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Your email list is the single most important asset in your online business. It provides you a channel to directly communicate with your audience on a day-to-day basis, without forcing them to return to your website.

Your email list is your primary sales channel for your digital products and may even become its own significant source of revenue for your business. You can use your email list to let your readers know about new content that you have produced, get feedback from your audience, communicate with your audience on a more personal level, promote your digital products, and generate affiliate commissions by selling other people’s products.

Your email list will be far more valuable than a listing in a free UK business directory or than a Twitter following, Facebook Fan Page, or audience you have built on any other social network. While you can build an audience using social networks like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, you don’t own that audience and someone else can take it away from you without recourse at a moment’s notice.

People that built Facebook Fan Pages early on learned this lesson the hard way. Fans of Facebook Pages used to receive almost 100 percent of the updates that pages posted, but then Facebook changed its algorithm so that less than 10 percent of a fan page’s followers will see the page’s updates. Page owners now have to pay to reach their entire audience.

Be wary of building an audience on someone else’s platform whose business interests aren’t aligned with yours. Since email is a federated standard that no single company owns and doesn’t change very often, you will always have the ability to communicate with your audience through your email list. When you’re first getting started, email might seem like a small and inconsequential part of your business. You are probably not going to generate many digital product sales if you only have a few hundred followers, but remember that the size of your list is cumulative. Every month you’ll add new subscribers, and before you know it you’ll have several thousand. As time passes and your list grows, email will become an increasingly important communication and revenue generation tool for your business.

The key is to get started right away and put opt-in forms on your website from day one. The sooner that you start collecting email addresses and sending emails to your audience, the sooner you will be able to receive a positive return on investment (ROI) from the effort you put into building your list.