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Building an email marketing database

Sending out thousands of emails to a database full of your existing customers and a slew of potential new ones sounds great on paper. It’s one of those things that looks good in a presentation, rx with impressive numbers and upward charts splashed all over PowerPoint slides. In reality, email marketing is as good as advertised, but it requires some hard work and dedication in order to carry it out. Much like it is no good ‘getting into blogging’ and then abandoning it after a few tries, email marketing is something that can be a major asset to your business if you put the time in to grow it.

The golden rule of email marketing is to not buy lists of people’s email addresses off other companies. This can run you afoul of the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA), and will result in a sternly worded warning if you send out unsolicited mail the first time, and harsher penalties if you rack up successive complaints. If you talk to companies that sell email lists, they will tell you that everyone on the list is opted-in, and completely happy to receive unsolicited mail from anywhere. In reality, there may be a handful of providers doing that, but most likely it will be a list of email addresses harvested without the knowledge of those on it.

In any case, you shouldn’t buy an email list because building it yourself produces higher quality results. It can be very slow to begin with, as often small business owners will rush to design the newsletter they want to send people, or the marketing material they have in mind, but without anyone to send it too. Much like there is not much point in getting your Sunday best on without anywhere to go, so too is it less than productive to start designing material before you have an audience.

The first steps should be planning, and luckily email marketing is actually pretty straightforward to map out. Unless you hide your email address like a closely guarded secret, then it’s likely your inbox is already stuffed full of other people’s marketing materials. Whether it’s the latest specials from a group-buying site like Scoopon, Cudo, LivingSocial or Groupon, or the latest weekly newsletter from your sporting team of choice, the typical person will receive lots of them. This means that your material needs to stand out, but also that you need to offer something people genuinely want in order for them to knowingly sign up for yet another email to be stuffed into their inbox.

Getting started

Natalie Alaimo, online marketing consultant and founder of Natalie Alaimo International, explains that the first steps you should take should be advertising your new email newsletter or monthly report, and putting it anywhere you can.

“I advise clients to put an opt-in box on their website, and then to run some type of competitions, either in-store or online,” she says. “Then, it really comes down to starting to write newsletters and sending things regularly.”

According to Alaimo, you need to have a good grasp of what your customers want out of the email, and to really put yourself in their shoes so you can deliver something valuable.
“A good example is my business coach, as she only needs 5-10 customers a year because they are spending $20-$30,000 per year with her,” continues Alaimo. “So for her, the hook to get people signing up to her list, or in her sales process, is to offer a free consultation.

“She knows she can probably have 10 free consultations and convert 1 customer. Where somewhere like a coffee shop, they have a lower sales value so they need to have something that’s more in line with just getting them into the store – like a free coffee.”


Email newsletters can make people feel like they are part of a club, and if it’s done right then you will be able to market to them in such a way that there is already trust built up with your brand. But it’s a mistake to just blitz your budding list with advertising from day one, as you won’t ever build subscriber numbers and will only encourage people to unsubscribe.

“A lot of the businesses we work with are service-based, so what we recommend to them is something that’s highly leveraged – like a free report,” continues Alaimo. “That way they can give away information, get people to go to the website and sign up – it’s all completely automated.  

“The only problem is that people tend to give away a free report which is rubbish, and then they wonder why they don’t get any customers out of it,” she adds. “If you do it that way, then people are going to be like ‘well if you are giving me rubbish stuff, then why would I pay for more of it’.”

Alaimo recommends giving out premium content, so that people associate what they are getting from your business as high quality. The trick is to not give too much away so customers will still want to make a purchase afterwards.


Ben Angel, a regular speaker on the conference scene, employed a similar strategy when he was growing the email database for his self-titled marketing business. He was also looking to promote his ‘Sleeping Your Way To The Top’ book series and wanted to grow his email list, so he turned to Facebook.

“I made the decision to give away digital copies of my first book, ‘Sleeping Your Way to The Top in Business’ directly via Facebook to spread word of mouth and grow our database,” explains Angel. “To date it’s achieved over 10,000 book downloads and grown our list by over 4,500 business owners.

“To download the book, people first had to ‘like’ our Facebook page, then opt-in with an email address to gain access to the download link itself, at which point they were invited to share the details of the offer to their  Facebook wall and friends,” he adds.

“Out of over 3,000 opting in directly via Facebook, 2,500 plus shared the details to their wall making it go viral. People could also opt in directly via our website at which point they were also encouraged to share it to Facebook.”

When he implemented the campaign, Angel set it up so when someone signed up, they would automatically receive regular emails about articles and blog posts he wrote.
“Most recently, we launched a campaign for business owners to win an [advertising package to be promoted] to our database of 10,000 business owners and close to 15,000 via social media if they watched a video and posted a comment below it,” he claims. “Over 500 registered to view the video within one day alone.”

All up, the initiative cost Angel around $2,000, most of which was spent marketing to external company’s lists, where you pay a fee and send your email marketing to their database. The most expensive was a send out which cost $1,500, but it yielded 1,700 new leads of significant value.

“The other most cost effective strategies we’ve implemented have been cross promotions,” recalls Angel. “Aligning with other like-minded experts and organisations and having them forward an opt-in offer of ours. For instance, a complimentary report sent to their database and me sending their offer to ours in exchange.” 


Image credit: Thinkstock.

The term small business marketing encompasses many strategies and ideas, however the skill lies in knowing which ones are most suitable for your small business. Generating small business sales is the ultimate goal of any business and learning the different ways in which small business marketing can assist will help increase your overall sales. NETT features compelling articles covering all angles of small business marketing from SEO and SEM to email campaigns and social media.