Email List Building for Small Business [30 Minute Webinars]

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Welcome everybody to another thirty minute webinar put on by flyte new media. My name is Rich Brooks, I am going to be your host for today and we are going to talk about email marketing for small business and we are really going to focus on list building today the list building component of email marketing.

Email and list building has always been a passion of mine. When people come into my office and they talk about a new website or how they want to rank on the first page of google or how they want to run some facebook ads I always direct the conversation to how will this help build your email list. How can we turn those email subscribers into customers and revenue. I had this digital marketing podcast, you may know, it’s called the agents of change and in it I get to interview marketing experts each week on topics like pinterest, local SEO, paid search, instagram stories, all over the place, but regardless of the experts area of expertise all of them are focused on building their email list. They know that if they want to get hired as a consultant or sell more courses that they need to have this robust email list. So even if you’re a facebook marketing expert, you’re going to pay more attention to getting new email subscribers than to getting more facebook followers. In fact, often when I do get asked the question if you were starting your business today with everything you’ve learned over the past 20 years, what would you do differently? The answer is that I would start building my email list from day one and never let up.

BARE Essentials

I’m going to start off the way I often do by just mentioning this framework that we use here at flyte called the BARE essentials of digital marketing and today I’m going to talk about how email marketing fits into all of this. BARE is an acronym; the B stands for build, building a website or platform that turns visitors into customers this is a critical aspect to list building and email marketing because one of the conversion points we want to focus on is getting people to join our list and that happens most often on our website. A is for attract, or how do we drive traffic to our website, now certainly emails can drive traffic to our website but I tend to focus on search, social, and digital ads to get those first time visitors to your site. Retain is really where email marketing shines, this is how do you get people to stay in touch with you after they’ve left your website and this is all about email marketing and a little bit of retargeting as well. Finally, evaluate or how to you measure and analyze your results. And with that email marketing both looking at your google analytics as well as your email service providers metrics are really going to help you understand the power of email marketing, what’s working, what’s not, what’s getting opened, what’s getting people to click on the unsubscribe button, so there’s a lot of important information that you need to check out there.

Who is this Guy, anyway?

So who am I? Well my name is Rich Brooks as I mentioned earlier and I’m the president of flyte new media, we’re a web design and internet marketing company located in beautiful Portland, Maine. I also founded the agents of change which is both the weekly podcast as well as an annual conference that takes place here in Portland, Maine as well as online, bringing in about 400 people per year, even more online, and we talk about with a bunch of other presenters how do you reach more of your ideal customers through search, social, and mobile marketing. I’m also the tech guru on 207, which is the evening news program on the NBC affiliates here in Maine where I do hard hitting news stories like what are the best recipe websites online and how to take better pictures with your smartphone. And earlier last year I published my first book called the Lead Machine: the small business guide to digital marketing.

Why Email?

Let’s focus on email today. Why am I so bullish on email? First of all, email is stable, perhaps unlike your ex. What I really mean by that is with social media platforms like facebook you’re at the mercy of algorithm. Posts of facebook business pages used to reach 80-90% of your fans, now that’s down to 1-3% for most business pages. Or maybe you build a following on twitter only to find out that the only people that get attraction and engagement there anymore are sports stars, celebrities, and the current president of the United States. Likewise you could go to bed being on the first page of google and then you go to sleep and you wake up and they’ve updated their algorithm and suddenly you’re invisible. Email is imperfect, but at least it’s stable compared to other digital marketing tactics. Email is intimate. Social media tends to be one to many; we want to get as many likes, comments, and shares as possible. Email is very much one to one; I email you and you can talk directly to me, we can parlay. Email is mobile and by this I don’t mean email friendly, although absolutely your emails must be mobile friendly, I mean you can take your list from mailchimp and constant contact or vice versa, that you own the list and you can take it with you when you outgrow your email service provider or your esp. Also you can take that email list and upload it to services like twitter or facebook and advertise to people on your list or people like the people on your list to get in front of an even bigger, qualified audience, pretty cool right? Email is unavoidable, you go to a meeting, you attend a 30 minute webinar, you go for lunch, you take a quick nap, you’re going to miss thousands of tweets, facebook updates, linkedin status’, but any email that ends up in your inbox will still be there when you get back, for better or worse. Email is for selling. Now I know from selling tickets to our annual agents of change digital marketing conference, when I look at our results the bulk of our ticket sales, the majority of our ticket sales come from email, not form social media, not from SEO, not even paid ads. Email drives sales.

