Using Google Apps for business – Or for pleasure

UPDATE: Google is no longer offering a free version of Google Apps. They wiped out the ability to use Google Apps for free with less than 10 users and few features missing and all businesses (and individuals) of any size must upgrade to the premium service that starts at $5 per user monthly or $50 per user annually. Google also announced that existing free account holders will still be able to use their free accounts with no changes. If you’re like me and were lucky enough to get in on Google Apps while it was free, don’t close your account!

For years now, I’ve run various websites on many different servers and hosting configurations all with varying success. One of the biggest pitfalls in hosting your own web services besides keeping up with security is finding that happy balance between function and form. While it may be easy to get a server configured properly and have your site up and running in no time, email services seem to always become problematic.

I find that the reason for this is because no two hosting companies are alike and depending on your setup (dedicated, VPS, shared, etc.), the email service(s) that you’re forced to use can be anything from OK to downright crappy.

Google Apps

Google Apps PricingIf you haven’t heard of Google Apps by now, you’re seriously missing out! Google Apps provides your business (or you) with EVERY Google app for use on your own domain. Imagine instead of having a random email, you can use and still have full access (and interoperability) with things like Mail, Drive, Plus, YouTube, etc., etc. and it’s all free (up to 10 users)! This experience is greatly enhanced if you’re also an Android user as you would imagine.

Now if you’re like me and you only run a personal website, have a few extra domains lying around that you want to be able to send email from or you’re just looking to consolidate all of your Google accounts under one roof, you’ll get the most out of Google Apps. This is because you’re the admin and have full control over everything from creating new users, domain aliases and more. If you work for a company that already uses Google Apps, you must suffer the consequences that all of your services are managed by your company and things like YouTube favorites won’t be so personal anymore.


I started using Google Apps mostly for the email service. I had so many problems running my own mail server. I’m not sure if it was my lack of experience in running Linux-based email or if my server was never configured properly to begin with, but either way I had issues ranging from invalid SSL certificates to mail servers not being found. By moving everything to Google, I was gaining quite a few advantages:

  • Fast and secure email
  • Freed up extra bandwidth on my own server
  • Trusted email servers
  • DKIM signed messages (more security)
  • Ability to check my email by simply logging into Google anywhere in the world
  • Flawless syncing to my Android devices

This is not to say that none of that couldn’t have been done without Google Apps, but for me, I was starting to use my original Gmail account more and more because of the ease of use that Google always seems to provide. I didn’t want to use this account because I wanted so badly to be able to promote my own domain,

Google Apps Domain AliasesThe best part is that I also have many other domains that I used to use for email and a few that I still wanted to have access to, but the old way of doing things meant that I had to setup a mail account for each domain and then configure all the accounts separately on my mail client and/or phone. At one time, I had 6 different email accounts all draining my battery with each server check.

Google Apps solved this problem as well by allowing me to add multiple domains under my account and use them as aliases. From there I was able to create email aliases all pointing to my one main email account. It gets better! Within the Gmail settings, you can set up a bunch of email addresses you’d like to send mail from, so now when I compose a new message, I have the option of sending it from any one of my many aliases! And this isn’t one of those aliases that just looks like an email, but the end user will see your real address…no…these are fully functioning email addresses.

Anyone who uses Gmail will tell you that Google’s labeling system is amazing. Rather than create actual folders that emails are placed into for organizing, Google simply allows you to place a label (or more) on messages so you are given the appearance of folders. Mix this in with filters and you can have all of your incoming email from each domain alias being labeled properly so you can sort everything as it comes in!


If you’re just a solo user, this Drive account is nothing new. It’s just connected with your new Google Apps domain and works the same way that your standard Gmail account worked. However, if you’re using Google Apps for business, Google Drive becomes much more than a storage place. You can now have shares automatically setup between user groups. For example, if your business has 20 employees and 5 of them are in the accounting department, Drive will allow those 5 to share files between themselves while still being able to share everything else with the other 15 employees.

By creating user groups within Google Apps, you can break down your entire company’s employee structure and secure it piece by piece.

