3 questions to ask before using soft opt in to build your email list

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Apr 292013

3 questions to ask before using soft opt in build your email list

Do you remember Bridget Jones turning up to a party in her bunny costume? Brilliant idea, except it wasn’t a fancy dress party.

Instead of winning best fancy dress outfit, she was the slightly embarrassing guest that left everyone not knowing where to look.

When you send marketing emails, your aim is to engage the reader and encourage action – like making an enquiry or purchasing.

The last thing you want to do is make your reader feel ill at ease. That’s why you need to approach an older mailing list with caution.

What you need to know about ‘opt in”

According to the Information Commissioner’s Office, Electronic Mail regulations, you can only send out promotional sales emails to people who have “opted in” or subscribed to your list. This is to avoid unsolicited or junk mail.

However, there is an exception, called Soft Opt in. The law states that you may send marketing emails to individual subscribers in the following circumstances:

Quoted from The Information Commissioner’s Office:

You may send or instigate the sending of electronic mail for marketing purposes to an individual subscriber where:

you have obtained the contact details of the recipient in the course of a sale or negotiations for the sale of a product or service to that recipient;
the direct marketing material you are sending relates to your similar products and services only; and
the recipient was given a simple means of refusing (free of charge except for the cost of transmission) the use of their contact details for marketing purposes when those details were initially collected and, if they did not refuse the use of those details, at the time of each subsequent communication.


Soft opt in is responsible for all those sales emails that hit your inbox like an avalanche around Christmas. Without ‘soft opt in’ most large retailers’ lists would be tiny.

So why not just go ahead and opt in everyone who’s ever enquired with your business?

Before you do there are 3 questions to ask yourself:

1. How long ago did this person enquire? Will they still know who we are?

2. Will sending a sales email strengthen the relationship with these subscribers or land my email in the spam box?

3. Is there another way to gently re-engage with this subscriber?

1. How long ago did this person enquire, will they still know who we are?

If you are looking to add email addresses from people who made contact with your business more than 12 months ago, will they have any clue who you are?

A good list is one full of engaged and interested subscribers who trust you and are receptive to sales offers when you present them. A good list isn’t necessarily huge. Which brings us to the next point.

2. Will sending a sales email strengthen the relationship with these subscribers or land my email in the spam box?

The best sales messages put the right message in front of the right person at the right time. Get those 3 elements right and you have a winning formula.

If you’ve had no contact with a customer or prospective customer for some time, that all singing all dancing marketing email could do more harm than good. Landing your email in the spam box. You may need to consider a different approach.

3. Is there another way to gently re-engage with this subscriber?

Remember behind every email address is a real person with emotions, desires, fears and longings. If you met an old customer in the street that you hadn’t seen for over a year, what would you say to them?

You’d greet them with pleasure and help them remember who you are. So before you send your “look at this great offer I have for you” consider a short friendly personal message to remind less than recent, customers who you are and how you got their email. Don’t forget to tell them what you’ll be sending in future.

If it’s money saving offers, say so. If it is exclusive deals, say so. If it’s details of events or courses then say so.

That way you’ll prepare them for the offers, news and events you’ll be sending in future.

Won’t that give people a chance to unsubscribe?

Yes it does. But that’s okay.

You’ve been upfront and clear about how you got their details and what kind of emails you’ll be sending. If that subscriber isn’t interested, better that you part company now, with no hard feelings on either side.

Rather than send unwanted sales messages to a subscriber who could then hit junk rather than simply unsubscribe.

Don’t let your beautifully designed HTML marketing email be like Bridget Jones’ bunny costume, an unwelcome intrusion. Send a personal message ahead to make sure your first sales message is expected and welcome.

Warm regards


P.S. Check out my Events page to find the latest workshops, seminars and presentations on email marketing, or Twitter or writing for the web. If you don’t see what you need there, drop me a line.

P.P.S. Check out my 1:2: email marketing coaching, popular with my regular subscribers.

Apr 162013
Benefits of running build over time

As with running the benefits of email marketing build over time

I’m a runner. Not particularly fast or fit. Some weeks I hardly run at all. Other weeks I’ll cover 15km. I started running in 2007. At first it was awful. After just 2 minutes, I thought my lungs would burst. But I’ve kept at it. Over time, it’s got easier and I’m fitter as a result.

When I run, I feel sharper, mentally and physically. As I urge tired legs up the hills around my farm, I appreciate the changing beauty of this place I call home. The more I run, the better life gets.

