What You Should Know About Email If You Have A Business
Welcome to our latest post in the Self Reliant School Second Stream of Income Series! We’re pro small business here at Self Reliant School because not only are we ourselves a small business, but we also encourage you to have a second stream of income or small business of your own. Sometimes, especially when you’re first starting out, you can get away without doing too much online, but chances are you’re going to need to establish a customer email list pretty early on, or at least this should be one of your early goals.
Obviously, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you know that we communicate with our readers and our customers in a lot of different ways. Here on the blog we interact through comments, then we have a presence on the various social media platforms, with Pinterest and Facebook being our main focus.
Giving customers and readers multiple ways to connect with us is important. We want you to be able to reach out no matter where you are online, whether that’s commenting on a pin, commenting here on the blog or on our Facebook page. However, let’s think about traditional business for a minute and apply some tried and true ideals to online business. All of the social media platforms are owned by other companies. Self Reliant School has a page on Facebook but we do not own it. Facebook does. It’s like we’re leasing a building on someone else’s property, and while it is certainly worthwhile to be able to reach our readers and customers it’s not something we want to rely on solely for communication with you.
Talking to you here on the blog is different, we do actually own the domain SelfReliantSchool.com and so this little section of the Internet is truly ours. We own our posts and the domain, so we do invest a lot in our website and it is one of the most reliable ways to contact us, but it’s not ideal. Hopefully you have this site bookmarked and visit regularly! However some people might not have had the chance to bookmark the site yet (you can do it right now if you like, I’ll wait), or maybe they were so excited to try one of our tutorials that they simply forgot before they headed out to see if they had the supplies. Enter the absolutely oldest most reliable way to communicate with anyone online--email.
Email is one of the pillars of having an online business. It’s possible to do business without building an email list, but it isn’t smart. And most of the businesses that have done well without one have been short lived. Email is the primary way Self Reliant School communicates with readers and customers, and as such over the last few years I’ve learned more than I’ve ever thought possible about email.
Before I started this blog I considered myself pretty tech savvy; after all my husband is a programmer and my father taught me simple programming on one of the first personal computers ever released (remember the old TRS-80 from Radio Shack?). To say the least, I used email as a consumer for sometime before starting an online business and never felt like I needed help understanding or using it.
Then I stepped onto the other side of those emails and became not only a customer but a “marketer”. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve never considered myself a salesperson and I really don’t claim to know a lot about marketing. However, I have to “market” in the sense of letting my customers and readers know what’s going on and what to expect from me. We (here I say we, but really mean Bill) have to do our fair share of customer service and and since we are an online business that is entirely through email. So email is our lifeblood. We depend on it to communicate with our readers and our customers. And for the most part it works well.
If you develop a second stream of income, a customer list is something where you’ll need to invest a substantial amount of time and money. Simply put, you don’t have a business without customers and the way most businesses communicate today is through email.
There are a few things that have surprised me over the last few years that I want to share with you. It’s imperative you understand these things if you plan on using email to build a second stream of income, and even if you’re not it might help you understand what’s going on behind the curtain so that you can easily spot a company you want to do business with and which ones you should stay away from.
3 Kinds of Email
There are 3 common types of email “programs”.
Work Email--This is email that goes through your company's servers or computers. Usually it will have @your company's name. Mine is jennifer@selfreliantschool dot com (I wrote out the word dot so that spammers (see spam below) who write programs to go through websites and mine them for email address won’t recognize that as an email address). These emails are not alway private and it’s often against company policy to conduct personal business with them. Sometimes there are grey areas and it’s certainly convenient to use your work email to buy something online.
Let me encourage you not to use it and here’s why--often companies will place spam filters on their email servers that will filter out email from companies. It’s a case of their spam filters working a little too well. The thing is that it’s not a matter of going into your spam folder and grabbing an email that went into the wrong folder. These emails are actually bounced back to the owner or worse, just trashed. So neither the company who sent the email or the person who was supposed to get the email knows that the email was trashed. Not good for communication!
Service-Based Email--This is an email address you get through your internet service provider. So if you have a Comcast account your email might look like firstname.lastname@example.org. These types of accounts were popular 10 or 15 years ago, but the problem with them is that if you change your internet provider you have to change your email address, so when web based email started (see web-based email below) these types of email accounts started to fall out of favor. In addition to having to change your email account if you change service providers they too put spam filters on their servers or computers and you can easily wind up in the same scenario as work-based servers with each party not realizing an email was not received.
Web-Based Email--When web based email came onto the scene it was the perfect solution for mobile people. Not only could you keep your email address if you changed service providers, but you could also access your email from anywhere and any computer. The only real concern with web based email is security. Generally, people looked at it as less secure than service-based or work-based email. Today that’s not really true - most web based email is very secure providing you are not careless in the way you use it.
So What Does This Mean For Your Second Stream Of Income?
As a business owner, you have to be aware that people will use their work email anyway, and have a plan in place to deal with this issue. Here at Self Reliant School we use a contact form for people to be able to contact without going through email. Good FAQ pages on your website help answer questions and eliminate the need for email. Then of course having another way for someone to get in touch with you like leaving a message on Facebook is also a good idea.
What About Spam?
