How to Build an Email List

Why You Need to Build an Email List

Add build an email list to your to-do items for customer retention. If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you know it’s not enough to get customers, you have to keep them coming back. Loyalty programs, special discounts, and impeccable customer service all contribute to customer retention.

According to Invesp, it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to retain one. Litmus estimates email marketing return on investment (ROI) at 38:1. It’s hard to imagine a better return than that.

Once you build an email list, you have a built-in group of customers and prospects who want to hear from you. You’ve been invited into their inbox, which gives you their full attention as they peruse email.

It reminds me of the days of door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesmen (they were always men when I was growing up). Once the man was in your home, it was much easier for him to get you to buy the expensive vacuum cleaner. I watched my mother buy this huge, bulky, awful vacuum from such a man, which I’m not sure she would have done had it simply been on display in a store.

As you build an email list, you get welcomed in to more inboxes, and if your emails are effective, you build loyalty and sales and retain customers much more easily.

How to Build Your List

How do you build an email list?

Most people aren’t going to give up contact information without something in return. We all hate spam so we guard our email addresses to avoid it.

There are ways to gather email addresses legally and legitimately that aren’t overly difficult.

1. In Person

If you’re at a trade show, exhibiting at a conference (pre- and post-COVID) or other live event representing your business, have a sign-up sheet ready for anyone who drops by your booth or display and shows interest. Be sure you tell them what they will get for their email address. It’s a little more trouble to enter them manually into your email software, but worth it if it leads to sales. Hire a virtual assistant if you don’t have time to enter them or have a large number of addresses.

2. Offer a Discount

Many online retailers do this. Sign up for their email lists and get a discount. It works. Yes, the customer can take the discount and unsubscribe, but if they’ve bought from you once, they are more likely to do so again. Provide value to keep them interested and engaged.

3. Add a Forward-to-a-Friend Link.

It costs nothing to add this link and encourage your readers to send to a friend.

4. Sign-up Lists Everywhere

Have a signup on your website, and in the store if you’re brick and mortar.

5. Giveaways and Contests

You can gather email addresses via a giveaway, drawing, or contest. These will be engaged list members, as they will associate you with the idea of winning something.

6. Use a Lead Magnet

A lead magnet is a free piece of quality content you offer in return for the user’s email address. Some popular forms of lead magnets are checklists, guides, cheatsheets, ebooks and how-tos. It must be good enough to make the reader want it enough to give up the email.

How to Use Your Lead Magnet to Build an Email List

Start by asking yourself what your audience wants and needs. What keeps them awake at night? What problem can you solve?

Let’s say you’re a garden store. You have daily customer feedback from shoppers that they just cannot stop the pests from eating their tomatoes. If you want to collect email addresses, in addition to your physical and online signup, you could offer a one- or two-page tip sheet that tells the gardener how to keep pests away from tomato plants.

Make your lead magnet specific; don’t try to save the world. Solve one specific problem in a simple way. You can offer multiple lead magnets for different interests related to your business. The same garden store might also offer classes on composting. Create a unique lead magnet for each specific interest and track the signups according to which offer they signed up for.

Be sure your lead magnet looks professional and is easy to read. Hire a graphic designer and/or a copywriter if you have no talent or ability in this area. Ask them to save it as a PDF for easy download.

Here’s a Facebook ad from successful author and CEO of StoryBrand Donald Miller. He’s giving away a free video series on how to be an excellent business coach.

build an email list

Click on Sign Up and it leads to a landing page, which I’ll show you in a minute. Miller’s face is recognizeable and the title, 3 Characteristics the World’s Best Business Coaches Have in Common stirs curiosity.

Post offers for your free tip sheet on all your social media profiles. On Twitter, you can pin your offer to the top of your profile so it is always the first tweet. Post it periodically on other social networks. Highlight the benefit to the reader — get those squirrels out of your tomatoes and here’s how.

You’ll need to include a link to what is called a landing page.

Landing Page

You might think the best place to send a reader from an ad is your home page. If you’re trying to build an email list, it’s not. You must make it as easy as possible for the reader to complete the signup process; otherwise they’ll give up and move on.

Take a look at StoryBrand’s landing page. This is where you end up if you click the link in the Facebook ad above. All of the images and copy are designed to get you to sign up for the video series, which is the first step in their business coach certification process. Note the benefit statement right under the header image.

This page demonstrates why a landing page is what you need. A landing page is dedicated to one, and only one, purpose. Most landing pages have no navigation, no links other than one call to action, which is enter your email address.

Make your page simple and attractive. Use the same graphics and headline as your ad or offer uses, so they know they are in right place. Your landing page should look just like the link they clicked on to get there.

Make the copy on your landing page short and benefit focused. Include multiple buttons so they don’t have to scroll to sign up.

Email Service Provider

By now you might be asking, So how do I make this all work?

  1. You’ll need an email service provider, if you don’t already have one. If you’re just getting started with email marketing, MailChimp has a free plan that will be all you need until your list outgrows it. Your provider will let you create and embed the forms that collect signups and that’s where you’ll manage your list.
  2. Landing page service or template. If you use WordPress, many themes now have either a landing page template or a blank page template. You can create your landing page on your own if you like.

If you don’t have that ability, try a service like Leadpages or ConvertKit. Leadpages is dedicated primarily to landing pages and has a variety of templates arranged by conversion (sales) rate. ConvertKit is a full email service provider with a few landing page templates.

build an email list
ConvertKit’s landing page interface

Both services allow you to start from a template and easily add your own images and copy. You can then direct traffic from your offer directly to your landing page. Once the user completes the signup, the service delivers the lead magnet and adds the user to your list.

It’s nice to know that you can build an email list while you sleep using automation. If you’re not collecting email addresses currently, the best time to start was yesterday; the second best time is now.

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Your email marketing strategy is a critical piece of your overall marketing plan if you’re a small business or solopreneur. Combined with social media, content marketing, and your website, email marketing contributes to your online presence in a unique way.


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