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How to Set Up an Email List For Your Small Business

Our last post talked about why your business needs to have an email list. Now, let’s take a look at the mechanics of the email list.

Getting the list set up is pretty simple, but before starting it is important to know that collecting email addresses and manually typing them into the “To” section of your email is NOT the way to go.

Aside from the hassle of such a process, it can cause problems with spam laws because the recipients of the emails do not have an opportunity to “double opt-in.” The double opt-in means that the customer signs up for the email list and then confirms their interest in the list by clicking a link in a confirmation email. This prevents customers from being added to the list if they do not want to be on it.

To begin an email list we need to do four things:

  1. Sign up for an email provider
  2. Create opt-in forms for your list
  3. Get people signed up
  4. Send them emails

1. Finding an Email Provider

Signing up for an email service provider is essential. It may be difficult to get yourself to pay for a service that you feel could be done yourself for free, but there are many benefits to doing so:

-Most providers start their service with a low-price or free trial and price only goes up as the number of your subscribers grows

-The service will automate the sending of email, even if you list has hundreds or thousands of members

-The service will automatically provide double-opt ins for list joining

-They will provide forms for your website that allow customers to sign up for you list by entering their email – you just have to copy and paste the form code

-They can automatically send pre-written emails in a predetermined sequence and timing to each customer that joins the list

-They will provide statistics about the number of customers opening emails, clicking links in emails, etc.

There are many email providers out there, but Aweber and Mailchimp are the two most well-known. You can compare and contrast the two, but in the end you need to just pick on and go with it. I have used Aweber for a couple of years and I love it.

2. Create Opt-In Forms

Email service providers will help you to easily generate sign up forms for your list and will provide you with the code for the form that you can easily copy and paste into your website, allowing visitors to join your list and get regular updates from your business.

You can choose the look and outlay of your opt-in form, and which fields are included.

As you have probably seen on many websites, most forms ask for your name and email address to sign up for a list. Some simply ask for your email. Some may ask for more information.

If it is relevant to your business you can ask for more information, such as phone number or zip code. The more fields you add to the form the lower your opt-in rates will typically be (opt-in rates is the average percentage of people visiting your site who signs up for the email list). However, the opt-ins that you do get from a form with more fields tend to be “warmer” customers who are especially interested in your business and your offerings – they took the time to fill in a long form with more of their personal information because they were so interested.

Once the form is created you simply paste the code into your site. The typical recommendation is to include an opt-in form on the top-right corner of your website and at the bottom of any blog posts (if they read your posts to the bottom the visitors are obviously interested in the information you are sharing).

3. Get People Signed Up

Once the form is up you simply allow it to collect members of your email list. You should not do this passively, however.

A good way to increase the rate of your opt-ins is to test different opt-in forms. You should try changing colors, changing designs, changing wording, and changing anything else you can think of. Test two versions against each other to see which gets a better opt-in rate, and then test a new version against the winner.

Another method for increasing opt-ins is to offer something free in exchange for signing up for the email list. It works best if this is a digital product that helps lead to the use of your services, and is included in the first automatic email as soon as the customer signs up for the list.

As an example, say you run a rental company that offers concession machines. You might offer a PDF guide that explains the proper concession offerings for different party settings.

It does not have to be elaborate, just useful. The concessions guide helps customers solve the problem of which concessions are appropriate for their event, which in turn helps them decide to do business with your company. It also encourages the customer to sign up for your email list to get the guide, and as a result they will get more useful updates from you over time.

4. Write emails

The tough part of managing an email list is keeping in regular contact with your members. If you go too long between emails your customer will forget who you are or why they are on your list, and they will probably unsubscribe.

If you send emails out too often the customers can get annoyed and unsubscribe.

There are two types of emails that can be sent through your email service provider, and a little bit of planning with them will help you maintain healthy contact with your list.


The first type of email is an “autoresponder.” This is an email that is written in advance and is automatically sent out to each customer after they sign up for your list.  I like to have eight to twelve emails written in an autoresponder list. Each email provides some valuable information to the subscriber and does not ask for anything in return, except for any questions that the subscriber would like answered.