Google Plus

Again, as a solo user, nothing has changed. For businesses, each of your employees will get their own Google Plus profile with all the perks included. Plus, as the owner, you actually have the ability to post things across all accounts without needing approval. This would be handy for times when you want to send out an advertising campaign through your employee’s pages.

My Two Cents

As you can tell, I’m pretty stoked about Google Apps. I’ve been using it for about 2 months now and it was the best move I ever made! As I mentioned earlier, the main reason for making the change was to clean up my email issues, but knowing that I have access to all of Google’s other services as well just makes the deal that much sweeter.

Everything within the Google Apps suite is free for up to 10 users. If you have more than 10 users, it’s $5 per user and you don’t get to have the first 10 remain free. But along with that $5 charge, you up your storage space on Gmail from 10GB to 25GB and you can finally disable those pesky ads that show up in your inbox. Personally, I haven’t found a need to upgrade since I’m well below my 10-user limit. Even with the addition of some of my friend’s websites and at least one username for each of them, I am still within the free range.

In all honesty, when you factor in some of the features of the more corporate ($10 per user) plan that Google offers and compare it to running an Exchange/BlackBerry environment, I wonder how long it will be that those two giants are still leading the pack. It can costs thousands of dollars purchasing hardware, software and licenses to operate just one Exchange server. Plus you have to factor in the amount of money it takes to keep everything updated as well as the paycheck of the IT guy to manage and maintain it all. Add to that the cost of providing data backup services (on or off-site) and you have an insane bill at the end of the year. With Google Apps, you pay a monthly fee and that’s it. Everything is maintained by Google.

List Building – Newsletter

This is what it all leads up to. All that hard work of creating the structure around your mailing list has finally come down to what it is you’re actually mailing. There’s no need for me to explain what a newsletter is, but I will give you some advice on how to make it more effective.

I want to start by explaining why it is important to even have one of these in the first place.

Purpose of a newsletter

Think of it this way. You have a website and on it you sell a product. If someone finds your product through a search engine or an ad you placed somewhere out in the world, they can go to your site and buy it. That’s great, but what happens when they leave? Do you sell more products? And if so, will your customers come back to buy them too?

These are all valid questions that most businesses often ask and one major solution to getting your customers to come back (besides offering quality products and service) is to tell them why they should come back. Newsletters are great promotional tools. Here are some things you can include in a newsletter to increase its effectiveness:

  • Provide information about special offers for products on your website.
  • Attach coupons for more money-saving opportunities.
  • Send free stuff like ebooks, offers to other websites and helpful downloads.
  • Offer helpful information that a customer can use to get more out of the products they bought from you.
  • Include direct links to specific areas of your website to help people find things easier.

Use to bring in more income

Newsletters can used in conjunction with your mailing list to send out mass offers for your website that can bring in extra income at just about any time you wish. As an example, if you have a list of 10,000 people and only 3% actually respond to a $20 offer you sent, you can potentially make $6000 in one email blast! Now that’s power.

Building your mailing list is a vital tool for promotion of your website, your products and services and a way to get related offers, discounts and important information into the inboxes of your trusted visitors.

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List Building – Whitelisting

Due to the heavy amount of spam that flows through the Internet on a daily basis, it’s important to let your visitors know that they can expect your emails from a particular email address. This means that your visitors must whitelist your website’s email address in order to ensure that your email will arrive at all intended mailboxes. On your end, when your site begins to grow, you may notice an increase in the amount of mail you get and you may want to check out these services to help you get control of your inbox back.


When you get more emails than you can handle, it’s probably because more than half of them are spam messages. While you could go out and purchase some anti-spam software that attaches itself to your inbox, but the problem is that it doesn’t always block spam and it doesn’t always send good email through.

ISIPP can help you better manage your email. This service is geared toward full-fledged businesses as the total monthly costs can reach $300. However, with one of these systems in place, you can practically guarantee that you won’t be getting any more spam!

Habeas (

Habeas was a company founded in 2002 with the intentions of providing information regarding email reputation to over 1 millions email networks and hundreds of ISPs throughout 190 countries. In essence, it certified email as being legit and created a standard for separating good email from spam. The company was eventually bought by after being somewhat of a competitor founded in 1999.

