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Your small business email newsletter sucks – but that’s not why I don’t want to subscribe to it!

I love to attend networking events. I love to get to know new people, find out about businesses I didn’t know existed, and reconnect with people I haven’t seen for a while. The bigger the event, the better for me.

But there is one thing I absolutely HATE about networking events! It’s when I give someone my business card, and without even looking at it, they put it in their pocket, and keep talking. I believe, like many Asian cultures, that if I give you my business card, I’d like you to look at it, see if there’s anything you see that’s interesting to you, remark on it if you find something interesting, and then place it in your pocket.

Small Business Owner's Business Cards - Look at how pretty they are!

Doing that would be bad enough, but that ISN’T what I hate the most about networking events. What I hate is after the event, many small business owners  sign me up for their email marketing list, just because they now have my email address.

Just because you have my email address does NOT mean I want to be on your email marketing list!

If your email newsletter didn’t suck because it’s full of “specials” and “coupons” but no real information, it probably wouldn’t be so bad that you signed me up without my permission. Then again, if your newsletter didn’t suck, you would know better than to just sign me up for your email marketing list. You’d probably also know that signing me up to your small business email newsletter without my permission means you’re in violation of CAN-SPAM. This means each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000.

Let’s do the math: If you signed all 63 people you met for your email newsletter and they all reported you as a spammer, you’d risk a fine of just $1,008,000, just to make sure we all got your email newsletter. Do you really think after 1 meeting ANYONE will buy anything from you as a result of your email newsletter?

HINT: ABSOLUTELY NOT!

Here’s a better way to make your small business networking more effective. It has NOTHING to do with making your email newsletter suck less. I’ll write that soon.

More effective small business networking

Don’t try to meet 63 people at the networking event. You can’t possibly remember all 63 people anyway. Instead, research the event ahead of time to identify the 10 people who are attending that you REALLY want to meet, and learn a few things about them before you get to the event. See who you know that will be attending the event that knows the people you want to meet. Find those people at the event, spend some time reconnecting with them, then ask for an introduction to 1 of the 10 people you want to meet because of something you learned by researching about them before you arrived.

Give each of those 10 people your full attention. If you are fortunate enough to get an introduction to one of the people you want to meet, give that person your full attention. Ask questions about what you researched, focusing on things you have in common unrelated to business. Learn all you can about them. Most people will return the favor and ask some questions about your interests. Avoid talking about business if at all possible, or stay away from anything in depth about your business. After 10 or so minutes, gently ask for their business card and let them know you’d like to follow up tomorrow for a 30 minute coffee meeting, your treat where you can learn more about their business, and state you know they have other people they need to meet at this event. If they ask, offer your card in return. Then thank them for their time, and either walk away (if there is someone right there that wants to talk to them, or other people in the group), or introduce them to someone you know who also has things in common.

After you walk away, write down a few things you learned on the back of their business card, or in a pocket notebook you brought along.

Repeat until you’re out of people to connect with, or the networking event ends.

Personally email each person you met at the networking – Follow up is where most networkers (myself sometimes included) fall down. Make time that night or the very next day and send a personal two paragraph e-mail to each person you connected with. Paragraph 1 should include something you enjoyed about the other person. Paragraph 2 should be asking them for that coffee date, and offer 2 mornings and 2 afternoons that work for you in the next 2 weeks. Make sure to include your email signature in case a curious person wants to learn a little more about you.

Attend the coffee meeting with a notebook and pen and some questions about their business – Show up early to make sure you get a spot both of you can sit at, and be prepared to ask some good questions about their business and their role in it, some things you CAN’T find out on their website. Ask if you may take notes (it makes some people nervous, that’s why you ask first) and write down key points. This is NOT meant to be a grilling session, so if you bring out your order pad, you are going to scare this person away. Find out what their biggest goal is for this year and think about how you might be able to help them achieve it. Pleasure is WAY more fun than pain if you ask me.

Share something relevant about your business – if the other person is interested – Gauge the other person’s interest and if they are interested in your business, share some about it. Do NOT vomit everything you know about the business. Instead, focus on what you do that fits into their biggest goal. Ask if there are any questions – and SHUT UP.

Respect the other person’s time – At the 25 minute mark (set your phone to vibrate), let the other person know you respect their time and that you’re nearing the 30 minute mark. Ask if there is any way you can help them right now, and stand up. If the conversation went well and you can help them with their biggest problem, ask for another time to meet, in their business if possible. Make this appointment for 90 minutes in 14 days or less. I find that 14 days is just enough time to not be annoying but still enough to stay relevant in their mind.

Follow-up with a handwritten thank you note – and attend the next appointment ready to pay MORE attention and offer what you have if it fits.

So you didn’t add another subscriber to your small business email newsletter. At best, you gained a qualified lead or referral source. At worst, you gained a new friend.

33 Responses to Your small business email newsletter sucks – but that’s not why I don’t want to subscribe to it!

  • I was thinking about this last week and had a discussion with a friend about how common this is when you attend networking events. I absolute hate this audacity.

    Thanks bro!

  • Love the useful tips here Phil……especially sending a hand-written note. In these days of electronic messaging, it’s still so nice to receive notes that someone crafted and took the time to mail. There’s just something so “human” about it!