I set up my autoresponders so that the customer gets:

  • the immediate email with their free guide that I advertised to encourage their opt-in
  • another informative email the following day that gives them a quick win by helping them to solve a problem easily
  • the next email exactly one week after they opted in to the list
  • and then more emails every week or two after.

By the time the subscriber has received a dozen emails from me they should be familiar with me and trust me (and my business).

I set my autoresponders to go out on specific days each week after the first three are sent. My weekly autoresponders only go out on Wednesdays and Thursdays, which opens up the other days of the week for broadcast emails. We will get to those in a minute.

To illustrate my process: if the customer subscribes to the list on a Tuesday they will immediately receive an email with their free guide.

On Wednesday they will receive the informative “quick win” email.

The next email is scheduled to be sent at exactly one week after the initial email. The reasoning is that if they customer was free and able to subscribe to the list at 2pm on a Tuesday, they are likely to have the same schedule and be available and online at that time each week.

The remaining autoresponders are sent out once every week or two, but only on a Wednesdays or Thursdays. My goal with this is to avoid sending multiple emails to a subscriber on the same day by sending a manual broadcast email the same day that an automated autoresponder is sent.

Broadcast Emails

While autoresponder emails contain “evergreen” content that is pertinent to the reader no matter when they read it, broadcast emails are what I would call “current event” messages.

Broadcasts can be written and scheduled ahead of time, but they are sent out all at once to everybody who happens to be on your list on that given day.

The purpose of the broadcast email is to let your readers know about something that is time-specific, such as a sale that you are having, a new product that is available, or some other type of announcement.

As I mentioned above, I schedule my autoresponder messages for Wednesdays and Thursdays so that I can feel free to send broadcast messages any other day of the week without bombarding my subscribers with too many messages on the same day.

Get Started Now!

An email list is a vital component for any business in the internet age. It is essentially a list of your most interested prospects and customers.

Using a properly-planned sequence of autoresponders and broadcasts provides valuable information to your customers while building up a sense of trust in your company. This trust leads to more sales down the line.

Your email list will take time to grow. It will probably start as a slow trickle of sign-ups and will eventually grow into a steady stream. Putting it off will only hinder your ability to effectively market to your list, so don’t wait. The best day to start the email list is today.

I recommend you go check out Aweber. This is an affiliate link, meaning if you decide to sign up for Aweber after clicking on this link I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you. In fact, you can try it for your first month of use for only one dollar.

Also, to see an email list in action consider joining the Smart Rental Business email newsletter by filling out the form below.

5 Reasons Your Business Needs an Email List (Not Facebook)

Among the most common regrets of small business owners is not starting an email list for their company right away.

We all have lists to which we are subscribed. Maybe you subscribed to the email list for your favorite coffee shop to know when they are having deals. You might receive updates via email from your favorite sports team or even from a weather service.

What has become obvious as communication moves online is that you need to use email to get your message in front of your best customers .

Email is More Important than Social Media

It is a mistake to believe that building a social media following, like a Facebook group or a Twitter account, provides an adequate means of keeping in touch with your customers.

Social media sites can change their rules or disappear at any time, and you could lose your list of followers overnight.

In addition, the likelihood of your message reaching your fans on these sites is decreasing as the sites become more crowded.

Social media can be an effective way to interact with your customers, but it is secondary to email.

Why is Email so Great?

We have five considerations that make email stand out over any other form of online communication:

1. Email Gets Seen

How many times do you check your email each day?

Probably at least several times. Probably even dozens of times.

Do you at least look at the subject or sender of each email? Almost assuredly yes.

This means that you are seeing just about every email that comes to you, while you are missing updates to social media even if you check it often (a typical Facebook post by a business is seen by less than five percent of the business’s followers, even though they opted in to receiving updates from that business).

Without a doubt, if you want your message to be seen by customers that are interested in what you have to offer email is the way to get it in front of them.

