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This article will walk you through creating an email list from scratch and provide tips for choosing the best email marketing provider for your needs.
When it comes to creating an online business, building an email list should be one of your top priorities. Why? Because an email list gives you the ability to reach out to your audience directly and sell them your products or services.
Not only that, but a healthy email list can also grow your audience and help you attract new customers.
To maximize your email list’s effectiveness, you should consider several aspects such as email marketing provider, email list setup, and strategies for getting email subscribers. We’ll walk you through all of these and more. Let’s go!
- #1 Create a list of your contacts
- #2 Sign up for your email marketing account
- #3 Set up your account info
- #4 Create an opt-in form for your website
- #5 Add the opt-in form to your website (skip this step if you don't have a site)
- #6 Add tags and segments
- #7 Add your first subscribers – Import your list
- 1. Promote your content on social media
- 2. Podcasting
- 3. Host an exciting educational event
- 4. Run a contest or giveaway
- 5. Guest blogging, podcasting, or speaking
- 6. Advertising or sponsorship
- 7. Invest in content marketing and SEO
Why is list building so important?
Building an email list for your business is crucial for several reasons:
An email list gives you a direct way to communicate with your potential customers. You can use it to send out updates about your products, services, or blog content. This allows you to build relationships with your mailing list subscribers and turn them into loyal customers.
A healthy email list can also help you attract new customers and grow your audience. If you focus on adding value to your subscribers and put out valuable content consistently, your subscribers can become your biggest advocates. They’ll be more likely to share your content with their friends and family, which can help you attract new readers and customers.
An email list is also important if something goes wrong with your website or social media accounts. If you ever need to reach out quickly to your audience, an email list is the best way to do it.
Eleven benefits of building an email list
1. Control – You’ll always have a way to reach your audience, and you’re not at the mercy of social media platforms or search engines. You own your list, and no one can take that away from you.
2. Personal – people have willingly given you their contact information because they want to hear from you
3. Permission-based – which is a key component of the spam laws, means that people have agreed to receive marketing communications from you.
4. 24/7 – your list allows you to reach your customers anywhere in the world at any time
5. Targeted – Email lists let you target your customers with laser precision, based on their interests and past behaviors
6. Cost-effective – you can send out emails for free. Once someone is on your list, sending them an email doesn’t cost you anything additional.
7. Greater Engagement – Email marketing has one of the highest engagement rates of any digital marketing channel. This is because people have given you permission to contact them and are interested in what you have to say.
8. Personalisation – You can segment your email list however you want, meaning you can send out highly personalized emails. Email marketing software makes it easy to personalize your emails with your subscriber’s name and other details too.
9. More Sales – A strong email list can help you increase your sales significantly.
10. Automation – You can automate your email marketing to make the process easier and free up your time.
11. Customer retention – By sending out regular email communications, you can keep your customers engaged and reduce customer churn.
Now that we’ve gone over why building an email list is so important let’s discuss how to create your email list from scratch.
Step 1 – Choose your email marketing provider
Before we get started, it’s important to choose which email service provider (ESP) you want to work with. Many options are available today, but not all offer the same features.
We’ll cover a list of popular ESPs in the Email List Building Tools section at the bottom of this page.
Below are some important factors to consider when choosing an email marketing service provider.
How much does the email marketing tool cost?
What type of data storage space do they provide?
Do they offer free trial periods?
Can I import my own contacts?
Does it integrate well with other tools such as your CRM software?
Are there any limitations on the number of recipients per message?
Can I send messages via SMS?
Will they let me customize my template?
Can I add images/videos to my emails?
Can I track opens and clicks with this email marketing platform?
Can I set up autoresponders with my email marketing software?
Can I schedule emails?
Can my subscribers unsubscribe easily?
Can I change templates without having to re-send every single email?
Can I export lists?
Can I manage multiple domains?
As you can see from the list above, there are many things to consider, so it’s crucial that you determine the top three to five things that matter most to you before making your final decision.
Based on the experiences of our clients, you might want to prioritize choosing an email marketing service provider who:
Can deliver your emails to your subscribers’ inboxes and out of spam folders. Good email service providers have high email deliverability rates. Aim for an overall delivery rate of 99% or higher.
Allows you to segment your contact list,
Allows your subscribers the ability to receive your emails in different ways,
Makes it easy to track campaign performance, and
Meets your budget.
Once you’ve decided on what matters most, you can start looking into each option. You can then select a service provider, check out its features and compare prices with the ones offered by competitors.
Step 2 – How to Setup Your Email List
Once you’ve chosen your email marketing provider, the typical steps for setting up your email list include:
#1 Create a list of your contacts
In email marketing, you should create a list of your contacts before you start sending emails.
If you already have a list of contacts in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool, then you can export the list from there.
It is imperative that you gain permission to send email messages to your subscribers, which improves email deliverability and reduces spam complaints.
Additionally, a list of contacts is required to comply with email marketing standards such as the CAN-SPAM Act and GDPR.
Once you have gathered the list, it is time to set up your email marketing account.
#2 Sign up for your email marketing account
You’ve chosen your email marketing service provider. So now it’s time to sign up for an account.
The sign-up process will vary depending on your selected provider, but it’s usually pretty straightforward. You’ll need to provide basic information about your business and yourself, such as your name, address, and phone number.
You may be asked for your credit card information and to verify your email address or phone number.
Most email software providers offer a free trial (below is a screenshot from Convertkit’s sign up page).
Once you’ve completed the sign-up process, you’ll be able to access your account and start creating your first email campaign!
Note: We’ll use instructions and images of Convertkit for the following procedures to assist you in better understanding and learning. While your chosen email marketing platform may differ, the concepts will remain the same.
#3 Set up your account info
Ok, you’ve signed up, and you’ve logged in! (make sure to store your login credentials safely – we recommend a secure password tool like LastPass).
Now it’s time to set up your account info.
Inside your email marketing software, you can configure business details such as your address, phone number, and email address.
This is important for two reasons: first so that your recipients know who they’re receiving emails from. Second, some countries have laws that require you to include this information in your emails.
For example, the CAN-SPAM Act in the US requires you to include a valid physical postal address in your emails.
If you’re not sure what to put, don’t worry – you can always come back and edit this later.
#4 Create an opt-in form for your website
A sign-up form is how you collect contact information from people who want to subscribe to your email list.
To create a sign-up form in Converkit, go to the “Grow” option in the top menu and click on “Landing Pages and Forms.”
Click on the red “Create new” button.
You’ll then be asked, “How do you want to gather subscribers?” and presented with two options to choose from – “Form” or “Landing page.”
Click on “Form”.
You can then choose from various display format options for your opt-in form.
We recommend you go with “Inline” which is best for embedding your form onto your website pages and blog posts.
You’ll next be prompted to choose from various professional and creative templates for your form.
Once you’ve selected a template, you can customize it to match your brand, add images, edit the text, etc.
You can configure additional details related to your form, such as the “Thank you” page people will see after subscribing and the confirmation email they’ll receive.
And that’s it! You’ve now set up your sign-up form.
The nice thing with Convertkit is that you have the option to create a form that you can embed on your website or a standalone landing page (particularly useful if you don’t have a website yet).
#5 Add the opt-in form to your website (skip this step if you don’t have a site)
Assuming that you’ve got a working website, the next step is to add your sign-up form to it so people can subscribe to your email list.
If you’re using WordPress, there are a few different ways you can do this:
The first is by installing a plugin like ConvertKit Forms. This plugin allows you to create and manage your forms directly from your WordPress dashboard.
Once you’ve installed and activated the plugin, creating a sign-up form is as simple as creating a new post or page in WordPress.
Then type “/convertkit” and select “Convertkit Form” from the pop-up menu.
Next, on the right sidebar, you can select the form you want from a list of forms you previously set up in Convertkit.
You can then see that your selected form is now embedded onto your WordPress page.
All you need to do is to publish the page, and your email opt in form is now active and ready for new subscribers!
#6 Add tags and segments
Most email software will allow you to segment your list by tags.
Tags are used to group together contacts who share something in common, such as subscribing to a specific email course or being interested in a certain topic.
Segments, on the other hand, are used to group together groups of contacts who meet certain criteria.
In Convertkit, segments are just a way of grouping tags and being able to target different customer segments by related interests, so it cuts down on work.
Here are a few examples of how different types of businesses might use tags and segments.
Email Tags and Segmenting example #1: Bakery
If you run a bakery, you could create a chocolate chip tag, oatmeal raisin tag, and shortbread tag. You could then group those tags under a segment called “cookie lovers.”
Then if you have a special discount on cookies, you can email and target all the cookie lovers at once rather than having to add the three separate tags to an automation.
Email Tags and Segmenting example #2: Marketing Agency
Say you’re a marketing agency, and you have tags for subscribers who are interested in “SEO”, “social media,” and “pay per click advertising.”
You could create a segment called “Lead generation” and add those three tags to it.
Then, when you’re running a promotion or creating new content, you can easily target people who are interested in lead generation.
Email Tags and Segmenting example #3: Financial advisor
You might have tags such as “retirement planning”, “investing”, and “taxes.”
You could then create a “financial planning” segment and add those tags to it.
Now, whenever you create content or run a promotion related to financial planning, you can easily target people who are interested in that topic.
You can get as creative as you want with segments, but the point is that they make it easy to target groups of people who are interested in similar things.
To create a segment in ConvertKit, go to the top menu, select “Grow” and click “Subscribers.”
Scroll under the red “Add Subscribers” button on the right, scroll down, and you’ll see an option to “Create a Segment.”
Give your segment a name, select any subscribers you want to add using the available filters, then click “Save.” (note: you must choose at least one filter, even if it’s “all subscribers”)
And that’s it! You’ve now successfully created a segment in ConvertKit.
To create a Tag in Convertkit and assign it to individual subscribers, follow the instructions here.
Note: it’s also possible to start by defining tags and then creating segments based on them.
Related: How to segment your email audience for more engagement and sales with ConvertKit
Now that you know how to create an email list and segment your contacts, it’s time to start growing your list!
#7 Add your first subscribers – Import your list
Remember that list of contacts that you prepared earlier? Now it’s time to import them into your ConvertKit account so you can start emailing them.
To do this, go to the “Subscribers” page and click on the red “Add Subscribers” button.
Next, select “Import a CSV” and locate the file that you want to import from your computer.
On the next screen, you’ll need to map the columns in your file to the fields in ConvertKit. For example, if you have a column for first name, map that to the “First Name” field in ConvertKit.
Do this for each column until all of them are mapped.
You can also assign subscribers to tags, segments, or forms as they’re being imported.
Once you’re done, click on the “Import Subscribers” button.
And that’s it! You’ve now successfully imported your contacts into ConvertKit.
Step 3 – How to Start Getting Email Subscribers
There are several ways you can do this, but we’re going to focus on three of the most effective methods: website pop-ups, content upgrades, and lead magnets.
Create pop up forms on your website
You might find pop-ups annoying, but they’re actually one of the most effective ways to grow your email list. A study by Sumo of 2 billion popups found that, on average, pop-ups can have a 3% to 9% conversion rate.
So if 10,000 people visited your website and you had a 9% conversion rate, that’s 900 email signups! Even at 3% conversion, that’s 300 subscribers. Pretty significant when compared to not having the pop-up there at all.
Here’s an example of a relevant and timely popup that I recently saw on Marriage.com while I was reading one of their articles.
Here’s another example, this time from one of our clients. We set this popup up to notify website visitors of a lead magnet resource that we had produced.
Creating pop up forms using Converkit
Creating a pop up form in Convertkit is as simple as choosing the “modal” option when creating a new form.
Creating pop up forms using pop up plugins for WordPress
If you prefer not to use your email software’s form creator, there are several WordPress plugins that you can use to create pop-ups. We use and recommend using OptinMonster. It’s easy to use and has many features, such as the ability to A/B split test your forms.
Once you’ve installed and activated the plugin, creating a pop-up is simple.
Choose a template from the library.
Customize it to match your website.
