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How to Build an Email Marketing Contact List

How to Build an Email Marketing Contact List
Credit: Lisa S./Shutterstock

Developing a successful email marketing strategy starts with building a proper contact list.

"Contact lists are the foundation for successful email marketing because they’re more than simply names on a sheet," Dave McCann, vice president of customer success for Constant Contact, told Business News Daily. "They allow you to keep track of, and engage, your customers instead of wasting time marketing to the masses."

While you might be tempted to focus on building the biggest list possible, SEO and email marketing expert Brian Dean said it is more important to focus on quality over quantity. You want your list to be filled with people who have an interest in your business.

"You can have the best newsletters and the best offers, but if your contact list isn't a good fit your emails are likely to fall flat," Dean said.

The key to building a solid contact list is to first engage customers one-on-one  online or in-person, McCann said. Then, based on the customer's positive experience with your business, ask permission to continue the conversation through email. [See Related Story: Best Email Marketing Software for Small Businesses]

"As you add customers to your contact list and engage them, make note of their interests and recent purchases," McCann said. "This way, you can present them with tailored content and offers that will keep them coming back and looking forward to hearing from you."

To help small business owners, McCann offers a number of tips to building an email contact list:

  • Put a sign-up sheet near your checkout.
  • Ask in person, if possible, especially after a customer has a positive experience. As you ask, reiterate the benefits of subscribing, such as insider deals and exclusive content.
  • Insert a link in your email signature and social media bios so customers can automatically subscribe. Avoid forcing customers to fill out long forms and questionnaires.
  • Include back issues of your newsletter on your website so customers can see your content.
  • Add a sign up form on your Facebook page.
  • Create a “reasons to sign up page,” featuring feedback from customers and post it on your website or next to the sign-up sheet.
  • Optimize your online listings on sites including Yelp with a link to subscribe.
  • Include a text-to-join feature so people can easily sign up through their smartphone.
  • Add a QR code to a flyer, business card, brochure or post so people can scan-to-join your email list.

Dean encouraged small businesses to make sure their sign-up forms are on several places on their website.

"Many small businesses place a single form buried in their page's footer," Dean said. "From lots of testing, I've found that more forms equal more subscribers."

In addition, it never hurts to entice potential subscribers with something valuable. Dean advises small businesses to create something that will draw the attention of customers, like an eBook, report or case study that will make their subscription worthwhile.

Getting someone to give you an email address is only one part of building a contact list. After getting an email address, you need to find a way to hold on to it.

To do so, you need to make sure you're providing email subscribers with great content and offers, McCann said. 

"The best content is original, tailored to your customer audience, and insightful," he said. "It contains tips and advice not widely shared and it benefits your customer in some way."

It is also important to have the right balance in the types of emails you send out. Dean suggests using a 5-to-1 ratio.

"For every five valuable pieces of content you send, you're 'allowed' to send one piece of promotional material," Dean said. "This is only a general rule, but it gives you an idea of the ratio that keeps subscribers from hitting their 'unsubscribe' button."

You should be sure that you are sending out enough emails so your subscribers don't forget who you are and why they signed up in the first place. Dean said he often signs up for newsletters and only gets his email months after subscribing.

"At that point I've forgotten about the business and typically hit 'unsubscribe,' Dean said. "Email is an amazing way to keep in touch with customers and prospects. Take advantage of that by sending them messages at least once per month."

In the end, it all comes down to your messaging. The more you can engage your subscribers with information they're interested in, the more likely you are to build a solid contact list.

"Done right, you’ll not only drive more business, your contact list will continue to grow as satisfied customers spread the word to their friends," McCann said. 


Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.