Why List Building?

So why focus so much on list building then? Well, in a word, and hopefully you know this word, shrinkage. People leave jobs, they change isp’s, they outgrow their needs for your services, because of that your list is always going to be going underneath shrinkage, so you constantly need to be adding to your email list subscribers at a faster rate than you’re losing them.

How Big a List?

So maybe you’re wondering, how big a list do I actually need? Well, if you’ve got a low margin product, or you can sell your product to anyone, if anybody could be your customer, or if you have a product you could sell an infinite number of times such as ebooks or digital courses, then you should grow your list as big as you can. Ten thousand, fifty thousand, one hundred thousand or bigger. Now if you’re an architect, say that builds schools in Northern New England, there’s probably only two to three hundred people tops that would be interested in being on your list, so focus on ways of getting this niche group to sign up.

List Growing Tools

So how do we grow these lists, what are some of the tools that we can use? First a website, yes it’s true you can grow your list offsite, even offline, but the bulk of your energy and focus should be on your website. Your website should be a lead machine, no pun intended, and the best way to generate leads is through email sign up and we’ll take a look at a number of things you can be doing on your website in just a few minutes. An email service provider, you’re going to need an esp like constant contact, mailchimp, or aweber or whichever reputable company you like. It has to be a reputable company, I know a lot of people like to go with discount providers, the problem is with discount providers is that they usually are the tools of spammers and so your emails are going to be seen as spammers. I know a few people try and send out lists from their gmail or from their outlook, really you need a true email service provider, it’s worth the money. I personally use constant contact and I’m spending maybe 25 dollars a month maybe 30 dollars a month, it’s a drop in the bucket especially with the value you get from email service providers. And I’m happy to answer any questions about some of those benefits as well. Next you’re going to need what I call a conversion optimizer and these are products like leadpages, which is what we use her at flyte, but there’s also optinmonster or unbounce, those are other examples that people like. I find that esp’s, email service providers, are great for managing your lists and for sending out emails, but they’re not as good in helping you optimize your conversion rate. So I use leadpages in conjunction with constant contact for better reporting and improved conversions. So for example I might have a pop up lead page after you click something or maybe on a timer and then I can test ab split test things to kind of see was it this image or was it this call to action that got more people to take action, so I can really continually improve my conversion rates that way. And lastly, analytics and reporting. So google analytics and you email service provider’s reports and reports from your conversion optimizer are going to tell you how you got new subscribers, how they found your website, exactly which opt-in form is effective and which isn’t, which offer that you have may generate more subscribers, and other important pieces of data. The more you know the better you’re going to get and getting people to opt-in to your newsletter because you’re hopefully going to have a steady stream of people coming to your website and if you can increase the number of those people who sign up for your email newsletter, you get to stay in front of more people, so it’s something you should be regularly working on.


So as I mentioned, website’s probably most critical. As I sat down to create this presentation, I decided to use flyte’s own email marketing campaigns for different screen captures and this turned out to be kind of an eye opening experience and a little bit perhaps of a sobering experience. We have been doing email marketing for so long, I mentioned we have been in business for 20 years, and run so many different campaigns that trying to get data was a nightmare. As I like to say our email marketing garden had become overrun. I found plenty of inconsistencies, I spent two full days hacking away at the overgrowth so we could get back to proper marketing and measurement. I found things like separate landing pages after people subscribed to the same email newsletter, each had its own messaging, not all of them were consistent with the way we talk anymore, sent them to different thank you pages, asked for different pieces of information. None of this is wrong per se, but you should be aware of what’s going on and ultimately what I did is I spent quite a bit of time on cleaning this up so we’re always asking for the same pieces of information which was only name and email, with one exception which is on our contact form we ask for a little bit more but that’s fine, so we would always be able to address things to the person who subscribed. We also had a bunch of welcome messages that were all over the place, so what I might recommend is go through your email sign-up process and if you have more than one place where people can sign up for emails, go ahead and sign-up in different places just so you go through that customer path and you understand what they’re getting because there’s a lot of messaging out there that’s part of the whole process that you’re not going to see on a day to day basis. So big pro tip there, every once in a while go sign up for your own email newsletter.

