An email list that consists of a large number of responsive, engaged prospects and customers is one of the most powerful marketing assets a small business can have.

But getting to that place isn’t easy. Building an email list takes time, which is why if you haven’t started yet, you should begin today. Now.

And simply harvesting names isn’t enough.

To get the “responsive” and “engaged” pieces of the equation working, you need to run your email marketing program with a handful of guiding principles in mind.

These principles will give your prospects a way to know your business, like what you offer, and trust that you have their best interests in mind.

This “know, like, and trust” equation forms the foundation of your customer relationships, and is a crucial element to any successful marketing program.

There are five principles in total. Let’s take a look at them one-by-one.

1. Consistency, or “You can count on us”

Implementing the consistency principle boils down to this:

  • Promise to deliver your emails on a specific schedule
  • Stick to that schedule religiously
  • Announce and advise of any changes to your schedule ahead of time

You’ll be surprised how much simply showing up on the day and at the time you promised will build trust in your business.

And on the production side of your email marketing, it’s easier for everyone involved if emails like newsletters and discount offers go out at a specific date and time, because you can plan the work of creating them on the same day of the week.

This makes it easier to block out time so everyone can meet your deadlines.

2. Utility, or “This message contains useful information”

The best emails offer useful information that helps the reader live a fuller life. These can include:

  • How-to tutorials that help them meet a challenge
  • Basic definitions of terms they need to understand in order to interact with your service or product
  • Insider information that helps them make better decisions
  • Special offers that allow them to save money or get exclusive access
  • Links to online resources they’ll find useful
  • Entertaining information that makes them smile

If you continue to show up in their inbox offering value, entertainment, and useful information, they’ll stay on your email list and welcome your messages.

3. Friendly tone, or “We’re here to help, and we’re just like you”

An email inbox is quite an intimate space, when you think about it. Your marketing messages are mixed in with notes from loved ones and good friends.

Because of that, email marketing that uses a stiff, formal writing style tends to stick out — and not in a good way.

To blend in better with the other messages your reader sees, use a friendly, casual, and more informal tone for your emails. Incorporate the word “you” as much as possible, and avoid using “I” or “we” if you can.

Write like you’re speaking to one person only, and strike a friendly, helpful tone.

4. Respect, or “We’re sending what you signed up for: no more, no less”

The best email marketing programs are based on respect. Respect of:

  • Your readers’ time: you keep your messages short, and don’t overwhelm with too much information at once
  • Your readers’ energy: make your emails easy-to-read with plenty of subheads and paragraph breaks
  • Your readers’ needs: stay on topic and share information and offers your readers will find truly useful

When you get the quantity and pacing of your messages just right, your readers will enjoy hearing from you. They may even look forward to it!

5. Honesty, or “You can trust us to honor our commitments”

When your email marketing program is based on honesty, you can easily build trust with your customers and prospects.

But what does that look like?

Honest email marketing makes a promise when asking people to sign up for an email list. It details exactly what the reader will receive. And then it delivers that — and only that — consistently over time.

It’s not easy, but it’s powerful when you get it right.

A principled approach to email marketing

As Philip Stanhope said,

“Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.”

If you’re going to embark on the long process of building a list of people who love to hear from you, commit to doing it right.

After all, an email list is only as good as the quality of the people on it, and their level of engagement with your business.

When you use the principles of consistency, utility, a friendly tone, respect, and honesty, you’ll find yourself with a list of people who look forward to your appearance in their inbox, and stay engaged with your business over time.

Do you have questions about building an email list for your small business? Post them in the comments below.

About the author: Pamela Wilson founded Big Brand System to help small business owners use strategic marketing and great design to build big brands.