Email marketing is a bit like running. It’s hard to get started. Easy to give up in frustration but the benefits come over time, if you persist and build your skills.

What is email marketing?

Email marketing is using email to send out regular updates – offers, news, events, articles, links to videos or photo galleries – to a targeted audience. The idea is, to get that audience to act. Learning, sharing, booking and buying are all good outcomes.

Why is email marketing important for rural businesses?

Daily it seems, ever more glamorous forms of communication mushroom all over the web. It’s not just Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn but Foursquare, Pinterest and no doubt there’ll be more.

It’s tempting to believe those who claim email marketing has had its day. Too slow, too overdone. Social media is the place to build businesses, relationships and whole new civilisations. So they say.

That’s not my experience.

Email marketing is my number one sales tool. Done well, I believe it offers rural businesses a reliable and robust route to sustainable commerce. Every email I send provokes a response. Requests for training, for coaching, for a marketing consultancy quote, or more details on writing services I offer.

Email marketing has brought me business

More than that, it has built a small tribe of people interested in learning more about rural marketing, email marketing and digital tools. People who believe in the value of learning and who strive to do things better. My subscribers share a similar outlook. They shy away from over hyped marketing tactics.  Rather they want robust forms of commerce, based on strong relationships with loyal customers.

Email marketing is a powerful tool to do just that.

Why email marketing is so effective for rural businesses

Here’s 10 ways I’ve found email marketing builds value for rural businesses and their customers:

  1. The discipline of writing the articles month in month out helps build your confidence in your area of expertise.
  2. Researching articles keeps your specialist knowledge up to date.
  3. Answering questions from clients, forums or social media groups, helps your audience make better decisions.
  4. Your regular articles keep you and your services or products in view of your subscribers.
  5. Sharing your knowledge, establishes your credibility and gives the back story to your products and services.
  6. Sharing your expertise gives prospective customers a ‘no pressure’ look at what you offer.
  7. It’s an opportunity to educate subscribers before they become customers. For example an article on the legal issues around email marketing may make a subscriber realise that they need to learn more about the subject. That might prompt them to come on a workshop.
  8. In a networking situation, it’s far easier to ask someone to join your mailing list than for to ask for a sales meeting. Then you have time to build the relationship.
  9. You can measure results (using programmes like MailChimp) and try out small changes, one at a time, to improve results.
  10. Email marketing (using programmes like MailChimp) is free or low cost and you can do it any time of day or night using scheduling tools.

How do you keep an e-newsletter going?

Here’s my list of tools and strategies:

  • I use a timetable, breaking up the process and sending out 2 articles a month.
  • I use a programme called MailChimp. It’s internet based and is free to use if your list is under 6000 contacts.
  • I gather topics (often from subscriber questions) as I go about my business.
  • Articles are often prompted by things I read on Twitter, questions from clients and stories from businesses.

How do you tackle the business of writing?

I keep a store of topics and use outlines extensively. Ideally I’ll write the outline a day or two before I draft the article. If I can also leave a few hours before editing and uploading the article, I tend to get a better result.

That’s okay for business to business services but what about business to consumer?

Whatever business you’re in, you can take the knowledge and experience you’ve built up and present it in bite size, helpful articles. If you sell plants, offer gardening tips. If you produce free-range meat, share seasonal recipes. If you’re a builder, give building maintenance hints. Jewellery maker? Style guides. Web designer? Search engine optimisation advice. It’s not so difficult to extract the knowledge in your head. But yes, it does take time.

Isn’t email marketing a time consuming activity with no guarantee of good results?

All marketing & promotion is time consuming. Networking is time consuming. Email marketing is a long term strategy. It builds an engaged audience of people willing to buy from you. It gives you a sustainable marketing strategy without using hard sell tactics. You can easily measure the impact of your campaigns and fine tune for better results.

Don’t just take my word for it. As well as her 350K plus fans, Mari Smith, Queen of Facebook marketing, sends out an e-newsletter called Social Scoop.

Email marketing has allowed me to build a professionally satisfying and financially viable consultancy and training business from a remote Welsh hillside. It enables me to live the life I want (most of the time) which includes running around these beautiful Carmarthenshire lanes come rain or shine.


Want to learn more about Email Marketing and MailChimp?

Early Bird single and double tickets now available for Email Marketing Workshops. Visit my Events page for more details.

Coming soon Email Marketing Online Training programme. Join the mailing list to keep up to date with release notes.