How to build an email list from scratch

“Your email list is your ATM.”

This is a quote that I first heard from Noah Kagan, founder of Sumo.

It’s never been truer than it is today. Your email list — along with your website — is one of the only marketing assets that you fully control. It can help you generate more traffic, build relationships with your customers, and make lots of money. Having a list means that you’re not at the mercy of changing search and social media algorithms.

However, starting an email list from scratch is tough. Many people want to do the same thing, but most folks guard their email address tightly. So you need to earn their attention and trust while delivering value in every email that you send.

In this post, we’ll walk you through how to build an email list from scratch.

Pro Tip

At Jotform, we make it easy to build and embed your online signup form.

Choose an email marketing platform

While it might be tempting to get started with your Gmail or Outlook email, this is a bad idea. Instead, you’ll want to use an email marketing platform such as ConvertKit, Mailchimp, Constant Contact, or HubSpot. This gives you more features, including email analytics, and can scale with you as your email list grows.

Mailchimp even offers a free plan if you have fewer than 2,000 contacts. 

Deliver valuable content that people want to read

This seems obvious but is easily overlooked. People see stats and case studies about how effective email marketing is and immediately jump on the bandwagon before evaluating whether they have something valuable to offer. You need to be able to connect with your list, hold their attention, and deliver value.

Before getting started, be honest with yourself and ask why anyone would want to subscribe to your list.

Create your signup form

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The main field for every signup form should be an email address. It can also be helpful to collect first and last name to use merge tags to personalize emails.

Once you’ve built your signup form, you should embed it on all relevant pages of your site.  Some great places to include it are

  • Above the fold on your homepage
  • On the about page
  • In a checkbox option on your checkout page 
  • In the footer
  • As a call-out on blog posts

Leverage email popups strategically

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Popups get a bad rap for being annoying. However, they do work, especially if they’re well written, include a compelling offer, don’t take up the entire page (especially on mobile), and are easy to click out of.

For example, Wait But Why does a great job of using popups that convert well but stay on brand.

Create a flagship piece of content

One of the best ways to grow an email list is to create a lead magnet — a signature piece of content that’s generally gated behind an email signup form. This can be an e-book, a whitepaper, a cheat sheet, an interactive quiz (where you have to enter your email to get the results), an online course, a challenge, etc.

Tell your friends, family, and customers

Word of mouth is one of the best ways to get your first few hundred subscribers. If you have an email concept that you believe in, you should let your friends, family, and customers know about it.

Use your email signature

Another great way to get the word out is through your email signature. If you have any employees, you can ask them to do the same.

Include a link in your social media bios

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Add your newsletter signup page to all of your social media bios. You can take this a step further on Twitter by making this a pinned tweet on your profile.

For Instagram, you can use a tool like Linktree, which allows you to have multiple CTAs from one link.

Add an opt-in to your videos

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If you produce YouTube videos, you can also add opt-ins to your videos. In this example, you can see how one creator is using an interactive quiz to make this process more engaging. 

Get the word out on social media

Another way to get the word out is by regularly posting on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Instagram (including stories).

You can use a tool like Buffer, Hootsuite, or MeetEdgar to schedule these posts in advance.

Make it easy for people to share your emails

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If you’re creating great content, you should make it as easy as possible for your subscribers to share it with their friends, coworkers, and more.

As seen in this image, I like to use the P.S. section of an email to ask people to share it with their friends.

Leverage social proof

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Once you have some initial traction, add social proof to your signup form copy. This could be a testimonial, the number of subscribers (if over 1,000), or a list of well-known people or companies that subscribe to your newsletter.

Offer an incentive to join your list

Another powerful tactic is to use contests and/or giveaways to grow your list. The key is to tie the contest back to your brand so that people will stay on your list after the giveaway is over.

For example, if you sell gardening products, you might want to give away your best-selling product to one lucky subscriber as opposed to giving away a free iPad. A lot more people might sign up for the iPad, but they will all churn out as soon as you resume your gardening-related emails.

These 13 tips will help you build your email list from the ground up. As you start to get some more traction, there are dozens of advanced tactics you can use, including Facebook and Instagram ads, hosting a webinar, guest posting on popular blogs, being a guest on popular podcasts, building out a resource library, hosting meetups, and getting active on Quora.

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