Learn the biggest mistakes new freelancers make when leveraging email marketing create and stay in touch with a list of engaged subscribers.
Every year new clickbait articles and sensational blog posts are published with bold and brash claims that email marketing is dead and outdated. Every year, they make the rounds across social media, and every year, I roll my eyes.
- Is email marketing dead? Nope.
- Is email marketing outdated? Nope.
According to Statista, in 2020, there were four billion email users worldwide and approximately 306 billion emails sent and received every day. In 2025, the number of email users is expected to reach 4.6 billion and the number of daily emails is projected to increase to over 376 billion.
Email is an important part of daily life. Nearly everyone has an email address, most check their email every single day, and much of the business and e-commerce worlds are still largely managed through email. Yes, social media and messaging app usage is increasing, but they’re not replacing email any time soon.
- When it comes to customer acquisition and retention, Emarsys reports that email marketing still beats organic search, paid search, and social media.
- DMA and Litmus found that every $1.00 spent on email marketing produces average return of $42.00.
- OptinMonster shares that 60% of consumers have made a purchase based on a marketing email they received, which is far more than the 12.5% who consider using the ‘buy’ button on social media.
Clearly, email marketing is alive and well. It’s a simple, cost-effective form of digital marketing, and it just plain works.
Email marketing can be used to promote your products, services, programs, courses, and memberships; build relationships with your community and audience; make sales; and stay in touch with clients and customers. Every email I send results in a conversion — sometimes it’s a direct purchase and other times it’s a reply that leads to someone hiring me — either way, my emails result in new business and money in my pocket.
No wonder so many freelancers and small business owners prioritize building an email list when starting a business.
They too want to tap into the email marketing goldmine and build an audience who want to hear about their sales, promotions, and news. The problem is that many eager, enthusiastic, ambitious freelancers are also impatient. Building a quality, engaged email list the right way takes consistent effort and time, and rather than follow the rules, these new business owners ignore email marketing best practices in favor of spammy, quick list growth. And this approach can end up doing more harm than good.
Freelance Email Marketing Mistakes
When building a freelance business, you’re it. You’re the talent and the business manager and the decisionmaker. It’s up to you to learn and follow best practices for everything you do from your business finances to your services to marketing systems.
I’ve already shared a list of email marketing best practices, so now I’m flipping the script and sharing my list of email marketing worst practices — otherwise known as everything you should avoid when using email marketing.
Here’s what not to do…
1. Not Using a Reputable Email Marketing Service Provider
Do not use your personal email software — i.e. Outlook, Gmail, Hotmail, MacMail, etc. — to send email marketing messages to an email list. Not only is it against the law because there isn’t an automatic unsubscribe option but it is also completely unprofessional.
Trying to save a few bucks by emailing people from your personal mailbox rather than through a legitimate provider makes you look like a cheap, inexperienced amateur. It’s also a sign that you don’t respect your audience or subscribers.
2. Buying Email Lists
Never buy an email list even if it’s a double opt-in email list. The subscribers on those lists don’t know you, they don’t know your business, they don’t care about you, and they have no idea why you would be contacting them.
Because they didn’t give you direct permission to enter their inbox, buying and emailing a cold list can result in hoards of spam complaints and angry subscribers, which can cause long-term damage to your brand. Plus, more and more people are calling spammers out publicly on social media sites — and that’s a public relations headache you don’t need.
3. Sending Email Without Permission
Never add another person to your email marketing list, sign them up, or subscribe them without their blatant, express permission. That’s spam.
- Meeting someone at an event and getting their business card does not mean they want to receive your newsletter.
- Connecting with someone on LinkedIn doesn’t mean you can add them to your email newsletter.
- Being introduced to someone or getting a referral doesn’t mean these people want your email newsletter.
Bottom line: It is never okay to add people to your email newsletter list without their permission.
4. Breaking The Law
According to the CAN-SPAM Act, your emails must include a valid physical postal address — your current street address, a post office box, or a private mailbox registered with a commercial mail receiving agency like the UPS Store. The law also states that your email marketing messages must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how people can opt-out of getting email from you in the future.
5. Hiding The Unsubscribe Link
The CAN-SPAM law also stipulates that your email marketing unsubscribe link must be easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read, and understand. Do not try to mask or hide the ability for someone to unsubscribe and stop receiving your emails. You’re not tricking anyone and it won’t help you retain subscribers. Not only is it against the law, but it also creates frustration and makes people mad.
6. No Automatic Unsubscribe
Never manage email unsubscribe requests manually or require subscribers to email you to unsubscribe — it’s weird and uncomfortable, and it can make people regret ever subscribing in the first place.
