Many websites, blogs, and courses give advice on e-mail marketing but most assume you already have a list. The problem is, there are many virtual assistants out there (possibly you) who haven’t started a list yet. You may be still trying to decide HOW to get started and what program to use. If that’s you, keep reading to learn the fundamentals of starting an e-mail list.

One of the most important decisions you will make in building your e-mail list is the ESP or E-mail Service Provider. Your e-mail service provider is the company you choose to host your e-mail list. Having a company host your mailing list provides you with many advantages.

The thing that stalls most people in their tracks is they don’t really know what they should be looking for in an ESP. Here is a list of my must-have features:

  • High deliverability of e-mails – There’s no point in building a list if your e-mails won’t get delivered. Make sure the program you choose has a very high deliverability rate.
  • Both broadcast and autoresponder options – Broadcast is when you set up a message to be sent out immediately or at a certain day/time. A broadcast is going to go out to your full e-mail list and won’t be resent. Autoresponders are e-mails that are set up to be delivered automatically after someone signs up to your list. So it works like this: Sally signs up to your cake decorating e-mail 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 a coach, virtual assistant, or other service provider who uses e-mail marketing, you want both options as they’ll be useful to you in many ways while you work to reach your market.
  • Top notch customer service – When you need help it should be there, period.
  • Personalization of e-mails – Adding personalization to your e-mails is a great way to increase interest and conversions. You can personalize e-mails with first name but you can also use functions like where they live, what hobbies they have, or other categories to call out your prospects.
  • Multiple e-mail lists hosting – Some programs only allow you to host one e-mail list. You will likely want to keep separate e-mail lists for different websites, topics, or even to separate customers from potential customers.
  • HTML and Text e-mail creation – Some people prefer to send plain text e-mails while others like to add images and hyperlinks through an HTML e-mail. This is a preference issue, but I would always choose an ESP with both so that if you change your mind down the road it’s easy to do the switch from one to the other.
  • 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 signup form from the perspective of the business owner and the subscriber is important.
  • Statistics tracking – If you’re sending out e-mails without knowing the results then it’s very difficult to be successful. Proper tracking will allow you to see how many people opened your e-mails, how many clicked, how many signed up per day, etc.
  • BONUS: Templates – Sign up form and e-mail templates will be helpful to you if you don’t have design skills. There are some companies that make it very quick and easy to get a professional looking e-mail campaign going.

The best way to figure out if a program is the right one for you is to do your research first, then see if you can take a trial of the program. I’ve worked with numerous list manager programs over the years and the program that I like the most and recommend is Aweber. I can honestly say that, having used it myself and for many clients for the past few years, I’ve only had good experiences with the program deliverability, features, integration with other programs, and technical support. You can sign up here for a $1 trial  (affiliate link)

Your e-mail list is one of the biggest assets you will ever have in your virtual assistant business. Take some time to set it up right and that initial investment of time and effort will pay off in multiples for years and years to come.