How to Start an Email Marketing List for a Local Business“Opt-in”: That’s email-marketing strategy speak for “yes, I actually want you to send promotional messages to my inbox” and it doesn’t get any better than that for an advertising win. But how do you get the opting started?  Try these 7 steps:

Step 1. First, offer something worth signing up for (hint: deals and special treatment)

Your email message can be a monthly roundup or an occasional alert. But consumers’ #1 expectation is that you’ll send them discounts, sale notices, coupons, exclusive offers, previews of new products or other inside info that saves them money or gives them a head start on their competitive shopping. How about tips on using products or services like gardening or home maintenance? Sure, just make it tips + deals.

Step 2. Put a sign-up box on every page of your website

Customers interested enough to visit your website may also be open to hearing from you via email. Your email vendor can supply a signup box for your site that sits still or pops up to attract attention (see some samples from AWeber) when a visitor arrives on any page of your site.

Additionally, create a “landing page” on your site that’s just a form and some language promoting email subscription—you can link to that from anywhere off your site that promotes email.

Step 3. Advertise your email program at the point of sale

Hang a sign over the registers promoting registration for your deals or loyalty club newsletter. Or train your staff to ask for the sign-up. Be cool – have customers enter the address on an iPad or the tablet for your POS system.

Caution: Privacy and spam laws require that customers understand they are giving you permission to send ongoing emails, so make sure they do. Follow up with a welcome email that reminds them they joined your list and gives them the opportunity to unsubscribe by clicking through to your email vendor’s site. (Talk to your attorney about how the laws apply to your particular situation.)

Step 4.  Sign them up through email receipts – carefully

Your POS system (or an add-on app to your POS) can send an email receipt instead of printing a paper one, if a customer requests it. Talk about a perfect target market for your email program – people who just purchased from you and like email. But caution here, too. Your cashier needs to ask two questions: Do you want an email receipt and want to sign up for our newsletter? Again, follow up with that welcome email.

The email receipt itself is another chance to promote your email subscriptions. The right way to do it, in accordance with the federal CAN-SPAM law: The subject line says something like “here’s your receipt”, the preponderance of the message is the receipt info and at the end, one line of text says something like “Save bucks – sign up for our email deals alerts!”  The wrong way: Same subject line but the preponderance of the message promotes the deals alerts—that violates the law about deceptive subject lines. For a clear breakdown on the difference between “transactional” and “commercial” messages under CAN-SPAM, see this explanation from the Federal Trade Commission.  (And run this by your attorney.)

Step 5.  Make it easy with “text to join”

Out on a service call or even in-store, the customer just has to text an email address to your code number and their address drops into your mailing list. Major email vendors offer this feature; if yours doesn’t, standalone apps will collect the addresses for you to import to your mail system.

Step 6.  Dangle a prize for new email subscribers

Trade a discount or a freebie for that email address. Just understand that many of the subscribers you attract may be in it only for the discount, one and done, and won’t open your messages again.

Step 7.  Send a personal email to long-time customers and friends

Announce your new email newsletter to your email contact list with personal notes, a non-spammy way to spread the word. Link the message to your landing page.

Step Never. Buy or rent a mailing list

Reputable companies sell or rent lists that are “opt-in” in the sense that the email users opted to receive email messages about deals or special offers. Of course, they didn’t opt-in to receive messages specifically from you – and the major email vendors and services absolutely won’t tolerate that (see this statement from MailChimp). If these services catch a whiff that you used third-party lists (for instance, because of too much undeliverable or unopened mail) they may label you a spammer and stop delivering your messages. Particularly for consumer sales, this is risky business. And bad strategy: Your email program should be about building loyalty from customers who know you well enough to opt in and mean it.