Why you actually do need an (active) email list, even though I resisted this FOREVER


I’m going to tell you right up front that NEXT week, I’m going to explain why I don’t think setting up your email list should ever be your first project, and I'll tell you what I think you need to set up first. So if you're new to email lists, you may want to wait a week before you go hog wild setting up yours after reading this week’s post.

That said, other than talent, creativity, a well-defined brand, and a vision for the future, I have come to believe that an email list is about the most important thing your business can have.

It’s more important than your blog. It’s more important than your social media presence. It’s more important than your business cards.

Here’s why.

1. It’s YOURS. You have those email addresses and no one can take them away from you. In eight years when your business has changed seventeen times and turned in twelve new directions, you’ll still have those email addresses (as long as you save them). If you change your business name, you’ll still have those email addresses. If Facebook dies a MySpace-like death, you’ll still have those email addresses.

2. Email’s organic reach (i.e. the people it can reach without paying any money) is 100% (except for things like spam filters and the like). You send an email and that email gets delivered to the recipient. No one hides your content from the people you email. No one can change some algorithm somewhere so that you suddenly need to pay ad dollars in order to get in touch with your audience. You have the addresses and you can reach out to your audience whenever you need or want to.

3. Email has a potentially unlimited lifespan. While the things you post into people’s social media news feeds may only show there for a few hours, the email you send someone will stay in her inbox until she does something with it. It’s not going to disappear or be hidden.

4. On a related note, lots and lots of people now use email as their own personal searchable archive or as a to-do or a to-buy list. Your business won’t be saved in these archives or lists if you’re not sending email in the first place.

5. Despite all the productivity gurus who tell us this shouldn’t be the case, email is still the first place most people go in the morning. Many people check their email before they even put one foot on the ground in the morning. Even though it annoys us, we value email. We use it regularly. We're hooked.

6. Why's that? Well, email makes people feel good. Getting a good email is gratifying. People look forward to getting good email. Cultivating your email list means cultivating your ability to be the good thing in someone’s day. It means having the opportunity to make someone feel gratified.

7. Email is personal, direct, and private. It allows people to respond to you who might not otherwise engage, and it can help you create relationships with your audience. With email, you can have a private back-and-forth conversation that you just can’t have on social media or a blog.

8. Email allows you to go to your audience instead of relying on them to come to you. In this way, email allows you to actively pursue your clients and customers rather than passively putting up content for them to find on their own. Your audience isn’t always thinking about you; they’re certainly not thinking of you as often as you’re thinking of them. Email allows you to pop in and remind them that you’re there.

9. (This is the reason that ultimately convinced me I needed to completely rethink email lists.) People almost never ever hire you or buy from you the very first time they come in contact with your portfolio, your products, or your services. In fact, a lot of research suggests that it typically takes anywhere from five to ten interactions with you before someone is comfortable putting down money in exchange for whatever you’re offering. Email allows you to have those interactions. I don’t know many people who will, all on their own, just keep visiting your website seven or ten or fifteen times. I’m sure it happens, but it’s not the norm. Sending email is a really simple way to share content, build trust, and get those interactions.

10. People give you their email address willingly. Usually, it's because they already know they want something from you. They’re presenting themselves to you as willing participants in a communicative relationship. Who doesn’t want to communicate with people who have already declared this level of allegiance? Those email addresses are a gift and you’d be foolish not to ask for them, cherish them, and continue to please the people who’ve given them to you.

So like I said, I'll follow this post up next week with my thoughts on the things you should probably have in place before you start building your email list.