Stop Wasting Your Time with Your Email List

Last week I told you why you really do need an active email list. Whether you’re an artist hoping to inspire people to buy original art from you or a yoga instructor trying to fill classes, whether you sell ebooks or art prints or invitations to doggy birthday parties, you’re missing out on customers and sales if you don’t have an active email list.

But here’s the thing: if you still don’t know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, who you’re talking to, or what you want from them, then you’re wasting your time (and your readers’ time) with an email list.

If you don’t have a point of view and value to provide, you’re wasting your time.

If you don’t know exactly who your ideal customer is, you’re wasting your time.

If you don’t have a plan to consistently communicate with your email list, you’re wasting your time.

So here’s what I think you need to get in place before you even need to bother with your email list. And since I think the email list is super important to growing your business, mark these down as super important things to get in place as soon as you can.

In order to capitalize on your growing email list, you need:

  1. To know your ideal customer(s)
  2. To have a message, beliefs, or point of view
  3. To develop a list of topics
  4. To devise a plan for regular communication (that you can actually follow)
  5. To remember that people actually want your emails

SIDEBAR: I’ll go into these five things more below, but first, I thought I’d also share a few things that you don’t necessarily need in order to start building and capitalizing upon your email list:

  1. A website
  2. A blog
  3. A mailing list provider

As long as you have some way of gathering email addresses from people who are interested in hearing from you (like having people sign up on a yellow legal pad or whatever), you don’t need a website or a blog in order to start growing your email list.

And as long as you have an email address of your own that you can use to contact the people on your list, you don’t need Mailchimp or Aweber or ConvertKit (my personal favorite) to help you send mass mailings. You can send individual emails if that’s what works for you.

OK. Back to the main point of this post: the things you really need to have in place before your email list becomes valuable to you.

You need to know your ideal customer(s).

Now, I’m not talking about a broad demographic here. I don’t mean that you need to know you want to work with women between the ages of 30 and 50. I’m talking about a super specific person or set of people who you would just die to work with or sell to. The exact perfect person for your business. Your dream-come-true fits-like-a-glove fairy-tale-ending kind of customer. The more specific you are defining her, the better your email list, and all of your marketing efforts, will be. If you can imagine what her favorite binge-worthy Netflix show is, you’re in good shape. If you know what she’s afraid is true about her life, you’re golden.

If you write your emails to your ideal customer, those emails will resonate with the people you want to work with. Those people will feel seen, heard, and understood. This is what you’re aiming for.

You need to have a point of view.

For the same reason that you need to be super specific about identifying your ideal customer, you need to remember that having a specific point of view is crucial to attracting the right customers (and repelling the ones you don’t want to work with). If your own voice is wishy-washy, vague, or toneless in your emails, no one is going to want to read them and certainly no one is going to want to hand over their money to you.

Your voice should be authentic, and you shouldn’t be afraid to have a message or two.

I’m not saying you need to get political or personal or anything else like that. I’m just saying that you need to have something to say.

Think about your beliefs about whatever it is you do. You might believe that we all have an elemental drive to create, even if we lack artistic skills. You might believe that we all deserve to have beauty in our lives. Some of my messages here include things like: you can learn a lot about running a business from someone who has already been in the trenches; to take your business to the next level, you need to go beyond your technical chops and beyond your comfort level; business is creative and scientific and requires a sense of play and wonder; you can’t do it all; you might not know it yet but being a creative entrepreneur makes you a natural-born marketer; chances are good you’re making your life harder than it needs to be…

You need a good long list of topics that in some way fit with your ideal customer or your message (or, preferably, both).

If you’ve taken the time to do the work of figuring out who you want to work with and what you have to say (i.e. what you believe, what your messages are, etc.), then generating a list of ideas for your email list should be surprisingly easy.

Some questions to help you generate your list: How do I want my ideal customer to feel when she reads my emails? What does she want to get from me? What are her questions? What does she find entertaining? What information would help her work with me or buy from me? What is she confused about? What problems does she have that she’s not even aware of yet? What does she find inspiring? Funny? What items, events, or topics do I want to make sure people know about? What do I want to talk about? Teach? Share? What do I want to emphasize or draw attention to about my company, business, or products? What am I an expert in? What value can I provide? What can I give my readers that will make them eager to open the next email from me?

As you start to list ideas, you’ll find that one idea triggers another triggers another. Aim to write down at least 30 ideas and I bet you’ll end up with more like 50.)

You need a plan for communicating regularly with your email list.

I’ll bet most of us have had the experience of receiving a very spurty email newsletter. I have a friend I’ve known for years - we started similar Etsy businesses around the same time and struck up a little friendship in the course of “competing” with one another and since then have gone in VERY different directions with our businesses - and I’ve been on her email list for close to 8 years. During that time, I’ve probably gotten a total of fifty emails from her, but like this: one when I signed up, one six months later, a burst of three weekly emails in a row that were supposed to be “a new, weekly series” but that petered out, nothing for seven or eight months, another little burst… I stay subscribed because she’s my friend and because I’m curious what she’s up to. But as a customer, I honestly find her mailing list pretty annoying. And certainly it does nothing to develop a relationship with me. If I didn’t know the woman on the other end of the email, I’d probably completely forget all about her in those lengthy periods of non-communication.

Even if someone doesn’t necessarily find you annoying or untrustworthy for not adhering to a plan, even if your ideal customer is the kind of person who just doesn’t think that kind of regular-weekly-email-thing is important, you’re still not going to be getting the full benefit of having an email list if you’re not using it regularly and with a purpose.

Popping in here and there unexpectedly doesn’t help keep you at the top of your customers’ minds. It doesn’t help you build a relationship. It doesn’t bring in the kind of regular, reliable interactions that induce trust in customers.

So you really need a plan, and it really needs to be a plan you can stick to (the list of topics you generated already will help). Don’t promise a weekly newsletter if you can’t deliver on it (and I’ll tell you what, even with planning and time, it’s hard to keep up with). My favorite stock photography provider sends out an email once a month, every single month. Like clockwork. So then you know where I always go first when I need a stock photo? Right to her website. She emails me regularly enough to stay on my mind. When I think of stock photography, I think of her. And also, her emails keep me informed of her new stuff. I’m not out just trolling stock photography sites, but when I see something new of hers what I know I’ll be able to use in the future, I’ll pin it to a Pinterest board, bookmark it in my browser, or buy it on sight.)

The last thing you absolutely need is the confidence to use your email list.

You need to know and to remember always that you have every right to be sending your emails and that you’re not annoying anyone. People asked you to send them things. They genuinely want you to provide them with content, value, joy, inspiration, and maybe even coupons. If you are up front with people about what to expect when they’re joining your list and then you follow through on the things you promised them, they’re going to be happy and you have no reason to feel icky about sending things to them. So send away. They’ll unsubscribe if they don’t want to get your emails. No big deal. Don’t let your fear that you’re bothering them get in your way.

So now I’m curious: what questions do you have for me about email lists? I seriously built mine for seven years without any direction or purpose, thinking email lists were these annoying things we’re all supposed to have but only using mine sporadically and to very pathetic effect. If you have questions I can answer about building your list, I’d love to answer them and help spare you some of my wasted years.

So hit me up with a comment or an email.