Sandi Abbott, Owner of Xpresso Marketing.

If you’re new to email marketing, then you may be wondering what everyone wonders at some point: how the heck do I get started with this thing? Who do I email and how do I get those email addresses?

A lot of small businesses and organizations face a daunting task when they’re trying to create a list of all their email contacts.

Mainly, the fact that they just don’t have any email addresses.

So, I recently spoke with marketing consultant Sandi Abbot, the owner of Xpresso Marketing, about how organizations can build an email list if they don’t have any contacts.

How can an organization start a list from scratch?

That’s a really common question. A lot of the time, clients come to me and say that they have no contacts, but they really do.

Every business has a current customer base. They have contacts in their Outlook that they’ve been communicating with. That list of names is a great starting point. You also need to think about your referral sources.

After that, you’ve got to start thinking differently about each contact you make.

Every point of contact, whether it’s a customer service call or a sales meeting or a networking event, is an opportunity to grow your email list.

How should businesses promote an email list?

I encourage my clients to put an email sign-up form on LinkedIn, Facebook, their website, and every other point of contact that they have.

Potential leads for business should be engaged and given a way to keep in touch. One big point of contact is events, where you should always ask people if they want to join your email list.

What are the best ways to get email contacts from Facebook?

There are a couple of things that you could do.

One way is to use Facebook promotions from Constant Contact to run a contest. You can ask your fans for contact information right on the landing page.

That way, you can get your existing fanbase to become subscribers. You can offer them a chance to win a prize, offer them a special discount or free downloadable resource, in exchange for their email address.

From there, you can set up an AutoResponder to send messages to the people who signed up from Facebook. You can set up a special contact list for your Facebook fans.

One of the things I do for a retail chain that’s sending out coupons all the time is announce an e-blast on Facebook a few days before it goes out.

I’ll say something like, “If you want in on this deal, click here and sign up to join our email list.”

I usually post it a few days before. Then, a day before or so, I tease them with, “This is about to hit your inbox, so sign up now. ”

Are there any secret tips or strategies for building a list during the holiday season?

The holiday time of year is when people are looking for deals. You could run a contest giving out a free shopping spree or whatever else your business can offer, that can encourage people to join.

It’s a good time to build lists. You can say something like, “In the spirit of giving, we’ve got something great for our email subscribers.”

If you have a store, you can give them a free discount or gift on the spot.

What are some of the best ways to segment a list?

There are a few good ways that I use.

One is at the point of entry, in the website sign-up form. When a person signs up, you can give them a choice on what topics they are interested in.

That way, you can pinpoint the type of products and services they are most interested in. Let’s say that you’re a spa and you provide nail treatments, laser hair removal, and other services. By segmenting your email list, you can send your customers offers that are relevant to them.

Another way is to ask customers every six months what information they want to receive, update the list with their preferences.

When you do send an email, you can create lists based on what people have clicked on—for example a specific product, service, or workshop—that shows that they’re very engaged with the material you’re offering.

You can also segment using Online Survey, I use this a lot to segment the list and also followup on specific interests.

Tell us about a client you worked with who started with a small list and take us through the steps of growing it.

I have a client who hadn’t been gathering email addresses at all, it just wasn’t something that was on their radar.

They thought they had no contacts at all, but as a nonprofit, they do a lot of event marketing.

One of the things we did was go to the membership base. During meetings, we asked for email addresses to start that process and build the list.

We started gathering emails at the events, too. When people registered or came to pick up their ticket, we asked if they wanted to join the email list. Every event from that point forward, we made a point to gather those addresses.

We really had to educate the staff to think of email addresses as a gold mine and show them that it’s a necessary resource to get the word out about what they’re doing.

Also, I had my client go to other nonprofits they worked with and ask them to send a invitation to their subscriber base inviting them to join the list. Of course, we reciprocated on our social sites, inviting our fans to learn more about the nonprofits we worked with.

We also added an email sign-up form on the website.

Building an email list is a slow process sometimes, but you just have to keep at it.

So what happened with that client?

We started with about 150 contacts and now we’re up to 900.

We had some false starts, too. At the beginning, it was falling apart because some of the volunteers weren’t told about the new procedure. A lot of it was about training people to collect those email addresses at the point of contact.

Any last thoughts on building an email list?

Don’t underestimate the power of the website sign-up box.

If you don’t have a prominent sign-up box on your website, you’re missing a big opportunity. Text-to-join, too, is a great feature at networking events, because everyone’s on their phone.

But having the box on the website is critical.

For example, I had a retail client who came to me who had a house list of 13,000 names. They had a website that was not serving their needs, so we redid the website. The first thing we did was put an email sign-up there, offering an instant discount when they signed up.

Now, they have over 22,000 emails. They got more than 10,000 email sign-ups through the website. That’s important, because when you’re a retail store you have a lot of churn. The website has been a key part of their growth.

I’m an email evangelist. Even if you don’t have a budget for anything else, I always tell clients that email is the most cost-effective marketing tool to stay connecting with your clients and build a referral base.

Any organization needs to keep knocking on their audience’s front door, and an email address is that front door. That’s why email marketing is so important.

Want to learn more about building an email list? Check out 15 Ingredients to Cook Up a Delicious Email From Scratch