Here are some ways you can get people to opt-in to your email newsletter on your website. First off, don’t groan, the pop-up, we’ll talk a little more about each one of these as time goes on, the footer and the header, if you’ve got a blog a blog is a great place to collect email addresses, page specific value ads, and I’ll explain what that means, your contact form, and squeeze pages. I’m sure there are a lot more places and ways of getting people to sign-up on your website, but these are six critical ways that you can use, let’s take a look at each one.


First of all, pop-ups. Marketers love them, web visitors hate them, that’s the general consensus, right? I know I was getting tired of them, when I’m on a site that throws up a pop-up, actually something like this is called a lightbox or a modal window, but technically it’s a pop-up. If I’m on a site that throws up a pop-up as soon as I get there, I’m looking for that x to close it as quickly as possible and I’m assuming that everybody’s like me, we’ve developed this pop-up blindness. It’s like walking into a discount furniture chain and having four sales people grab you limb by limb and each try to bring you into one section of the store, it’s just too much too fast, just please let me browse. A few months ago, with no data to back me up, because hey that’s how I roll, I deleted the pop-up that we had on our website, but since I’m trying to measure everything I looked at our report on leadpages. It showed me that even though I may find them annoying, over sixteen hundred people specifically signed up via that pop-up that was running and had a conversion rate of 1.41, so I turned it back on. I did make one change, I actually had it pop-up on the second page so people would surf one page and for the people who were just there and they bounced right off the side I didn’t bother them, but for people who made it to a second page I paused 20 seconds or 15 seconds and then showed them a pop-up. This was my balancing act, trying to find out, I don’t want to annoy people, but if you are going to a second page on my website chances are you’ve got some interest in digital marketing and you probably want to sign up for our email newsletter.


Another place where you should be putting is your headers and footers and this is just a simple offer, hey free updates send you a bunch of cool stuff, send me free awesome stuff. You click on this link and you get a pop-up and so again, this is a pop-up but it’s not the kind of pop-up where you’re not expecting it. You click on that and then you get people to sign up. It’s interesting, so leadpages has some data to back up that people are more likely to opt-in when they click on that link and then they see the pop-up, rather than showing them the email sign-up right there. I’ve tried that and to be honest, I’m not thrilled with the results that I’ve had, so I’ve got a conversion rate of 3.65, which is higher than the other one, but basically that means almost 99 out of 100 people who said they wanted free awesome stuff to be sent to them didn’t go ahead and give me the information so I could send it to them. You can see here, this is a screen capture from leadpages, we’re doing some ab split testing here so you can see variation number one did almost 5% better than the original, so the next step would be to shut off the original, take the variation, and then play around with the variation and basically try and ab split that so we can continually get better results from this.

Sticky Headers/Footers

That was a regular footer but you could also have a sticky footer like we have on the agents of change website, you can also have a sticky header as well. All that means is that it stays in one place as someone scrolls through the website. Ours is down here and again, I didn’t think this was much of a come on but we actually got most of our sign-ups through that get updates, so again, don’t just assume that people aren’t going to sign up in one place or they will sign up in another, take a look at your data.


A blog is a great place because people are already looking for content, they’re looking for information and all emails are are a way of getting people back to your website, getting them more content. I want to show you a couple things that we did on our blog to try to increase sign ups we have this header area right here, join over 11,500 other marketers, so we’re immediately using some social proof here we tell people exactly what they can expect when they sign up, we’ve got a quote from an influencer in our industry, then we’ve got this nice big red, easy to find, clickable link right there in the header. On the right hand column we’ve got free updates, join flyte club, not especially a huge exciting come on, it’s something to play around with in the future for sure. As I look at our stats views are much lower here but conversions are much higher, we’re hitting over 9% of the people who click on that link are finishing signing up so that’s pretty cool.

