When people tell us that email marketing isn’t profitable, we reply, “Well, maybe your email isn’t profitable.” Email is certainly not dead. Email is still one of the best marketing channels a business can use. When email is not profitable for a specific business, it really boils down to the fact that it takes a lot of hard work, time, and testing. And if it’s not made a priority or you’re just sending out a blast every once in a while, you’re not going to get any return on your investment.

What are some meaningful ways you can grow an email list? We’re going to outline some actionable tips for a small- or medium-sized business that hasn’t seen tremendous success from emails. What were they doing wrong and how can you avoid their mistakes?

You Own the Channel

When you take a look at different channels — whether it’s Facebook, or Google Ads, or Instagram, or your website — the advantage of email marketing is that you own that channel.
Unlike Google Ads where it’s a pay-to-play game, even though it can be very effective for a lot of businesses, it can be an expensive game. If the margins aren’t there, it could make it a not-so-profitable channel. Unlike Google Ads where you’re not in control of how the performance goes or the placement, if you use email marketing correctly, you can confirm that your communications get delivered to your intended recipients. For more info, check out out blog post about how to create a powerful digital marketing plan.


Manage Your Email List Correctly and Effectively

What can a business do? The first starting point is to ensure that your lists are managed correctly and effectively. And what does that mean? It means segmenting out who’s on the list, why they are on the list, and how important they are to your list.

Let’s say you specialize in LASIK eye surgery. That’s a business model where you’re not going to have very many repeat customers compared to other companies. So, you’re not going to want to send sales emails to that same list over and over. However, you could benefit by segmenting users who are already satisfied customers of yours, then you could email them specific referral programs or some updates to stay relevant, get check-ups yearly, etc. Where email marketing starts to break down is when you get what’s called “list fatigue.” That’s where you email the same list over and over, but no one’s taking action because no one gets a value.

Emails Absolutely Must Offer Value to the Customer

Unfortunately, one thing that often happens is that a business will take their entire email list and send emails that have no actual value. When an email is sent with no value, or it’s not pertaining to someone, then people get blinded by it. They’re either deleting it or unsubscribing, which makes it a useless channel.

Before you even start crafting an email, you need to figure out the purpose of it, and more importantly what value you are giving to a customer. Take a look at those world updates or holiday newsletters. They’re worthless. No one looks at them. They usually delete them. You’d be lucky if you don’t end up ruining your list and having your future contacts end up in the spam folder.

Break Up Your List into Meaningful Segments

When you start segmenting out your list, depending on the email service provider you use, you can typically do it through an export or some sort of tool that will help segment people into groups. The groups might be people who already bought from you, people who signed up for a newsletter on your website, people you’ve met at an offline event, people who used specific pages, etc.
Let’s say you’re a general contractor, and you can offer plumbing, electrical, and landscaping services. Well, the people who looked at plumbing on your website should never receive an email for electrical. You can reference types of services you do in the email, but you certainly would not want to send something to someone that’s not what they’d be expecting.

Easy Ways to Get More Email Addresses

What about some options of how to build the email list up? What’re some actionable easy steps that you can do right out of the gate to build up the list? If you have a popup on your website, that’s a great place to get contacts. Someone has already made it a point to come to your website, so it’s simple to ask them for their email address, whether you give some sort of offer or tell them the types of content that you’re providing them. Let’s say you’re a blog and you do crafting. You can explain to users that you’re going to be sending them tips, tricks, and discounts for X projects. The first way is certainly to have an onscreen pop-up. Definitely have something in the footer as well, because those are going to be the two places to ask for an email address. For someone who’s interested, they’ll go out of their way, they’ll add their email in and then it’ll go directly to your email service provider.

Somebody who’s taking the time to fill that out, that is somebody who’s more than likely a person you want to get your messaging in front of. There’s a certain level of interest and that’s somebody you certainly would want to talk to.

Speak Directly to One Person

When you send content, think of yourself as speaking directly to one particular person. You don’t want it to be some generic stuff that could apply to anyone or any company. That will be the fastest way to the junk mailbox. Your email should provide value and be interesting. Don’t email the same thing over and over and expect different results.
When you start off by segmenting out these users, you’re going to create an end goal of the purpose of that email. And that email should speak to a specific user or user segment, and it should provide value for that user. And even though it will take time by doing so, those emails are going to get read, they’re going to get clicked through. People are not going to ignore those emails.

You Don’t Have to Know What to Write About

Oftentimes people are like, “Oh, I don’t know what to write about.” There’s nothing wrong with giving general broad updates, just staying on top of mind, providing relevant information. But it’s also a good opportunity to be able to include links to social media or highlight certain posts or reviews or comments from users that have engaged with your business. By doing so, you can bring someone from their email to maybe your Facebook page or your Instagram or another channel you’re using to bring additional awareness.

Again, they have already signed up to your email list. Likely they might have interest in following your Facebook page or your Instagram and then you can communicate with them through other channels. So, if they don’t see your email, maybe they’ll see something in their social media feed. Check out our blog post about how to write effective SEO content.

