How to Build an Email List

How to Build an Email List

If you don't have an email list for your business, you've got a huge gap in your efforts to build a community, update your customers, and generate revenue.

But if an email list is so important, how do you build one?

Want to listen? There's an audio version below

how to build an email list

In a recent post called 3 Reasons to Email Your List, I said that every time you send an email to your subscribers, you have an opportunity to build a relationship. Email marketing isn't about spamming people with unwanted emails. Email marketing is about cultivating a community, sharing information, and planting seeds that may later turn into revenue for your business.

If those reasons weren't enough, or if those were too “soft” for the hard numbers types of managers, think about this…

Email is the most cost-effective and efficient way to communicate with your customers.

Sure, you could post something on your Facebook page, ensuring that about 2% of your audience will see it. Sure, you could tweet about it, but tweets are too easily lost in a crowded feed. Sure, you could put something on LinkedIn, but, well, nobody is going there for buying advice.

Email is the most cost-effective and efficient way to communicate with your customers.

If you want a way to communicate with people about your new products, about upcoming events, or for any other reason, email is one of the best ways to do it.

NOTE: We'll go into how to build an email list extensively here. However, for the full story, and how your email list fits into your overall business model, I highly recommend you check out my book Exit Strategy, that teaches you how to create your first product, sign your first clients, and lay the groundwork for a successful business.

Ok, let's get started!

How to Build an Email List

Traffic to your website is fantastic, but subscribers are better. There’s a saying in internet marketing that says, “The money is in the list.” Well, the “list” is your list of everyone who enters their email address and subscribes to updates from your website.

If the money is in the list, the next logical questions are, “How do I build and grow my email list?” and “How big of an email list do I need?” That’s what this post is about: how to build an email list by converting the traffic to your site from visitors to subscribers. Later we’ll look at how to turn those subscribers into customers.

Exit Strategy BookThere are three types of visitors to your site:

  1. the interested,
  2. the involved, and
  3. the invested.

Your goal is to attract each type and offer something to entice them into subscribing. Once they're on your list, your job is to move them through the process from casual reader to paying customer. Without paying customers, your exit strategy won't work, and you won't be able to grow a business. It's not always about the money, but you’ve got to pay the bills.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that it took me eighteen months to get my first fifty subscribers. I didn't know what I’m about to share with you, and it was a slow process. It then took me ten months to get my second fifty, and another five months to bust through 150.

“How do I build and grow my email list? How big of an email list do I need?”

When you're starting out, growing your email list can be slow but you'll no doubt build momentum. When you serve your subscribers, deliver exclusive content, and provide value, they'll tell their friends and keep coming back. By the way, to go from 150 to over 200 subscribers took me less than ninety days.

Let's look at how we target the three types of people who will visit your site.

Audience Sales Funnel

3 Types of People Who Visit Your Site and Follow Your Business

The Interested

People who visit your site and who fall into the “interested” category are the casual observers. They're the ones who read a post and bounce (bounce is the technical term for visiting a single page and leaving; I'm not going thug on you).

The interested people, if they decide to come back or stick around, are the ones who would be interested in “joining a community” or “getting updates” from your website. They don't want to miss out on what's going on, but they're not ready to become involved or invested.

For example, you can join the Empowered & Equipped Facebook group. Request your invitation here.

empowered and equipped request invitation

Attract these casual visitors by putting an opt-in box in your site's footer, you can capture these interested leads with language like “Enter your email to get updates” or “Join the Community.” When you're first starting and don't have a ton of content to draw people in, opt-in boxes like these are a perfect way to start.

The interested people are at the very top of your sales funnel and aren't sure if they want to buy from you or get involved with what you're doing.

The Involved

Your visitors who are in the “involved” category are the ones who sign up for webinars, opt-in for reports and ebooks, and who trade their email address for what you know. Involved people haven’t spent money with you, but they engage with you via email and social media. They want access to how-to guides, comparisons or industry reports, templates you’ve created. The “involved” people in your audience comprise the group from which you'll make your first dollars.

The involved people are the ones most likely to buy or who are about to buy.

Involved people are the warm leads for your business. They're actively engaged and eager for more. Yes, they're interested in the community too, and want to get updates, but they also want to get involved and interact with like-minded people.

Attract these engaged visitors by placing an opt-in box on the sidebar of your site, above the fold (i.e. visible without having to scroll down). You could also attract them with resource downloads or transcripts from within your posts. Involved people want to “download the report” or “get these resources” and are likely to take action when you use that type of language.

The involved people are in the middle of your sales funnel. They know and like you, but they're not quite ready to trust you and invest their money with you. Once they buy, they become invested.

The Invested

People who have spent money or are currently spending money with you are “invested.” They're invested in themselves and in their future, and they're investing in you and your product.

Invested people in your audience are the ones you can thank every time you swipe your debit card. They help you keep the lights on and provide you with the capital required to purchase better tools and grow your business.