Page Specific Value Ads

You could also go with page specific value ads, so what does that mean? Somebody comes to an article, in this case it’s like does your SEO suck, and as people are scrolling both at the top of the article and down throughout the article we have these little buttons that say ‘don’t have time to read this? Download our SEO checklist now’ and by clicking on that it asks for your email address and your name and sends you the information and now you’re on our list. So that’s another great way of getting people to join your list. Take a look at some of your highest performing blog posts, ones where people are finding through the search engines, or they’re just visiting that page, they’re reading that content and then maybe they’re not taking another step, maybe it’s a big exit page if you look at your google analytics and try using some sort of value ad. Basically in this one we just did a cleaned up version of our 13 point checklist, but you could also do something that’s related to the blogpost that might be really valuable and things that don’t take a lot of time like a checklist or a cheat sheet, those appear to be very valuable to people, they have a high perceived benefit so those are good things to experiment with. And these are just the results that we got from this, it was 348 opt-ins, conversion rate of 2.5 and again, it was the exact same content that was in the blog. It took my designer maybe under an hour to take that information and make it look prettier than it does on the blog and turn it into a pdf and send it back to me. So in my mind an hour of work maybe another hour on my part just to make sure that everything worked and tested it, all this sort of stuff, for 348 opt-ins and counting, that’s fantastic, especially because once people are on my email list I then have the opportunity to continue the conversation, to increase brand awareness of flyte new media or whatever you company may be, so again I think this is a great ROI. and on the offers that you’re making, you don’t have to recreate the wheel, just find something that’s already working and just put it behind an email registration.

Contact Form

We also ask people if they want to join our email list as part of our contact form. We chose to go opt-in rather than precheck the box and require people to opt-out, obviously we’d have more people signing up if it was an opt-out rather than an opt-in because people just skim through things, but we want people who are choosing to join our list. I don’t have metrics on this one because we’re not running it through leadpages we’re just running it through the contact form, we’re a wordpress agency, we’re using gravity forms is our favorite form tool, form builder. I’m okay though with this because I don’t think this stat is as important, if they’re filling out our contact form it’s generally because they’re interested in doing business with us so getting them on our email list is gravy, I’m a little less concerned about it. So that’s another effective way, if you’ve got a contact form and you’re not asking people to join your email list, it’s just another missed opportunity.

Landing Pages

And then we’ve got landing pages. Landing pages are squeeze pages, I mean on one hand every page on your website is a landing page, when I’m talking about landing pages or squeeze pages I’m talking about a page that may or may not be hosted at your website, but generally there’s no navigation, no distractions on it, and you’re just driving people to a page where they can put in certain contact information. This was one that Amanda O’Brien from my office used when she was doing a presentation on facebook, she created for our clients a facebook ad planner. We would give it out to our clients who were doing facebook ads with us to make better ads, so we decided, since we’ve been told this is a very helpful document, we turned it into a lead magnet both here and in other places. Here all you need to do in this case is you give us your contact information and you get the lead magnet. This is a great tool to use, again you don’t need to make it a part of your website, you can put it anywhere. If you’re using something like leadpages, you can generate it right at leadpages so you don’t need to even deal with putting it up to your website. Recently I saw a presentation from a woman who said that she did some testing and found that she got better opt-in rates when there was navigation right up front, that has not been my experience, so I would recommend testing this out. You might create two landing pages, one that looks say like this and one that looks like this but has your navigation at the top and just see which one performs better, gets a better conversion rate. The reasons why I like not having any distractions on it because I don’t want them to then leave this page and then go to the about us section or go visit the blog and then kind of forget about why they were there in the first place and leave without giving me their email. That’s kind of why I do this, now if you like, but yeah I want to get them more information afterwards, you could set up a thank you page after this so after they give you their information you can send them anywhere you like. I still feel that these narrow squeeze pages with minimal information on it are the best way to go in terms of getting people to opt-in to your email list.

Increase Conversions

So we spent a lot of time looking at different ways to sign up for your email list, let’s just talk for a few minutes about how to improve the conversion rates at each one of these doorways. First of all, just draw attention. You can draw attention to your sign-up boxes with contrasting colors, with size, movement, imagery such as arrows, fingers pointing, or even just a person looking at the opt-in. You should build trust. As we discussed before you can share the size of your list, or get testimonials from your subscribers or influencers, customers, or whatever it may be these are all ways you can build trust and get people more likely to opt-in. Establish expectations, you can tell people how often you’re going to email them, or what kind of content they’re going to receive, is it discounts in your store, or the educational information that will improve their life, health, or relationships, just be upfront about it so they’re not surprised when they get your email. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, create an offer. This is critical, although you don’t need an offer or a giveaway with every single sign up box, and as you’ve seen we don’t use them in every single sign up box, you do need to create an irresistible offer that makes people think that they’d have to be a fool not to give you their email address.


