How to Build an Email List – An Introduction to Email Marketing

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Email is huge. Despite the whinings of naysayers left and right, email marketing is holding strong – and growing – as a powerful tool to reach your target audience and build relationships. I’ve found it to be a valuable asset in my marketing efforts. To make a long story short, if you want to build a business online, you need to know how to build an email list.

This post assumes you know next to nothing about email marketing or how to build a list so as to give you the ground-up view. There’s a lot of content here, so it may take a bit of time to digest it all. Take your time. If you have questions, please ask.

And, if you’d like a more in-depth look, check out my free video course.

What is an email list?

Your email list is a list of people who have chosen to receive emails from you. For one reason or another, these individuals have decided to sign up for periodic emails from you. Be careful here. There’s an important word I don’t want you to miss. Chosen. These people were not added to a list against their will. They have given informed consent.

This distinction is important for three reasons.

First, in some jurisdictions, it is illegal to obtain and process personal information without the express consent of the person whose information is being processed. This means you’re not allowed to collect, store, or use any personal information – like an email address – unless you’re expressly told you may. Even then, that information may be used only for that purpose.

Second, you know how annoying this can be if you’ve ever been added to an email list without permission. Being added to an email list against your will is certainly no way to gain your business. More likely than not, you’ll hastily unsubscribe and swear to never do business with the jerk who would fill your inbox with such crap.

Third, this is a great way to ruin your reputation very quickly. You don’t want to be known as someone who annoys his or her subscribers in order to make a sale. People will only put up with that for so long. Eventually you’ll be reported and blocked, permanently hurting your marketing efforts.

Finally, realize that an email list is not your personal list of people to pester with your useless products and services. Realize that these are real men and women who have real needs and real hopes. If you dump your useless sales pitches on them, how do you think they will feel? Not great.

Build your list.
Tell your story.

My free course will show you how to get your first 100 subscribers in no time. You're gonna love this.

Who needs to build an email list?

Is there anyone who shouldn’t be building an email list? My answer is simple: no. No matter what business you’re trying to build, you should be leveraging email marketing. Whether you’re launching a blog or opening a brick and mortar store, email marketing is still one of the best tools in your arsenal for building and maintaining real relationships with your customers.

Big or small, just starting out or well established, your business can benefit from email marketing.

Why is building an email list important?

It’s no secret that building a list is hard work. It takes time, effort, and even money. Before we get into the “how” of this guide, I’d like you to understand the “why.”

An email list drives targeted traffic. There are two main types of traffic: targeted and untargeted. Targeted traffic is so much better in absolutely every way.

An email list is a relationship builder. When I send an email, I’m speaking not to the whole world but to individuals. These are people who have chosen to hear from me.

An email list is private. Unlike a group chat or public forum, email communication between two people is completely private. If someone has questions or needs help, we can have that personal, private conversation without having to worry about what anyone else has to say. This gives people the confidence to say, “Hey, I didn’t really understand that. Can you explain better?” or “I need help with this.” I’ve found people to be more likely to ask questions when the have the option to do so privately.

Building an email list an essential part of any marketing plan

Email is prioritized. According to OptinMonster, 58% of people check their email first every day. That’s before checking Facebook, Twitter or any other platform. That’s a remarkable statistic. OptinMonster also reports that 91% of people polled used email at least one time a day with only 57% and 14% on Facebook and Twitter.

Email is preferred. That same survey showed that a whopping 77% of people prefer email for receiving promotional messages, preferring email for viewing and interacting with sales material over any other platform. Of those surveyed, 4% preferred Facebook and only 1% opted for Twitter.

Your email list is yours. Your YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter accounts could easily be shut down tomorrow. On a whim, any or all of these platforms (and others) could shut you down without notice. They could claim you’ve violated their terms and disable your account – often with zero recourse whatsoever. Your email list, however, is yours to keep. No one can take that away from you.

Clearly an email list is a valuable asset. It’s a great source of targeted traffic, is private, prioritized over other mediums, and preferred as a method of advertisement. You’d be crazy not to build one.

