• Email List Best Practices for Small Business Owners


Our customers often come to us when they’re ready to start sending emails to their contacts, but aren’t sure if they did what they needed to do in the way of gaining their contacts’ permission. This is just one of many frequently asked email list questions we face, so we’ve decided to create a blog post that answers them all at once.

I have a bunch of business cards from various networking events. Can I add them to my email list?

This is usually not a good idea. Imagine yourself at a busy networking event. You succeeded in your goal of trading business cards with as many contacts as possible. You return to your office a few days later, only to discover your email inbox is slammed with email newsletters from everyone you met.

You would likely start unsubscribing or even reporting them as spam, right? Your new contacts would likely do the same to you. While it can be tempting to simply add all of these contacts to your email blast list, it’s likely only to hurt your reputation.

The solution is to add these people to a list you name for contacts who are higher in your sales funnel. These are leads you’ll continue to nurture before adding them to an email list. Treat them with care! Make a phone call or send a personal email, inviting them to follow up on something specific you discussed at the event. Once you have a good relationship going, ask them if they would like to join your email list, so they can stay up to date on the latest with your business.


Can I use the thousands of email contacts I’ve collected over the past several years?

Not exactly. The best thing to do in this case is to weed through them. Pull out the contacts with whom you have a strong, ongoing, working relationship. Send them a message, stating you’re starting an email list, through your regular email program. Ask them if they would like to join, and tell them how they do this. You could ask them to reply to the email or send them to a page of your webite through which they can fill out a form to join.

As far as the rest of the contacts, if you don’t have a strong working relationship with them they likely do not want to be part of your list. It is not worth the risk of SPAM complaints – which could get you blocked by email service providers – to send to these contacts.


Q: I want to do some prospecting and many of my target audience have email addresses listed at their Web site. Since these addresses are public, can I add them to my list?

A: When an organization lists email addresses at their Web site, the intention is that they would like to provide clients and prospects with a way to contact them directly, but not that they have given consent to be added to any marketing lists.


Q: I belong to a membership organization (a chamber of commerce, business networking group, etc.). Since I technically have a relationship with them, can I email them?

A: The rules of many membership organizations dictate that you can email all of the members, but we don’t advise it. The scenario is much the same as the business card example, above. When members are getting emails from all of the other members, it can get quite overwhelming and they will likely not read these emails.


Q: Can I email those who have emailed me or added me to their own email list?

A: Those who have emailed you a question or comment are likely to be expecting a direct reply to their email and not to suddenly be opted-into an email list. Better to build that relationship first, then ask them. You could also include a link, in the signature of your emails, to the page of your Web site at which they can join your list.

As for those who have added you to their email list, it does not mean you have consent to add to them to yours. Two wrongs don’t make a right.


Q: Can I email my social media contacts?

A: When someone connects with your business on Twitter, Facebook, or other social channels, they’re telling you they would like to keep in touch with you, which is a great thing. Respect the way they’ve connected with you. It could be that they prefer Facebook as their way of staying connected with the people and organizations they care about. Maybe Tweets are their thing. But maybe they reserve their email inbox for messages from friends.

The best tact here is to occasionally invite your social media contacts to join your email list, and direct them to where they can do so.


Q: So who, exactly, can I email?

A: While we’ve covered many of the “don’ts”, emails can be a powerful form of marketing, when done following best practices. The best way to think about who you should email is by thinking about how you manage your own email inbox.

When you’re going through your emails, you likely open the emails from the people and organizations you know. And you probably delete or report as SPAM the emails from those you’re not familiar with, right? Think about this, when you’re planning your own email marketing. It’s all about the expectation of the recipient.

The best contact list is full of those who have opted into your email list. They’ve filled out an online email list signup form at your Web site, a paper form at your location or an event, or you’ve just asked them.

While not as good as a contact list where people have opted in, a list of those whom you have a strong, working, ongoing relationship can also work. If you have a great rapport going, they might be expecting to receive information from you. In any case, make sure they have a way to unsubscribe, if their preferences change.

As for everyone else? Keep them in a separate list, for now. Use the traditional methods of phone calls, mail, or personal, one-to-one emails to build that relationship first.


Remember: Getting great results from email marketing is not about the number  of email contacts you have. It’s about the quality of the contacts on the list. And when you start sending those emails, keep them straightforward and simple, with a clear call to action. This will put you in the best position to see the greatest return on this form of marketing.

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Do you have other questions about email marketing? Leave them below and we’ll respond!

ThriveHive combines easy-to-use tools and expert guidance to help businesses stand out and get found online. Learn more about our guided marketing and advertising solutions here.

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