The new company has created a much larger email integrity system that also provides Internet Services. At any rate, this topic is more about protecting your own inbox from unwanted spam, but knowing what kinds of things these companies are filtering will allow you to create much better emails so your visitors aren’t required to place your mailing list on a whitelist.

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List Building – Can-Spam Act

Since this is an actual law, I’m going to simply post the text directly from its source at below.

Do you use email in your business? The CAN-SPAM Act, a law that sets the rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations.

Despite its name, the CAN-SPAM Act doesn’t apply just to bulk email. It covers all commercial messages, which the law defines as “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service,” including email that promotes content on commercial websites. The law makes no exception for business-to-business email. That means all email – for example, a message to former customers announcing a new product line – must comply with the law.

Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000, so non-compliance can be costly. But following the law isn’t complicated. Here’s a rundown of CAN-SPAM’s main requirements:

Do you use email in your business? The CAN-SPAM Act, a law that sets the rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations.

Despite its name, the CAN-SPAM Act doesn’t apply just to bulk email. It covers all commercial messages, which the law defines as “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service,” including email that promotes content on commercial websites. The law makes no exception for business-to-business email. That means all email – for example, a message to former customers announcing a new product line – must comply with the law.

Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000, so non-compliance can be costly. But following the law isn’t complicated. Here’s a rundown of CAN-SPAM’s main requirements:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information. Your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” and routing information – including the originating domain name and email address – must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message.
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines. The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message.
  3. Identify the message as an ad. The law gives you a lot of leeway in how to do this, but you must disclose clearly and conspicuously that your message is an advertisement.
  4. Tell recipients where you’re located. Your message must include your valid physical postal address. This can be your current street address, a post office box you’ve registered with the U.S. Postal Service, or a private mailbox you’ve registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations.
  5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you. Your message must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting email from you in the future. Craft the notice in a way that’s easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read, and understand. Creative use of type size, color, and location can improve clarity. Give a return email address or another easy Internet-based way to allow people to communicate their choice to you. You may create a menu to allow a recipient to opt out of certain types of messages, but you must include the option to stop all commercial messages from you. Make sure your spam filter doesn’t block these opt-out requests.
  6. Honor opt-out requests promptly. Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process opt-out requests for at least 30 days after you send your message. You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days. You can’t charge a fee, require the recipient to give you any personally identifying information beyond an email address, or make the recipient take any step other than sending a reply email or visiting a single page on an Internet website as a condition for honoring an opt-out request. Once people have told you they don’t want to receive more messages from you, you can’t sell or transfer their email addresses, even in the form of a mailing list. The only exception is that you may transfer the addresses to a company you’ve hired to help you comply with the CAN-SPAM Act.
  7. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf. The law makes clear that even if you hire another company to handle your email marketing, you can’t contract away your legal responsibility to comply with the law. Both the company whose product is promoted in the message and the company that actually sends the message may be held legally responsible.

What does this mean?

Quite simple put: DO NOT SPAM. The Internet is already full of junk and you don’t need to add to it by sending out bogus offers and junk mail to people that don’t expect it from you. Worse yet, if your site or your server gets marked as a spammer you can consider your reputation done.

It is hard to bounce back from being labeled a spammer. Don’t do it and if you know of other people doing it, you should report them. You can find more information about this law at the FTC website.

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List Building – Auto Responses

I’ve been going over many list building ideas and they all seem to point to the relationship you develop with your visitor using the very first message you send to them. This is called an auto response and just as the name implies, it’s the very first thing your customer reads when your mailing list welcomes them to your site.

There are three sub-sections in this area, but I am grouping them altogether because I’ve touched on each topic in the previous sections and there’s no sense in going over everything twice. However, I did want to show you the correlation between each item, so I’m going to touch on a few more key points with each below.


