A few months back I unsubscribed from several e-newsletters and blasts that were complimentary from one purchase or another to the point that some days I could not find my ‘real’ email in the long queue of things that I could possibly buy one day. It was like cleaning out a closet—it was freeing and gave me a sense of accomplishment.
Recently I have noticed that plenty of unsolicited email has started to seep into my inbox. Apparently, email inboxes, like nature, abhor a vacuum. These emails that I never asked for seem to fit nicely into three categories: products, services, and advocacy.
I would love to tell you that I don’t keep any of these, but that’s not true. Receiving the ADVOCACY emails, I have become informed on issues and have even signed petitions I didn’t know existed to protect wildlife and to rid my favorite candies from artificial colors and flavors. The PRODUCT emails have enticed me to poke around on a few websites looking at very unusual and helpful gadgets, pretty things, or witty t-shirts, but not necessarily buying, mostly because I am trying to curb my impulse buys, ahem. However, I have paid very little attention to the emails that offer SERVICES except to see whether I knew the person and that was why I was added without my consent. “Did I know this lady when I worked for the Association of Realtors?” “Did I meet this man at a networking meeting?” “Did I go to college with her?” Delete. Delete. Delete.
The truth is, I don’t think I am alone in choosing a service based on a more personal connection and with referrals to back it up. Chances are that you don’t or won’t choose a Realtor because they bought your contact information on a list. You might know someone who helped you in the past with a purchase, a friend might have referred them, or you simply have noticed the success the Realtor has had in your neighborhood. You might even have had the opportunity to meet them on your doorstep if they walked the neighborhood to cultivate clients.
Buying email lists of the masses will work best when the masses are your audience. Product sales and advocating for an issue might not follow tight demographic lines. They might fall under psychographics that are not obvious or clearly defined and therefore mass exposure works.
The more successful service providers grow their lists organically. They add you to their weekly bulletins after they’ve met you, they ask for referrals and for you to share their information. That is ideally the way to grow a service business.
If you have considered buying lists then make sure that what you are selling makes sense to a mass emailing. If it doesn’t, then don’t waste your money. Be patient and grow your business with good old-fashioned repeat business and referrals. 

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