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How and Why to Build a Responsive E-mail List

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PUBLISHED DECEMBER 2015

by Kimberley Grabas, Founder, YourWriterPlatform.com


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Kimberley Grabas

Honestly, don’t you have enough on your plate, without adding another complicated marketing tactic to your workload?

But here’s the problem.

At first glance, deciphering the act and art of e-mail list-building may seem like just one more challenging promotional hoop you need to jump through to get a little traction. But I see it as, hands down, the single most important thing you can do to ensure the success and longevity of your publishing business.

Without a list, you’re talking to an empty room. With a list of engaged and supportive fans, that room is now an auditorium—filled with people eager to listen.


The Benefits

You get three major benefits when you create your e-mail list.

1. Access.The beauty of e-mail is that it allows for a direct and personal link to an individual—not a shout-out to the masses, as on most social media platforms. You can have private, one-on-one conversations and stay in touch with readers.

Because almost everyone you’d want to reach has an e-mail address, e-mail is an extremely efficient and cost-effective tool for sharing relevant informational and promotional content with a community of subscribers on an ongoing, timely basis.

It also lets you “capture” visitors to your website (and other sites), who would otherwise be lost to the interwebs after one visit.

This self-selected group of like-minded people who collect on your e-mail list have already found you, your work, or what you have to offer compelling enough to warrant handing over their e-mail address to get more.

This is a phenomenal asset. In effect, your e-mail list represents a community of people who are interested in your work and/or your message, who trust you enough to allow you access to their private inboxes, and who have given you permission to share more with them. #goldmine!

2. Control. As you build communities of fans and customers on social media and other platforms besides your own, remember this: If you don’t own and control it, it can be gone tomorrow. Outside your own website, e-mail list, newsletter, and so on, you have little or no control over how your content is used or distributed.

Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn—they decide the rules of engagement. Not you. They decide how you communicate, who gets to see your content, or whether you get to be a part of the conversation at all (break the rules, and you’re out, with no way to contact your followers).

Now, that’s not to say that you should avoid social media. It’s great to develop a following and contribute to the discussions on the social media sites where your customers or readers congregate. But you must find ways to encourage them to sign up on your e-mail list, where you can always stay connected with them and you control the experience.

When you have your own e-mail list, you can determine how you interact with readers, how often you communicate with them, and even the type of content you share. And you can affect what they do by using calls to action in your e-mails to your subscribers. For example, you can provide:

  • a link to your new blog post with a request to check it out and add comments, which will send more traffic to your website
  • a link to a book’s sales page, which will drive more preorders and/or purchases
  • a request for honest reviews with a link to a book on Amazon, which will boost review numbers

E-mail open rates reflect the quality and relevance of your content, so you even have some control over the number of people who open and read your e-mails.

3. Deeper engagement. The goals of creating a targeted and engaged e-mail list of subscribers are to build trust and a connection with the people who are most inclined to buy your books, spread your message, and support your mission over the long term.

These are your people, your tribe or community. They are one of the most important aspects of your business. So your job is to nurture this relationship by truly connecting and communicating with them and understanding their fears, dreams, and struggles.

How can you use e-mail to do that? I’m glad you asked:

  • As noted, e-mail is a private and personal note sent directly to one person. (Even if you are using e-mail marketing software, you must write your e-mails as if you are addressing one person—your ideal reader.)
  • E-mail allows for two-way communication, that is, a conversation. Take advantage of this every chance you get.
  • Through your e-mails, people will get to experience your voice, style, and personality, which are extensions of your brand. Make sure these aspects remain consistent and authentic in all your interactions with your audience (social media, blog, video, and so on).
  • You can (and should) use your e-mail list as a free research tool to help you understand your readers more intimately. Invite comments and feedback, ask questions, and even poll your subscribers to find out what they really want from you.
  • Done right, an e-mail list lets you build on your other forms of content and add even more value for your community. By consistently sharing useful, helpful, relevant, and interesting messages, you’ll deepen your influence with readers.
  • The deeper the engagement, the more invested your subscribers become. The more invested they are, the more likely they are to recruit other people to the fold and sing your praises in social media.