Your auto response should contain some content. It should not be a simple 1-line message that says “Thank you for signing up!”. While it’s perfectly ok to thank your visitors, you should also include something for them to read. Maybe create a snapshot of what they can expect from your future emails. Here are some ideas:

  • Sample newsletter – If you publish a regular newsletter, send them your previous copy. If you have a few “back issues” send a link to an archive page that allows them to click through and download any past issues they wish to view.
  • Related content – If your blog is relatively consistant, you should have no problem adding links to the auto response that offer various content on your site that you think might interest your visitor. This is also an opportunity to tell people about any other blogs you run.
  • Site updates – If you’ve made changes to your site, you might also want to add this information to your email if you think the changes will benefit a user directly. This one is more for your future emails, but it’s also nice to let the new subscribers know that they can expect to see these items again.

You don’t want to overdo it, so find a perfect balance to try and make that first message very similar to what your next emails will look like. The point is to make you visitors feel welcome, show them what they can expect from you and not overwhelm them at the same time!


I’ve been talking about newsletters throughout this entire section, so you should already have an idea of how these can greatly benefit your site. Here are some tips on how to create awesome newsletters.

  • Design – A lot of people are still getting email in the HTML format and you can use this to your advantage. Try to design an email that somewhat matches your site. I wouldn’t use a lot of images, but a logo and maybe a few borders are ok, but try to get the colors right. This will go a long way for keeping your “image” in your visitor’s heads.
  • PDF – An alternative to fancy HTML emails is to create your newsletter as a PDF file and attach it to a standard email. You want to be careful here because a lot of email programs and services can be set up to remove attachments on delivery. There are tons of viruses running around out there and people are more fearful of receiving emails with attachments. Just inform your visitors before they sign up and they can make arrangements.
  • Content – What you should include in your newsletter is entirely based on who your audience is and what your business is. Ideally you want to add content that will get a response. Simply recycling content from your site won’t help. If someone just wanted updates on that, they could bookmark your RSS feed. Give them some content that’s not on your site. It also helps to add some engagement tools like surveys, contests and free offers.


It may be hard to understand what an “offer” is. It could be a free item, a download not available to anyone else, access to a special section on your site, the newsletter itself, etc. The idea is to entice your visitors to come back for more. How they come back is not the point. They can come back for your newsletter, your daily blog post or to leave some comments. Here are some offer ideas.

  • Starting offer – Give up something valuable right out the door. Let’s say you’re writing ebooks on how to eat healthier. Your first offer could be something like “Join my site today and receive my free ebook on how to lose 10 pounds in 10 minutes!”. You would then attach this ebook to your auto response for first-time subscribers and you’re done.
  • Special access – Create a small section for your members. Let them feel like they belong to your site and that they have a unique place that they can come to get information tailored for them.
  • Repeat offers – Don’t spam your users, but you should send periodic emails that let them know about special things going on with your site or how they can access new content. Don’t be afraid to offer things. Your users won’t consider it spam if done every once in a while. Remember that they signed up!
  • Partner offers – Try to work with other websites out there to offer each other’s products for discounts if they sign up at either site. You always see John Chow out there partnering with Shoemoney to give price breaks to recommended sign ups.

All of these offers can be included in your auto responses, but should definitely be included in all your future emails. Don’t let any opportunity for informing your subscribers get past you!

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List Building – Post OptIn/White List

Post opt in is a process in which you have an existing email list and you import it into your email marketing campaign. In other words, these visitors did not visit your site and sign up the “usual” way. This is a common practice among webmasters who have changed websites or opened a new one and would like to begin marketing to his/her existing visitors.

White listing, in relation to email lists, is a business practice when a business has obtained email addresses of interested users from all over the Internet–usually thousands of varying websites with numerous topics. They collect all of these emails and separate them into applicable categories and lists and then sell them to other websites to use in their marketing plans.

Post opt in

Some people are skeptical of performing such a task because it’s very likely that you’re going to end up putting people on your mailing list that may not want to be there. Companies like Aweber allow the importing of email lists, but its main purpose is to provide people a means of adding large amounts of email addresses with relative ease when moving service providers.

However, it is possible to take a duplicated list that you may own and import it into another one. This is where things become questionable. For example, if you run two websites with one about cars and the other about motorcycles, you may want to integrate your two mailing lists so you can promote both of your websites at the same time. The problem is that you don’t know for sure that the visitors interested in your car content will also be interested in your motorcycle content and vice versa.

