The other day, a friend of mine asked me about the importance of an email list. “Don’t tell our friends I’m asking you this,” she said, since many of our friends are marketers and entrepreneurs. “But I really don’t get it and feel like I should.”
If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re probably bombarded with the ever-present notion that we have to have a newsletter, we have to have an email list, we have to have X, Y, Z to make our business work, even if that XYZ holds no interest for us or literally makes us want to vomit. Not the good kind of vomit, like “I’m nervous but kind of excited” kind of vomit, but the “I’m so bored with this already and feel like I have to maintain this FOR-E-VERRR” kind of vomit.
The thought of creating an email newsletter makes me want to vomit, too. But I think there is a helpful way to think about it that might change the way you view it.
Here’s what I told my friend: Right now, she relies on her clients to remember what she does and to self-identify when they need her services (she’s a massage therapist, and a damn good one). That means she’s leaving it all up to them to think of not only scheduling a massage, but calling her specifically to do so.
Put one way, she’s putting all of the pressure on her client to not only remember her, but to reach out to her.
If she had an email list, she would be taking the frequency of contact with her clients into her own hands. This means she could decide when to reach out to them (on a monthly or weekly basis, or whatever time frame she prefers). She could stay top of mind with her clients and offer value in the form of discounts and special packages for those people in her tribe. She’s not waiting and hoping that they think of her when they need a massage; she’s giving them a nudge and an incentive to book one with her now.
There is one catch: I truly believe you have to do it in a way that feels good to you, the business owner, not the way you “should” do it according to this or that online marketing expert. Because if you’re bored with it, your audience will be too. If you think it’s a chore, your audience will pick up on that vibe – the energy of your attitude will be transferred into the thing you create, whether you like it (or believe it) or not.
I have one client right now who is truly regretting starting a weekly newsletter. It’s been going for about a year and has a 35% open rate, which isn’t bad. But he feels as if he’s locked himself into a commitment in both the structure of the email and the frequency of it, and this makes it boring to him, not to mention an ongoing chore.
Where did we even get that mindset? It’s almost as if the facelessness of our internet audience makes us forget that they’re human, and they need novelty just as much as they need consistency.
Change is good. No one is locking you into your decisions but you.
Where to Start
If you’re going to send out an email or newsletter to your clients or potential clients, how often should you do it?
Let’s start with how often you want to do it. Just be real with yourself: What are you willing to do?
Then consider the idea that there is no one way to do send out an email newsletter. Based on my recent spat of research on this subject, success is dependent on two things: Your industry and your audience. In an article from Entrepreneur.com, writer Anand Srinivasan points out that “The moral of the story is that every business and industry has a sweet spot that gets you the maximum engagement at an optimal email frequency.”
For one industry, hearing from a company on a weekly basis makes sense, and in other industries this would drive down the reader engagement of the email. Only you can answer this, and you might start by asking your audience when they give you their information. In the case of my massage therapist friend, she will likely be gathering information from her clients as they come to her and fill out her forms. She can easily ask them if they’re interested in receiving emails from her, and if so, how often they would like to receive them.
Another way to test would be to see what kind of engagement you get with readers when you send more often versus less often. If you have an existing email list, this is the best way to test, however you might subject yourself to unsubscribes if you start to test the upper limits of your audience.
Research does seem to indicate there is a low-point in email marketing: Conversion rates will likely be higher if you send at least two emails per month. If you dip below two emails per month, you risk your reader forgetting your brand or finding another competitor.
Plan to Move Away from One-Size-Fits-All
And finally, consider moving away from the automatic, one-size-fits-all newsletter campaign sent on the same day of the week or month. Consider instead that your list may have different needs at different times. For example, if you just got a massage for the first time from a massage therapist, you might appreciate a follow up email sent the next day asking how they’re feeling, if they have any questions or concerns, and advising them to drink plenty of water and perhaps take a bath. (Even better if she gives them an artfully tied satchel of epsom salts before they leave the appointment.) On the other hand, if you’re a frequent customer, you might like to hear about some specials she’s running just for her loyal customers.
In other words, instead of putting everyone in the same box, send them emails based on their behavior or based on certain triggers. Smart email marketers are nimble, and they recognize that content needs to be relevant to each individual reader. Instead of one-size-fits-all, it needs to be tailored with behavioral and trigger-based marketing tools, rather than programmatic timed campaigns. This might seem overwhelming at first, but start out doing what you can, and as you learn more about your reader and their behavior, you can tailor your messages to meet them where they are.
There are a dozen ways to approach email marketing and newsletters. Maybe a monthly newsletter or email feels good. Maybe it feels good to do it sporadically. In fact, Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, has done the same. He told his email list that they would be hearing from him a lot less; they would only hear from him when he felt like writing a piece and sharing it, and it would be sporadic. Granted, his list is already built, so he has some leeway there.
Let your audience and your service/product dictate what you send. If your service or product is something people use heavily and are deeply immersed in for a certain period of time, maybe your clients would like to hear from you more often for the time being so they can get the most out of their purchase. In that case, setting up a pre-arranged chain of emails that goes out to every new client would make sense. It’s something that could be triggered the moment they become a client, and you don’t have to create it every time.