While Twitter and Facebook have gotten plenty of attention, the basic bread and butter of any small business is the care and feeding of its email lists to connect its customers, suppliers and partners. The better you are at doing email lists and sending out regular and informative communications, the more business you will have.
You have three basic choices when it comes to list servers: the free, the cheap, and the pricey. While price alone is a good way to decide, there are some other factors that you should consider. I have picked one provider for each price point: Yahoo Groups (free), Mailman hosted by EMWD.com for $4 a month and ConstantContact, which has plans starting at $15 a month. All three have one big advantage over doing email with Outlook or some other desktop client – they automatically handle bounces, or when email addresses go bad. They also avoid the accidental reply-to-everyone mistake. These are probably the two biggest reasons to use a list service.
For all three choices, you need to assemble all your email addresses that you want to start your list with. You can export these from your client email program into a text file, and then bring up the file in a word processor program to clean it up. You can then cut and paste the names into your list program at the appropriate time.
I like Yahoo Groups for community and lists of a few dozen people or fewer, but it has two big drawbacks: First is a problem with setting up large lists quickly. Yahoo only lets you add 10 people a day to your list without asking them to opt-in. A second issue is that the Web list management interface is a bit confusing to figure out, especially for those recipients who want to use them but lack a Yahoo ID.
Mailman is a more professional program and gives you all sorts of control over features. There are many other email list software products, this is just one that I have been using for many years. I recommend the hosting provider EMWD.com. You can have fairly large lists of several thousand addresses without too much trouble, unlike Yahoo Groups. You need to obtain an account for a one-time fee of $10, and this will give you access to its Web-based control panels. This is more complex than Yahoo, but you have more control over things such as the header (what email address is used in the “from” field) and footer (what information goes in the bottom of each message, and can be used to promote your company or products). As I said, each list only costs $4 a month to operate. You might want to check and see if your own Internet provider offers more competitive pricing on Mailman hosting.
But this may not be enough for your purposes. If you want to add Web links in your emails and track who clicks on which link, such as for promotional purposes, then you want ConstantContact. You can try it for 60 days for free, and then depending on how many names are on your list, the price increases from $15 to $150 a month.
The advantage of ConstantContact is that you can send out very snazzy emails, with pictures, color, and those trackable links. The downside is that setting up a list takes some work. They also have some very impressive video tutorials on their site to help you learn more about using lists and social media. You can view these videos (even without an account) here.
Here are a few tips for sending out your emails to your list once you have it setup.
Limit the amount of self-promotional content to less than 20% of what you send out. Keep your emails information-rich and people will want to read them.
Weekly is the best frequency. If you can’t write something weekly, then every other week is a good alternative.
Brevity counts. Keep the emails to less than 600 words. People have short attention spans.
Don’t pile on the Web links. One or two links per email is fine.
Finally, have an archive. Think about archiving all your emails on your Web site. Mailman and Yahoo Groups do this automatically. Good luck with your lists!