Decide when and where the pop-up should appear. We recommend displaying it after website visitors have been on your site for a few seconds or when they’re about to leave.
And that’s it! You’ve now successfully created a pop-up form on your website, and you can collect email addresses.
Content upgrades are pieces of content that are specifically designed to accompany a blog post or article. Content upgrades work best when they’re directly related to the article that they’re being offered in.
For example, if you have a blog post about tips for creating an email list, your content upgrade could be a checklist of the most important things to do when creating an email list.
To create a content upgrade, simply create the piece of content that you want to offer (a checklist, worksheet, PDF guide, etc.). A good tool for creating content upgrades and lead magnets is Canva.
Here’s a video tutorial on how to create a lead magnet using Canva:
Once you’ve got your content upgrade file, you can add it to your Convertkit account.
Once it’s in your account, go to the “Forms” tab and click on the “Embed” button next to your content upgrade.
This will give you some HTML code that you can copy and paste into your blog post or article.
When someone goes to your blog post and clicks on the link for your content upgrade, they will be taken to a form where they can enter their email address to receive the content upgrade.
Once they enter their email address, they will automatically be added to your Convertkit account as a subscriber.
A lead magnet is a piece of exclusive content that you offer in exchange for an email address.
Lead magnets are usually larger and more comprehensive than content upgrades, but they don’t have to be. Your lead magnet should align with your business, highlight your strengths, and create trust.
It’s got to be something your target audience would find valuable enough to exchange their email address for. This way, you’ll get more email subscribers.
Here’s serial entrepreneur Laura Roeder sharing her tip for improving conversion rates for your opt-in lead magnet (and a couple of examples).
Some examples of effective lead magnets include:
Here’s marketing coach Adam Franklin sharing his thoughts on what makes an effective lead magnet:
In this video, Taki Moore shares his answer to “What’s a better lead magnet? A transcription from a webinar turned into an easy to read e-book or a short PDF?”
(and his answer might surprise you as it did us!)
Want to learn more about creating high-converting B2B lead magnets? Check out our podcast episode on the topic. You can also view 11 real-life examples of B2B lead magnets in this article.
Step 4 – 7 Strategies to Get More Email Subscribers
1. Promote your content on social media
Use social media to promote your content and valuable freebies. The goal is to drive traffic back to your website or lead magnet.
Don’t sleep on Facebook groups. Just ensure you’re adding value and not just promoting your stuff (otherwise, you may be banned from the group by unhappy admins).
Most social media platforms are regularly changing their algorithms, so it’s important to understand what works best for organic reach on your chosen channels.
Podcasting can be a great way to grow your email list.
You can mention your lead magnet and/or content as a call to action on each episode and provide links in the show notes of your episodes.
Remember that podcasting is a slow burn, and you shouldn’t expect to see results overnight.
Podcasting is a long-term strategy that can pay off handsomely if you stick with it.
3. Host an exciting educational event
This could be a workshop, online challenge, or webinar. Events are a great way to grow your email list quickly.
Events also allow you to build deeper relationships with your audience and establish yourself as an authority in your industry.
Webinars are especially effective at growing an email list because they’re usually free to attend, and you can offer a relevant webinar bonus (lead magnet) to everyone who attends.
To promote your event, be sure to share it on social media and send email blasts to your current subscribers.
You can also partner with other businesses or influencers in your industry to cross-promote your event.
This will help you reach a larger audience and grow your email list even faster.
4. Run a contest or giveaway
This is a great way to grow your email list quickly, add more value, and increase engagement with your audience.
To run a contest or giveaway, you can use a tool like Kingsumo or Gleam.io. These platforms make it easy to set up and manage your contest or giveaway, and they provide embeddable widgets that you can add to your website or social media posts.
To incentivize people to enter your contest or giveaway, be sure to offer a prize that’s relevant to your audience and aligned with your brand.
You can even partner with complementary companies to offer a bigger and better prize. Partners act as prize sponsors and help to promote the content. In exchange, they get brand awareness, receive a list of contest entrants, and you manage the bulk of the logistics.
For example, if you’re a skincare brand, you could partner with a makeup brand to offer a complete skincare and makeup routine as a prize. This would be an enticing prize for your audience and would help you reach a larger number of people.
5. Guest blogging, podcasting, or speaking
This is possibly our favorite strategy, and we’ve heard of it being referred to as “borrowing other people’s audiences.”
How this works is you collaborate with someone with a similar or complementary audience to yours. This is an effective way to grow your email list because you’re reaching a whole new audience who may not have heard of you before.
To give you an idea of how well this strategy can work, we once generated over 1,000 leads by partnering with a leading brand to deliver a 45-min talk at their virtual summit. That was just one event!
Say you’re starting out as a business coach. You could guest blog on a personal finance blog or podcast.
You would provide valuable content for their audience while also mentioning your valuable freebie as a resource they can refer to.
So finding the right partners is important to make this strategy work.
The best way to find these types of partnerships is through personal relationships, so get out there and start networking!
Pro tip: a great tool to find influencers in your industry to reach out to is Sparktoro. Here’s a snippet of an interview that I did with Amanda Navidad of Sparktoro, where she gives a quick demo of the tool.
6. Advertising or sponsorship
As your business grows, we recommend allocating some budget and effort to advertising and sponsorship opportunities.
These can be costly, but they can be worth it if done correctly.
Some ideas for advertising or sponsorship opportunities include Google Ads, Facebook Ads, influencer campaigns, and event sponsorships.
You could also consider sponsoring a podcast, newsletter, or webinar series. This is a great way to get in front of a relevant and engaged audience.
To make this strategy work, be sure to track your results so you can see a return on your investment.
You should also have a plan for what you’ll do with the email addresses you collect from these ads or sponsorships.
7. Invest in content marketing and SEO
Last but not least, don’t forget about content marketing and SEO.
These long-term strategies will help you grow your email list organically over time.
Content marketing is about creating valuable content relevant to your audience. This could include blog posts, audio, and video content.
Consider what type of content fits in at each stage of your customer journey and present relevant content upgrades with each piece of content to build an email list.
Related: How to create articles that rank on Google using Surfer SEO + Jasper
Step 5 – How to Create a Successful Autoresponder Series (email nurture campaign)
An autoresponder series (or email campaign) is a series of automated emails sent to your subscribers over time.
A successful autoresponder series will guide a new subscriber to prospect to customer.
For example, you could create a campaign that’s triggered when someone subscribes to your list.
Example email autoresponder series:
An introduction to you and your business.
A case study or testimonial from a happy customer.
A bonus freebie (e.g. workbook, video, or template) related to the topic of your case study.
A blog post on a relevant topic.
Another freebie related to the topic of your blog post.
An invitation to join your Facebook group
A discount code for your products or services. It could also be an invitation to jump on an intro call with someone on your team.
As you can see, this campaign starts with building rapport and creating trust. It then moves on to providing valuable content and resources. And finally, it ends with a special offer to convert subscribers into customers.
You can also use email marketing campaigns to send out regular newsletters, announcements, or even just fun little updates about what’s going on in your life.
Pro tip: Sometimes it helps to sit down somewhere distraction-free and map out your sequence with pen and paper first.
To create an email campaign in Convertkit:
Go to the “Send” in the top menu and click on the “Sequences” option.
- Click on “New sequence.”
You’ll need to give your campaign a name.
Now it’s time to start creating your emails!
Once you’re done writing the subject and content for your first email, you can specify when you want the email to be sent.
Note: you need to set the little Published switch (underneath the subject line on the left of the screen) to the right (turn it “on”) for that particular email to be sent when the campaign runs.
Next, click “add email” on the right to create your next email.
Repeat this process for each email in your campaign.
Once you’ve created all the emails you want in your sequence, hit “publish” to set your automated email series to live.
Now that you’ve created all of your emails, it’s time to start setting up your automation.
To do this in Convertkit, select Automate > visual automations from the top menu. Then click on “new automation.”
Select a template from a list of automation templates available.
We will use the “Welcome subscribers to your newsletter” automation template for this example.