    Keep on writing Phil!

    :)

  • Yes, yes, YES!

    I think we need to print out your blog post and hand it to the person when we hand them our business card.

    Yes, lead generation does help increase sales but not when you alienate the person. When you alienate, people are more apt to tell others how to stay away from you.

    Thanks again, Phil! Another rocking post!

  • Good stuff– and what an eye opener about the fines for adding emails to a newsletter!

  • Excellent info! Filled with lots of tips that can be put to use right away. Definitely no “suckiness” factor here.

  • This post really resonated with me. The other day I was at Nordstrom Rack and as I was checking out they asked me for my email address. I asked why and they said it was to email me my receipt, so that if there were any issues with my purchase I could easily return. I asked if they were going to Spam me. The cashier said, “No. We don’t do that sir.” I received my receipt an hour later, and I was generally pleased with my visit.
    Fast forward two days, and what do I get? An email from Nordstrom. Did I ask to be the mailing list? No. Did this ruin my shopping experience? I don’t know that it ruined it, but I am looking less favorably at the store as a whole.

    • Yep, that’s a good one Brian.

      My question to Nordstrom is this: Why would you risk RUINING a shopping experience, and possibly tick off someone who’s lifetime value is likely 10s of 1000s of dollars, by putting them on your mailing list WITHOUT permission? There are plenty of people (like my wife) who LOVE email coupons and product only emails. For me, I despise product only newsletters, especially if I didn’t give you permission to send me anything.

  • People who put your name on a mailing list just because you hand them your business card still live in the stone age of networking. Can’t believe that people still do this!

  • Oh Phil, thank you! This is exactly my annoyance about networking too – arggh! So glad someone spoke up to set things straight. That is exactly my philosophy of meeting people as well, I try to share first and see what I can do to help them or better their life. Always feels good and builds true lasting connections. NO email lists without asking me! I tend to say no anyway :>) Anyway thanks for the great article and good humor :>)

  • p.s I did put in my email address to post this because I feel certain you won’t spam me (tee hee)!

  • Phil, Great post. It just seems like companies that send unrequested emails are either oblivious to human nature, or don’t care if they piss off 98 people to get 1.5 conversions. Either way, these people should find a profession where people skills are not required.

  • Phil, this is so crucial, and while it seems most people agree, it somehow still continues. Also, just because we’ve had a conversation via email, that also does not mean I’ve signed up for your list.

    The difficult part, is when friends do this to their friends. Might you have a tip to let friends down lightly when they do this to you?

    Keep rockin!
    Jon

    • Boy Jon – that’s a really good question. How do we let friends know?

      Two thoughts:
      Reply to the first e-mail with a link to this post letting them know how they could be even more effective? :)

      Create your own mailing list to add them to and send them advertisements for products they don’t need?

      OK, those aren’t very good ones. But I’ll think about this and write a follow-up post. Thanks for the question!

      • Thanks, Phil. It is a tough one.

        The one thing I’ve thought of (but haven’t tried) is to say, “Hey, since we’re friends I’ll probably hear about all the things you’ve got going on when we talk, so no need to include me here.” Seems nice, but it’s easier as a friend to just let it slide. However, these emails, plus all the ones that occur based on what you’ve described, can pile up to quite a mess! Thanks for pointing out the madness!

        Permission, people, permission! :)

  • Hi Phil! What a great post! So far I haven’t done e-mail newsletters … because of how much I hate most of them. I was hoping to find some pointers on how to avoid creating a sucky newsletter (should I ever choose to do so), but this post is so much better! A step-by-step guide to networking as a human being! I love your philosophy about creating genuine connections. And the idea about setting phone to vibrate 25 minutes into coffee is GOLD. I am always looking for courteous ways to end conversations, so I will be using that at my very next meeting. Glad to have found a wonderful resource! Thanks!

    • Thanks Lauren. I will be writing the article you wanted soon. I just had to get this off my chest and help folks out.

      Glad you enjoyed it even though it wasn’t exactly what you were looking for!

  • Excellent point Jon. Permission MATTERS.

    If it’s a close friend, you could probably say that. The challenge is the word “friend” has changed from a friend, someone you can count on, to “friend” something you do on Facebook. Ick.

  • Oh Phil – you hit the nail on the head with this one. One of my BIGGEST pet peeves. I keep tweeting how much I hate it in hopes that it will get better.

    And why meet 63 people at an event when I can meet just one of you!? :)

    • Jeannie – I hope many folks read this one. I’ll be adding this to my most shared articles. I could say the same about LinkedIn too. We just met – and now you want to connect – with an impersonal message. Sad really. Small business owners have SUCH an advantage here too – all they have to do is be human and share that humanity. Instead, they wimp out.

      And you’re sweet to say meeting just one of me. I would say one of anybody that can help your business. But I like the way you said it better – and I couldn’t say that myself. :) Thanks!

  • A spilled glass of expensive wine like an unrequested newsletter equal the same thing. Precious time and effort reduced to nothing more than a stain that too often takes a lot of work to remove. Great point made on limiting the time of the engagement!

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