While opt-in boxes to become invested can work, they often don't.

In my experience, the people in my audience who spend money with me were interested and involved first. The more brand recognition you have, the faster people will go from interested to invested, but they’ll still go through each phase.

Most people want to know, like and trust you before they'll spend money with you. If you've given away free, high-quality resources for long enough, they'll believe that you can deliver the results they're looking for. There are only two ways to build credibility with someone; you either build it or borrow it. When you're starting, you'll have to build it one person at a time.

Attract these warm leads by offering free coaching calls, open office hours, samples of your product and “ask me anything” style question and answer sessions that showcase your skills. These types of things are a proof of concept – they allow people to see what you can do and what level of value you can provide. The more value you can provide up front and for free, the less time you'll have to spend selling people on your value on the back end.

To summarize, the “interested” people are the ones who want to be kept in the loop about what you’re doing. The “involved” are the people who interact with your content, send you emails, engage with you on social media and take your free courses. Once someone pays, they’re no longer “involved,” but become “invested.”

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Now that you know the types of people who follow your business let's look at some basic “bribes” you can deploy to encourage people to sign up for your list.

Why People Subscribe

Sometimes it helps to understand WHY people subscribe before you can understand how to build an email list. So, let's take a look at a few reasons why people subscribe.

Few people will be willing to hand over their email address for no reason. In today's world, where the average person receives dozens if not hundreds of emails each day, it's increasingly difficult to get people to sign up for your email list.

While that can be frustrating, it's for a reason. People have downloaded too many lackluster “free ebooks” and worthless “industry reports” to be eager to opt-in for yours. Especially if they don't yet know, like or trust you.

The good news is, at a time when free ebooks are a dime a dozen, it's easy to stand out if you're willing to put in the extra effort.

By researching, spending additional time polishing and designing, and delivering a free resource that adds incredible value or actionable advice, you can stand out from everyone else who is offering a free PDF download. You'll have to show people you're different before they'll opt-in, but you're not afraid of a little work, are you?

Here are some of the most common types of “bribes” for which people are often willing to subscribe.

  • Checklists – Beginners love checklists. If you can provide a foolproof list of things the pros use, people who want to be like those pros will subscribe to get it. My checklist of professional podcasting gear for beginners is a reader favorite.
  • Ebooks – Everyone loves a downloadable ebook. One of the most popular ebook opt-ins is eBooks the Smart Way written by Pat Flynn of Pat over-delivered with his bribe and tens of thousands of people have subscribed to his list because of it.
  • Guides – Guides are an excellent way to illustrate your expertise and help solve problems. If you can walk people through the solution to a problem, they'll love you for it. To create your guide, solve a problem, document the process, and share the steps with your audience. They'll opt-in by the truckload.
  • Exclusives – Everyone wants to be a VIP. If you have an exclusive interview to share, a behind-the-scenes look, or information you only share with your community, people will subscribe.
  • Quizzes – People love taking quizzes that take them on a journey or that allow them to discover something about themselves. Clinique asks visitors to take the skin type quiz, Buzzfeed asks people to discover what cartoon character they are, and in my quiz, you can learn if you have what it takes to start an online business.

Click Here to open my Online Business Readiness Test in a new tab

People opt-in because they want to feel included, and they're afraid of missing out. They subscribe because they believe you can shorten their learning curve, reduce their startup time, provide them with discounts or coupons, special offers, or other items of exclusive value.

Visitors want you to help them eliminate their pain, and they're willing to trade their email address for it. If you can help your audience add more tools to their tool belt or make their life easier, they will subscribe, and you will build your email list.

Advanced Techniques to Build an Email List and Entice Subscribers

Now, let's look at some more advanced techniques you can use to draw people in and build your email list.

If you're just starting or have little to no content, you may want to read this part and take notes so you can come back to it again later. On the other hand, if you can implement these tactics, you'll be able to launch with explosive force from the beginning.

These advanced list building techniques require more work, time, and skill to pull off, but their results are worth it.

Email Courses

30 day blog transformation

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I had never heard of an email course until I found the “Email1k” course from Noah Kagan and the team at AppSumo. After enrolling, the course content was delivered directly to my inbox. Every week I'd get an email full of information, tips, and tricks. No need to click a link or go elsewhere, everything I needed was right in my inbox.

I loved the concept so much I created my own email course in 2014 called The 30 Day Blog Transformation.

Using my free course, The 30 Day Blog Transformation, I get to teach people around the world with lessons like:

  • How to Think Like a Successful Entrepreneur,
  • How to Identify Your Ideal Client and Maximize Your Impact (and Profit!),
  • The 5 Pages that Convert Your Blog Into a Booming Business,
  • Why NOW is the Best Time in HISTORY to Be an Entrepreneur and Make a Global Impact, and
  • The Most Powerful Momentum-Builder for Your Beginner Business.

