Successful farm email lists - Part 1 - Collecting email addresses

Nov 15, 2007
Posted by: Small Farm Central

This part 1 of the Successful Farm Email Lists series. A few easy techniques, followed consistently, will yield surpringly good results in growing your mailing list.A few easy techniques, followed consistently, will yield surpringly good results in growing your mailing list.

Collecting emails from your customers is an easy task and a large email list can build up very quickly if you use some simple techniques faithfully. If you go to farmer's markets or otherwise interact with the public, your email sign-up list should be ready everyday. Each time you make a sale to a new customer be sure to ask them if they want to sign up for your mailing list and have an elevator pitch ready such as, "We just send an email out every two weeks with the newest products available, photos, and links to our website. You can unsubscribe at any time and it's a great way to learn about the products we have after the farmer's market season is over."

The sign-up for can be very simple -- I just made one up last week for a conference using an Excel spreadsheet and asked for the following information:

  • Name
  • Email address
  • Demo (y/n)
  • Mailing list (y/n)
  • Signature


Although collecting the customer's name is not required, it is nice to collect that information to help your handwriting analysis as you decipher the email address. Most of the time people write their information down in a hurried way and are not thinking to write legibly so you can type the address into your computer, so the more information you collect the better off you are.

I wrote in large text at the bottom of each page: "We will not share your email address with anyone for any reason and you can unsubscribe at any time." Even though you know you are trustworthy and will not share emails with any other organization, many customers are wary of giving away their email addresses so remind them over and over that they can unsubscribe and that you only use the information for your farm.

To really increase the size of your mailing list and customer satisfaction, give some extra value to people that opt in to your list. Have extra flowers of one variety because you accidentally grew 500 row feet instead of 50? Give each customer a flower when they sign up for the mailing list to say thanks! They will appreciate the flower and you will appreciate the extra email address.

Another good place to collect email addresses is on your website; have a text box and submit button that adds any email entered to your mailing list. This usually takes some advanced skill or software (such as the Small Farm Central service and other options that I will discuss in Part 2) because you are going beyond the capabilities of normal HTML and getting into more advanced programming. A bare bones approach could just encourage visitors to send a message with "SUBSCRIBE" in the subject line to your your email address. This technique can turn a casual web surfer coming to you from LocalHarvest into a regular paying customer.

Legal issues

Unsolicited emails are a big problem on the Internet; Congress has tackled with issue with the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act). It all boils down to this fact: you must give the recipients of the email list a mechanism to discontinue all emails from your farm.

This can be as simple as replying to you with "UNSUBSCRIBE" in the subject line or as complex as the way Small Farm Central and other mailing list software works. When someone requests removal from a farm's mailing list, we first check against the database to make sure the email exists. If  it does, we generate a unique link and send it to the address provided. Then the recipient simply clicks the link sent in the email and they are removed. This ensures that the person requesting removal from the list is the owner of the address.

Since your farm mailing list will likely not get huge you probably don't need to read all the laws related to spam, but it is important to follow the basic rules. Penalties can include being labeled a spammer on various spam databases (this means your emails will go to "Junk" instead of the Inbox), having your email account stripped by your service provider, fines, or, most importantly, the loss of customer trust.

Further reading

The CRITICAL Success Factors for E-mail Marketing
Email address harvesting and opt-out: Do the crime, do the time
Discussion board: How do you collect email addresses?
5 Quick Tips on How to Grow Your Email List
Get people to opt in to your email marketing

More next week

Next week I will cover how to get those emails from you to your customer. There is a better way than simply separating each email address with a comma in your normal email client. This will become especially important as you use the techniques described above and your list grows from 50-odd email addresses to many hundreds.

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