How To Build An Email Marketing List For Your Small Business

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Email is an incredible, cost-effective, and powerful marketing tool that businesses of all sizes and industries can harness.

Despite being one of the oldest functions of the internet (the first email was sent in 1971!), it is still widely used and relied on today. In fact, by 2025, we’re predicted to send out 376 billion emails a day.

And as customers, we can’t get enough of it – as one study showed that millennials spend around 6.4 hours scrolling through their inbox a day and that given the same piece of promotional content, 72% of consumers preferred to see it in their inbox than on social media. 

Email is powerful. To harness it for your business, you must build a great audience list. And that’s where we’re here to help, with our ultimate guide on how to build an email marketing list for your small business. 

The basics of email marketing 

Before we get into list building, here’s a small bit of essential knowledge (if you’re already a pro, skip ahead). For those new to email marketing, it is a way of sending out a commercial message to your customers, subscribers, or prospects. 

There are three main types of email that you can send:

  • Promotional emails, which promote a certain item, sale, or event. They’re designed to get our customers to act and buy your products. 
  • Informational, such as newsletters or announcements about a brand or company you follow closely. 
  • Transactional emails, like the ones that tell you that your order is confirmed or has been dispatched. 

But there’s one thing to remember above all: all of this is useless without a good email list. 

What are the benefits of email marketing?

Email marketing has a lot of benefits for businesses of all sizes. We could spend all day reviewing the benefits and successful case studies, but it all boils down to the following. 

1. Email lets you communicate directly with customers 

Unlike other forms of marketing, like social media posts or advertisements, you send a message directly to the identified customers’ inbox. Emails allow you to get personal with the messaging for maximum effect. 

For example, let’s say you have several potential customers who have looked at an item or service from you before but haven’t purchased it. They might have had it in their basket, viewed a demo, or even spoken to you about it.

They’re interested, but they need help over the line.

If you make an email list from these customers, you could send a targeted email with a discount code or even extra benefits and copy about the item, prompting them to take the next step. 

2. Email is a cost-effective marketing strategy 

Email is one of the lowest-cost marketing strategies that you can use.

You’re not paying for advertising or spending a lot of money or time making video content, you’re just putting together a targeted email for your audience, which can have more significant results and a better return on investment rate. In fact, it has one of the most lucrative ROI (Return on Investment) of 4400%.

Recommended Email Software:

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Even if you use mailing software like MailerLite, free plans are available to get you started with email marketing. Under the MailerLite free plan, you can send up to 12,000 monthly emails as well as gain access to features such as: 

In the first 30 days, you’ll also gain 24/7 email and chat support to help you get up and running like a pro. 

Click here to see what else MailerLite can offer you.

3. Email builds relationships and loyalty 

Every email and piece of communication that you send to your customers is another reminder of who you are. In other words, it’s a great way to preserve brand awareness and build a stronger relationship with your customers. 

For some businesses, email is one of the key staples for consumers. For example, Lauren runs a personal fitness business, hosting various fitness classes. Every month, she emails her database with the upcoming timetable, special classes, and the 1-to-1 spaces she has left.

This email isn’t just informational for her customers. It also acts as a reminder to book back onto their favourite class while giving them a nudge to try something new. 

Just be sure not to spam, as that’s a surefire way to get classed as junk. 

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A good list makes email success

Successful email marketing needs a quality list of contacts. 

In this situation, it really isn’t about size. It’s about the quality of people you have on the list. There’s no point sending 10,000 emails to people who do not care about your business because it won’t give you anything in return. However, if you send ten emails to your target customers ready to buy, you are much more likely to see direct sales and engagement from your actions. 

It’s about getting the right people in, then building up and making the most from your database.

What about GDPR?

Sorry, this article needs a small section on General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). As much as it might be tempting to go wild and add any and every email that you can find to your list, you can’t. Thanks to GDPR, you need to get permission from users before you can sign them up to your list. 

If you’re unfamiliar with GDPR, this EU data protection law governs how personal data can be used and transferred. Part of this included emails, which forbid companies from adding users to email lists without permission. 

From the GOV.UK website, the full guidelines of this mean that user data and information is:

  • Used fairly, lawfully, and transparently;
  • Used for specified, explicit purposes;
  • Used in a way that is adequate, relevant, and limited to only what is necessary;
  • Accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date;
  • Kept for no longer than is necessary;
  • Handled in a way that ensures appropriate security, including protection against unlawful or unauthorised processing, access, loss, destruction, or damage.

So how do you guarantee GDPR compliance when acquiring information? 

It’s all about ensuring you only add contact to your user list with permission. One of the easiest ways is to add a form to your website. Don’t worry – this doesn’t mean you’ll have to manually code oney form integrations will have options to add consent checkboxes, helping you stay compliant – including MailerLite

Now the good thing about forms is that they’re versatile. They can be used in a lot of places for a lot of different purposes. This means that you can target people as they buy from you (check this box to keep in the loop!), as a promotion (get 10% off if you sign up!),  or in exchange for valuable pieces of information (download this guide!). 

We’ll get into these strategies in more detail below, but thinking about how you’ll capture emails in a compliant way is a good thing to keep in your mind. 

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How to build an email marketing list for your small business

We’ve finally come to the central part of our guide! Here are some of the top tips for building a great email marketing list for your small business. 

1. Smart form placements with enticing offers

Remember those forms we talked about earlier? One tactic for building an email database is ensuring you use them in the best places. Like, for instance, your homepage or other high-traffic areas that customers will go to. 

