How to Build an Email List for Small Business, Part II: Acquiring Emails Via Giveaways

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Part II in the Series “How to Build an Email List.” 

Read Part I here: How to Build an Email List Part I (and why should at least be trying)

Read Part III here: Why you should get customer email addresses during checkout

In Part I of our series, our surveys and data helped us conclude that gift store owners should be running email marketing. In this article, we’ll take a look at the first step: Getting email addresses.

Email service Campaign Monitor wrote an excellent article on the topic. You’ll see in that article similar advice to what we’ve summarized here, but we also add more detailed instruction on rules and guidelines for legally running sweepstakes.

Three Keys to Email List-Building for Small Businesses

  • Use giveaways and raffles.
  • Make the email offer worthwhile for the customer. Make the offer significant. In today’s world of retail, that usually means at least 10 percent off.
  • Get email addresses at the register. If it’s a repeat or local customer, immediately give them the offer at the register in exchange for the email address. If not, email the offer so they can use it on their next visit (this ensures you don’t give a coupon to somebody you won’t see again).

We’ll approach these ideas one at a time.

How to run Giveaways and Sweepstakes for Small Business

Several stores told us giveaways and raffles are the cornerstone of their email-acquisition program. Meg Keay of Port O’ Call in Eastport, Maine, (www.portocalleastport.com) said she started and stopped her email program because it was too much work (she spends her marketing time on Facebook now), but she wants to restart someday, so she’s still gathering emails via raffle drawings.

“People are happy to write down their email address if they think they’re going to win something,” she said. “I have only one or two raffle drawings per year.”

If you’re going to use giveaways and raffles, make sure to do it legally, of course.

How to run a giveaway … legally

This short summary is not meant to replace legal advice. Requirements vary from state to state, but here are some basics.

  • Clearly describe you’re going to use this email address for promotions later. You cannot use an email address for marketing if the person thought it was only being given for the purpose of a giveaway. Typical verbiage: “Sign up for our newsletters and also enter our giveaway today.”
  • Clearly stipulate the prize and its value, and the time frame for entries.
  • Identify who can enter (from an age standpoint, typically “age of majority” in your state, which is 18 years old except for Alabama and Nebraska, where that is 19 years old).
  • Keep the prize value under $600 to avoid IRS/tax implications for the winner. This is a guideline and not a rule, but there’s no evidence that a $1,000 prize entices more entries than a $500 prize anyway.
  • Do not charge for entry if you’re going to randomly choose the winner. Random-chance giveaways must be free; otherwise it’s called a lottery.
  • Avoid paid-entry contests even if it’s going to be a “game of skill” or judged event, unless you really know what you’re doing. Rules of thumb for most retailers: Free entry with a random winner.
  • Canadian businesses should research this on their own (especially Quebec) and understand that email acquisition laws are stricter in Canada than the U.S.
  • Create “real” rules. Smart Retailer has no affiliation with Rocket Lawyer, but their rules-creation template is easy to use and you don’t have to pay for it (though they’re going to get your contact information).

Here’s another article discussing the legalities of running sweepstakes. 

Bonus Tips for Running an In-Store Giveaway

  1. Use paper. Email services like Constant Contact, Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor and MyEmma offer email signup apps (you put the tablet on your store counter and the customer types themselves) so you don’t have to retype the customer information, and in general, we recommend them. But for a sweepstakes, just use paper slips. Among other benefits, the entry slip can have the email opt-in language right on it (see the sentence in the first bullet above), so you have a clear list opt-in from each person.
  2. Get their name and birthday. You’re going to want it some day anyway. They’ll understand why you’re asking (you want to send them a birthday coupon).
  3. Announce you’re going to notify the winner by email. There’s no better way to prevent getting fake emails. Note that you can require an email address for entry to a sweepstakes. Your giveaway is an email-gathering exercise. Do not let anybody enter without giving theirs.

Coming Next Time

In-depth discussion on our other key tips for gaining email addresses:

  • Make the email offer worthwhile for the customer.
  • Get email addresses at the register: 

Your Turn

What has been your best sweepstakes trick? What didn’t work? Retailers helping retailers … Comment below.


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Rocky Landsverk is the Digital Product Manager for Smart Retailer.

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