Try a Referral Program

Another good opportunity with email is to develop referral programs. You can always throw in a note about, refer a friend person, get whatever, whether it’s a prize or dollars off or loyalty points.
Certainly, this is a good way because you already have these prospective customers or current customers and you’re staying on top of mind. It’s so easy for a company to just afford an email campaign. They don’t have to pick up a phone. They don’t have to get too invasive to send someone a text.

Try a Promotion

Promotions are another good feature to be able to incorporate into your email. Now, this does not necessarily mean discounting. One thing we’ve seen, especially with E-commerce stores, is they’ll constantly send out coupons or offers or promotions. Using email in that capacity could have negative effects for a store’s profit.

If someone’s expecting discount coupons through every single email, you’re going to get a lot of false signups to your newsletter. You’re going to get customers who only want to purchase from a business if something’s on sale. You don’t necessarily always want to resort to a discount. Instead, you could rely on things like giveaways or contests, or you could use the opportunity to get someone to post something onto another channel like your Facebook or Instagram.

Emails are about providing value but also staying relevant. And when you find that sort of combination, most businesses will certainly see a significant lift in the short term of getting their emails to have higher open rates, higher click through rates, and certainly lower unsubscribes.

Make It Very Easy to Unsubscribe

Speaking of unsubscribes, there’s no benefit to keeping someone on your email list who doesn’t want to be there. How is this person involved in your business? What makes them relevant? How might they help grow your business?

If someone doesn’t want to be on your list or they asked to unsubscribe or they tried clicking on the unsubscribe link and they want out, as a responsible business you should make it as easy as possible to let them out of your list. Indeed, there are legal implications if you don’t, but that’s a whole separate conversation.

Warning: Never Buy an Email List

Make sure you don’t have bad email addresses. Don’t buy email lists. That’s the first way to make sure that your emails end up in a junk folder. This is a problem because when you send an email, if it isn’t able to go through, if it fails being received, then it’s usually one of two issues. It’s either called a “hard bounce” or a “soft bounce.” A hard bounce is where an email is not valid, and a soft bounce is like an email inbox being full. Either way, it’s a problem.

Service providers like Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, or AOL want to make sure their users enjoy their email experience. They want to make sure user inboxes don’t get flooded with junk or spam or adult advertisements or anything like that. So, they take what they call a “honeypot,” as in an email that hasn’t been logged into for four or five years and they say, “Okay, anyone who emails to this defunct email address, we’re going to automatically make sure any other email is automatically sent to spam.”

So, if I’m Acme Locksmith and I emailed to this honeypot address at 123@gmail.com, then Gmail is then going to say, “Anytime Acme Locksmith emails anyone on Gmail, that email will not be delivered to our users.” This is very bad indeed.

Keep Your List Very Clean

It’s very important to make sure your email list is clean and relevant. Everyone wants to have a big email list, which sounds great. But at the end of the day, if you’re sending out 10,000 emails and you’re not gaining any business, you’re just paying more money to your email service provider to keep you on a bigger plan.

And this could have negative implications. One big misconception that we’ve seen often is when people think, “Oh, okay, well if Constant Contact doesn’t work out, I’ll go switch to MailChimp.” It doesn’t work that way because there’s what’s called a “blacklist.” It’s almost like a national registry and if you get flagged on it because you sent spam, it doesn’t matter where you go, no email service provider is going to be able to get you off that blacklist. Certainly not quickly, and definitely not cheaply.

Set Up Flows and Campaigns

In email marketing, setting up flows or setting off campaigns can be very valuable to a business. If someone engages with your business, there’s nothing wrong with having a welcome series of emails. You definitely don’t want to email someone three days in a row, but you can send them an email when they sign up like, “Here’s what to expect.” Then you can send them an email a couple of days later, “Thanks for signing up. Here’s a little more about the company.” Finally, you can send an email a week later and then that should be the end of that series. After that, find something else to be able to email the customers.

Don’t Get Discouraged If They Don’t Buy Immediately

Let’s say you’re a drone manufacturer and someone buys a drone from your website. Now you have a couple of good opportunities to email them. If they come to the website and you offer them a discount code, maybe that will get them to buy from you versus a competitor. And that’s before they purchase, but now you have their email address.

If they’re looking around at a specific type of drone and they don’t end up buying anything, you can start sending “browse abandonment” emails, which means they were looking at a specific product. Or you can send a “cart abandonment” email, which means they added it to the cart but didn’t complete the purchase. You can send a couple emails showing those products to stay on top of mind. For example, “Here’s the offer, here’s a different offer, if you buy in X amount of days.”

If someone looks at a product and they don’t buy, no problem. Take that opportunity to show them relevant content. Show them how it’s going to help them and make them more productive.

Follow Up with E-Commerce Purchases

Oftentimes for an E-commerce site, if someone makes a purchase, you can send them a follow-up email. For example, “Here’s what to expect. It’s going to take X amount of days for it to show up. And when it does, here’s how to use it. Here’s a core use, here’s how someone else uses it.” And it keeps them positive, it keeps them engaged. Maybe shipping takes a little longer, no problem because now they’re excited. They’re waiting for it to show up. They’re looking at these features or functions or uses and it really just makes for a good engaging experience.

The key is just to start small and scale it from there. Find relevant information that’s going to provide value. Then send it to however many people — whether it’s 10, 50, or 200. You’re going to see long-lasting channels that you own.