Types of email lists

All email lists are not created equal. In my estimation, there are three (main) types of lists. Each has its use and value. Here we’re covering the “freebie list,” but I’d like you to know and understand all three types.

Newsletter email list. These people subscribed for your periodic newsletter or blog updates. They didn’t download a freebie or make a purchase.

Freebie email list. This is a list that’s built by giving away something for free – often a free download, course, video, etc. They have made no financial investment in your brand (yet).

Buyers email list. This is a list of people who have purchased something – either one of your products or a product you’ve promoted. A list composed of proven buyers is the best possible type of list. These people have a proven history of spending money. They are statistically more likely to spend money with you.

How to Build an Email List: The Process

This is the process by which a person becomes your subscriber. We could spend days dissecting and understanding this process, but we’ll keep it simple for the purposes of this post. I go much more in depth in ListBootcamp, a free course that teaches how to build an email list.

Niche selection. What interest will be your focus? Parenting? Gaming? Design? Writing? Our interests are as numerous as they are varied. Who is your target audience? Parents? Gardeners? Sports fans? You can’t hope to promote every niche and do well in any. You need to pick something.

Common niches include (but are definitely not limited to):

  • Health
  • Fitness / Weight Loss
  • Parenting
  • Beauty
  • Dating
  • Personal Finance
  • Electronics

Each of these is a money magnet. People will spend a lot of time and money to be healthy, lose weight, look good, find love, spend money wisely and have cool gadgets to play with. These niches (and many more) speak to the needs of people, what they really want deep down.

But here’s the thing: You can’t hope to promote all of these niches and stay sane. You’re going to have to pick something.

Niche research. What do people in your niche want? What are their hopes and dreams? What problems can you solve? What questions can you answer?

One of my favorite movie characters is Mr. Bigweld in the movie Robots. His famous saying, “See a need, fill a need” is precisely what we’re aiming to do. We need to find what people need so we can give them what they want.

Spend time where people in your niche hang out. Forums. Social media. Video sharing sites. What questions are they asking? How can you help?

Product creation. We need to give our future subscriber a reason to subscribe. You’ll hear marketers refer to this as a “lead magnet” or “opt-in incentive.” Product creation is one of the most important parts of building an email list. This product needs to solve a problem, answer a question, or save someone time and/or money. Usually, this is one of the following:

  • eBook or PDF download. These go more in depth than a blog post but are usually less in depth than a full course. eBooks are great for text-based teaching.
  • Video or video series. I love this format for showing how something is done. Some people prefer video over text.
  • Checklist. These are great for quickly describing a series of steps or needed materials for a project or task.

There are, of course, more product types, but these are the big ones. No matter what format you choose, your task is to fill the need you discovered in the second step. Remember, “See a need. Fill a need.”

Build the front door. In order for someone to sign up, we need a place for him to enter his name and email, right? We need to create a landing page or opt-in form. This is the front door of your email list. We want to door to be attractive and inviting, encouraging people to sign up.

This is the front door of ListBootcamp, a free course that teaches how to build an email list

The Opt-In. Bingo! This is what we’re aiming for. Someone lands on your opt-in form or landing page and enters his name and email address.

Email address confirmation. If you’re using double opt-in (and you probably should be), your email service provider will send a confirmation email for your new subscriber. This email contains a link he must click in order to be officially added to your list as an active subscriber. If he doesn’t click, he isn’t added.

This is a good thing for two reasons:

  1. The confirmation link won’t be clicked if it’s sent to a fake email. This prevents fake emails from being added to your list. You don’t want to build an email list and have it full of fake emails. Your email service provider hates that sort of thing, and it will kill your marketing efforts.
  2. It requires someone to be very intentional about subscribing. If there is ever a question, you have proof someone chose to subscribe, protecting you from complaints.

Following up. Once you have a subscriber, it’s time to follow up. Send emails that are relevant and helpful. How often you email is up to you. However, I prefer to send an email at least once a week. Make sure every email you send provides useful information and not an annoying promo. There is a time and place to promote affiliate products. Don’t be annoying about it.

