These days, it's hard to find a business that doesn't use email marketing.

While social media accounts and websites increase your audience and brand awareness, your email list is what often creates real opportunity to engage and build trust with people--and, eventually, sell to them.

Email marketing offers a powerful return on investment (ROI). According to a 2015 study conducted by DMA, the leading European direct mail organization, email marketing nets an average of $49 (or £38 pounds) for every $1 spent on it.

However, if you're spending hours marketing, writing, and scheduling messages to email subscribers who aren't buying from you, are you just wasting your time? Here are four reasons why the answer may be "yes," and how you can resolve those problems.

Your list isn't responsive.

According to industry leader HubSpot, email open rates across all industries average about 32%. If you have an unresponsive email list, you're wasting time marketing to people who aren't even reading your messages. If the open rate on your emails is significantly lower than average for your industry, your email list is unresponsive and needs a shakeup.

Even if your subscribers are opening your emails, you also want to make sure they're responding and clicking on the links you've included in those messages. Email marketing platform GetResponse analyzed millions of emails in 2018 and found the average click-through rate for emails in North America to be around 3.41 percent. If you're getting fewer clicks than that, you need to engage your list.

Start by clearing out the cold subscribers. You can do this by sending an email for your subscribers to open your email or click a link if they want to stay on your list. If those people don't respond, delete them from your list.

Next, overhaul your copy. If you're writing the messages yourself, improve your copywriting skills by writing more engaging headlines that will draw the reader in. Alternatively, outsource key email content to an experienced copywriter, if you have budget.

You're not segmenting.

If you run a business selling multiple products or if your business offers multiple services, you must segment your list. Segmentation is simply dividing your email list into multiple groups based on specific criteria. This lets you then target each group through more personalized marketing campaigns.

For example, if your t-shirt business also sells women's leggings, it would make sense to create a separate segment for those on your list who purchase the leggings. That way, you could market to them when the leggings go on sale or when you got a new shipment in.

By not segmenting your list, you may be emailing blindly to people who aren't interested in the subject of your message. You won't know if they've purchased from you, which product they're interested in, or if they've seen any of your ads. You could be missing out on sales, engagement and more, merely by not segmenting your list.

You're not focused on connecting.

If you're sending emails to your list to sell your products or services, but not connecting with your subscribers, you may be trying to make a sale prematurely. Your subscribers do business with companies they trust. The more you build the KLT (know, like and trust) factor, the more your email subscribers will be willing to buy from you.

When you get to know your audience, increase your likeability, and build their trust in your brand, you'll have an easier time making a sale when you finally make that pitch. Moreover, since you know their needs and wants, you're more likely to offer the precise product that solves their problems.

If you aren't focused on connecting and building that KLT factor first, you're spending too much time on an email list that is less likely to buy from you.

You're spending too much money.

The more money you spend on email marketing, the more revenue you need to cover those costs. This increases your workload, especially if you aren't seeing much ROI from your email list yet.

You don't need fancy software or tools to start. Instead of signing on with the most expensive service you can find, focus on what the platform has to offer you and your email list. Then make your decision based on what you need, what you can live without, and what you can realistically afford while building and maintaining your email list.

An email list is one of the greatest investments you can make in your business. However, you must use it to market to your subscribers effectively. Otherwise, it could end up being a waste of time for all parties involved. Without that crucial connection to your list members, you might as well be spending your time and money elsewhere.

Published on: Jan 28, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.