, or subscribing to your blog already know you. They’re familiar with your brand, your products or services, and what you have to say. Those aren’t the people you’re trying to attract. Instead, you need to get your story out there in multiple formats and and through as many channels as possible so that people who don’t know you can find you.

In addition to driving traffic to your own website via search, your email list, social media, advertising, etc. you could take your content (or a variation of it) and:

  • Create a Slideshare presentation
  • Publish a podcast on iTunes
  • Build a photo gallery showcasing your products on Flikr or PhotoBucket
  • Shoot videos and post them on YouTube
  • Write guest blog posts
  • Comment on other blogs
  • Make a Squidoo lens on your specialty area
  • Start or participate in a Twitter chat or Google+ hangout

And that’s just scratching the surface. Each and every time you decentralize your content, you make it findable by people who don’t know you yet, and that’s how you drive your business forward – not by preaching to the choir.

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Gaining Insights Into Your Web Traffic

website traffic sources
Where do most of your customers come from? If you’re like most companies, you’re starting to do more business over the internet and web buyers are becoming a larger part of your revenue stream. Whether you’re selling services (design, consulting) or products (equipment, plants), internet sales should be a part of how you do business.

But how do you best market to this online audience?

Not all web-based buyers are created equal. They’ll generally fall into one of two categories:

  • Group A – Those who already know about you and your business, and deliberately seek you out online (for example, by typing in your URL or searching on your company name)
  • Group B – Those who have no idea who you are and just happen to find you while searching for a product or service that you sell

As you can imagine, these two groups of buyers are going to act very differently. Group A is likely to be brand loyal and good repeat buyers (provided you don’t do anything to disappoint them). Group B is opportunistic – they’ll buy from you again only if the price is right (and if they remember your name).

So, how do you know which buyers are which? Or how to best market to them?

Look at Google Analytics!

Finding Gold in the Data

Visitors to your website are going to get there through one of three methods:

  • Direct Traffic – meaning that they reached your website by typing in your URL
  • Referring Sites – these visitors clicked on a link on a website that’s linked to yours
  • Search Engines – they searched for a keyword that’s associated with your website/page

Not all of these methods are going to yield one-time buyers, let alone repeat buyers. You’ll need to do a little digging to figure out where your best prospects are and how to reach them.

Gold: Direct Traffic

Those reaching your site directly are already familiar with you and may already be customers. With that familiarity comes a degree of trust that makes them more likely to buy from you.

How many of your visitors fall into this category? If it’s a significant percentage, then you’re doing something right with your marketing – you’re clearly reaching the right people in a way that’s encouraging them to visit your website.

But if very few visitors are coming through direct traffic, then you have some work to do. Whether that’s increasing your social media presence (for example, building a company Facebook page), sending mailers to potential customers, clearly mentioning your company name and URL during presentations (and in hand-outs), or placing ads encouraging people to visit your site for a special offer, you should consider stepping up efforts to increase the number of visitors who come directly to your website.

Silver: Referring Sites

Take a close look at your analytics data to see which sites are referring the most traffic. Is it something immediately relevant, like your own Facebook or LinkedIn page or a business partner? Or is it a little more removed, like an industry association or networking group?

Referring sites that are part of your immediate business ‘circle of influence’ will likely generate more buyers; the trust factor comes into play here again as these visitors will already have some level of familiarity with you and your products/services. It’s worth leveraging your relationships with closely-related referring sites to encourage them to more prominently feature links to your website. Determine which closely-related referring sites aren’t sending much traffic your way and focus on building your relationship with those site owners.

Bronze: Search Engines

Whether or not these visitors are good prospects depends on what they were searching for. If it’s a generic keyword (for example, “flowers for sale”), then they’re probably not likely to be a repeat visitor (or buyer). If it’s a little closer to your business (for example, “water-wise flowers for sale in Tucson”), then the odds start to increase that the person will buy, or at least visit your site again. You’ll probably find that most of your search engine visitors fall into one of these two categories.

But there’s another group of website visitors that come to you through search engines, and they’re much more likely to buy. These are the individuals who searched specifically for your company name. They probably know you already, but just didn’t know your website URL.

To determine which keywords people are using to find your website, click on “Traffic Sources.” In the Overview section, you’ll see the keywords associated with Search Traffic. Look at the full report to see how many are looking for you directly (and don’t forget to look at misspellings of your company or product name – with so many people searching on mobile devices, it’s common to get some very strange spellings!).

So, now that you know where your traffic’s coming from, what changes are you going to make to your marketing strategy?

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20 Ways to Grow Your Email List

20 Ways to Grow Your Email List

You’ve decided that you need an email list, chosen your email marketing provider, put an awesome opt-in form on your website, and now you’re waiting for people to sign up for your email list. You could be waiting a long time…

Growing your email list usually needs only a few small tweaks to your website, or including a link to your opt-in form wherever people find you (for example, your email signature, social media pages, blog).

But here’s the thing – gathering emails needs to be a priority. It can’t be a “we’ll get to it when we have time” sort of thing.

You have to ask for that email at every opportunity. Not in a pushy or obnoxious way. But you do have to be clear and direct about the fact that you want that email address – and that it will be worth the subscriber’s while to give it to you.

