Updated on January 18, 2021

As the weeks of this quarantine turn into months, and now months are turning into a year, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into how I can best support my clients through this trying time. I’ve been working hard on COVID-19 website banners, blog posts, and new shopping carts. But, in the back of my mind, there is one thing that I think all my clients need now more than ever. And that’s an email list.

I often get a lot of pushback when I suggest a subscribe button for someone’s website and I completely understand why. I’m also a small business owner and the thought of sending a newsletter feels like one more thing I don’t want to add to my to-do list. After all, we all have blogs to write, social media to manage, phone calls to return. It can all feel very overwhelming.

But as time goes on, it’s very apparent that the business environment we all enjoyed before the pandemic is not likely to return quickly. It’s going to be a very gradual process that will keep us distanced from our customers for weeks, perhaps months to come. We aren’t going to run into them at a social event, or see them for an in-office meeting. Email is a very personal way to reach out to your clients and let them know you are still providing services, you’ve adapted your offerings, or most importantly, you’re thinking about them.

What is an email list?

An email list is simply a collection of email addresses. They can also include first and last names, and you can even add birthdays, addresses, and phone information. But the heart of the list is the email address.

Who should be on your mailing list?

For me, my email list consists of current clients and people that have signed up for my newsletter online. This list isn’t everyone I’ve ever done business with. I curated my list by first exporting my clients out of my accounting program into a spreadsheet (a spreadsheet is a very important part of this process). Once there, I sorted them into categories by making notes in a column. Was it someone that I did repeat business with? Was it a one-time job? Do I even still offer the service I provided at the time? I would say that over one-third of the customers listed were removed from the spreadsheet based on these notes. Really old client email addresses will bounce if they are not active. Bouncing emails might flag you as a spammer. It’s good to clean up your list before you start setting up your account.

Does my client need to opt-in to my list?

Yes, you need to ask them if they want to be on your list. But that doesn’t mean you need to call each of them personally. Your first newsletter email can ask that question! I let clients know when they hire me that sending a newsletter is an important part of my client outreach. When they sign my contract, they go on the list. Longtime clients may not even remember opting-in. The key to this is placing an UNSUBSCRIBE message in every email. This is usually in the footer. As long as they have a way out, you should be good. However, this means you also have a responsibility not to overuse the privilege of sending them the email.

Why shouldn’t I just use Outlook or Gmail to send these emails?

The advantage of using a newsletter service is that you get reports on your emails. You learn who opened them, what they clicked on, what messages worked for you, and what didn’t. You can style the email to match your branding. You can personalize the message with shortcodes that will insert names.  It will also track who unsubscribed.

What is the best platform for sending my newsletters?

If you are just getting started, hands down the best option is Mailchimp. You can have up to 2,000 email addresses and send 10,000 emails a month. So, if you had 2000 subscribers, you could send five newsletters blasts a month. They only allow for one audience, but you can use tags to segment that one list into a smaller targeted listing. For instance, I have my care plan clients tagged so I can send them a care plan related message if I need to. Constant Contact is also a well known favorite. It starts at $20 a month and best if you already have a large number of emails on a list. There are scores of options for newsletters. Googling, the “best email marketing platform” will give you plenty of opinions on what might be best for you and your industry.

How do I get my emails into Mailchimp?

I’m answering the question for Mailchimp because that’s what I’m most familiar with. The best way is to set up a spreadsheet using Excel or Google Sheets. Here’s a link with the step by step how-to (with a video). Plus, I mentioned before, this gives you the opportunity to sort your clients into groups or remove those that are long gone.

Isn’t social media posting more important than email marketing?

The short answer is NO. Social media is important, but you have little control over who actually sees your postings. You don’t even really control your followers. You can’t contact them outside the social media platform at all. I’m not saying you don’t need to pay attention to posting on social media, but it pales in comparison to direct email marketing.

What do I say in my newsletter?

I try to write each email like a personal note. Most of my newsletters are about an upcoming vacation or something I think my clients would appreciate learning about. That might be a new service. It might be someone else’s service that I used. It might just be “how are you doing?” or a “how-to” – bottom line, if there’s a newsletter you receive that you love to read, mimic their approach. What you shouldn’t do is sell, sell, sell in every single mailing.

Should I repeat my blog posts in my newsletter?

YES. YES. YES. In fact, I will be doing that with this very blog post. This is too long for a newsletter. I’m going to write an excerpt with the highlights of this blog and have that lead to this article. On top of that, I’m going to share the blog post on my social media. Think of it as cross-pollination. We all put a lot of thought into our content. Get the most out of it by sharing it in multiple ways.  Having links to your website in your newsletter is a great way to remind your clients you have a website with great information for them.

How often should I send a newsletter?

I think that once a month is just fine when you are starting out. Maybe quarterly is all you can handle. If you never post a blog post or on social media now, don’t set out to send a newsletter once a week. You need to make the most out of your opportunity to speak to your clients. I have signed up for newsletters that hit me every single day. Unless I explicitly asked for “10 days of clutter clean up ideas”, I don’t read them. You need to be consistent without being annoying.

Do I need a sign up for my newsletter feature on my website?

Absolutely. If someone came to your website and are interested in what you have to say, why not? You can even let the visitor choose the list they want to be on. To entice them, you can offer them a free download when they sign up. Visit my site to see that in action.

There is so much more I haven’t covered. You can get fancy with your newsletter design. You can create drip campaigns with conditional logic, do A/B testing, suggesting the best times to send based on data metrics, etc. So much of this I have little to no experience with, but I have trusted partners that do.

“I want to do business with a company that treats emailing me as a privilege, not a transaction.”
Andrea Mignolo

This article is really meant for those of you that have resisted creating this list, to begin with. We are all finding ourselves in an unimaginable situation. Social distancing is making us feel distanced from our clients and they feel disconnected from us.

This is a way to let your clients know they are in your thoughts.

I wanted you to know how much you are in mine.

❤ Cami

RESOURCES: Inc.com – Why Building a Strong Email List Should Be Your Number 1 Priority

About Cami MacNamara

Owner/Designer at WebCami Site Design. Providing web design services in Seattle since 2002. Follow me: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram