How to Build an Email List

Building a list is one of the best things you can do for your business

An email list is an important asset for every digital marketer. No matter what your niche happens to be, you should have an email list and should be staying in touch with your subscribers. But do you know how to build an email list? Many marketers seasoned and new don’t really know what goes into building an email list.

My goal with this post is to give you an overview of how to build an email list so you too can start building a list of subscribers.

What is an Email List?

An email list is quite literally a list of names and emails of interested individuals who have chosen to receive emails from a sender. These people have given their express consent to receive marketing messages.

These are not individuals whose information I have scraped from the web and subscribed against their will. That’s a terrible thing to do. Never do that. Did you catch that? I want you to understand this very important point. No one should be on your list who did not choose be subscribed.

What is Email List Building?

Email list building is the term we use to cover the range of activities involved in encouraging people to subscribe to an email list. Knowing how to build a list is essential for every marketer and entrepreneur. Email marketing is one of the best tools we have in our arsenal for drawing in new customers.

Why Should You Build an Email List?

Before we get into how to build an email list, I’d like to touch on the why. Why should you take your time to collect emails and create a list of subscribers? I’m the kind of person who likes to know why I should do something. Tell me what to do, and I’ll give you a funny look. Tell me why I should do it, and I’ll hear you out.

So why should you build a list?

An Email List is an Asset

Unlike many things in the online world, an email list is something you own and control. As you may remember from my recounting of the time I was temporarily banned by GetResponse (simple glitch, all fixed), I’m a firm believer in making sure I own the tools I use to make money – or have easily-accessible alternatives close at hand.

Your email list is yours, and no one can take it from you.

Sure, you could build your audience using something like Facebook or Twitter, but you own neither platform, and you could easily wake up tomorrow and find yourself banned – with or without cause.

But no one can ban you from your own email list. Even if a given email service provider shuts you down, your list is yours to keep if you back up regularly.

An Email List Builds Relationships

In the world of marketing, relationships are critical. People are far more likely to do business with someone they know and trust. Email marketing allows us to build that trust because it – unlike other marketing methods – allows for private, personal two-way correspondence.

When I send an email to my list, I will frequently ask a question or ask for feedback. My subscribers know that all they need to do to reach me is hit that reply button and type a few words. It makes me quickly accessible to them.

But on another level, hearing from me regularly ensures my subscribers are familiar with my voice and who I am. As I continue providing excellent value, they will learn that I’m someone who can be trusted. If they trust me, they will be more likely to buy my products and courses or check out something I recommend.

Email Lists Are Effective

Several recent studies have shown that people actually prefer email as the medium of choice for receiving marketing communications. In fact, it has been shown to be over 40 times more effective at drawing in new customers than Facebook or Twitter. That’s nothing to sneeze at!

Source: McKinsey & Company

How to Build an Email List

Like most things in life, email list building is something I used to overthink to the max. I always envied those with responsive email lists. They could send an email, connect with their subscribers and see results quickly.

Surely that must be hard to set up, right? I mean, that sounds pretty complex. I didn’t have time for all that noise.

But then it clicked for me. Building an email list is really not difficult at all. In fact, I dare say it’s one of the easiest things any marketer can do. You just need to know the basics.

Oh sure, there’s lots to learn. I’m even still learning things I wish I had known years ago. But I will tell you emphatically that building an email list is one of the most rewarding, easiest things you can do for your business.

So, without further ado, let’s look at the basics of how to build an email list.

Pick a Niche

Before you can build an email list, you need to narrow down who your target audience is. Who are your future subscribers? What do they like? What are their problems? What are their hopes?

Don't rush picking a niche!

As a man with far too many interests, this is always one of my struggles. But you will find that it’s very difficult to do well in marketing unless you choose a niche. You can promote many niches poorly, or you can promote one very well.

Research Your Niche

What do people in your niche want? What problems do they have? What questions? What solutions can you provide? Learn about their pain points. This will be crucial in the next step.

Create a Lead Magnet

People don’t typically subscribe to lists for no reason. If we want to build an email list, it’s up to us to give them a reason. Just as someone won’t soon part with his money without a reason, one won’t soon sign up for an email list without a great opt-in offer.

A lead magnet is usually something of value offered for free as an incentive to subscribe. This can be a whitepaper, eBook, free trial, video, membership, or any of a number of other free resources.

The idea is to provide something for free that is value packed enough to convince someone to agree to receive email updates from you. This is the essence of building an email list.

Your lead magnet needs to…

  1. Solve a problem or answer a question
  2. Help someone achieve something.
  3. Be very specific. Focus on one thing.
  4. Be easily readable, not overly complex.
  5. Provide valuable information.
  6. Provide instant gratification. Don’t make your new subscriber wait to get access.
  7. Demonstrate your expertise.

Choose an Email Service Provider

To email your email list, don’t expect to simply open Microsoft Outlook (or your email client of choice) and type up a message. No. For that, you need something called an email service provider. This service is responsible for storing all of your collected leads. In addition, it handles every incoming request to unsubscribe. If you wish, your email service provider can schedule emails to be sent in a sequence on given days or at an interval of your choosing.

Building an email list without an email service provider is next to impossible.

Currently, my favorite provider is GetResponse – past issues aside. Their 24/7 support is phenomenal, and what you get for the price is quite excellent. If you don’t have a provider picked out, I suggest heading over to GetResponse and signing up for their free trial.

Create an Opt-In Form or Landing Page

Just as every house needs a front door, your email list needs an entrance. You need a way for your future subscriber to provide his name and email address.

This front door can be an opt-in form that integrates into your website or a standalone landing page. Or both. Both is good.

You’ll find many tools for creating opt-in forms or landing pages, so we won’t cover them here.

Most email service providers provide tools and integrations that make creating these forms and landing pages very easy. GetResponse, for example, provides a great tool for creating a good looking form, and they also have a decent landing page creator.

If you prefer, you can use one of the many third party tools with which your provider integrates.

Write a Welcome Email Series

A major part of building an email list is actually, you know, sending emails to your list. What a concept! Using the scheduling powers of your email service provider, schedule a series of emails to send to your new subscribers. These emails should:

  1. Deliver your lead magnet.
  2. Remind your subscriber how he got on your list.
  3. Establish your expert status.
  4. Deliver insane value.

Drive Traffic

Just as you and I need air to live, your opt-in forms and landing pages need traffic to be effective. Whatever your niche, drive traffic to your forms and landing pages using your favorite methods. If you choose, you could buy ads. Or, you could go the all-natural free traffic route. It’s entirely up to you.

Whichever method you choose, remember that it’s difficult to build a list if you don’t get eyes on your offer!

Providing Value is How to Build an Email List

Building an email list really comes down to this: providing value. Your goal is not immediately to sell products and services. Your goal is to solve problems and answer questions. Save someone time or money. Make his life easier. That’s providing value.

Business is built on this very principle. People will pay good money for what they perceive is valuable. If it’s not valuable, they won’t pay for it. It’s that simple. If you can provide what people want, you can get them on your list.

Remember, people don’t subscribe to email lists just for the fun of it. (Unless they’re weird!) They need some sort of incentive. Some sort of value. But they don’t stop wanting value once they’ve subscribed. It’s your duty as a list owner to continue to provide awesome content to keep your subscribers happy.

After You Build Your List

No matter how great your lead magnet is, if your follow up emails aren’t what your readers what to receive, you can forget about keeping them. Expect them to unsubscribe.

Put yourself in their shoes. Think about why they subscribed and keep on sending the same awesome content, and work on building that important relationship.

Don’t think your work is over after you’ve built a list. Once you gain a subscriber, you begin the long journey of molding him or her, hopefully into one of two things:

  1. A customer – someone who buys one of my products or services.
  2. A colleague – someone who will partner with me to build my business and his.

Mistakes That Drive Subscribers Away

It’s very easy for new list owners especially to botch a newly formed email list. I’ve done it. Been there. Done that. Lived to tell the tale. It’s very important to watch yourself and avoid these mistakes that will undo all the work you did to build an email list.

Always Selling

No one wants to be sold to all the time. It doesn’t matter if he loves a given brand or not. He doesn’t want constant ads. No one does. Even if your subscribers love you, they will grow weary of constant selling. There is a time and method for promoting what you have to sell, but if you overdo it, you’re going to push your subscribers away.

Promoting Junk Products

Look. It’s no secret that the web is full of junk info products. If you promote something that’s objectively terrible, expect backlash. Always do your due diligence before promoting anything. Investigate it thoroughly. Is it worth the money? Can customers get support if they need it? If you promote something that isn’t up to par, you betray your subscribers’ trust, and you deserve what you get.

Promoting junk products will hurt your list

Emailing Too Much

Wait. Emailing too much? Isn’t the point of having an email list to email that list?

Yes. It is. But just like selling, you can do it too much. You’re dealing with real human beings here. Unless they’re computer-glued basement dwellers, they’re not going to be glued to their email 24/7.

How annoying would it be if your friend – even if you like her – sent you stupid text messages every few minutes? It might be fun for a time, but eventually it’d get old. Your subscribers want to hear from you, but give it a rest. Give them time to read your last email and understand that they have other obligations.

Emailing Too Little

On the flip side, you can email your list too little. Don’t let weeks go by without sending a message. It doesn’t have to be long or incredibly in depth. But it should be something relevant and helpful.

If you do let too much time pass, you give your subscribers a chance to forget you and forget the fact that they signed up in the first place. If that happens, expect people to unsubscribe. Or, best case scenario (but still bad!), you can expect to see your email open rates drop substantially.

Writing Poor Quality Messages

Put some effort into what you send your list. How would you feel if every communication you received from a friend lazy and mono-syllabic? You’d likely be a bit hurt and maybe even offended. Shouldn’t they put more effort into communicating with you? Don’t you deserve a bit more respect?

So do your subscribers. Hear me on this. Don’t be lazy with what you send. Otherwise, you’ll quickly learn the hard way that people don’t tend to respect lazy, low quality marketing. Everything you send must be high quality and value packed.

There’s no point in building an email list if you’re not going to send low quality junk.

Sending Off Topic Content

Remember why your subscribers signed up, and don’t send them content that won’t appeal. Stick to your niche. Think about who your subscribers are. Put yourself in their shoes. Make sure that whatever you send is content that is helpful and relevant to them. Otherwise, you’ll find them a distant and disinterested audience, and you may lose them altogether.

Building an Email List is Fun

I love building email lists. Maybe I’m weird. (Ok, I’m definitely weird, but don’t tell anybody.) I love the creative process – going from choosing a niche, to creating a product, to designing a front door and inviting people in. It’s all very exciting.

Don’t overthink building a list. If you can understand these few basic concepts, you can understand how to build a list and have a lot of fun with it.

If you’re interested in list building and would like some guidance, check out my free list building course that will teach you in more detail.

If you’re just starting out, I understand that the idea of creating your own info product and driving traffic to a landing page might be a bit over your head at the moment – just as it was for me. But in time, it will be second nature for you.

Clearly this is not an exhaustive list building tutorial, but hopefully you now understand the big picture.

Need Help?

If this all seems a little daunting and you need help building your list, leave me a comment below, and let’s connect. I’d love to help!

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