Much more can be said about each of these steps. We’ll be covering them in greater detail elsewhere. If you’d like to get that juicy info right away, check out ListBootcamp.

Starting your email list

Hopefully by now you understand the value of an email list and how a new subscriber is added. As you can hopefully see, the process of building an email list isn’t complicated. It does, however, require a bit of work on your part. If you’re like me, you want actionable steps to take.

Here’s how you get building your email list:

1. Pick Your Niche

What interest will you focus on? Remember, you can’t hope to promote everything and do well with anything. Ask yourself, “What am I interested in?” Find something that you can happily spend hours, days, months and years of your life working on.

Your goal is to find a topic that interests you. Don’t pick something you don’t care about. Be honest with yourself. If you don’t care about something, don’t pick that niche. You’ll be bored out of your mind.

Whether your goal is to build an email list or to open a shop, you’ve got to find something to focus on. Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself mad.

2. Find what people want

Once you have your niche picked, find out what people need in that niche. Check out sites like Quora and Reddit. What question are people asking? What problems do they have? How can you save them time or money?

When we find out their pain points, we can develop and provide solutions that people will love.

3. Create a lead magnet

Once you’ve found what people want, you’re going to create a small info product to address the need. This is often a PDF download like an eBook, checklist, report, etc. It can also be a video, email series, etc. I contend this is one of the most important parts of building an email list. It’s hard to build an email list without something to convince people to sign up.

4. Create a landing page

We need somewhere for people to sign up to get the lead magnet. This is where they will first see your offer and agree to opt-in to your list to download it.

If your email list is a house, your landing page is the door. We want the landing page to clearly describe the offer and have a clear call to action. Our goal is to have visitors thinking “Wow! I need this!”

To build a landing page, you have a couple of options: You can hand code it with your own HTML/CSS/JavaScript or you can use one of the many awesome page building tools on the market.

My favorite is called Elementor. It runs inside of WordPress, integrates with many email service providers and is ridiculously easy to use (which is good for me!).

5. Set up your email service provider

To build a list, you absolutely have to have an email service provider. Which one you use is up to you. I’ve listed a few of the best toward the end of this post.

Your email service provider has a few jobs:

Manage subscriptions and removal requests. When someone wants to join your list, your email service provider takes care of collecting his name and email address and putting in the system. On the flip side, when someone wants to unsubscribe, your provider will make sure his information is removed in a way that respects his privacy and complies with various regulations like GDPR.

Handle emailing each subscriber. Sure you could mass email all of your contacts, but that’s a great way to get yourself flagged as spam. Not a great plan. Your ESP sends emails in a way that respects subscribers’ preferences and won’t get you blacklisted as a spammer.

Schedule emails to be sent. For example, I have an email sequence that lasts 14 days. Whenever someone subscribes, I want him to receive the first email. The next day he should get the second and the third the third day, and so on. Now, I could do this manually. If I keep a spreadsheet with a record of subscribers, what day they subscribed, and what email they should get on a given day. Maybe. But what a pain that would be! I don’t have time for that! My email service provider knows both what day someone subscribed and what email he is scheduled to receive on that day. I don’t have to do a thing. It takes care of it all for me. Sweet biscuits.

Comply with local and international laws regarding privacy and spam. Especially with the introduction of GDPR and related privacy rules, it’s extremely important to make sure your email list is compliant. Otherwise, you could face major fines. Your email service provider will do its part to ensure the entire process of capturing a lead and sending emails is compliant and legally sound.

6. Drive traffic

If we want people to come in to the house, we have to get them to our door, right? Right. Without traffic, your list is dead on arrival. The best kind of traffic is targeted traffic – people who are interested in your niche and want what you have to offer. There are both free and paid methods for accomplishing this.

