Avoid these email marketing mistakes to grow a healthy email list, build better relationships with subscribers, and avoid spam complaints.
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clickbait articles and sensational blog posts are published with bold and brash claims that email marketing is dead and outdated.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- Is email marketing outdated?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 and email newsletters are flourishing. Email is a simple, cost-effective form of digital marketing and it just plain works.
Email marketing through email newsletters 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 conversions — sometimes it’s a direct purchase and other times it’s a reply that leads to someone hiring me — either way, sending emails results in new business and more money in my pocket.
It’s no wonder so many freelancers prioritize building an email list when starting a business — they too want to tap into the email marketing goldmine and build an audience who wants to hear about their sales and promotions, is interested in what they have to say, and wants to hear what they’re up to.
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. But sometimes to accelerate list growth and produce quick results, rules are broken, best practices are ignored, and spammy tactics are employed. Unfortunately, this approach can end up doing more harm than good.
Freelance Email Marketing Mistakes
When building a freelance business, you’re often doing most of your own marketing. You’re the strategist, the project manager, the writer, the creator, and the decision-maker. It’s up to you to learn and follow email marketing best practices to ensure your efforts support rather than sabotage your business goals.
Now, loads of marketing experts create business training courses, content, and resources that teach email marketing best practices. This post flips the script to look at email marketing worst practices — the biggest mistakes freelancers make when using email marketing to build their brands, expand their audiences, and grow their businesses.
Here’s what not to do when it comes to marketing via email:
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 your email newsletter or email marketing messages to an email list. Not only is it against the law because there isn’t an automatic unsubscribe option, it is also unprofessional. Trying to save a few bucks by not signing up with a legitimate email marketing provider makes you look like a cheap, inexperienced amateur. Not including an unsubscribe option is also a sign that you don’t respect your audience or subscribers.
2. Buying Email Lists
Think twice about buying 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.
You’re basically a stranger and that list is as cold as ice.
Because no one on a bought email list gave you direct permission to enter their inbox, sending emails to people on the list can result in hoards of spam complaints and angry subscribers, which can cause long-term damage to your brand name, your domain name, and your sender reputation. Plus, more and more people are calling spammers out publicly on social media sites, and that’s a public relations headache you just don’t need.
3. Sending Email Without Permission
The worst email marketing offenses have to do with permission. You must gain legitimate permission to add someone to your email marketing list. Subscribers must opt-in through a web form, check a clearly worded box in another form, or provide express verbal permission.
- Do not assume that someone handing you a business card at a networking event, workshop, or conference means they want to subscribe to your newsletter. This is not permission. If you think they’d enjoy your email newsletter, share it with them and ask if they want to receive it, or invite them to subscribe as a part of your follow-up.
- Do not automatically add everyone you know to your email newsletter list. Your personal contact list does not translate to your email marketing list. Knowing you and communicating with you is not the same as giving you permission to market to them by email. If you’re launching a new email newsletter, send your contacts a personal email to share what you’re up to and invite them to subscribe.
- Do not assume that someone connecting with you via social media also wants to receive your email newsletter. Accepting your connection request is not the same as someone giving you permission to market to them by email. Let people choose how, when, and where they stay in touch.
- Do not assume a quid pro quo. Subscribing to someone else’s email list doesn’t give you the right to add them to your email list. You chose to subscribe to their updates. Give the other person the same option.
- Do not justify bad behavior with the “but they can always unsubscribe” excuse. That statement alone means you know what you’re doing is wrong.
- Never share your email list with any other person or business unless those opting in are told in a very prominent and clear manner that they will be added to multiple lists and marketed to by multiple people/brands.
Bottom line: Do add anyone to your email list unless they subscribed or said, “Please add me to your list. I want to receive your newsletter,” otherwise, you’re sending spam.
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
Do not make it hard for people to unsubscribe. 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, as it increases the chances of mistakes — like deleting the wrong subscriber or accidentally not processing an unsubscribe request. And never require subscribers to fill in their email address or 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 so don’t take unsubscribes personally. People will unsubscribe because:
- They choose to interact with your content in another way — like through a feed subscription service or social media.
- They implement better email management practices and unsubscribe with one email address only to resubscribe with another.
- Something changed in their life or business and your content is no longer a fit.
It’s okay if your content isn’t a fit for everyone. It’s better to have a small email list of people who really love what you’re doing than a big email list of people who aren’t paying attention.
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 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 of subscribers, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to email them every day or multiple times a day — unless that’s the expectation you set when they subscribed.
- If you promised a nothing more than a weekly newsletter, honor that promise. If you decide to email people more often or start sending daily emails, alert subscribers of the change and give them an option to choose how often they hear from you. Let subscribers decide if they get your daily emails or only the weekly digest.
- If you’re promoting big launch, running a special email promotion, or using specific autoresponders to upsell specific offers, put mechanisms in place to pause your regular newsletter or regular email marketing campaigns and ensure subscribers don’t receive multiple unrelated emails from you on the same day.
Sending a constant barrage of marketing emails, affiliate promos, announcements, and sales pitches — or too many unexpected emails — can alienate subscribers before ever having a chance to engage them and convert them to paying clients and customers.
9. Irrelevant Content
When building an email marketing list, churn (unsubscribes) is to be expected. If you’re experiencing high churn rates and struggling to retain email subscribers, it’s likely for one of three reasons:
- The content in your emails does not align with the content promised and the expectations set, and it isn’t relevant to their goals and objectives. For example: If a web designer built an email list of people interested in learning about web design and suddenly started emailing them about life coaching, there will be an uptick unsubscribes because the topical promise was broken.
- Subscribers joined your email list only to get a free gift, download, or ethical bribe and they don’t care about your offers and never planned on remaining a subscriber.
- Your newsletter is too salesy with product promotions and affiliate offers. Subscribers don’t mind a joint venture promotion every once in a while, and most don’t mind you promoting your offers — they subscribed to hear more from you. But if you sell too much or too hard, or you sell without also providing value, it leaves a sour taste in subscribers’ inboxes.
10. Wasting Readers’ Time
If you want subscribers to open and read your emails, you must make it worth their time and energy. If you can do that, people will begin to look forward to your emails with anticipation.
- Do not waste subscribers’ time with filler, glossy content, hype-filled sales pitches, and slick sales messages.
- Respect your subscribers’ inboxes and their time by providing relevant, timely, valuable, actionable information.
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
Do not engage in any of the tactics I have shared in this article. Not following email marketing best practices is not worth the potential backlash. You’ll not only frustrate, anger, and even alienate subscribers, but also risk angering your email marketing service provider and your internet service provider — and they both can shut you down.
Treat Others How You Want To Be Treated
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.