Once you set up the automation and make it live, Convertkit will send out our email campaign whenever someone subscribes to the specified form (this is what’s known as the “trigger” event).
If you want to use a different template or start a visual automation from scratch, feel free!
How to Create and Send Broadcast Emails That Get Opened and Gets Results
What good are your emails if nobody opens them or engages with them?
Whether you’re sending a time-sensitive offer or just want to stay top-of-mind, creating and sending “broadcast” emails can be a great way to stay in touch with your list.
Tips for increasing your email open rates
- Most important: Think and plan your emails strategically. (We highly recommend you go through this free course on The Art of Email: Earn Customers & Make Superfans before you do anything else!)
Keep your subject lines short, sweet, and to the point.
Write like you talk. Use a friendly tone in your emails.
Personalize your emails by using the recipient’s first name in the subject line or body of the email.
Create a sense of urgency with phrases like “last chance” or “limited time only” (but don’t fake it if it’s not real).
Use emojis in your subject line to add personality and catch attention in the inbox.
Keep your emails under 500 words. The shorter, the better.
Proofread your emails before you hit send! Typos can make you look unprofessional.
To create a broadcast email in Convertkit, go to “Send > Broadcasts” in the top menu and click on the “New Broadcast” button.
Segmentation and Triggers in Email Marketing
We’ve already covered tags and segments above, so let’s talk about the different types of triggers you can use in email marketing.
There are four different types of triggers:
- Subscribed to a form: This trigger will send out your email campaign whenever someone subscribes to one of your forms.
- Opens an email: This trigger will send out your email campaign whenever someone opens one of your emails.
- Clicks a link: This trigger will send out your email campaign whenever someone clicks on a link in one of your emails.
- Completes a goal: This trigger will send out your email campaign whenever someone completes a goal that you’ve set up.
You can use any (or all!) of these triggers to create automations and ensure that your subscribers get the best possible experience from your emails.
Download the FREE Email Campaign Planner template
Looking for help to create a successful email campaign?
With our template, you can create a series that will engage your audience and convert them into paying customers.
Download our free Email Campaign Planner Template now!
Mailing List Growth Do’s and Don’ts – Pro Email Marketing Tips
Protect your email list
If you want to protect your email list from unwanted spammers, you need to take a few basic precautions. Email hygiene can help you identify duplicate addresses, typos, and other problems.
You can also fix these issues by offering incentives for subscribers to opt-in or engage with your emails. Ideally, your deliverability rate should be at least 95%.
Other precautions include identifying bounces and greylistings and avoiding typos and other common email mistakes. If you’re not sure, you can get a free email list health check from Webbula. It provides a comprehensive email intelligence report and custom analysis of your list.
To prevent bot attacks, you should use “NoCaptcha” technology. Your subscriber must click on a checkbox to submit their name and email address. This prevents bots from making automated submissions.
Another effective method is double opt-in, where subscribers receive a confirmation email if they agree to receive your emails. If they do not confirm their subscription, their email address will be suppressed in the future.
Take advantage of your Thank you page
The thank-you page is often the most underrated place to grow your email list. This is the place to offer a special discount or tempting offer to those who opt-in.
A 50% discount on a product or service will likely turn many subscribers into buyers. Even better, offer a free gift instead of a discount.
You’ll never know what will draw your subscribers in, so make your offer tempting and attractive!
Email List Building Tools
There are several email list building tools available to help you grow your list. Some of the most popular include:
Keap (formerly Infusionsoft)
These email marketing platforms offer a variety of features, including autoresponders, segmentation, and integrations. Choose the one that best fits your needs and budget.
Grab a free trial of Convertkit if you’d like to test out some of the steps in this article. Many of these tools offer a free trial, so you can check their websites for more information.
When creating an email list from scratch, it’s important to focus on quality over quantity. It’s better to have a smaller list of engaged subscribers than a large list of unengaged subscribers.
Where to from here?
And that’s it! You now know how to create an email list from scratch. These are just a few of the ways you can grow your audience and sales with an email list.
Experiment with different content upgrades and lead magnets to see what works best for you and your business. And don’t forget to have fun along the way!