Over the many years I’ve been in business, I’ve tried every email service provider out there. Well, it feels like it anyway. The only good thing about that is that I can confidently share with you what I know about the various providers to help you make the best decision when it comes to choosing an Email Service Provider for your unique business.

There are many websites, blogs and courses giving advice on email marketing and list building but most of these assume that you already have a list. The problem is, there are many business people out there (possibly you) who haven’t started a list yet. You may still be trying to decide HOW to get started and what service to use. If that’s you, keep reading to learn the fundamentals of starting an email list.

Probably THE most important decision you will make in creating your email list is the ESP or Email Service Provider you choose. Some folks also call this an Autoresponder Service. Your email service provider is the company you choose to host and send out marketing emails on your behalf.

Hiring a company to host your mailing list provides you with many advantages. In my book, it is essential to have an ESP. If you think you can get away with mailing marketing messages from your own computer, then think again. This is the quickest way for you to get charged as a SPAMMER, and if that happens, your internet service provider will shut you down so fast — and black list you — it really will make your head spin.

If you’re going to be emailing commercial marketing messages to anybody — no matter how many people that is — you must let an Email Service Provider do it for you.

One of the big things that keep business people from signing on with an Email Service Provider is that they don’t really know what they should be looking for in an ESP. They don’t want to make a mistake and wind up losing a lot of money or losing most of their list later on when they realize they did make a mistake.

Here is a list of my must-have Email Service Provider features:

• High deliverability of emails. There’s no point in building a list if your emails won’t ever get delivered. Make sure the service you choose has a very high deliverability rate.

• Must offer both broadcast and autoresponder options. A “broadcast” message is one where you set up a message — like an ezine or an enewsletter — to be sent out immediately or on a particular date or time in the future. A broadcast is going to go out to your full email list and won’t be re-sent.

Autoresponders are emails that are set up to be delivered automatically in a timed sequence after someone signs up to your list. An autoresponder works like this: Molly signs up to your cake decorating email list and on the first day she gets autoresponder #1, then four days later she gets #2, then four days later she gets #3, etc. As an email marketer, you must have both options, as they’ll be useful to you in many ways while you work to reach your market and build relationships with them.

• Top notch customer service. When you need help it should be there, period. Find out from other people who have used an ESP if they are satisfied with the level of service they get when they run into challenges or have questions. If you can’t speak to a real, live human being at the provider, then keep looking.

• Personalization of emails. Adding personalization to your emails — both in the subject line and in the body of your email — will increase interest and prompt more people to open your message. Typically you’ll personalize emails with the recipient’s first name but you can also use other personalization options like the city where they live, the hobbies they have, or other categories that will call out to your prospects.

• Multiple email lists hosting. Some ESP’s only allow you to host one email list. You will likely want to keep separate email lists for different websites you own or topics you write about or you may even want to separate customers from potential customers.

A great feature for an ESP is to have the capability of automatically moving someone from one list to another. This is especially useful for moving someone who has just purchased something from you from your “prospect” list to a customer list so they don’t keep getting the same promotion over and over once they’ve already purchased.

• HTML and Text email creation. Some people prefer to send plain text emails while others like to add images and hyperlinks to an HTML email. You really want your ESP to provide both options for a variety of reasons. One reason is simply that if you are sending out html emails and then change your mind down the road it’s easy to do the switch from one to the other.

The most important reason, however, is that some people opt only to receive text messages. If you are sending only HTML, then those people will never get your messages. Better to err on the side of caution and send both.

• Easy and flexible sign-up form creation. Once you’ve done the initial list setup you need to get people signing up! Having a user-friendly sign-up form from the perspective of both the business owner and the subscriber is important. Even the most technical UN-savvy person can usually place code for a sign-up form on a web- or blogsite but only if the ESP makes it easy to do.

• Statistics tracking. If you’re sending out email marketing messages without knowing the results that you get, then it’s very difficult to know whether you’re wasting your time or not. Proper tracking will allow you to see how many people opened your emails, how many clicked-through, how many signed up per day, etc. Once you get in the habit of tracking this data, you’ll be able to make far better decisions about your offerings and other aspects of your email marketing efforts.

This would be a lucky BONUS item that an ESP would provide:

• Templates. Sign-up form and email templates will be helpful to you if you don’t possess much in the way of design skills. (And let’s face it, that’s most of us.) There are some providers that make it very quick and easy to get a professional looking email campaign going by providing really nice cut-and-paste-style templates for your ezines and other promotions. If you can get great looking templates from your provider, all the better.

The best way to figure out if an Email Service Provider is the right one for you is to do your research first, then see if you can take a trial-run with the program. But be cautious about this. By offering you a trial of their service, most ESP’s are counting on you building a list within their service and then sticking with them. Depending on which services you try, it may be nearly impossible to move a list you’ve built without creating a lot of hassle for both you and the subscribers that have put themselves on your list. So before you try out any service, check out all the other features first to make sure you could live with that particular provider, then go for the trial.

Your email list is one of the biggest assets you will ever have in your business. If you take some time to set it up right from the get-go, that initial investment of time and effort will pay off in huge dividends for years and years to come.

With all the experience I’ve had over the years — some good, some not so good — with various email service providers, I have some definitely biased opinions. But I believe those biases can prevent you from making a big mistake when the time is right for you to choose an ESP for your own business. Email me if you’d like to discuss that with me — or any other email marketing discussion you’d like to have — and get back in touch with you to plan a time.


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