Ways to build your email list

Email signup box by Lisa at Sierra Tierra

Customers can sign up for emails right at your counter. This display box even makes it look a little elegant. Photo by Lisa at Sierra Tierra.

For small town businesses, email is one of the most effective marketing tools available. Customers already like you, right? So they are more likely to open your emails than those from anonymous big brands.

Emma Wilhelm, with Mad Mimi email marketing, presented these tips on building up your list of customer email addresses at the conference of the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) last week.

Where to ask

There are a few basic places to collect email addresses from customers who want to choose to opt-in to receive your emails.

  • Web forms: the little signup box on your website. The code to make this work is provided by your email marketing service like Mad Mimi or Mail Chimp.
  • Facebook: your email service can probably also give you code or an app to put an email signup form on your Facebook Page.
  • Transactions: your point of sale system may do this automatically, or it might be something you can add. You can also just ask customers during a transaction if they’d like to sign up for emails.
  • In-person: you could use a paper signup list on your counter or on a clipboard at an event, then enter those people into your email provider’s list. Some email providers have an iPad app to collect address in-person in your store or at events.

Sweeten the deal

Now that you have places for people to sign up, you have to tell them what to expect and when.

  • Will they get short emails each week? Or a long monthly report?
  • Will you be sending them tips? Ideas? Recipes? Coupons?
  • Advance notice of special things?
  • Funny stories?

Why should they want to sign up? Make sure you explain that (briefly) right there in each place where you offer people the chance to sign up.

To encourage more people to sign up, you can give them some incentives. Popular incentives include:

  • Info: special reports, tip sheets, or other compiled information your customers would want to have.
  • Coupons: who can resist a special deal?


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About Becky McCray

Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband own a retail liquor store in Alva, Oklahoma, and a small cattle ranch nearby. Becky is an international speaker on small business.

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  1. Karen Runtz says

    Absolutely agree that small town businesses have the “in” when it comes to customers opening emails they send. One thing to be careful about, though, is the need to keep records and document consent. Will the point-of-sale, for instance, fulfill that requirement? Here in Canada our anti-spam law comes into effect this July 1 and it has very strict rules about ensuring and proving “consent.” I’m thankful I use Mail Chimp as they provide the mechanisms to collect and action the necessary data. For most of us, there is uncertainty as to the interpretation of some aspects of the new laws and people need more concrete examples of what you can and can’t do. I understand that your audience is largely U.S. based, but it is probably good practice to think along these lines even if their audience is indeed local.

    • says

      Karen, I’m a huge believer in only emailing people who really want to get your messages, so I agree. No small business should ever presume that customers want their email. Only, only, only send emails to people who specifically ask to get them.

      I’m no lawyer, so I can only offer some general opinions. Any reputable email marketing provider like MailChimp or Mad Mimi will automatically capture and retain this info when a customer signs up online. In fact, everyone drop by their email provider’s help files and search for “Canada Anti-Spam Law (CASL)” to find out how they are complying. Seems like paper records, like the sign-up box on the counter, ought to be very good documentation of a customer offering consent. Point of sale systems that help you manually collect email addresses would show that the customer had made a purchase in the past, which is one of the implied consent situations that is allowed under CASL, I believe. I still would not recommend automatically emailing to every customer who makes a purchase. Only send to those who specifically ask to be on your list.

      If anyone has more specific info about Canadian, UK or European opt-in documentation requirements, feel free to share that right here. Thanks!