One of the best lessons I’ve learned so far from running my microbusiness, SpaceCadet Creations, was one of the hardest lessons and took the longest to sink in. It was something I’d read several times, on business and entrepreneur blogs here and there, but if I’m honest, I just didn’t believe it. It sounded like guru-talk to me, like hogwash, and so I ignored it for a long time. But I’m here to tell you that it’s absolutely true and, once I realized that and applied to it my business, everything got easier …and the business grew.
Here’s the lesson… are you ready? It’s not about sales, it’s about the mailing list.
It sounds nuts, right? You’re sitting there scrunching up your nose, aren’t you? I mean, how can it not be about sales? Sales are what keeps a business in business. Focusing on a mailing list is all well and good, but sales are a business’s lifeblood! You’d be crazy to ignore them, right?!?
But the thing is, when we put our focus on the sales, we often take our focus off the customers behind those sales – they become faceless, a means to an end. And if we focus on lots of sales, we often then think of that in terms of lots of customers. There’s nothing wrong with going after lots of customers – big companies do it successfully all the time. But for a microbusiness, it can be a really bad fit, because it takes a lot of time and a lot of resources (do you have a lot of that to spare?) and there is a much easier way instead.
“So, how are you at marketing?” a friend asked me when I first opened SpaceCadet Creations. I told her the truth: I knew nothing about marketing. And I learned just how true that was when I bought my first ads on Ravelry. I was nervous about investing in advertising and even more nervous about putting together my first ad (boy, that was a steep learning curve!), but when it was all done and the ad was submitted, I sat back and waited for the hits to start rolling in.
Here’s what I learned really fast: compared to what I was expecting, click-through rates for most ecommerce ads are crazy low — below 5% — and conversion rates even lower, maybe around 1%. That means for every 2000 people who saw my ad, fewer than 100 bothered to click it, and maybe one person bought something – if I had a really eye-catching image and an irresistible product. Those big numbers I was waiting for? Well… let’s say it was a good learning experience. I quickly realised that if I was mostly focused on attracting new customers, I was going to have to put a lot more time and a lot more money into advertising, month after month after month.
Compare that to a mailing list, which is a group of people who have actually asked you to tell them what you’re up to. You’re not interrupting whatever they’re reading – they want to hear from you, they want to know about your new products, your ideas, even just your day. They’ve signed up and they’ll gladly take time out of their day to read your emails. And if they don’t buy this week, they might buy next week, or next month or the month after. But when they happy to hear from you, and they’re hearing from you week after week, it’s going to happen eventually. That sounds better, doesn’t it?
So, here’s what you do: you take that leap of faith (and it is a leap of faith!) and take your eye off the sales for awhile and you focus instead on building a great mailing list. And you really turn your whole focus to it. You make your mailing list more important than your sales, at least for a little while. No seriously, more important. Trust me, you’re building up a bank of future customers, and that’s worth more than any ad any day.
There are lots of ways to do this: start by signing up for an email delivery service (such as MailChimp or Aweber), and putting your sign up widget prominently on your website, or maybe using a Hello Bar. Then offer an incentive for signing up, such as a percentage off an order, or free delivery, or an ebook or some other freebie resource (Want to see mine? Click here!). And then, when you start communicating with your list, they’re not nameless, faceless maybe-customers. They’re people – people you want to talk to, and who want to hear from you – and suddenly your whole dynamic changes.
And then you go back to thinking about sales — because sales was and always will be the lifeblood of your business. But now sales are easier, less a shot in the dark and more a conversation between friends. And as your mailing list grows and grows, sales continue to become easier.
These days, every single blog post I write and every email I send goes out to hundreds and hundreds of subscribers. And, unlike those disappointing numbers that ads can give, my emails are read by a full 50% of the people who receive them and, where I put key links in, they get clicked by a quarter or more of my subscriber list. And the sales… they just flow.
So, after not believing it for so long and ignoring it for ages, I’m here to tell you that it’s not guru-talk and it’s not hogwash. It’s absolutely true – if you focus on growing your mailing list, you will grow your business. So take some time away from sales and spend a little of it on really focusing on your list. Put your heart into it, do it right, and you’ll never regret it.