Email Marketing: Why every startup should build an email list

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I started EU-Startups.com in October of 2010, and one of my biggest failures so far was not to start building an email list until June 2015. If I had started to provide monthly email updates (namely the EU-Startups Newsletter) right from the beginning, and if I would have taken list building seriously, EU-Startups would already count more than 25,000 newsletter subscribers by now. Below I’ll provide you with a few of my learnings regarding the EU-Startups Newsletter and with my thoughts on why every startup should build an email list.

Why didn’t I start earlier?

Over the past few years I watched hundreds of interviews with successful Internet entrepreneurs and many of them explicitly mentioned how important it was for their business to build an email list. I think I didn’t follow their advice because EU-Startups wasn’t set up as a business in the beginning. Today it is! Although I would argue that it is a social impact driven business. I was never in it for the money. But whatever your goals might be, being able to reach out to your audience with an email is powerful and helps you increase your sales, the engagement rate of your users or the attention of your readers regarding specific content.

The other reason why I didn’t start earlier was because I wasn’t sure what kind of content I should provide my subscribers with. I was sure that it had to be outstanding content and not just a compilation of the latest startup news. Because as fast as you can win new newsletter subscribers, the fast you can loose them because your content is not relevant/exclusive enough for them. This is why I ultimately decided to provide my subscribers with exclusive background info on what I’m planning/doing with EU-Startups, opportunities that are highly relevant and interesting for startups and investors, and with discounts for things like the EU-Startups Conference, our reports and for the EU-Startups job board.

How to boost your email subscribers

I didn’t experiment with this too much yet, but I found that a great tool to boost you email list is Hello Bar. There are several similar services out there, but I had a great experience using Hello Bar. And the cool thing is that you can use it completely for free. I do too. It let’s you create horizontal bars for your website which you can customize and use to ask your visitors to subscribe to your newsletter or to sign up for your upcoming product launch. Of course you can use such bars for plenty of other kinds of goals too.

EU-Startups-Hello-Bar

In addition to horizontal bars, Hello Bar lets you create pop-up windows, sliders and even a complete page take takeover. This let’s you ask for an email address and/or advertise one of your products or services.

In order to boost email sign ups even further, it is helpful to come up with a lead magnet. For example “Sign up now and receive a free ebook (or a discount, or whatever else you might be able to offer)”. At EU-Startups I didn’t experiment with this yet, but I’ll do so in the coming weeks.

What has proven to be very successful for the sign ups regarding the EU-Startups Newsletter was to switch from the horizontal header bar to a pop up window (see above – right side). This increased our sign ups per day 4 fold! Of course you have to make sure that this kind of marketing tactics don’t annoy your visitors and potential customers. On EU-Startups.com the pop up window only gets shown once, and only if you spend more than one minute on the site. In addition to Hello Bar I integrated a little sign up form in the sidebar of EU-Startups.com, which is visible on every site of the blog.

Why every startup should build an email list

It doesn’t matter if you’re starting an ecommerce business, a content business, an app or whatever else you might choose. To be able to interact with an interested audience of potential customers via email is super valuable. Sure, to have a large Twitter or Facebook following is also nice, but the open/interaction rates with good old email are usually much higher and it’s also a more personal way to communicate with your customers.

Research from global management consulting firm McKinsey and Company points out that email marketing brings in new customers at a rate of nearly 40 times that of Facebook and Twitter combined. Ok, this McKinsey research is a few year’s old and the importance of email may have been declined a little bit due to the increased usage of WhatsApp and the Facebook messenger, but I’m 100% sure that e-mail marketing is still way more effective than social media.

The other reason why email marketing is especially interesting for startups is that it is basically free. For the EU-Startups Newsletter I’m using the email marketing provider Mailchimp, which lets you send 12,000 emails a month for free to a list of up to 2,000 subscribers.

As a founder you can also test the interest of your potential customers for several product or business ideas by setting up different landing pages which contain a sign up form to stay up to date. Using the lean startup approach you could test different business models and then pursue the one that gets the most traction and the largest number of email sign ups.

Don’t wait, do it now!

Don’t make the same mistake than I did and wait for years till you finally start building your email list. Sign up for a free email marketing service like Mailchimp and start now! And if you look for a powerful tool to collect email subscribers, I recommend you to try a service like Hello Bar, which is absolutely free and super easy to use. It’s free because their bars, sliders and pop ups include a light Hello Bar branding. That’s a nice marketing tactic for Hello Bar, but didn’t really bother me so far.