Ok, you’ve been doing it the wrong way1 and you want to go legit. Here’s what you need to know:
You’re going to lose a lot of people, and it’s ok
When you go legit, you’re going to lose subscribers. There are people on your list now that want off and haven’t been able to leave. There are some who’d prefer to follow your goings-on using other methods (RSS, social networks). But it’s ok, because having an email list is about quality not quantity.
Give them a heads up
In your next newsletter say something to the effect of “I’m changing the way I send newsletters and it’s going to get much better. To receive the updates, you’re going to have to opt-in. You can do so now (and provide a link) or when I send the next message through this new service.
In the first email you send through the new service make front and center “This is a new email list. If you don’t want to get messages from me in the future, feel free to unsubscribe now.” And make a big link where people can unsubscribe. But make sure to give them other options – like your RSS feed or social networks.
Announce it to your social networks
Tell people you’ve got this new and improved newsletter and how to subscribe.
More detailed information
Commercial Email Marketing Services
Fees for commercial services are generally reasonable, especially compared to the costs of printing postcards, buying stamps, and most importantly, your time. Fee structures vary from company to company so shop around. Most offer a free package under a set number of contacts and paid package based on email volume, number of subscribers. The market for email marketing services is very competitive and changes frequently. We suggest googling “Top ten email marketing” or going to this website to see up to date comparisons of features of some of companies who provide this service. Below is a list of some services.
MailChimp – free for up to 2,000 contacts
Tiny Letter – owned by mailchimp. More barebones and (arguably) designed for experienced users.
Patronmail – specialize in the arts and non-profits
Vertical Response – they also do postcards
MadMimi – free for up to 100 contacts
Email list services from your host
The host of your website likely allows you to have some mailing list (a discussion or announcement list) as part of your hosting plan. It won’t have all the features of the companies above, but there’s no additional cost.
Helpful White papers!
MailChimp puts out a dozen plus white papers on getting started, “Common Rookie Mistakes,” “How to Manage Your List,” and more. They are free. Some things apply to their service, but much of it is about creating successful email campaigns no matter what you use. They are available to anyone, MailChimp customer or not, and they are free.
Most commercial marketing services will make sure you’re in the clear regarding spam laws. For more information on the CAN-SPAM Act, check out Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Can_Spam_Act