A mailing list can be your most valuable tool. Done right, you can use it to drive leads, get repeat clients and help you become seen as an authority in your field.
Most of us spend a ton of time (see: too much) on social media. Some of us even think there's a good return on investment if we're spending time there. Sure, that's sometimes the case. But hour-for-hour, spending time writing a newsletter will net better results.
Unlike social media platforms, which are full of millions of people vying for attention all at the same time, a mailing list hits people where they usually spend even more time and focus - their inbox. And they read emails one at a time.
How businesses can use a mailing list
The first thing to do is figure out what your goal for writing a newsletter is. Some ideas:
- To increase brand awareness of you and your work.
- To generate leads.
- To stay in touch with previous clients.
What's most important to your business? Focus on that. Use that as a lens through which all your decisions are made in terms of content, design and strategy.
Now, how do you start? You can't just add a signup form to your website and be done with it. You've got to do a bit of work to figure out a) who your list is for, and b) what they're interested in.
From there, you can craft a compelling reason to sign up, because, "Sign up for my newsletter" just doesn't cut it.
Here's how you can amp up your business with a mailing list:
Become an authority
People who are seen as experts in their field get paid more and have their choice of clients they want to work with. One way to build this authority is by communicating with your audience and sharing helpful and valuable information in your newsletters. When you have authority, your business has authority.
This could be a podcast, articles, video tutorials or any other type of content. The main point is that you create for the type of people you want to hire you. Lots of businesses create content for their own industry, which is ok, but (for example) design agencies don't get hired by other design agencies - they get hired by non-design agencies who need design work.
The more you share, the more you'll be seen as an expert. Just make sure to give your audience information they crave and need to help their own business.
A mailing list is a perfect way to do this, because you'll have their attention where they spend a lot of time: their inbox.
Here are a few options to achieve this goal:
- Write a weekly or biweekly article on a topic your potential clients and/or past clients are eager to learn more about.
- Create a curated list of articles that talk about what you audience is interested in.
- Share your weekly podcast or video tutorials with a short story and a link.
Stay top of mind
How many of your previous clients have forgotten that you exist? When's the last time you talked to the clients you worked with 2 years ago? Or 5?
Everyone is busy and unless they're reminded, they tend to forget about businesses they hire.
To get around this, you can use your mailing list to keep in touch with past clients (without having to resort to emailing each one of them separately).
Newsletters are also great because sometimes a person might find your portfolio, love it, but not be ready to hire you yet. That's where a list comes in handy - they can sign up for it and be reminded of how awesome you are on a consistent basis.
So you can use your list to keep potential clients in the loop about yourself and your services. That way, when they are ready to hire a business like yours, you're the only person they think of.
Staying top of mind really only requires one thing: consistency. It's easy to let updates to your list fall off when you're swamped with client work, but if you take just a bit of time each week to share, then you'll ensure your future schedule is just as full.
Keep your roster and schedule packed
Businesses tend to get stuck in the following cycle: a lot of clients hire you at the same time, you get super busy with paid client work and you put all your new business generation off... then, once all work is finished, you've got an empty schedule and work like a dog to fill it back up again.
We've all been in that vicious cycle. The best way out of it is to spend a bit of time on new business, even when you're busy with paid work. One good way to do that is to keep your list up to date with your availability.
You can only work a finite number of hours each week, so you can use this limitation to your advantage. For example, if you're only able to work with four clients per month, be clear that there are only four spots available (or less if some are already filled). Marketers call this "leveraging scarcity" but really, it just means being honest about how much work you can take on at any given time.
This tactic encourages people to pull the trigger and get in touch. Prospective clients will feel both a sense of urgency and they'll respect your busy schedule.
Let your list know each month how many spots you have available for new projects. You'll get feelers from potential clients each time you reference this.
Hack your pricing
Hacks tend to be heavy on sensationalism and light on actual work, but this is something I've used for years.
Most businesses are scared of raising their rates because they don't want their current clients to ditch them when they learn about how much more they have to pay.
When you have steady clients, especially those who come back to you time and time again, it can be scary to raise your rates--but it also creates an opportunity to fill your schedule!
