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Whether you sell online or off, having a mailing list of prospects and customers to market to can dramatically increase sales. Since everyone on your list is pre-qualified – that is, they’ve expressed interest in your company or your products or services – it is much easier to convert them from potential customer to customer by providing them with additional information.

Some online experts estimate the value of each name on your email list to be worth anywhere from $.10 to $1, maybe even more. So the larger your list, the greater your potential sales.

Knowing that, you may assume purchasing email addresses through mailing list houses or other online marketers will speed your progress. But no. The problem with that strategy is that you really have no idea whether those individuals might be solid prospects for your business or not. In fact, they may never have heard of your business. Emailing them may end up being a big waste of your time and money.

Famed copywriter Bob Bly recommends investing 20% of your online marketing budget in tactics designed to build your list. Fortunately, there are plenty of effective, low-cost strategies you can use, all of which don’t involve purchasing email addresses. Instead, they include offering the items below to your customers.

List growth ideas that don’t involve purchasing emails:
1. A discount on a customer’s first purchase

The discount can be anywhere from 10-30% and significantly increases the odds of making a sale. But even if you don’t make a sale the first time a buyer visits your site, you still get their email address to add to your list.

2. A free report or e-book

With so much competition for your buyers’ attention, it’s important to offer them a juicy enticement for giving you their email address. The best way to do that is with access to information your prospect really wants. That’s what your report should be about. For example, a wedding planner might detail the 5 best wedding locations no one knows about in your city.The best way to provide this report is through a landing page, which is a URL you set up that is typically separate from your website and has a catchy URL of its own, like learnhowtodrive.com or save $1000thisweek.com. They can also be hosted on your website, but the URL can become a little unwieldy and hard to remember. Landing pages include very little information beyond fields for visitors to enter their name and email address. Here’s a great example of a landing page from Trulia.

Landing page example

3. To write a guest blog post

One of the easiest ways to attract new customers is to market through established websites and blogs that serve your audience. Do a search for blogs that accept guest blog posts in your market, and then offer to write an exclusive post just for them. Write an article that addresses your customers’ questions and that positions you as an expert. At the end of your post, include a short bio and a link to either your website or to a landing page where you give them access to your great free report.

4. An online contest with prizes

Everyone loves prizes. Give them the possibility of winning a good prize and you’ll find prospects more than happy to share their email address with you, so that they can be notified if they win. Prizes can be access to members-only content, products or courses you offer, or top products just about anyone would want, such as an iPad or a gift card.

5. A free teleseminar on a topic of interest to your prospects

A free 60-minute phone conference on a topic of interest to your customers helps attract prospects and demonstrates your expertise. By using a landing page for the free call, you can collect email addresses as part of the registration, or during the group phone call, you can direct viewers to a landing page offering your free report, which requires an email address to download.

6. Free videos

Create a (free) YouTube channel for your business and stock it with brief videos your target market will be interested in. For example, demonstrate how to troubleshoot common problems with a product you carry, share a useful tip, or record a how-to video. Make sure to include a link to your landing page offering your free report within each video

Is email marketing really that important? Yes. In fact, a report from VentureBeat found that every $1 spent on email marketing generated, on average, $38 in sales. And according to McKinsey, email marketing is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter. With this kind of return on investment, purchasing email addresses is just a waste of resources (both time and money). Instead, spend some time on these six tactics and watch your email list quickly grow.