2. You Own Your Email List

The wonderful thing about email lists, and what makes them indispensible, is that you own them.

If your website goes down you can still communicate with your customers who have joined your email list. If Facebook shuts down your page (and you lose all of your followers) you still have your email list.

3. Email Can Boost Your Offers

The customers who have joined your email list are hot leads. They are obviously interested in what you have to offer, and if you send out an occasional deal or promotion to your email list a percentage of them will probably jump at it.

If you build up your list over time you can get big results by offering the list a deal, even if the response rate is only a small percentage.

4. Email Can Build Trust

You should use your email list to build trust, not simply to pitch products.

Email providers make it possible to set up a series of auto-responders, meaning that each time new customer joins your list they can receive a series of emails that you set up ahead of time, on a preset schedule. This can help you to make contact with your subscriber steadily over time to build a level of rapport with them.

Let’s say you have a party rental business. When a customer joins your list you might have it set up to send them an email each week. One week they receive an email with a checklist of items to consider as they prepare to plan a party. The next week you send them an email about planning guest lists and what to expect for a rate of attendance. The following week they learn how to plan the number of tables and seats that they need for a given party. And so on.

The customer receives a valuable email that is useful to them without asking for anything in return. Your business builds trust with that customer and they come to see that you are the expert in your field. When the customer needs advice or products for their party, who do you think they will go to?

5. Email Keeps You Top-of-Mind

Finally, having a customer on your email list helps reinforce the top-of-mind positioning of your company with that customer.

Your services may not be needed on a regular basis, but when they are you will be the company that the customer thinks of first if they are receiving an email from you every couple of weeks. Also, the customer is more likely to refer you to a friend that needs your type of service if you are top-of-mind.

Read the next post in this series on how to set up an email list for your rental company

Choosing the Right Type of Business Phone

Years and years ago, when I was in high school and my mom was setting up my very first cell phone for my birthday, the phone company clerk asked her who the phone would be for. She answered “my son.”

The clerk either had a sense of humor or was wickedly mean, and entered “Your Son” as the name that the phone was under.

Years later, when returning business calls with the same phone the name that would show up on Caller ID when I called was…you guessed it, “Your Son.”

You can imagine how mortifying it was to return a call to a customer one day and have her answer “Hello, son!”

“Uh, I am returning your call to Picnic Table Rental…”


Thus, I suggest you put a little thought into the phone line that you use for your side business.

Land Line or Cell Phone

Land Line

If you have a physical location for your rental business, one that customers visit to pick up their rentals, it makes sense to have a land line.

In most other cases, it probably does not.

Landlines are restrictive, especially if you work a separate day job and are making deliveries for your side business. It becomes difficult to answer a land line regularly or return calls to customers more than a couple times a day.

Personal Cell Phone

To run a side rental business from your home, which is a great way to start, it is feasible to have the business calls go to your personal cell phone (if you are comfortable with advertising that number). This saves you the cost of an extra phone just for the business.

It also gives you the freedom of being able to answer while making deliveries, or perhaps on your lunch break at work, or maybe even while you are at your day job if conditions permit.

You might think that it is necessary to answer the moment every customer calls, but most people are actually very understanding if you can not.

It will be fine if you ask them to leave a message with the pertinent information and then you actually return their call in a timely manner (which I would suggest means, at the very least, the same day).

For Picnic Table Rental we did it this way the entire time that we operated the company. All of the calls went to one of our cell phones.

My dad’s phone number was the one we advertised. When he was not going to be able to answer calls or respond to them quickly he had all of his calls forwarded to my cell phone.

This was an easy and flexible system. Even if I was out of town during the week I could answer the business calls and help customers.

Separate Company Phone

If you decide to get a separate cell phone for the business you may be able to do so for relatively cheap.

You will have to weigh what you need – does it have to be a smart phone or can you get by with just get a basic phone? You can get either type of phone on a pay-as-you go monthly plan with unlimited calling for pretty low prices (between $30 and $50 a month).