But you need an offer. You can’t just put in a form asking for an email without offering anything in return. Customers want to know why they should give you their email, which could be anything from: 

  • Getting insights and information from a newsletter they won’t get anywhere else;
  • Gaining exclusive access to products and pre-sales;
  • Behind-the-scenes or bonus content;
  • A welcome discount of 10%;
  • And so on. 

Another thing to consider is you want to make the forms obvious but not intrusive. It’s an extra reminder for customers to sign up rather than a glaring neon sign that blocks them from anything else on the page. 

An email marketing list that works for your small business will usually utilise several tools like pop-ups, loyalty and referral programs, exclusive offers, etc.

2. Relevant pop-ups 

If forms are a friendly, casual way of enticing people to join your mailing list, pop-ups are the big guns, with some studies showing that they convert an average of about 11.09%. 

This is because pop-ups are in your face and are hard to ignore. Although that makes them great for getting attention, it can be incredibly annoying to those who aren’t interested. So, using them sparingly and in the right circumstances would be best.

Some good pop-up ideas are: 

  • Welcome pop-ups are designed to target new customers as they first land on your website. This could be great for offering sign-up discounts, i.e.” Save 10% on your first order.”
  • Welcome pop-ups are designed to target new customers as they first land on your website. This could be great for offering sign-up discounts, i.e. “Save 10% on your first order.”
  • Exit intent pop-ups are almost the opposite of a welcome pop-up. These are designed to target those about to leave your website and act as a last chance to draw them in, i.e.” Want to hear about our upcoming sale? Get exclusive access before anyone else”.
  • Promotional pop-ups promote a specific product or offer, i.e. “The new sets are about to launch! Join the pre-sale waitlist here”. 

You’ll notice here that these pop-ups follow the same idea as the forms- you need to offer something valuable to your users in exchange for their email addresses. 

3. Gamification always wins 

If you see a ‘spin to wheel to win’ on a website, do you click it? 

We’re guessing yes. And there’s a good reason for that: people aren’t motivated by something easily attainable. Letting them win prizes and discounts gives people a sense of victory, satisfaction, and that they’ve managed to get something for nothing. 

It’s why contests, giveaways, and sweepstakes are so popular. And it can be easily replicated in an email database by running small promotions, e.g., one subscriber will receive a small prize each month. 

4. Make emails the key to unlocking information 

Users want something valuable in exchange for being on your mailing list. This is called a lead magnet. Discounts and offers can be good motivators here, but it’s not necessarily the best business advice to constantly discount your goods. 

Lead magnets can be informational-based, such as whitepapers, ebooks, video tutorials, recipes, etc. Rather than give everything away for free, it’s a good idea to retain sought-after information like this and lock it away behind an email capture form on a squeeze page. 

If users want to access the content (which they will!), they need to provide their email address in exchange. 

Have you ever seen advertisements to find out what your personality or hormone type is or what diet plan you should follow to lose weight? Most of these advertisements will lead to quiz-style forms.

You’ll enter basic information such as your name, age, and height, then fill out a series of multi-answer questions about your day-to-day life or diet to get ‘scientifically’ accurate information. You’ll then see that your results are loading…. But wait! To access them, you will need to enter your email address.

This is one of the more extreme types of email gathering, but it tends to be pretty effective as users have already invested enough effort to answer these questions. They may as well find out the result. 

What you can learn is that if users are invested in a topic (even if they’ve just answered a few simple questions), they’ll be more inclined to sign up for your mailing list. 

Lead magnets are one of the factors you must consider when organising your email marketing list.

5. Use loyalty and referral programs 

Loyalty and referral programs are also a great way to build your mailing list by getting your customers to bring others on board. 

Some great examples include newsletters showing you how many referrals you’ve made at the bottom – while offering exclusive benefits for signing up more. For instance, if a customer signs up five people, they could get a 5% thank-you discount. If they get 25 referrals, they’ll get a gift.

Whatever the actual rewards are, the point is that this referral system is being viewed by people who actively engage with your emails. They are the best type of people on your list and will be the ones most likely to find others just like them, increasing the overall quality of your mailing list. 

Bonus: Be creative with the ‘No’ on your CTAs 

Whether you’re using forms, pop-ups, or something else entirely, you are giving your customers two key options: yes and no. 

No is an easy word, making it easier for your customers to refuse to sign up for your email marketing list. 

However, if you get a little creative with that word and how you present your options, you will allow your customers to reevaluate and think about their answers rather than answering on autopilot. 

For example, if you are using a CTA to offer a 10% welcome discount, your options could be: 

  • Yes, give me the discount! 
  • No, I like paying full price for everything. 

A few words can make a big difference. 

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Offer value, get value back

When building an email marketing list, there are a couple of key lessons to keep in mind. First, quality should come before quantity. You want a mailing list of people interested in your product, not just anyone. Choose tactics that resonate with your customers, such as putting forms on pages and content they already interact with.

Secondly, you need to offer something in exchange. Customers don’t want to surrender their data for anything, so you need to offer something of value back. Although discounts are a great option, this could be anything from entries in a prize draw, information, exclusive content, industry insights or access to events or pre-sales. 

Keep those in your mind, and you’ll have a great quality list in no time. And once you’ve got the list up and running, you’ll want to read our guide to the top 11 business tips you need to know about to help you get the most from your list. 

For more business tips and advice, make sure you stay up to date with Business4Beginners.

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Business4Beginners has been advising new businesses owners since 2013. The founder, Paul Bryant, has created, grown and sold several successful businesses and remains the editor and fact-checker of all content published on the site.
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