An autoresponder is a computer program that automatically answers e-mail sent to it.
An 'Out of Office’ message is probably included in whatever software you use to manage your own email.
An 'out of office' message is the most basic example of an autoresponder.
However, for marketing purposes we are interested in more developed versions that will respond when your website visitors sign up to receive whatever freebie you are offering – and will then follow-up with them at preset time intervals as well as being able to confirm subscriptions, unsubscriptions, posts, and other list activities.
As a local business owner your immediate question will inevitably be: ‘What’s the benefit for me?’
And there are 2 answers:
- Building relationships
- Saving Time
Building Relationships with your prospects
If you offer visitors to your website something useful and relevant then they may decide to give you their name and email address in exchange. It is an ethical bribe, a fair exchange.
So don’t get wound up with personal opinions about whether you ‘like’ that sort of thing or not. What you ‘like’ as a business owner is the profit in your bottom line – or you wouldn’t be in business. Collecting the means to communicate with prospects who have willingly provided their contact information is simply a means to your own objective.
That’s why it has to be an ethical bribe. What you offer should have real value to the recipient.
Once you have your prospects contact information that they provide through some ethical bribe you offer on your website then you can continue to communicate with them whenever you choose. The advantage of an autoresponder is that you can pre-write your email messages and set up your message sequence to go out at whatever intervals you choose.
Repeated contact with your list of prospects keeps your product or service ‘top of mind’ in their head space. Even if they don’t actually open and read your messages simply the site of your name in their inbox will keep reminding them of what you provide so that when they decide to buy then you have a chance of being among the suppliers they consider at that moment.
So the marketing benefit is that an autoresponder will enable you to build a relationship with your website visitors after the first ‘touch’ of their first visit. It’s a numbers game, a fairly small percentage of visitors will sign up, you will be able to build a relationship with some of them and of those, some of them will eventually buy from you.
As well as your scheduled messages you can also send a ‘broadcast’ message to your list whenever you choose. So special events and offers can all be communicated at zero cost to large numbers of prospects at the expense of 10 minutes of your time to write an email. How good is that!
Let’s be clear that none of this is spamming. The whole point of using a proper autoresponder service is that it is fully compliant with the law and includes an ‘unsubscribe’ link in every email you send.
Anyone receiving your emails can unsubscribe and remove themselves from your list at any time. Which is a good thing because you don’t want to be fooling yourself that you have a prospect when they are really not interested.
The second benefit is time. As a local business owner you don’t have any of that to spare. So to have an employee who works faultlessly, 24 hours per day, forever, costs nothing and never asks for a raise or time off is pretty exciting.
Once you set up your email sequence, which can be as long or as short as you choose to make it, then a good quality autoresponder service requires no more of your time.
So you get marketing benefits from an autoresponder without having to constantly work at it. What business would be without one?! Once you begin to accumulate a list on your autoresponder then it becomes the very core of your business.
More businesses fail after a catastrophic incident such as a fire not because they have lost equipment, stock or premises but because they have lost their business data. Progressively accumulating a list of prospects and customers on autopilot enables you to start communicating and marketing again within days. If your list is safe - then so is your future business.
Basically, I’m only going to recommend outsourced, 3rd party service – these autoresponders operate on the provider’s infrastructure and you manage it through a web-based control panel and pay a monthly usage fee – usually only a few dollars.
It is possible to install and run autoresponder software on your own server – but as a local business owner getting involved in the technicalities of such a venture is the last thing you want to be doing.
Personally, I recommend Aweber and Mailchimp. I find Aweber easier to manage and has various additional features to help with marketing. Mailchimp has the advantage of offering your first 2,000 subscribers free for life but is oriented towards pretty html newsletters and html in email is, itself, a major obstacle.
Only ever do your marketing with text email. It is less likely to get caught up on spam filters, is smaller in file size and therefore quicker and does not have to worry about whether it will fit or be readable on the increasing number of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.
If you don’t yet have an autoresponder set up on your website and would like some assistance then give us a call or use the Contact page.