If you need access to an online inventory system, calendar or scheduling system, or quick access to email then a smartphone is worth the extra cost. If you will only need the phone for calls, a smartphone is not necessary.

Web Phones

A fantastic option for business owners on a tight budget is a web phone number.

For this type of service the number one option is Google Voice. It is a free service that allows you to make and receive domestic calls and texts for free from your computer.

Google Voice assigns you a unique phone number. The best part is that any calls to your Google Voice number can be forwarded straight to your cell phone or any other phone number of your choosing, allowing you to advertise the Google Voice number as your business phone number that you can answer on your normal cell phone.

It is even more useful in that it allows you to set up a schedule. You can have calls forwarded from Google Voice to a specified phone for only specific hours of the day, and it can be forwarded to another phone at other hours of the day. For example, you can have the calls to your Google number forwarded to your cell phone during the work day and to your home phone in the evening.

You can even set up the system to call multiple phones consecutively. If Googe forwards a call to your cell phone and you don’t answer, it can keep ringing but switch to calling your work phone and then home phone (or whatever phones you list) until you answer one of them. The system even allows you to essentially put the caller on hold while you switch phones, say from your cell to your home phone, without hanging up the call.

Finally, Google Voice will use voice recognition software to transcribe your voicemail into text form. If you miss some calls from customers you will have a written list of their messages, hopefully including important information such as their name and phone number, in an easy-to-use written format. You can also listen to the audio of the voicemail if needed.

Choose and Begin

With the variety of options that have been made available over the past two decades there is very little barrier to entry when starting a side business. You no longer need an extra landline for your business. It is so easy to set up an inexpensive business cell phone or web phone that there is no excuse for not getting started now!

What type of business phone solutions have you tried? Has anything worked particularly well (or not well) for you? Share your story in the comments below.

6 Reasons You Need a Business Phone (and Not Just a Website)

The internet has made it incredibly easy for small businesses, including service businesses like rental companies, to serve customers without ever having to speak with them in advance. This makes the sales process more hands-off.

It may seem like a good idea to make the sales process easier, but it may actually be hurting your business.

Your Small Business Needs a Designated Phone
(Not Just a Website)

Having a designated phone number for your business, and being available to answer it, is a major point of concern for anybody starting a side business or small business. Do you really need it if your customers can fill out a web form for orders and email you with any questions?

Unless you are fine with losing sales, the answer is that you do need a phone. Here are six reasons why:

1. It gives your company a more “human” feel.

When customers can call you to get questions answered they will feel more comfortable working with you. It shows that there is a real human being behind your website, and people like to work with other people.

2. Some portion of your customers will not communicate through email or a website.

Regardless of the effort you put in to designing a great website, a percentage of customers will always prefer the phone. They may not be proficient with computers, or they may just strongly prefer the phone.

3. Internet communications can get lost or misdirected, and the sender may never know it.

If an email gets sent to your spam folder somehow, or the sender mis-typed your email address, you will not see it.

The customer may never get a response from you and they will blame you and your company for that. They will not know that the message never made it to you.

4. Talking allows you to provide better customer solutions

Speaking with a customer on the phone allows you to ask the necessary questions to get a full understanding of what the customer needs. You can then present a complete solution for their needs, with may involve suggesting products that they did not consider, or products they didn’t even realize existed.

In written format it can come across as “salesy” or “probing” to dig deeper into the complete needs of the customer. In a phone call it is much more conversational and comfortable.

5. You can improve sales by talking on the phone

If you are truly solving the customers’ needs by suggesting further services or products as a solution than what they had originally called for, you will increase your sales.

6. You Can encourage your customer to make a buying decision

Many customers will see the value that you offer and realize their own need for it, but if they are purchasing online many of them will decide to think about it and come back later to buy.

Except that most of them will never come back.

If you get the customers on the phone you will be able to discuss their needs, find a solution, and ask them whether they would like to commit to it.

There are various methods of “asking for the sale” or “closing the sale” and most of them are more effective than hoping your customer is ready to commit when they search for you online.

What strategies have you used to communicate with your customers?