If you tell your mailing list that a rate increase is coming, you can also give your subscribers the opportunity to pre-book before your prices go up. Set clear terms, though. For example, if they book a project within the next week and pay in advance, they can secure your work at the current price. This approach will often generate a lot of requests in a short amount of time.
This tactic works for both previous clients and new/potential clients that want to get in before your pricing goes up.
The easiest way to do this is by letting your mailing list know. Otherwise you've got to email every current and potential lead you've got.
Automate your onboarding
The final reason why every business should have and use a mailing list is to automate the onboarding process - i.e. taking a potential client to a paying client with as little work as possible on your end.
Before automating it, my process typically looked like this:
- Client finds my name and link to my site on the bottom of a site I've made.
- They click "design" on my site and see my portfolio.
- If they're impressed, they get in touch--sometimes with quick and vague emails, sometimes with 10-page essays that detail everything from how and why they started their business, to notes about their pets.
- I email them back when I have time and ask them to fill in a project planner (a Google Doc that I make just for them).
- Once they fill it in, they email me back to let me know it's filled in.
- Then I email them back to suggest a Skype call and a date/time.
- We go back and forth a few times to sync up when we can both get on Skype.
- We talk about the project on Skype for 30-40 minutes.
- I write up a statement of work that details: cost, deliverables and timing.
- They sign it and send me a down payment to hold the start date.
- I send them a checklist of tasks they need to complete before we start.
- We start the project.
That's 12 steps, and quite a bit of work for each step. When I wrote it out, it became obvious that I could automate the first seven steps. This would save me a ton of time and also get potential clients the information they needed quickly, to see if I would be a good fit for their project.
So, by using MailChimp (as well as a few other services like TypeForm and AcuityScheduling), I made the first 7 steps happen without me having to do any work. Now my onboarding process looks like this:
- Potential client finds my name and link to my site on the bottom of a site I've designed and developed.
- They peruse my site and see my portfolio.
- If they're impressed, they fill in their name and email address Their details get added to my MailChimp mailing list and they automatically get my "Getting Started Guide" PDF. (If you want a deeper dive on automation and other powerful Chimp tools, check out Chimp Essentials). The "Getting Started Guide" details my pricing, process and types of projects I do (as well as types of projects I don't do). It answers all the common questions I usually get asked. It also includes lots of client testimonials.
- At the end of the guide, there's a link to fill in a project planner.
- The project planner is a form hosted on typeform.com (free) and stores their answers and emails me when they finish.
- Once they fill in the form, the final screen includes a link to schedule a call.
- The Skype call booking form lives in a system called Acuity Scheduling and syncs with my Google Calendar (so it only shows my free time on specific days). Once they pick a time that is open for me, we are both sent an email with the confirmation and reminder. It even handles dreaded time-zones.
Everything else is the same as the previous process. I do the call. If it's a good fit, I write up a statement of work, get a down payment and get started. And I spend hours less per lead doing work (I'd much rather be doing client work).
What I've found in the first few years of doing things this way is that my initial fear (that people might be put off by not actually hearing from me at first) wasn't valid.
Every person I asked --"Did you enjoy the process? Were you okay that I didn't personally get involved until the call?"-- were all completely happy that it was so quick, answered their questions and felt really smooth.
And then, once they're on that list, they get helpful and useful weekly articles from me that keeps my name and my work top of mind.
Your mailing list can quickly become the most valuable tool in your arsenal, if you use it right.
- Determine the reason for your mailing list and use that reason to make decisions in terms of content, design and strategy.
- Share content with your list to build authority in your field.
- Be consistent in sharing with your list so your current and potential clients think of you when they need to source out a project.
- Leverage scarcity by sharing your availability with your list.
- Let your subscribers know when your rates are increasing and offer them a deal if they book new work right now.
- Automate your onboarding process to weed out bad leads and save yourself some time.
Spending time producing content that your audience of past and potential clients can be much more effective than social media (or any other marketing channel for that matter). You've just got to set your list up well and become consistent with it.
Cultivating relationships with an audience or a group of leads can take time. Not everyone wants to hire you right away (or they may not have a need), but if you pop up in their inbox on a consistent basis with information they love and want, then you'll be the first person they come to when that need arises.