So what kind of offers should you be creating? There’s a lot of different types of offers obviously, one thing to keep in mind is that people are less likely to sign up if there’s a significant time investment on their part. For example, a one hour consult with you may be incredibly valuable, but for someone who doesn’t know you yet, that time investment is on their end, not yours, that’s them giving up an hour, so it’s probably not a good freebie to give away. Here are some popular offers that can turn visitors into subscribers. Downloads such as an ebook, whitepaper, industry report, they all work well. You don’t always have to create something new, as we’ve said before, you can bundle related blog posts into a pdf as a giveaway or you can repurpose content you’ve already created. Webinars, yes there’s a time investment, 30 minutes in this case, but I found this a very powerful way to get new subscribers, that’s going on right now. Free online courses, I’ve known many digital marketers who blew up their list by offering a free simple online course that led people to buy more in depth expensive courses down the road. Contests, raffles or giveaways are great as well. If you have a big ticket item, randomly choosing one subscriber a month for the product, or a coupon good in the company store will work well, and of course store discounts because everybody loves a discount.


We’ve talked almost exclusively online, but let’s mention offline for a minute. There’s a lot of different things you can do to grow off your offline, social channels sites like facebook, twitter, slideshare all allow you to collect email addresses from people without even making them leave those sites. Guest appearances, if you ever have the opportunity of guest blogging on another website or being a guest on a podcast or radio show you can create a special URL and drive listeners or viewers for a free gift behind an email sign up, so you get in front of a new audience. Live presentations, you can create or repurpose a value ad and ask people to either give you a business card so you can send it to them, just be clear that they’re being added to your list, or create a simple opt-in form that they can access on their smartphone, something like Amanda did on that previous slide. Products, writing a book perhaps, well create a work book readers can download from your site and put it behind an email registration. This can be done with almost any product, a crock pot might include links to a recipe book for example, and it’s helpful when you’re not the actual seller, such as when you’re selling on amazon or really any retailer in the real world.

Thank You

That’s the content for today, I hope after this you feel a lot more confident in the ways that you can build your list and the importance of building your list. If you have any questions please let me know and if you head on over to I’m guessing there’s some sort of giveaway for you, assuming that’s still up.

That’s it for today, if you have questions, I’ve got answers please feel free to shout them out. Here’s one of the questions now;

Q: We offer healthcare services, retail sales, public policy advocacy and we ask for money (philanthropy), we have one hundred lists broken down by geography, interests, whatever. We treat everyone very differently, people who want sales alerts don’t get asked for end of year donations, do you think this is a good strategy or should we have some content continuity among segments?

I think it’s great that you do segment your lists, that’s not really something we got into today but for those who don’t know you can segment your list first by segmenting them, different groups of people, and then sending different emails to different people it’s a little bit more time consuming but more effective. But the question being should you have some content continuity between segments, yeah I definitely think so I think there’s a missed opportunity here. There may be people who want to know about sales or offers but at the same time they want to make a donation at the end of the year or vice versa. I do think that having an annual call to action or something like that light be beneficial, or maybe once a quarter or once a year sending out an email that kind of goes to everybody and then if you see people are clicking on a certain link, that’s one way to segment it. So maybe you have some information about a good deed that you’ve done that was helped by philanthropic giving, you might tell that story and anybody that clicks on that link you could add them to the segment for people who might be interested in year end giving. I hope that helps.

Q: Have you found any correlation between the unsubscribe rate and how that person got on your email list? Like with page specific value ads, are people more likely to unsubscribe after they get the material they were promised?

