Do you ever get those emails with your first name in the subject line? “Hey Christina – Your Valentine’s Day Outfit Inspiration Is Here!” or “It’s time to start cooking, Christina!” (Side note: Do people really have Valentine’s Day outfits?)

Well, that didn’t happen by accident. You receive emails addressed specifically to you because some way, somehow, somebody either entered your information into a specific field in an email database, or you signed up yourself. And if the information is inaccurate? Let’s just say you might be sending an email that starts with “Dear, The Honorable.”

This is why we stress the importance of a well-maintained email distribution list, which could mean the difference between engaging or alienating your audience.

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Developing a Distribution List

Let’s not sugarcoat it: Creating a strong distribution list requires a large investment of time at the front-end. But if you take the steps to create an organized list, it will allow you to get more creative and intentional with your email marketing. Plus, it shows your audience that you’re taking the time to send content that is meaningful to them (we’ll get to that in a second).

Here are the basics: first name, last name, email address (bonus points for “company”). That’s it. Here’s what a simple Excel spreadsheet should look like:

First Last Email Company
John Smith John.Smith@SmithCompany.com Smith Company
Jane Jones Jane.Jones@JonesCompany.com Jones Company
You Get The Idea…

But that is just the beginning. You can add as many fields as you like. For example, if geographic location plays an important role in your firm’s business development efforts, you might want to include a “city,” “state,” or “region” column. Likewise, if you’re focused on building your health care practice, you might want to create a list with columns that distinguish between providers, insurance professionals, and hospital administrators.

True, for an attorney who has been practicing for 30 years, creating a clean database of a career’s worth of her contacts might seem like a Sisyphean task. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be. Our insider tip: Find a teenager who needs some extra cash. Data entry doesn’t require brain work, so get your brother’s kid to do it for you on the cheap. Don’t know any teens looking for cash? We have also found great and reasonably priced admin help on Upwork, an online site for freelancers in just about every conceivable kind of work you could need help with.

Leveraging Tricks of the Trade

This is where things get exciting for the #emailgeeks among us. With a well-organized list, we can code for an email that:

  • Specifically addresses your contacts by name, either in the subject line, the salutation or in the body of the email.
  • Organizes your content by relevance to the recipient. Using the previous geography example, a newsletter recipient in Austin might receive a version of the email that includes content about Austin’s sick leave rules, while one in Dallas might receive a similar version with info about Big D’s sick leave initiative.
  • Targets a specific audience. Back to the health care example, if legislation is passed that’s important to hospital leadership (but perhaps not staff), you can use your carefully organized list to filter out all the non-leadership recipients.

By taking the time to create a strong list and curate content relevant to your audience, you’re showing your contacts that you care about what’s important to them. Keep in mind that with email marketing, your goal is to be a valuable resource, not a mindless spammer.

A Brief Warning

If you organize your contacts and end up with only a few hundred people, you might be tempted to buy an email list from a broker. DON’T! Not only can that be illegal, but you risk purchasing a list with invalid emails or recipients who will mark you as SPAM, thereby impacting your sender reputation. Email service providers such as MailChimp and Constant Contact take sender reputations extremely seriously and will kick you off the platform for list abuse if you use bogus contacts. And if you think they won’t find out, trust me, they will.

Let’s Hit Send!

There you have it – the basics of developing your first email list. Starting with a solid foundation will help you develop a robust list that can provide valuable data points, helping you target your audience, and keeping your firm top-of-mind with your contacts.

Christina DiPinto

Christina DiPintoChristina takes traditional legal marketing copy and upcycles it into snackable, click-able and shareable digital content. As Muse’s newsletter guru, she creates custom newsletters for clients from development to distribution. If you’re looking for a snappy headline or engaging email, send her a note at christina.dipinto@muselegalpr.com.