March 21 2008 by Ryan P. Allis
iContact began in 2003 as a permission-based e-mail marketing application. At the application’s core, it allowed you to upload a list of contacts that had requested to receive e-mails from your organization, add a sign-up form to your Web site, select a template, paste in your content, and distribute your newsletter, then view the opens and clicks while managing the bounces and unsubscribes.
Today, iContact has evolved into an online communications platform that makes it easy to create, publish, and track e-mail newsletters, surveys, autoresponders, blogs, and RSS feeds. Although RSS, blogs, and social media are becoming an increasingly important method of communication online, e-mail remains the top method of communicating with your customers and prospects.
Starting a monthly e-mail newsletter allows you to collect prospect data and stay in touch with your customers and most interested prospects. The effects of a monthly or weekly newsletter with quality content include an increased visitor-to-sales conversion rate and better brand awareness in your industry and with your customers and prospects.
The first task in starting your own e-mail newsletter is to select the e-mail list management software you’d like to use. You can choose Web-based or desktop-based software. If you want subscription and unsubscription requests and bouncebacks to be handled for you, I’d recommend Web-based software, as opposed to desktop-based software. Look for software features such as open and click-through tracking, the ability to send HTML messages, bounceback handling, unlimited list creation, multiple-message autoresponders, and message scheduling. You should also look for a tool that allows you to easily distribute your message to other channels such as RSS or blogs.
Once you select the software you’d like to use, add the sign-up form to your Web site. Most services will provide you with the HTML code you need to do this. Without a sign-up form for a newsletter on it, you are losing valuable prospect data. When visitors go to your Web site, they are often looking for a product or information that you provide. Many of these visitors are willing to sign up for a newsletter with good-quality content and more information on your industry and products.
Once you have the sign-up form posted, decide how often you’d like to send out your newsletter and the content that will appear in it, and create an information page with archives and a sign-up form on your site. Finally, log in to your newsletter software and send out your newsletter according to the schedule you decided on.
I usually send out newsletters on the same day once a month, but it is up to you how often and when your newsletters go out. As far as content, you should include at least one good-quality, substantive article in your newsletter. Intersperse recommendations for your products with case studies or testimonials. When you have completed all of this and your newsletter has been sent, add it to your archives page so new subscribers can see what past issues were like.
If you can properly execute a permission-based e-mail marketing strategy, you’ll greatly improve contact and relationships with your current and future customers. You’ll build your reputation in the industry and tremendously improve your visitor-to-sale conversion rate, meaning more sales, more often, for higher amounts.
Especially if you can get your site to the top of the search engines you’ll be able to build an opt-in list of thousands of subscribers within a couple years and turn these subscribers into passionate, evangelizing customers. The nutraceuticals company I worked with 2001 and 2002 was able to build a permission-based e-mail list of 30,000 within 12 months. The wonderful thing was that every time we sent out a newsletter, sales would jump by $4,000 to $6,000 that day.
iContact’s company newsletter, The Email Marketing Monthly, is sent out on the twenty-eighth of each month. The newsletter currently has about 80,000 subscribers. Whenever we send out our monthly message, we add 50 to 60 new customers, generating about $30,000 in additional revenue. We’re able to increase revenues by $30,000 by sending out an e-mail that would cost around $250 to send if we were paying our own prices. By implementing a similar strategy for your permission-based communications, you’ll soon notice a similar impact on your bottom line.
Excerpted from “Zero to One Million: How I Built A Company To $1 Million In Sales . . . And How You Can, Too” by Ryan P. Allis McGraw Hill/ February 2008/ $16.95, trade paperback/ ISBN-13: 978-0-07-149666-7) At the age of twenty-three, Ryan P. Allis is the CEO and co-founder of iContact, (www.iContact.com) an online email marketing software company with over $10 million in sales and a staff of 90 employees. He is also chairman of Virante, a web marketing consulting firm that helps companies build sales online. A serial entrepreneur, Ryan was named one of the country’s “Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under 25″ by BusinessWeek in November 2005. Allis also teaches his principles to high school and college students through speeches and workshops. He is the chairman of the Carolina Entrepreneurship Club, founder of The Humanity Campaign, and a member of EO Raleigh-Durham. He serves on the Boards of AGRADU, Nourish International, Leadership Triangle, and Junior Achievement of Eastern North Carolina.