The Building Process

How do you build a list that allows you to directly and effectively communicate with your fans and subscribers on a personal level? By taking the following steps:

  1. Foster commitment and trust among the people you wish to do business with or develop a thriving community around, so that they will feel comfortable handing over their e-mail addresses. Honor their hesitancy about that by providing the most relevant, valuable content you can muster.
  2. Determine your list-building goals and objectives. Besides creating strong relationships with the people you want to reach, do you want to build your authority and influence? To share special deals and drive sales? To gain deeper insight into your customers or readers, to find out what makes them tick?
  3. Clarify the definition of your target audience. This one is a deal-breaker. If you don’t have a clear idea of exactly who is interested in what you have to offer, how will you know if you’re attracting the “right” people (those whom you are hoping to serve) to your list?
  4. Sign up for an e-mail marketing service. No matter how friendly or casual your e-mails to your subscribers are, you need to be professional about creating and managing your list. It’s your job to ensure that your subscribers are interested, human, and legally obtained (see U.S. CAN-SPAM Act or Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation). An e-mail service such as Aweber or Mailchimp makes it much easier to ensure that your e-mails are CAN-SPAM or CASL compliant.
  5. Develop, design, and promote your opt-in incentive. The key to designing an opt-in incentive with a high conversion rate is creating it to fit your target audience so well that it speaks only to them—not the general public. What will solve a need they have or ignite their passion? The more in-tune your incentive, the harder it is to say no (for details, see bit.ly/1OwEbSn).

After taking the time to prepare an offer they can’t refuse, make sure that it gets the attention it deserves by promoting it through social media, via an opt-in or landing page, at the bottom of your posts, and in a link in any guest post bio.

Psychologically speaking, a couple of things happen around the transaction of trading an e-mail for something you’re offering. One involves reciprocity, a feeling of obligation, which encourages an action to be reciprocated with another action. You offer something (an opt-in incentive), and in turn, people respond by giving you their e-mail addresses.

But something else happens, too, if you’ve provided highly relevant content on your site and an incentive offer that resonates. Subscribers will likely project this experience of receiving high value for a reasonable cost to future transactions with you.


Building on What You’ve Built

What you include in your e-mails and newsletters, how the content is designed, how it’s delivered (via broadcasts, autoresponder sequence, or a mix), your ratio of high-valued content to promotional content, and even the schedule (days, times, frequency) need to be carefully mapped out.

And don’t forget that your list is a fantastic resource for finding more out about your readers. Ask questions and solicit feedback. Since guessing and assuming rarely work, take the time to talk your subscribers about what they want or desire, and really listen to what they have to tell you. Then give them what they want.

Here are some steps you can take to multiply the benefits and size of the list you created.

1. Develop an advocate list. Preannounce new books, upcoming launches, promotions, and events to your current list of subscribers. Ask who would like to take advantage of these opportunities and let them know what perks they will receive as part of this special group of supporters.

The people who respond are now your advocate, VIP, or street team list: a group of supporters who will review and share a book when it launches in exchange for bonuses, early access to the book, special or exclusive access to the author, or other goodies.

2. Create an influencer list. Look for authors, bloggers, and/or businesses that have an engaged audience similar to the one you are trying to reach. And note that the size of their communities isn’t as important as their influence over the people in them.

Start building a relationship with these influencers by sharing their content on social media, adding to the discussion on their posts, and/or offering to connect them to other people or resources likely to add value to their business.

Backing by these people for events, speaking engagements, launches, and the like both endorses and multiplies the reach of your endeavor.

3. Optimize your website to capture leads. Before you start driving traffic back to your site, you need to make sure that you have set it up to convert as many people as possible, from casual visitors to intrigued subscribers.

This involves everything from having a branded, well-designed, well-functioning, mobile-friendly site to having well-thought-out, relevant, highly targeted, web-formatted content. Smartly placed opt-in forms and easy access to your beautifully compelling opt-in incentive are also required to ensure that there are no leaks in your e-mail list-building bucket.

4. Increase targeted traffic to your site. After you’ve ensured that not only your site, but all your online and offline properties are optimized to convert the ideal visitor into a subscriber, it’s time to increase your traffic numbers. Tactics include guest posting, social media posting, back-of-book calls to action, podcasting (or being interviewed), and increasing your use of images, video, and other media (for more on this subject see bit.ly/1LJE4DP).


Build It Now or Hate Yourself Later

You now have the tools to decode e-mail list-building, once and for all. If you find all this daunting, take a breath. It may seem challenging, but as your community grows, so do your book sales—and that makes the work well worth the effort.

Just remember, it takes time to build relationships. So the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll reap the benefits.


Kimberley Grabas is a Canadian writer and the founder of YourWriterPlatform.com, where she provides writers with the resources, tools, and inspiration they need to build their platforms, engage their fans, and sell more books. To download her free e-book, THE QUICK START GUIDE TO BUILDING YOUR WRITER PLATFORM, visit yourwriterplatform.com/updates.

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