White lists

There’s a lot of debate about email whitelists. On a personal level, you may have created your own whitelist which is basically a listing of all your good emails after pruning out dead accounts or known spammers. From a business standpoint, you may be considering purchasing a white list.

Marketing firms that have harvested thousands of emails based on various topics are in the business of selling these lists to business and website owners like yourself so you can import them into your email marketing campaigns. The debate about the practice comes from the question of how these firms put these email lists together.

Some companies can be spammers themselves who have done nothing but run automated bot searches of the Internet looking for usable email addresses. Others may have legitimately obtained the email addresses, but did not disclose the fact that the addresses may have be sold to another company somewhere down the line.

With that said, you want to be careful whenever you think about adding email addresses to your email list ‘after the fact’ because you never know how those people will receive you and the worst thing that can come of this is getting marked as a spammer.

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List Building – Opt In Capture

Oh, the infamous opt in! This is the gateway to your profitable mailing list. Don’t abuse it or underestimate it; otherwise you might be in for a rude awakening. If done right, you’ll get a nice group of loyal and dedicated readers of your material and offerings. If done wrong, you can say goodbye to all the extra income you were hoping for.

The key to the opt in form is to make it accessible, but not to make it obnoxious. Feel free to promote it wherever you get the chance, but don’t force it in your visitors’ faces. You may have seen websites that throw out popup or popunder windows and you already know how annoying these are.

Proper opt in techniques

  • Static page – Create a static page that talks about your newsletter or marketing materials and clearly outline what it is someone will be getting if they sign up at your site. Link to this page from your home page as well as anywhere else you talk about your newsletter.
  • WordPress widget – There are many plugins and themes that offer you the option of placing custom HTML code in your sidebar, header or footer. Create an instant webform that asks for their name and email address so they only have to click submit to sign up.
  • Email signature – Start promoting your newsletter to everyone you email! This the best anti-spam way of letting people know what you have going on. I don’t know about you, but I always look at people’s signatures.

No matter how you promote your opt in form, the most important thing to remember is that you don’t want to spam it, force it or oversell it, which brings me to my next list!

Improper opt in techniques

  • Popup windows – Back in the old days, a popup window was used as a useful way to show someone information without having to change pages or open a whole new browser window. Today, they are the most annoying form of advertising and your opt in form should never appear on one. Besides the high probability of being blocked anyway, you’re likely to lose people just because your site looks tacky.
  • Popunder windows – A popunder window carries the same annoyances as its popup counterpart, but this one is designed to show up behind the window you have open. This way, when you’re done surfing and you start closing your browser windows, this mysterious window will be left open. While it does have some potential for catching people off-guard, it too can make your site look tacky.
  • Forced – Forcing someone to signup to your list just makes you look desperate. One way this can be done is when someone emails you to ask a question and you immediately add them to your mailing list just because you now have their email address. Remember that just because they sent you a message does not mean they want more emails from you.
  • Spam – It should go without saying, but obviously you don’t want to spam your visitors to get your newsletter. Not only does this look bad, but it’s illegal and your visitors are likely to get the idea that all of your future communications will be spam-like.

Building a list is not easy and it takes a lot of work to get it right. I’m still amazed at the amount of people that visit my site each day compared to the amount that sign up for my newsletter! However, having patience and doing it right will create a better experience for you and your visitors.

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List Building – Support Time to Response

This topic is relatively small, but it essentially involves creating a better response time for customer support issues in regards to any and all questions you may receive for your website. More specifically this pertains to your users asking about or needing support for your email subscription list.

If you’re managing all of your email campaigns manually, meaning you’re not using an third party email service provider, you need to stay on top of you support requests. This is vitally important for users wishing to stop receiving your information via email or those wishing to change what information they are getting. Fortunately for those of using an email service such as Aweber, you don’t have to manage support requests as much because 99% of all mailing list features are automated.

Average response time

Trust me when I say that your visitors will rate your whole business (and your reputation) on your response times for customer support issues or general questions about your services. This fact may be more important to those running full-scale businesses online because this can affect your sales, but all websites can suffer to some degree including the loss of web traffic and backlinks.