I have not done that and I’m not exactly sure how you might do it just because of the way everything is set up. The bottom line is if you have page specific value ads or whatever your method is, there’s always going to be a percentage of people who sign up and unsubscribe immediately. You know what, that’s okay, if your content is that valuable they’re probably going to want to sign up again anyways. You may be able to create some value ad that that even encourages them to come back to the website. And here’s a little trick, let’s say that you have this list of unsubscribes, people who have unsubscribed at some point, you could actually take that list and put it up to facebook and start advertising to that list of people, assuming that they used the same email address to sign up that they did for facebook, but if that were the case you can at least stay in front of those people and continue to market to them. Now if they downloaded your thing and they immediately unsubscribed and if they have no interest in hearing from you again, they probably weren’t going to be great customers anyways, so I really wouldn’t lose any sleep over that. I hope that helps.

Q: I have a list of eleven thousand but have a low open rate. What kind of newsletter open rate should be look for? Any tips? What about subject lines?

Great question, and by the way this email marketing one was definitely more on list building and based on some of these questions I think I’ll go in and do some more email marketing webinars in the future on things like segmentations and subject lines as well and how to get past ISPs and all that good stuff. Back to this question, I think it varies industry by industry and the bigger your list, the lower your open rate tends to be just because people get tired of you and they stop opening your emails over time, that sort of thing. I’ve heard, not industry specific, but you might find anywhere from 16-20% is typical for email open rate. Subject lines, let me just say ‘January Newsletter’ is never a good idea for an email newsletter subject line. You should definitely be finding ways to try and get people interested or intrigued by the subject. Either you want to tell them exactly what they’re going to get in the email like ‘20% off all products in our store’ or you want to have some intrigue like ‘you’ll never guess what’s on sale this week’. So those are a couple of different tactics that you can use, you can also do A/B split testing. Almost all the email service providers out there offer some sort of some sort of A/B split testing, so you can try out two subject lines and maybe they send out say 100 to two random groups and then the one with the higher email rate, the rest of the emails go out with that subject line. So those are definitely some things that will help. The other thing is that if you find you’ve got emails, you can sometimes run these reports based on your esp, some people who haven’t opened your email in 6 months, or a year, or two years, you’re probably paying for the size of that list and if there’s three thousand people on that list and you’re paying more because you broke the ten thousand mark it might be worth it to first clear out your bounces and you can do that through your email service provider, then take a look at the size of your list and then many of them will let you run reports to see who hasn’t opened an email in a significant portion of time and you could do a couple things; you may just email them and say, hey you haven’t opened an email in a while so I’m guessing that you’re not interested. If you are interested click on this link and I’ll keep you on the list, but if you’re not I’m just going to take you off the list, not harm no foul. And that takes a little bit of work and again the benefit of that is having a higher open rate and maybe lowering your monthly cost. There’s also maybe some evidence that if you have a lower open rate that it hurts you across the board, so it might make sense to kind of get rid of some of that dead weight.

Q: Should we plug in the person’s name in the newsletter or keep it generic?

I’m a big fan of putting in somebody’s name, I really like the way Chris Brogan does it where it’s kind of a surprise like he might start off by saying ‘Rich, whatever’, but then sometimes he’ll throw my name into the middle of the email newsletter and I know on his end it just says ‘[name]’, but it does grab your attention. So whenever possible, yes you should be personalizing and customizing your emails.

Q: Should emails look pretty? Email newsletter formats with images or look like regular text emails, it seems like the trend is towards the latter.

That’s a great question, there is no right answer. If you talk to the people from constant contact and mailchimp they tell you that you should be using beautiful imagery that engages your audience and gets them to click through to your website or store. If you look at somebody like Amy Porterfield or Derek Halpurn, they all look like regular emails that you might get from a friend. I think you have to decide what’s best for you. If you’ve got a community that’s looking to you like a friend or a guru or a leader you might end up going with more of that text looking email. If you’ve got a brand that needs some serious branding, you probably want to go with more of the pretty images. The one thing both sides seem to agree on is email is more about transporting people from their inbox to your destination, so you want to keep it short and sweet and make sure that call to action in the email is so obvious and that’s really what I would focus on. And again, this is probably something that’s just worth testing.

Alright, those were all the questions I got, if you were feeling shy, if you didn’t want to ask the question now, if it comes to you in the middle of the night you can always find me; my email is Have a great day everybody and thank you for tuning in.

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