Treasure Chest

You’ve got your first newsletter or blog post written and ready-to-go. You’re itching to get it out and hit the Send button.

You’ve got another dozen ideas behind it for future posts you’ll send out every week or two. You’re raring to go! But, oh, wait! – You’ve only got a few dozen email addresses collected from customers and colleagues you’ve met recently. (Sigh.)

Where else do you find good contacts and email addresses?

Watch Out for the Hidden Trap

Friend, in your eagerness to distribute your wonderful email to as many folks as possible don’t slip into the habit of dumping every last email address you come across into your contact database. You’re a savvy business person. You know quality is far more important than quantity. So pick and choose carefully whom to add to your list of contacts.

Your existing clients have already given you permission to contact them via email. But the business card with a name and email address you’ve never heard of before that was picked up off a trade show desk belongs to a stranger. Adding this unknown person to your contact database is not necessarily a good idea.

The biggest pitfall to be aware of in online communications is the CAN-SPAM Act. (Sure, you can add as many strangers to your mailing list as you like, but contacting them is another matter altogether. Do you like to receive unsolicited emails from strangers? I didn’t think so!)

I could write an entire newsletter about the do’s and don’t’s of legal emailing – which happens also to include now social media contacts – but I will leave it to other professionals and the links I’ve provided here to explain the legal concerns.

Ask yourself, “Do they want to hear from me, or not?” If the answer is you’re not sure, then be sure to include the requisite opt-out link, snail mail address and other elements noted by the CAN-SPAM Act for legitimacy to allow them to choose whether or not they want to maintain contact with you. Bottom line, you can be fined up to $16,000 per email address, per occurrence for gross violations of this law.

Going on Your Treasure Hunt

Sounds like fun! Where do you find those hidden gems? Sometimes it feels a bit like panning for gold: Great contacts may be in plain view if you know where to look. But it’s the looking that can eat up gobs of your time.

How much time is reasonable for you to set aside for this treasure hunt? If you’re in search of contacts in a whole new industry, you’ll need to map out a strategy for obtaining this data.

The amount of time you spend building your contact list needs to fit in with the other demands on your schedule. That may give you an hour a day for research or only 15 minutes. Decide what is reasonable each day and each week so that you’re not overwhelmed by this project.

Next, do you have the right tools setup for this treasure hunt? Be methodical in your pursuit.

Use a standardized format, such as an Excel workbook, for pasting in your newfound data. This type of format will be compatible with a variety of email service providers. Label the data fields in each column (Salutation, First Name, Last Name, Email, Snail Mail Address, etc.) separately in a header row. Use categories and sub-categories as necessary (such as “Industry” or “Service”).

If data is available online, set a procedure for copying and pasting the contact information into your Excel schedule in each row and stick to it consistently. If you’re typing from printed labels or a directory, use a ruler or pen as a guide for your eyes so you don’t mis-type.

Map Your Strategy to Success

Knowing your target market’s demographics and psychographics (how they think), ask yourself where you might find a lot more of the same? Potential sources include:

  1. Chamber of Commerce directories
  2. Yellow Pages directories
  3. Trade Association directories
  4. Public Records – New and renewing Fictitious Business Statements are required to publish their contact information in a local newspaper. New home sales are reported in many newspapers by the local County Recorder’s office.
  5. Church directories
  6. Online organizations and directories

Determine which sources offer the best quality contacts as well as the ease with which you can obtain the contact data. Be mindful of organizations’ policies for contacting their members. If you are already a member of an association, there is a strong possibility you have the right to contact other members. However, if you are not a member, you run the risk of violating the CAN-SPAM Act, not to mention incurring the wrath of the people you contact without permission.

Prioritize and tackle each source of contacts you identify one at a time. For best results, call potential contacts to verify the information you have for them is current. There’s nothing quite like receiving snail mail or email addressed in your predecessor’s name to make you immediately chuck it in the trash bin!

Verifying each contact’s current information ensures you’ll have the highest quality list of contacts (and is infinitely better than buying lists). And the best part is that once you have uploaded this list to a provider, email recipients can update their own contact information in their own time within the provider’s software.

Digging for Buried Treasure

If the contacts you are after don’t have published contact information, you’ll need to get a lot more creative to unearth the hidden clues leading to their inbox. First, use the search engines to uncover back door access to your targets.

  • Can you find someone who works for the contact you’re after?
  • Did a press release just come out about this person’s firm?
  • Can you contact the press contact for more information?
  • Have you culled through your local trade and business publications for information on this company?
  • Did anyone win an award, receive certification or hold a webinar or seminar?
  • Can you contact that person to learn more about the person you’re after?

Plundering Another’s Treasure

I do not recommend poaching another business’ contact list for leads (but I couldn’t come up with a catchier subhead that conveyed my point)! But there is a magic way to suddenly accumulate a larger mailing list: Offer to write a guest post for a colleague whose mailing list consists of the types of contacts you need.

Many regular bloggers or newsletter writers are quite open to appropriate guest posts to their readers if the content is relevant to their readers’ interests. Send them a sample or an outline of what you propose to write about to get your foot in the door.

Your colleague will then send out the guest post to her contact list along with your credit at the end of the article. It will also have a link back to your Subscription widget for new readers to sign up. Voilà! You get a batch of new subscribers adding themselves to your contact list who want to hear what you have to say.

Building Your Treasure Chest

The key to success in this project is to look at it as just one piece of your marketing arsenal of tools. Nothing is more discouraging than to see you’re on record no. 89 of 3,354 for review and addition to your database of contacts. Your head quickly concludes you’ve only got five jillion and two more hours at this task.

You look at your watch and realize, “Geez, I’ve been doing this for three hours and have only added 20 names to my list! How will I ever get my real work done?” And you get frustrated and give up.

You’ll feel much better, and more importantly, will feel you have a secure handle on steady marketing progress, if you review and add names to your database on a regular basis for only short bursts of time.

If you’ve got only a half hour per week and only add half a dozen names, that’s better than giving up on this big project altogether when you feel overwhelmed. Stick to small bites!

Here are some other online resources for contacts and ideas for list building:
And if you’re focusing on a specific industry, search by SIC code to define the parameters of your list.

It may not be as much fun as Nicholas Cage had in National Treasure, or as entertaining as Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, but there’s booty to be had and rewards to collect in the act of connecting with those who help grow your business. Yo ho!

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