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Email Marketing for Very Small Businesses: List Building 101

Emails are an essential component of every marketing program—no matter how small the business. In fact, they are one of the components of our Core Marketing Solution for Very Small Businesses.

What keeps most small businesses from taking advantage of email is the lack of a strong database of clients and prospects. It’s not unusual for small companies that have been in business for decades to have a database of only 25-50 current clients. If this is the case, there are simple ways to quickly build a database. Here are four that I recommend:

1. Start attending events that offer a list of registrants along with contact info. This is so important that, unless there is some very compelling reason, I wouldn’t advise attending an event that doesn’t offer this. Getting a great database of attendees after an event will instantly expand your database—with people you know are interested in what you are selling. This contact list will be more than worth the registration cost of most events; look at it this way, the event will end in a couple days but you’ll be able to use the list for a long time afterward. Many events don’t offer a list, but will rent badge scanners instead. It sounds like a good idea, but doesn’t work out in practice.

2. Join a relevant professional association that will share a list of members along with their contact info. So, this will be an association of your buyers, not companies in your industry. Most associations are wise to this and will charge you a higher fee to join. Also, many of the members will not exactly welcome your emails.

3. Buy a list. This is only for the very desperate. These lists are expensive and aren’t that great. In many cases, you have to pay every time you send to the list. This is, however, better than not haven’t a list at all. It’s true that these will all be cold contacts, but with the right content, you can warm many of them up.

4. Build your own list. With the right tools and a smart strategy, you can easily build your own list (first name, last name, company, email address). As with buying a list, these are all going to be cold contacts that you need to educate.

So, if at all possible, get lists from events. These don’t’ need to be lavish events that require a flight, 2-3 night hotel stay and a hefty registration fee. Start as local as possible. While it’s always advisable to attend the events—just to make in-person contacts—in most cases, you just need to register and pay the registration fee in order to get the list after the event.

For a no cost discussion of your situation and how we can leverage email to grow your business call 630-363-8081 or email


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