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Do You Have An Email List?

Tell me if this sounds familiar: you walk up to a vendor at a farmers market to sample their product. Let’s say they’re selling sourdough bread, and when you try it you’re thinking,”Wow, this bread is awesome!” You decide to buy some, and with a delicious loaf in your hands, you walk away.

Wait! You skipped a step! That baker had a massive opportunity sitting in front of them, and they just let it pass right by them.

What Are You Collecting?

If you are selling at a local market this summer and are merely collecting money, then you are missing out! Sure, it’s pretty important to collect money as a business, but money comes and goes. If you want to give your business a huge boost, then you need to start collecting something else: email addresses.

Why? Think about it… when someone comes up to your booth and buys something, they are showing solid interest in you and your business. They are much more valuable to your business than the majority of people who walk by your booth without buying anything. Many experts estimate that it is 10 – 20 times easier to sell to a customer who has bought from you before.

So now they are walking away, your bread in their hands, and their money in yours, but you have no reliable way to communicate with them in the future, and they’re potentially gone forever. When you launch a new product, or start selling in another market, or get your product into a local store, how are you going to let them know? You can try keeping people updated with your website, or Facebook, or Twitter, but the reality is that only a small percentage of customers will get the memo if you don’t have their email address.

Don’t Be Spammy

You might be thinking, “I hate when people put me on their email lists. I don’t want to contribute to that!” I can certainly relate… I have a personal vendetta against unwanted email. I unsubscribe from most email lists, and for the spammy ones that won’t take me off their list, I create email filters to automatically delete those messages before I see them.

But here’s the thing: there are some email lists that I appreciate being on. For instance, I am subscribed to Bernadette Barber’s updates about Virginia Food Freedom, which I look forward to. I chose to be on that list and I still want to be on it. Perhaps “email marketing” has gotten a bad name from some bad players who abuse the system, but it is still the most effective form of marketing today, especially for those who use it ethically.

If you treat people’s email addresses like gold and communicate with them authentically, most people will be more than happy to be on your email list. In fact, they will look forward to hearing about the progress in your business, such as when you develop a new product or win an award. I am not advocating that you take people’s email addresses and then spam them with it; rather, having this form of communication should be mutually beneficial… if someone doesn’t want to be on your list, then you don’t want them on it either.

How To Collect Email Addresses

The goal is not to put people’s email addresses on your list… the goal is to get them to put themselves on your list. If you’re very protective of your personal email address (like me), you might be surprised at how many people will give you their email address with little-to-no incentive whatsoever. You merely have to ask.

Some people won’t give up their email that easily, but it’s usually not too hard to acquire. Since you want their email address, it’s only natural that you should offer something they want in return. Eventually, they will want to get your emails, but maybe they won’t realize that while standing at the market.

There are many things that you can offer in return for an email address. For instance, if you often have unsold bread at the end of the market, you can hold a drawing and give the leftovers to the winner. Or you could offer people a predetermined prize, like a bread basket. When someone buys something, tell them that their purchase gives them a chance to enter the drawing, and that you’ll email them if they win. This works doubly-well because you can email everyone that evening to let them know who won, and to thank them for participating, which starts to build a sense of community.

The reward you offer will be dependent on your market and products, and you should get creative with it. Experiment with different incentives in order to get your opt-in rate as high as possible. Keep in mind that if you offer an immediate reward, such as giving someone a cake pop if they join your list, then you risk them putting in a fake email address.

Despite offering a little reward in exchange for an email address, you shouldn’t be hiding your true motive for wanting to email them. When someone gives you their email address, they should be aware that you’ll be sending them your newsletter. Most people will understand your motive and will give you their email anyway, knowing that they can easily unsubscribe later if they don’t like your newsletter.

Acquiring email addresses should cost you very little, and if you communicate effectively with the people on your list and provide real value to them, it will pay you dividends many times over.

How NOT To Collect Email Addresses

Perhaps you use Square or PayPal Here to collect credit card payments at a market, and you use the app to email a customer their receipt. Then you take that email address and add it to your email list. Don’t do that!

Or you come across a pre-existing email list, or you buy an email list, and then you add those email addresses to your list. Don’t do that either!

Someone needs to confirm their desire or willingness to be on your list. People should not be unexpectedly getting email from you. There are two reasons why this is bad: 1) you will lose people’s trust incredibly fast if you start sending them email without their consent, 2) if people don’t like your emails and they haven’t opted in, then they will likely click the spam button, which lowers your credibility in the eyes of email providers (in other words, your emails will more likely go into other people’s spam folder and never get read).

Under no circumstances should you buy an email list, but if you have a pre-existing one that could be useful to you (for instance, a list of former customers that you haven’t been actively communicating with), then you can still add them to your list, just so long as you’re completely transparent about it. You could send an initial email to let them know that you’re starting a newsletter, and give them the opportunity to sign up for your newsletter list. In some circumstances, it may also be feasible to add people directly to your list and tell them clearly that you will start communicating with them, and that they can easily unsubscribe if they don’t want to get your newsletter.

How About Facebook?

Why not simply get someone to like your Facebook page? Or have them follow you on Twitter? Could you get their phone number instead of their email address and send them a text?

All of those communication methods may have a place in your business, but none of them replace email. If someone asks if they can give you their phone number instead, politely decline. To me, sending out text messages in bulk simply isn’t worth the time or hassle.

One reason email is so much more important than other platforms is because of the ubiquity of it. 99.9% of the people who buy from you will have an email address, and at least 98% check it every day. Social networks can’t compete with those statistics.

Also, when it comes to social networks, they are in control, not you. Many businesses got slammed a few years ago when Facebook decided that they would require Facebook page owners to pay to reach their fans.

Now What?

Okay, so now you’ve done a good job at embracing every opportunity to get email addresses from your customers (most important) and prospects (also important). You are slowly and organically building an email list. Now what do you do with it? I’ll get to that in a future blog post.

The important thing for now is simply this: put just as much emphasis (if not more) in collecting email addresses as you do in collecting money.

While We’re On The Subject…

Right about now, you might be expecting me to put a little blurb about how you should sign up for my newsletter. There’s just one problem: I don’t have one yet! I know, I know… I just wrote an entire article about how you need to be collecting email addresses, and I’m not doing it myself!

The truth is that I’ve been miserably failing in the email marketing department. This wasn’t intentional; rather, it was simply due to my utter ignorance about how important this is. I have been doing a lot of research recently (the very reason for this blog post) about how and why to start a newsletter, and it’s blatantly clear that I should have started one four years ago.

But since I can’t travel back in time, I’m doing the next best thing: I’m starting one now. Actually, the newsletter will officially start next week, but you can sign up for it right now. This newsletter will allow me to communicate a bit more freely with this community, and a lot of the info that I share will not be publicly available on Forrager.

One Last Thing

In future posts, I’ll share more about sending newsletters, but here’s one important thing that you should know: a newsletter should not be focused on selling. Instead, it allows you to have a conversation with people who care about what you’re doing. It allows you to build trust and a sense of community, and to provide value to your fans on a consistent basis. And then when you do have something to sell (like a new flavor you’re introducing), you will be able to easily communicate with the people who are most interested. I highly encourage you to start building your email list today!