How to Build an Email List for Beginners

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Learning how to build an email list is the most important aspect of your DIY online marketing strategies. It’s more important than learning how to get social media followers. Why? Because you don’t own Instagram or Facebook or Twitter or any other platform. So if they disappear, so do your followers. (Remember Vine? Or Periscope? Ouch.) However, when people sign up to be on your email list, you will always have direct access to them, no matter where they are or you are.

How do you build an email list when you’re new to online marketing? It’s not as difficult as it seems. There are a few steps to go through, but if you focus on just one step at a time, you can get through it with ease. Let’s break it down.

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How to Build an Email List for Beginners w/ Free Worksheet

Start by Choosing an Email Service

Unfortunately, you can’t just send an email to a bunch of people from your own email, like Gmail or Yahoo!. It will be immediately flagged as spam. That’s why you need a professional email service. Email services can send emails to hundreds, even thousands, of email subscribers at one time, without getting blocked (for the most part, but that’s an advanced conversation).

The email service provider will keep a running list of your current subscribers, along with any information they’ve given you, such as their email address, name and interests.

If you have absolutely nothing to invest in services or tools right now, I suggest signing up with MailChimp. (This is an affiliate link. I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, when you use this link to sign up. See more about affiliate links in my privacy policy.) They’re a very basic service, but best of all, they’re free to use up to 1,000 subscribers.

However, if you can afford a small payment every month, I highly recommend ConvertKit. (This is also an affiliate link.) I switched from MailChimp to ConvertKit and I can’t believe I didn’t do it sooner. You can build automated email sequences, landing pages, forms and pretty much everything else very easily. I’ve been able to build an email list for my DIY online marketing with just a few clicks here and there. Plus, they’re user interface is very clear to use. Their customer service is also top-notch.

Here’s an overview of ConvertKit, for those of you who are interested. Again, you should choose the email service provider you’re the most comfortable using.

Now that you’ve chosen an email service, it’s time for the next step.

Create an Email List

Once you have an account with a mailing list service, you’ll need to create your very first list. You can call this list whatever you like, but in some cases, subscribers can see the title of the list. So, it’s usually best to go with something generic like “[Your Website Here] Subscribers” or “[Your Brand Name Here] Subscribers.”

Then you’ll need to adjust your default settings. Usually, email services have videos or tutorials that will walk you through this process. Please remember, the more information you ask for, the less likely someone is to sign up for your email list.

Post Your Opt-in Links and Forms

Now you need to let people know that they can sign up for your email list. You can do this buy posting opt-in forms on your website. The email service will give you code to paste into pages and blog posts. If you use WordPress, your email service will probably have a plugin you can use to make it much easier. (ConvertKit has a WordPress plugin that integrates the two services very easily.)

If copying and pasting code is too much to deal with, you can also just link to a landing page or sign-up form that’s hosted by your email service. Both MailChimp and ConvertKit will give you a simple URL to use like any other link. Then, you would say something like, “Don’t forget to sign up for my email list” along with the link.

A Quick Word About Double Opt-Ins

If you’ve read anything online about how to build an email list, you’ve no doubt run across a sometimes controversial subject: double opt-ins. What does that mean? Well, when you establish a list with your email service provider, you can choose for a single opt-in or a double opt-in. A single opt-in means that the person types their email address into the box, hits the button and that’s it; they’re on your list. A double opt-in means that after they hit the button, they’ll get an email asking them to confirm their email address. After they click that button, they’ll be on your list.

There are people who believe in both kinds of opt-ins. Single opt-in lovers think that asking someone to confirm their email address will inhibit that person from signing up. Double opt-in lovers believe that not asking someone to confirm their email address means you’ll get a lot of fake email addresses, bots and spammers on your list.

I belong to the second camp. I have a double opt-in process (if you sign up for my email list you’ll see what I mean). I have used both methods. What I found is that the single opt-in might have grown my list more quickly, but the email addresses on the list were of poor quality. Those fake email addresses meant my engagement rates, click-through rates and sales were a low percentage. By having people confirm their email address, I know that the person truly wants to be on my list, truly wants my content and will most likely become a valued member of my community.

You can decide for yourself which opt-in process to use. If one isn’t working for you, try the other.

Write Your Welcome Email

After someone subscribes to your spanking new email list, they will receive a confirmation email of some kind. Although your email service will automatically send a generic confirmation, it’s a great idea to write your own welcome email that will be automatically sent to them.

Your welcome email can introduce you a little more fully to your new subscriber. You can let them know how much you appreciate them for signing up. (Because, really, it IS a big deal for someone to give you an email address.) You can also link to your most popular blog posts or pages to get them started with your content.

Email on a Regular Basis

Some online business owners make the mistake of building an email list, then never using it. They rarely email their subscribers and on the rare occasion that they do, they see a high number of unsubscribes. That’s because they were quiet for so long that subscribers forgot about their brand. That’s called a “cold” email list.

You don’t want that to happen to your list, so make it a priority to email yours regularly. I suggest emailing your subscribers once a week, to start with. After you see how they respond to your emails, you can experiment with emailing them more frequently. Sending an email at the same time every week should be your minimum. When you email your subscribers regularly, they’re more likely to respond to your offers. They’re called a “warm” list.

Share Valuable Content

Of course, you shouldn’t email your subscribers just any old thing. You need to send emails with valuable information inside. If your list doesn’t feel they’re getting anything helpful from you, they’ll stop reading your emails or even unsubscribe.

But your valuable content doesn’t have to be a best-selling ebook, either. Think of quick tips that you could easily share with your audience. Send behind-the-scenes info to get them excited for your next offer. Send them an entertaining story that dovetails with your brand’s mission. Email them a survey that asks for their feedback. ConvertKit has a great blog post about overcoming the blank page with very specific examples of emails you could write.

Freebies and Lead Magnets

Once your list is up and running, you should consider creating a lead magnet or freebie to give away when someone subscribes to your  email list. I’m sure you’ve seen them (and if you subscribed to my email list, you got some kind of freebie). A lead magnet can be something as simple as a cheat sheet or checklist. Or it could be meatier, like a workbook or ebook.

Whatever you decide to create for your subscribers, make sure it’s something they really want. For example, my initial freebie for DIY online marketing was 5 Simple Ways Social Media Can Increase Your Profits. Hardly anyone signed up to get it. Then I switched my lead magnet to Hit 3 Hot Zones on Every Social Media Profile. Take a look at what happened.

ConvertKit Graph

Obviously, I had found something that was enticing enough to get people to sign up for my email list. Experiment with your offers to see what resonates with your audience.

After you create a lead magnet, make sure to upload it to the media library of your website and link to it in your welcome email (the one I mentioned above). Usually it’s a PDF download. ConvertKit has a great blog post about creating lead magnets, along with specific examples.

Download Your Worksheet

I created a one-page worksheet you can use to brainstorm ideas for how to build an email list.

Join me every Thursday at 12 p.m. ET on Facebook to discuss this week’s blog post. I’ll also answer any questions you have!

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