Do you get unwanted emails from companies that you’ve never heard of before? We all do, right? That’s what’s commonly referred to as spam email. Believe it or not there are federal laws governing spam and if you are a legitimate online business you are governed by those laws. The problem is that not everyone follows the law and not all spammers are in the U.S.; remember the Internet is international. Service-based and work-based email servers have software loaded onto them to reject spam. Remember when I talked above about email not getting through to the intended recipient. You might be thinking, “Well, big deal, I missed a sales flyer from my favorite grocery store. That’s probably worth it not to have my inbox overflowing with spam.” Maybe, but what if it was our login info for a product you just bought?
Spam is a real problem. Here’s How To Deal With It!
Let me back up a bit and explain the process of building a list and some of the challenges. Did you know that bloggers and other online businesses have to pay to have you on their email list? That’s right, even if the blogger is not trying to sell you anything they have to pay to keep you on their newsletter list (This is not true for an RSS feed email--however those are dying and becoming rare). The bigger an email list the more the business has to pay. The reason for the fee is that because their are federal laws that must be followed; only certain companies with certain credentials can actually send the email. So even though emails that you get from me come from jennifer@selfreliantschool dot com they are actually sent out by a company that we pay. It’s actually against the law to send large amounts of email through a personal account so we must have a business account with a company who has the credentials to send out large amounts of email.
These companies make their customers follow strict guidelines to ensure the law is followed. That’s why you’ll always see an unsubscribe link at the bottom of all my emails and all the emails that are run by legitimate online businesses. Also, and this is a big one, legitimate online business can not send you an email you did not sign up for. In other words, you had to sign up to receive our Self Reliant Resources or Member News.
Real problems develop when legitimate email from legitimate online businesses are reported as spam by readers. This can occur for several reasons:
- The email is not clear as to who it is from
- The reader is in a hurry and accidentally marks email spam that they should just unsubscribe from
- The reader doesn’t understand the difference between spam and an email they signed up for
- Readers or subscribers are unsatisfied
- Readers don’t remember signing up to receive email.
When dealing with emails you receive, you should always always use the unsubscribe link at the bottom of an email to unsubscribe. This will actually help you in the long run (see below).
Customers Get Hurt When Legitimate Businesses Get Tagged As Spam
You’re probably thinking, ok, I see how that’s a headache for you but how does this affect me? Well, let me go ahead and tell you which email provider I use and why I think you should use the same kind. I use a web-based service like Gmail, Yahoo or MSN. I especially like Gmail, but I also understand concerns about companies like Google having access to all your personal information. Not that I think they go through mine on a daily bases, but that is the argument that people use for not using Google products. Personally, I think that you’re kidding yourself if you think in this day and age that you can use the Internet with any real sense of anonymity. However, the argument remains. If you are really worried about this, keep all personal business out of your email, and if by chance you must have secure information delivered by email move it out of your email account as soon as possible.
Web-based email is different from service-based or work-based email in that they filter spam but allow it to go into your account. They filter these emails into a spam or junk folders and over the years these filters have gotten pretty good at doing their job.
Here’s the catch that most people don’t know. The filters are ‘smart’. In other words they learn from your actions. If you mark something as spam once they realize from now on that email from that sender belongs in the spam folder. Not only that, but if you don't open an email for a while and continue to get emails from the same person and don't them, eventually they will start going into your spam folder as well. So the filter works based on your actions. This is kind of frustrating for someone like me that doesn’t think the same way as most people. I’ve subscribed to different tutorials or lessons and then let them pile up in my inbox without watching thinking I’ll watch them all at once. I actually still do this on occasion, but now I move them out of email and into something like Evernote where I know they’ll be waiting for me.
So if you mark something as spam when it’s not really spam or don’t open something for awhile then email filters will start putting your emails into your spam folder.
But it doesn’t end there…
When an email from a legitimate business is marked as spam those other email filters on work-based and service-based servers will also start making those same emails as spam. So not only does it affect your email, but marking something as spam affects other people’s email. Not fair, to say the least, but right now it’s the best system we have to combat spam.
So What Can You Do?
If you are a reader or a customer always use the unsubscribe link at the end of an email to unsubscribe. Never mark an email that you signed up for as spam!! If you think you didn’t get an email always let the business know through a different form of communication and always have an alternate email (preferably a web based) ready to give them.
If You’re A Business Owner...
First of all take a deep breath and realize this is a lot of information and that legitimate email marketing can take years to learn and perfect. Also realize that most of your customers and readers want to hear from so you should not be afraid to email them. However, following these guidelines might help with spam reports.
- Always make it clear that your email is from you
- Email at the same time every week or thereabouts. Sometimes it’s necessary to email customers or readers about timely events or sales, but don't make a habit of it. Have a set time that they can expect your emails so you can establish a routine
- Give your customers and readers value with each email. Don’t just email them about the same old things every week. Give them something they can take away from the email without always trying to sell something to them
Email is the best way and cheapest (albeit not free) way communicate with your customers. There’s no way around learning the ins and outs if you want to run successful business, even if it’s just a side business. Of course if you have a service-based business where you have a small number of customers you might not need an email service. It’s still essential to understand how it works if you ever need to scale your business or reach larger audiences.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t use traditional forms of back-up, like having a hard copy of customer's names and address (if applicable) like in the good ol’ days. After all we’re all about keeping certain traditions alive here at Self Reliant School and we still see the usefulness in paper. If you are trying to go paperless, we suggest you have a backup copy of your files in a different location for security.
How do you communicate with your customers?
What is your worst email story? What’s the best thing you’ve ever received in your inbox?