I got a good question from Dwaine Stroud about emails to a database of people … specifically, what the best software is to run such an email program, and also how best to get people to use it? Dwaine is one of the guys behind a fan podcast about the CBS TV show Survivor, called Survivor Talk with D & D.
So, here are a few ideas about starting … or re-starting … an email program, to keep it simple and vibrant in 2012.
Dwaine’s question is a great reminder that, while some of us have email software provided by the large, beneficent corporation we work for, many of us do not. It’s up to us to go get the tools that make sense for us. Being in the situation of having to get our own tools can be a good thing, too. It forces us to think about what it is we really want to accomplish, before we toss a whole new project on our already-full proverbial plates.
A quick Google search will show that there are quite a few programs you can purchase to help you with mass or group emails. Personally, I would go instead with a web-based program like Constant Contact, MailChimp or Vertical Response. Constant Contact seems to be the bigger, more established, pricier option, but these and many others tend to offer a free introductory period, and then a monthly retainer based on how many people you send to.
To me, there’s one big reason to buy software, and a few good big reasons not to. When you buy a piece of software, usually you pay for it once, even if it’s hundreds of dollars, and you’re done. No recurring charges.
However, I like the web-based stuff, because even though there are recurring, monthly charges … if you shop around, you can find some pretty reasonable prices. Then, they have an interest in keeping you as a satisfied customer, and … my belief … they tend to be more motivated to keeping you happy with more timely, pertinent software and feature updates. Also, if your hardware craps out, you can just log on from a different machine.
BEFORE YOU START
What do you want to accomplish? Think of your email as a product. People will get it in their in-boxes and …… do what with it?
If your answer is “read it,” you haven’t been getting much email lately! Email is a commodity now, and not special in the least. Many mass emailers struggle to get to a 10% “open rate,” meaning fewer than 1 in 10 open those emails. Nowadays, it can be more effective to keep your email focus limited in content and targeted at a limited number of people, rather than trying to scoop up all the sign-ups you can get. If you’re a podcaster like Dwaine, with fewer than 500 active fans, chances are you have a higher concentration of passionate fans than some larger brands, leading to a higher open rate.
So, go into your email program with your eyes open … or take some time to revisit what you’re doing now … and think: What sort of thing would make ME open a mass email every time I got it? It’s important to keep whatever that good reason is in mind. Too many emails from businesses just become unfocused promotional dumping grounds for stuff.
Part of making sure your emails are going to be about something is that it makes it easier to explain to people why they might want to sign up.
This will be something you have to commit to. Put up links to sign up for your email at your website and in any social media you do. If you have a business “in real life,” where you meet your customers face to face, you can give them a handout about what you do.
Then, in your emails, as you’re making sure you’re offering read-worthy content, you can add an option for your recipients to forward the email to their friends. That won’t get used a lot, but when it does get used, it’s a powerful referral. One advantage of using a web-based service is that they tend to make it easy to build options like that into your email, along with social media and web links, and you can also make it look like your website.
Then, go on selling it. Sell it with a meaningful benefit, sell it consistently, and live up to your promises. That last one, alone, will put you miles ahead of many database emailers.
I hope you will be writing about a subject you are passionate about. Two things to keep in mind: you will probably help raise your open rate if you a) write less than you think you should, or b) send an email less frequently than you think you should. Keep them wanting more.