7. Follow up

Once you have a subscriber, don’t leave him hanging! He’s signed up for your emails. Email him. How often you email your subscribers will vary. Don’t send an email just to send an email. Make sure you’re sending high-quality content that people will actually want to read. Imagine how you would feel if all you received was junk mail. Not great. Don’t do that to your subscribers. Remember, they don’t have to remain on your list. They could easily say “screw this” and unsubscribe. Don’t give them a reason to feel that way.

What should you send to your email list?

This is where a lot of newbie list owners get stuck. What do you send to your email list? Obviously you don’t want to scare away your new subscriber. There’s no point in knowing how to build an email list if you don’t use your email list right, right?

What can you send to keep them happy and coming back for more?

Welcome email

When someone joins your list, welcome him to the party. This is your first and best chance to start building a relationship. Remind your new subscriber how he got on your list, and make it clear that you are available should he need help with anything.

Tools and resources

Do you know of a great tool or resource that will make your subscribers’ lives better? Share it. These can be free tools or affiliate products. As long as you believe it to be genuinely valuable to your subscribers, it’s email worthy.

Product follow up

I like to check up on people who have downloaded one of my products or bought a course. If that’s you, I’m going to follow up with you to make sure you’re doing okay. Do you have any questions? Could I have explained anything better? I need to know

  1. Because I actually do care how you’re doing.
  2. Because I can’t make something better if I don’t know you didn’t like it.

Checking in

People need to know you care. Ask your subscribers if they have any questions. What are their struggles? Concerns? How can you help? Expressing a genuine interest in your subscribers goes a long way toward building a solid relationship.

New content

One of the best ways to get traffic to your new blog post, new site, etc is to notify your email list. When you publish a new blog post or website, shoot a message to your subscribers letting them know.

Surveys

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Surveys can be a great tool for finding out what your subscribers think. They take mere seconds to fill out, usually, and can be a great way to get feedback.

Promotions

I list promotional emails as an option – with a caveat. It’s easy to push your subscribers away very quickly if you send promotion after promotion. You may have been on a list like this at some point. You signed up for something useful, but everything you get seems like another stinking ad. Don’t be like that. There is a time and a place for promoting an affiliate product to your list, but keep those emails to a minimum and don’t overdo it. Your subscribers will thank you.

Email service providers

GetResponse

GetResponse is my current go-to email service provider. While a bit older and perhaps not as customizable as some of the newer options, GetResponse is a well-established, stable platform. Their support is available 24/7, and they have always been helpful and friendly.

ConvertKit

ConvertKit is one is geared mostly toward bloggers and digital marketers. I’ve not used it myself, but several of my friends swear by it, making it a worthy inclusion here.

Aweber

Like GetResponse, Aweber is one of the older, more established email service providers on the web. While old and set in its ways, Aweber is still a very powerful system loved by many marketers – both online and offline.

Builderall

Builderall’s own email service provider is called MailingBoss. It’s part of a larger, very robust suite of tools designed to help you build your business – both online and offline. I’m just learning it myself, and I have been extremely impressed by how powerful the platform is. Builderall has tools for days and all the training you can hope for. Learn to build an email list, build a blog, get traffic, and more. It’s pretty awesome.

Want to learn more about email marketing and build an email list?

Hopefully this post has given you a basic understanding of what an email list is and how to build an email list for yourself. Clearly, it isn’t exhaustive. We could go on for hours exploring product creation, landing page creation, traffic generation, relationship building and so on. There’s a lot of ground to cover.

That’s what my free email list building course, ListBootcamp, is all about. It’s designed to take you from where you are all the way to building and maintaining your very own list of subscribers. As I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve been in Internet marketing for a while now. I’ve seen a lot of what works and a lot of what doesn’t work. What I teach in ListBootcamp works. It’s not just theory. I know it works because it’s precisely how I have built and continue to build my own lists – and the lists of my clients.

If you put to use what I teach in this course, you’ll build an email list in no time.

I’m not selling anything in the course. I just hope it helps you. If that sounds good to you, enter your email below to get full access.

Build your list.
Tell your story.

My free course will show you how to get your first 100 subscribers in no time. You're gonna love this.