How to Build Your Email List the Right Way

 by Diana Khoury • edited by Carol Ryan

Email permission is an important topic. Recently I’ve been getting several email newsletters I didn’t sign up for. It’s been happening a lot.

Whether you’ve exchanged business cards with a colleague at a networking event, connected on LinkedIn, or talked about doing business together, that does not give you permission to add those individuals to your email marketing list. If you do, folks, it’s called spam.

Give inboxes a break from spam

Do you want your email campaign to be deleted from your prospects’ inbox before it’s read, or worse yet, marked as spam? Emailing someone without permission is a great way to break trust and ensure they (and their friends) will never do business with you. No matter how great your conversation was, you still need to ask them before adding them to your email list.

don't spam people by sending email without express permissionCreating your list manually with the names of friends, family and colleagues, or buying email addresses used to be the way to build an email list. Not anymore. Today, express consent to email someone is the new normal (and is becoming even more important with privacy laws such as GDPR).

What’s more, email recipients are now able to– and do– report as spam emails they didn’t sign up for, or no longer wish to receive. If numerous recipients mark your email campaigns as spam, you may be notified or restricted by your email list platform (such as MailChimp) from sending further emails.

In order to avoid this negative situation, let’s do a review of e-mail marketing permissions.

Understanding different types of email permission

Email marketing laws in the US, Canada and UK stipulate that people must give you permission to send them promotional emails. This is where it’s important to know about two types of permission: implied and express. One is ok for email marketing, the other is not.

Implied permission covers anybody with whom you have an existing business relationship. These are current clients and active members of your networking circles, MeetUp, FB group or community.

Implied permission happens when someone shares their e-mail address with you in the course of normal business communications or interaction. The transaction implies that the purpose of giving you the e-mail address is to receive e-mails from you in reply. It doesn’t mean you can automatically add them to your email list.

Express permission is given when people subscribe to your email list, and they do so without tying that permission to another agreement. When they mark a checkbox for “I would like to receive marketing email from XYZ company,” they are giving express permission.

Mail platforms such as MailChimp and Constant Contact require that you obtain express permission from everyone on your list. If you meet new contacts and they give you their e-mail address, you only have implied consent in regards to their email address. Implied consent needs to be converted into express consent in order to send them your newsletter or promotional emails. Which means, you have to ask them first.

Best practices in email marketing

With a little extra effort, you can convert contacts from implicit permission to the higher standard of express permission. To do this, provide a way for them to sign up for your e-mail marketing, such as a separate box they can check, a link to your permission policy on contact forms, or text that reads:

“By sharing your e-mail address, you’ll receive your (a quote or whatever they are requesting) via e-mail along with concise (weekly, monthly) updates from which you can safely unsubscribe at any time.”hand with flying envelopes signify email marketing done the right way

More than just a best practice, email marketing laws require you to both include an opt-out or unsubscribe process and to promptly honor opt-out requests.

Whether you email folks directly from your email box or use an email list platform like MailChimp, you must include information in the email on how they can unsubscribe. The mechanism for opting-out or unsubscribing must be clear, conspicuous and easy for an ordinary person to recognize and understand. MailChimp and other email platforms will automatically add this function to the footer of your template.

If you’re sending email campaigns directly from your email box, remember to add the unsubscribe/ opt-out information at the bottom. I know several folks who I’ve never done business with, who have randomly added me to their email list. When they send email campaigns from their email box (instead of a list platform), it’s uncomfortable to say the least, to email them back and ask to unsubscribe. I try to do it respectfully, but I hope they get the point that they shouldn’t have added me in the first place.

Get your audience’s permission to email them

Quality is more valuable than quantity when it comes to email marketing. My email messages are sent specifically to my target audience. I have a growing email list and my campaign open rate on a good day is 50 percent. In email marketing, an open rate this high is excellent and is directly attributable to the fact that I’ve curated my list, and not bloated it by adding everyone or just anyone in my professional circles.

I don’t look at just the size of my list as a metric. I look at the value of the names on the list. Then I send out useful, relevant content every month, consistently over time. This builds trust and helps people in my audience get to know me. People do business with people they know, like and trust. So if my email newsletter provides consistent value and helps others get to know, like and trust me, I have a better chance of building my following and getting new clients as a result.

Why buying email lists is a bad idea

Imagine the difference between buying something sight unseen and buying something you’ve hand-selected or otherwise engaged with personally. Doesn’t it make sense that the latter would lead to a better experience? This is why curating your list is so important and why buying email lists can erode trust. Again, the objective with an email list is quality, not quantity.

I would rather have a list of 500+ high-quality contacts that have opted in to my list, than 50,000 contacts I bought. Unless it’s a supremely targeted list, most of the 50,000 people on that list will not buy my products or services, but I can surely email them and clutter their Inboxes.

I’m more interested in keeping my list lean and high-quality, with people who have a real chance of  becoming clients and/or referring to me. Also, with privacy of personal information becoming more important, it’s essential to make sure you develop your list with focus and integrity.

In Summary

Email marketing can be a great way to generate business as long as you build your list by gaining express permission from your contacts, not just emailing anyone you meet. Getting a business card or having a conversation with someone is implied permission, but it’s bad form to add them to your email list without asking them first. And in some cases, it could violate privacy laws.

Gaining permission to send email marketing to your contacts is well worth the effort. It will enable you to build a high-quality, high-value, targeted list. This will also minimize the risk that recipients will report your email as spam, which can cause problems when you use an email list platform. So build your list with intention, and know that focusing on quality, not quantity, will serve you in the long run.


This is an original article from Alternative Health Marketing. If you’d like to republish this article on your blog or print publication, you may do so freely with the acknowledgement, “This article is republished with permission from Alternative Health Marketing,” and provide a link back to the original article. It would also be great if you could email us and let us know where it’s being published. 

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