You need a well-planned strategy to get your opt-in form or sign-up list in front of as many people as possible. Don’t just focus on your website – consider every point of contact you have with customers and prospects as an opportunity to grow your email list.

The one critical point to keep in mind as you gather emails is this: Never send email to someone who has not explicitly given you permission to do so. Don’t even add them to your email list.

Obviously, your opt-in form should be prominently displayed in multiple locations on your website. Beyond that, here are 20 ways to grow your email list.

1. Offer benefits especially for subscribers – Simply asking someone to join your email list will get you nowhere – they want to know what’s in it for them. So make subscribing worthwhile. Offer benefits such as these and display these benefits prominently on your website or sign-up form:

  • Tips and how-to’s
  • Access to private sales
  • Advance notice of special events
  • Entry into a prize drawing
  • Discounts only available to subscribers
  • A free gift
  • White paper, special report, or e-book

2. Let subscribers know what to expect – Tell them how often they’ll hear from you and what you’ll be sending them (for example, newsletter, special offers, discounts).

3. Make your sign-up link easy to remember – Keep it simple and memorable. Direct subscribers to www.YourCompany.com/subscribe and they’ll be able to easily find your online opt-in page.

4. Include a link in your email signature – Add a message such as “Subscribe to our email newsletter” in every employee’s email signature with a link to your opt-in page.

5. Add a sign-up invitation on all print materials– For example, add an opt-in offer and the landing page URL to:

  • Invoices
  • Receipts
  • Catalogs
  • Product literature / brochures / flyers
  • Bags
  • Product packaging and packing slips
  • Estimates
  • Print ads
  • Point-of-purchase displays
  • Customer surveys and/or feedback forms

6. Use a paper sign-up sheet at all events– If you’ll be at an event where you’ll have access to a large number of people, create a special sign-up form and put it somewhere highly visible. Be sure to make it clear that signing up is optional and spell out exactly what they’re signing up for. For example, you could collect names and emails at:

  • Trade show booths
  • Speaking engagements
  • Workshops
  • Networking events
  • Store sales

7. Gather emails when customers make a purchase – Put a sign-up form by the cash register or front desk. Add a ‘subscribe to our newsletter’ checkbox on your online purchase form.

8. Use a take-away card – Print up cards (postcard size works well) describing your list, the benefits, and how to sign up. Pass them out at every opportunity, such as when visiting customers or at a public event.

9. Include your sign-up URL on your business card – Most business cards are blank on the back. Use the space to show links to important social media accounts and your email list.

10. Promote your list at all public speaking events – Mention it during your presentation and list the URL in handouts.

11. Include a “Send to a Friend” option on your website and in all of your emails – This is especially effective if you offer an incentive to the referrer (for example, they’ll be entered in a special prize drawing).

12. Add a sign-up offer to account transaction pages and emails– When a customer buys a product or service, they may not sign up for your email list. Take the opportunity to remind them about it when you contact them about their account or purchase. For example:

  • Confirmation emails
  • Shipping notices
  • Payment reminders
  • Account registration and/or renewal reminders

13. Use social media– Include information about the benefits of joining your email list (and a link to the sign-up page) on all of your social media profiles. In addition, you can try these approaches:

  • Build a custom Facebook tab with a sign-up box
  • Place links to your opt-in page on your Facebook wall, LinkedIn account, or Twitter profile
  • Announce new email subscriber-only content on social media when you publish it – and include a link to let people sign up
  • Put social sharing links on your website and in every email

14. Ask customers if they’d like to sign up – Make it part of every employee’s job (including yours!) to routinely invite customers to receive your newsletter, get special promotions, or be notified of private sales and events. Whether dealing with inbound calls from customers or prospects, face-to-face interactions with customers in your store, or email conversations, ask for that email address.

15. Sponsor a contest or prize drawing

16. Invite subscriptions in your voicemail – Mention your newsletter and sign-up URL (briefly) on your voicemail. People may not sign up after hearing it, but it will increase awareness.

17. Send postcards to customers and/or a mailing list – You may have a street address for some of your customers, but not an email address. Send them a postcard highlighting the benefits of subscribing to your list and encouraging them to sign up. Be sure to include the URL. You could also buy a mailing list (for example, homeowners within a specific area) and send postcards to them.

18. Promote your newsletter/email list in all publications – If you write for a trade or consumer publication, a blog, or another newsletter, be sure to include a link to your newsletter or email sign-up form in the article (if you can), byline, and/or author bio. A reader who likes your writing will often want to hear more from you.

19. Investigate reciprocal relationships – Are there other businesses that target a similar market segment, perhaps with a different product or service? Suggest to them that they promote your newsletter to their audience, and you do the same with your subscribers. But first, be sure that the other company’s newsletter or email promotions will be of value to your subscribers.

20. Use online classified ads – This can be especially effective if you offer a give-away of some sort with each subscription. Try listing your give-away and newsletter subscription of free sites like Craigslist.

These are just some of the ways you can get in front of potential subscribers and encourage them to sign up for your email list.

What approaches have you tried? What’s worked best for you?

More To Come!

This is the fourth in a 5-part series on creating, building, and capitalizing on your email list.

Already published:

Coming next:

  • How to Get People to Open Your Emails

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