Put yourself in your visitor’s shoes and ask yourself if you’d like to be “placed on hold” when you need urgent assistance. Make sure you respond to your visitors/customers as soon as possible. My theory is if you’re running a website, you’re more than likely on it at least once a day, so same day response times are not that unlikely.

Communication is key

Just like I mentioned in the article about proper commenting techniques, communication in any form is vital to your site’s success. If visitors think your site is dead, they won’t be coming back and this becomes an issue very fast if you lose communication with your users.

The easiest way for you to provide this support to your users is to provide a very easily found page on your site that includes a basic webform, visible email address, phone number or all three!

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List Building – ESP

ESP stands for Email Service Provider and it can mean the difference between a successful email manager with proper, spam-free email marketing campaigns and the “stuff” you send. It’s hard to comprehend paying for an external email service when you clearly have email access as part of your webhosting service.

However, the difference is that ESPs allow you to create and manage that email much better. As an example, if your website offers visitors the ability to sign up to a newsletter, you might have these emails being stored in a simple database and then extracted to Outlook. You probably then create a newsletter or some other content and blast off an email to all your contacts.

The problem with this is that these days there are tons and tons of spam being sent all over the world, so the element of trust is important. What this means is that you have less of a chance of your messages actually getting to your visitors when sending email from your own Internet connection.


  • Ability to create templates for sending to contacts and/or the use of pre-made templates
  • A subscriber list, which is uploaded by the user for distributing messages. This may be enhanced with custom fields in order to hold additional information for each subscriber for filtering and targeted messaging purposes
  • A send engine, which allows users to distribute their message to the subscribers
  • Updating of the subscriber list to suppress those requesting to be unsubscribed
  • Statistical reviews of each email sent to measure the success rate of the campaigns
  • Testing of templates for compatibility with email applications
  • Spam testing to gauge the score of the email against known factors that will place the template at risk of being blocked
  • The ability to send both html and plain text formats to improve delivery success rates (known as Multi-Part MIME)

To get you on the right track, I’ll recommend the provider that I use. They’re called Aweber and their pricing is cheaper than some of the other services I’ve found out there, like MailChimp.

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Site Creation – Memberships

You’ve seen them before–store memberships, clubs and mailing lists. It seems like you can’t go anywhere these days without being offered to sign up for this or sign up for that. As much as this might be irritating to you, don’t take it personally. These businesses are not out to steal your information or upset you in any way. They’re practicing a great business technique that really works!

Offer member incentives

When you run a business, especially one online, you have a unique opportunity to increase customer retention when you offer your them the ability to become members of your website or blog. They not only feel like they belong, but you are able to offer them the latest news, product updates, special discounts and everything in-between. As an example, on my site, you can sign up to the newsletter that I offer. This allows me to communicate just about anything I think you’d be interested in later on down the road.

The reason this is so important is that you may not come back to my site for a long time because you’re not a regular reader, but if you get updates through email, you’re not going to miss anything. Plus, I can offer you the latest tools right when I find out about them.

If you run an ecommerce site, you really want people to become members of your store because you’re inventory is most likely always changing, so it’s even more important for you to get those updates out. This will increase sales and make the customer feel more important. Offer people discounts, free stuff, special “members-only” items, etc. and you’ll win a customer for life!

Managing members

Every site structure is different, so managing your members can be everything from easy to difficult. What you don’t want to do is mis-manage them. This is especially true of email subscribers. You never want to given the impression that you send spam email. You also don’t want to have a huge list of members only to sit on it and not do anything for them.

Staying connected means sending out information, promotions and updates regularly. You’ll need to cater specific needs to your members based completely on the industry that your business is focused in. For example, if you’re in the clothing business, you’ll want to make sure that your updates and promotions are geared around style trends and seasons. You can offer great deals on summer clothing in the winter and vice versa.


I use a company called Aweber to manage all of my newsletters and mailing lists. Not only do they manage all of your members, but you can create any type of marketing materials you want! You can also setup automatic messaging to send out emails whenever you choose.

Do not waste any more time on this topic! You need to start turning your customers and web traffic into members of your business today!

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