To comply with the law, legitimate email marketing service providers include automatic unsubscribe capabilities. This ensures opt-out requests are processed immediately and emails aren’t sent to someone who requested to be removed from your email list.
Remember, people have all sorts of different reasons for unsubscribing. Sometimes the reason is to simply unsubscribe with one email address and resubscribe with another. Other times it’s because your content is no longer a fit. By making it easy for someone to unsubscribe, your list won’t bloated with people who delete or ignore your emails.
7. Using A Bait And Switch Opt-In
Don’t be sneaky about a newsletter subscription and hide it behind a free offer or ethical bribe. If you’re creating an opt-in offer, be upfront and crystal clear about exactly what will happen after someone signs up, opts-in, or subscribes.
- If someone can opt-in for something free and that’s all they will get — they won’t also be signed up for your email list, tell them that.
- If you’re making a free offer to build your email list, and anyone who signs up to take advantage of the offer will also now get all of your marketing emails, tell them that.
- If your opt-in offer requires someone to join your free Facebook group to get the content, tell them that before they sign up not on the thank you page!
Set clear expectations from the start so no one is surprised or blindsided when marketing emails start showing up in their inbox from you.
8. Too Many Emails
Just because you have an email list and people have opted-in, it doesn’t mean you can go crazy and start emailing them every day about everything. Sending a constant barrage of marketing emails, affiliate promos, announcements, and sales pitches can alienate your readers before you’ve had a chance to convert them into paying clients and customers.
9. Irrelevant Content
With every email marketing list, some list churn is to be expected. If you’re experiencing high churn and struggling to retain email subscribers, however, it may because of your content.
When people subscribe to an email newsletter or email list, they have certain expectations for the type of content they will receive. When the content received doesn’t align with those expectations, they will unsubscribe.
For example: Let’s say you’re a freelance web designer or developer building an email list who uses a free offer like a website checklist as an ethical bribe. People sign up and subscribe to learn about all things related to websites. If suddenly you start emailing them about spiritual life coaching, they’ll most likely unsubscribe because it’s not what they wanted or asked for.
10. Wasting Readers’ Time
You goal should be to make sure subscribers always feel like opening and reading your marketing emails is worth their time and energy. If you can do that, people will begin to look forward to your emails with anticipation.
If you don’t have time to put together something valuable and helpful, don’t just throw something together and half-ass it because subscribers can tell.
While many freelancers and small business owners set a regular schedule for their newsletters and marketing, others only send something when they have something of value to share, and some simply skip the work of putting together a newsletter altogether and instead offer a subscription to their blog.
11. Skipping The Test
Every email marketing service provider gives you the ability to send a test email before you send your message to your entire list. Do it. Take advantage of this feature and send yourself a test email. Read it out loud in your inbox to catch any errors, typos, and broken links. Do not skip this step to save time.
12. Using a “No-Reply” Email Address
As a freelancer, when someone gives you their email address, they are joining your community and starting or continuing to build their relationship with you. They want to be connected to YOU. If you’re using email marketing to build a brand or agency, they want to connect to real people at the company.
Using a no-reply email address tells people you’re only interested in a one-sided relationship. You want their email address so you can sell to them but you don’t care about them and don’t want to make time to field any replies.
13. Not Tracking Consent
You can only send marketing emails to people who have provided consent and given you permission to do so. When building an email list for a freelance business, you must ask for consent during the subscription process and store the proof that consent was given.
This is another reason using an email marketing service provider is important. They collect and store this data for you in each subscriber’s record. With this information, you can see at any time where someone was when they signed up, when they opted-in, how they joined your email list, and what they signed up for.
14. Not Adhering To GDPR
GDPR doesn’t apply to everyone but if it applies to you, you must adhere to the rules outlined in the regulation. Gaining express permission and storing that data is only part of the requirements. You also need to provide subscribers an easy way to request complete deletion from your system as if they never interacted with your brand in the first place.
While many freelancers choose to ignore it, ignoring laws and regulations related to email marketing can get you in hot water and put your email list at risk.
The Best Practice Bottom Line
If I’ve listed it in this post, don’t do it.
Not following email marketing best practices is not worth the potential backlash. You’ll not only frustrate, anger, and even alienate subscribers, but you’ll risk angering the big guys — your email marketing service provider and your internet service provider — who can shut you down.
When it comes to email marketing and growing a freelance business, you can never go wrong with putting your subscribers, clients, and customers first and considering how your actions will affect them.
Always aim to add value, be helpful, and make every interaction with you, your brand, and your business positive and worth it. With that approach, you’ll build an engaged email list of loyal subscribers who look forward to, open, and read your emails… and that will translate over time to more sales and more money in your pockets.