Hopefully you have one or two ways you keep in touch with current customers – text messages if you’re a pro, or maybe email if you’re like most local business owners. So how do you get in touch with those who haven’t yet bought from you? Your contact list should be made up of way more than just your loyal customers.

Anyone who comes in contact with your business is an opportunity for a future sale, even if they don’t convert right away. So capturing their information before they wander out of your life forever is crucial. Doing so will give you the opportunity to nurture these relationships and help maintain their interest in your brand.

There are several ways to build up an email list. We’ve written about them before. But there are a couple stealthier-than-usual ways to build up your contact list without seeming intrusive. Let’s look at how to build up that list, incognito, both online and offline.


You’ve probably targeted most of your online activity toward helping customers find you. But if you want to stay in touch, you need to know how to get in touch with them too. That’s why a contact list (not just a customer list) is so important.

1. Let your website do the heavy lifting.

Prominently place a “Subscribe” or “Sign Up” call to action (CTA) on more than one page of your website. These should be really easy to notice on the site, second only to “Contact Us” or “Buy Now” alternatives. One of the biggest ways local businesses get subscriptions is by providing valuable content on your website via a blog. If you’re writing regularly about topics that can help your target audience, people will subscribe.

2. Use your social media pages for more than staying social.

On Facebook, post offers that require an email to take advantage of them to your timeline. And don’t forget a “Sign Up” CTA button on your Facebook business page. For LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube, attract potential customers with exciting, valuable content. At the end of the content, try linking to your website or a landing page and instructing viewers to subscribe there for more.

3. Make sure your emails are worth the space they take up in the inbox.

Valuable content in your emails will do two things for you: 1) it’ll keep a majority of those folks on your current contact list from unsubscribing, and 2) it’ll encourage organic growth via those who share. People share valuable information, because they want to help their friends and family. So if your emails are on point, you could become pretty popular. Incorporate social sharing options in every email, and encourage anyone who likes your content to pass it on.

1. Collect email addresses at offline events, such as trade shows.

Try to avoid simply asking for someone’s email address outright (awkwaaaard). Instead, find out what anyone you meet could use from a business like yours, and offer to provide more information or a special discount via email. Take notes, and add these people to your contact list. When you follow up, they’ll be impressed you remembered them from the event, and they’ll be likely to buy from you or at the very least, keep in touch.

2. Go fishing for business cards.

No water (or Nemo) necessary. Grab an empty fish bowl, and place it somewhere noticeable in your storefront if you have one. Next to the bowl, place a sign promoting a monthly raffle for a free service, a product giveaway, or another incentive relevant to your business. All customers have to do is drop their business cards in the bowl, and voila! You’ve got their email addresses.

3. Save some trees.

Whether it’s to garner some environmental goodwill or so you can offer an actual discount, let customers opt in to paperless billing via email. You can do this at the point of sale or via snail mail. Note: If you offer paperless billing via mail, make sure you have a landing page or somewhere on your website that can fulfill the offer and grab the actual email addresses.