Monday, October 4, 2021, might not seem like an especially significant day to you, but if you were one of the millions of people using social media for business that day, you may recall the panic that set in when the Facebook platforms went down. If you didn’t have a back-up plan, you may have lost touch with your clients and customers for several hours, potentially losing income in the process.

Social media can be a great way to connect with your audience. Facebook groups, for instance, allow you to develop and grow your audience and connect with them in a variety of ways at no cost to you. But as with anything, even social media has its limits.

“We don’t own our social media followers,” explains Melanie Herschorn, content marketing strategist and coach, and owner of VIP Digital Content. “As much as we love Instagram and Facebook, we are just renting space. If a platform decides to shut you down tomorrow, you’ll have no way of reaching your followers, unless you also have their email addresses.”

In other words, anything you put up on social media, ultimately, does not belong to you. The social media platform owns it. On the other hand, you essentially own your subscribers’ email addresses, as well as any content you send their way via email.

“Email addresses are yours, unless someone unsubscribes,” states Herschorn. “Having an email list allows you to reach your people in an intimate way. They could be reading your words in bed first thing in the morning, in a timely fashion, and you’ll know they got it. There’s no algorithm to contend with.”

Ah, yes. The dreaded algorithms.

According to Hubspot, an online marketing hub, “A social media algorithm is a compilation of rules and data that make decisions about what users want to see on the platform. The social media sites create unique algorithms for every person who uses the site, which means no two people will have the exact same social media newsfeed.”

In theory, the algorithms are meant to be helpful to the user, since, ideally, they prevent users from becoming inundated with content that is not in alignment with their interests. However, no algorithm is perfect, and the powers that be are constantly changing them up. This makes it very difficult for a business owner to create posts that will consistently reach their ideal audience—unless, of course, you pay for ads.

Hence, the need for an email list. “You need an email list, because it’s the one reliable way to get in touch with the people who want to buy your products or services,” says Lindley Ashline, owner of Body Liberation Photos and author of The Exhausted Entrepreneur’s Anti-Burnout Guide to Marketing. “The content you put on social media sites can vanish at any time, and the way algorithms control user feeds means that people may or may not see what you post. People who are interested enough in you to sign up for your mailing list are your best prospects, so give them a guaranteed way to hear from you.”

According to Statista’s forecast through the year 2027, the number of global email users will grow from 4 billion in 2021 to 4.5 billion in 2022. In 2020, email marketing was valued at $7.5 billion; with a 13.3% compound annual growth rate projection, email marketing is expected to be valued at $18 billion by 2027.

How to Get Started

When I was first building my email list many years ago, I grouped all my followers into one email and sent it from my AOL address. Email marketing has come a long way since then!

“To send emails to your list, you’ll need a suitable platform. Don’t try using your regular consumer email to send batches of emails, since you’re likely to get marked as spam,” advises Ashline. “Find a reputable email platform that will both manage your list and let you send emails to it.”

Herschorn agrees. “You definitely want to have an email platform as opposed to sending out your emails from your Gmail account.”

There are many email marketing platforms, and every expert in the field is likely to have their favorite. “Some, like Mailchimp, are free [to use] until you reach a couple of thousand list sign-ups,” says Ashline. “I like Flodesk for its ease of use and modern email designs.”

“While I can’t endorse a specific one,” says Herschorn, “I can say that as long as it’s user-friendly to you, allows you to create emails that you feel good about, and accesses important metrics, then go ahead and use it.”

The metrics Herschorn is referring to is the data the platform will provide to you and can help you better craft higher-performing emails. These metrics include things like which subscribers are opening your emails, what time they’re opening them, who is clicking through any links you provide in your emails, and who is unsubscribing from your list.

While a member unsubscribing can feel personal, it’s important not to take it that way. Simply consider it as data to help grow your clientele, because as Herschorn says, “they weren’t your ideal client anyway.”

Which platform to use? An internet search will provide you with a plethora of email marketing platform choices, which can be overwhelming. Instead, go to reputable sources and seek out their recommendations, such as PC Magazine's top 11 picks for best platforms based on different criteria. Another option is to look at the platforms the companies and people you follow use (you can generally find that information at the bottom of their emails).

Building Your List

Starting an email list can feel intimidating at first, especially if you’re struggling with imposter syndrome. Will people want to hear what I have to say? Am I even qualified to say anything?  

The answer to both is yes! Being authentic—which includes sharing your own struggles—will help people connect to you. When people feel connected and truly served by you, it builds trust. And when they trust you, you build a lasting relationship with them. Over time, this will ultimately translate into sales and income.

When crafting your emails, keep in mind the problems you’re trying to solve for your audience. What are their pain points? Design your emails with this in mind and offer solutions.

“Provide your audience with value and show them you’re a thought leader and expert in your industry,” advises Herschorn. “You can give them tips and how-to videos, direct them to a podcast you’ve been featured on, and any other content that will serve them.”

And, of course, you can sell your products and services to your email list—just be careful about timing. “It’s best to warm up the audience with valuable content before asking for the sale,” recommends Herschorn.

“The possibilities for what you can include in emails is endless,” says Ashline, “from blog posts to weather-related closures to sales to behind-the-scenes looks at your work. Keep in mind, though, that your emails are only effective if people actually open and read them.”

Having an interesting subject line and preview text that instills curiosity and makes them want to know more by opening the email is important. Many of the platforms will have suggestions and trainings on how to get more emails opened.

How to Grow Your List From Ground Zero

Starting an email list from scratch is easier than you might think. To start, enlist friends and family to sign up for your emails, as well as clients and participants.

“The best advice I can give is to create a lead magnet that your ideal client will want to download in exchange for them giving you their email address,” advises Herschorn. “A [lead magnet is simply a] free guide, how-to, quiz or video series that can help get people onto your customer journey and interested in learning more from you.”

“Put a sign-up form on your website and let your social media followers know they can hear from you this way, too,” adds Ashline. “If you don’t have any social media followers or something to sell yet, still get that sign-up form on your site and you’ll be able to build your list as you build the rest of your following.”

No website? Many email marketing platforms also provide landing pages—which are just pages from which customers can order or receive something free, such as your lead magnet. This can act as a sort of mini-website if you don’t have one yet.

 When deciding how often to send emails out, keep it simple. “Ideally, you’ll reach out to your email list once per week,” recommends Herschorn. “This way, you stay top of mind, but you don’t overdo it. If it’s been a while, don’t worry. Just start again today.”

It’s important to tech-proof your business as much as possible, being careful not to rely on one single method for reaching your audience. “Email marketing is not going anywhere,” concludes Herschorn. “With the recent shutdowns of Instagram and Facebook, it’s more apparent than ever that we have to take ownership of our following. Email is the perfect way to do that.”