Every month new people join my email list to get access to these lessons and join our community of writers. Using the “Email1k” framework, in addition to emailing each lesson, I have posted each lesson on a unique site where students of the course can post comments and ask questions. I also have a private Facebook group for students and alumni who want to interact with one another.


Webinars, short for “web-seminars,” are lessons taught through online video streaming where a host shares information with an audience. If you promise to teach your webinar attendees something valuable, people will opt in to claim their seat at the virtual table.

John Lee Dumas of has used webinars to add hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue to his business. He teaches audience members enough about podcasting to help them get started, then offers a premium product at the end for anyone looking for additional help.

Remember the “freemium” model, also known as “the only business model that works?

Webinars are a perfect execution of the freemium model.


A few times a year, I try to hold a giveaway to build my email list. I pick three to five books, products or services that have helped me, and I bundle them together as a giveaway.

You can always see my latest giveaway at

The first giveaway I held included Jeff Goins' book The In-Between. After promoting the giveaway on social media, I caught the attention of Jeff himself, who shared and retweeted about the giveaway to his audience. I had hundreds of people check out the giveaway and share it with their networks.

Online tools like KingSumo's Giveaways plugin for WordPress make it easy to create giveaways and build your email list. All you have to do is choose an item or items you want to give away and require an email address to enter to win. Good giveaway software will pick a random winner and allow you to add the entrants to your list of subscribers. Participants have a chance to win a free item, and you have a new person on your list.

Good news; KingSumo's Giveaways integrates at the API level with ActiveCampaign, so you don't need a tool like Zapier to work as the middleman.

If you try one of these strategies, and it doesn't work the first time, don't give up! A good portion of success is about testing, tweaking and retesting, to see what works.

Your audience may respond to one of these strategies and but not another. The key to growing your email list is to always have something valuable for which people are willing to trade their email address.

Let’s now take a look at the five key ingredients to a killer opt-in. After all, knowing what types of things visitors are looking for is essential to getting them on your list!

Designing the Perfect Lead Magnet

Every business wants more leads. But, few companies understand what goes into creating a lead magnet that will convert visitors into prospects. Your goal with a lead magnet is to convert visitors to leads, leads to customers, and customers to raving fans and repeat buyers. That process is what enables every business to grow.

These are the five key criteria of a lead magnet that converts visitors into subscribers and customers:

  1. Specific Solutions
  2. Epic Results
  3. Quick Fixes
  4. Tons of Value
  5. Transformational Effect

Provide a Specific Solution to a Specific Person

Your lead magnet should target a specific person, or type of person, with the promise of specific results. Your lead magnet should not try to attract everybody. If you try to reach everyone, you'll connect with no one.

By speaking to a specific person, your “avatar,” you're talking to the ideal person who will get the most value and best results from what you're offering.

Click HERE to download my FREE Ideal Avatar Creator Worksheet

When you offer to provide a specific outcome, potential new leads will know exactly what they'll get in exchange for their email address.

Most mammals run from uncertainty, so be specific and tell your visitors precisely what they'll get from your lead magnet. If you know who you're trying to attract and what you're going to deliver when you create your lead magnet, the other key criteria will fall into place.

Deliver One (Epic) Result

Instead of promising to give a dozen ways to build something better or faster, focus on delivering the absolute BEST way. Instead of offering to give someone a complete marketing plan, offer the one thing they can do to get more followers on Twitter, likes on Facebook, or friends on LinkedIn.

If you target people who want to grow their influence on Facebook, you’ll attract more subscribers than if you target social media as a whole. Focus your lead magnet and provide one epic result.

Create Immediate Results or a Quick Fix

If you’ve been working on an ebook for your giveaway or “bribe,” you can take a break.

Your lead magnet should be the “ace in the hole,” your “silver bullet,” or your “#1 tip” to get the job done.

In today's world, people are looking for shortcuts. They want that one key thing that will move the needle for them. If they can help it, your subscribers aren’t interested in working for hours on end to get results; they want something they can put into place now.

If you’ve been working on an ebook for your giveaway or “bribe,” you can take a break. I’ve just given you pretty good news. Set your book aside and create a one or two-page download of your best stuff.

Deliver High Value

Your lead magnet is often the first impression someone gets when trying to decide if they want to join your community. Use the initial opt-in as your opportunity to provide over-the-top value. Your lead magnet is your chance to blow their mind with how much valuable information you have to give them.

Over deliver.

Do more for your new subscriber than they're expecting and help them get better results than they'd hoped. Not only will they stick with you, but they'll be well on their way to becoming a raving fan.

Have a Transformational Effect

An epic lead magnet should have a transformational effect on the people who sign up for it. The information contained within your lead magnet should move your new subscriber from where they are to where they want to be. It should change their thinking from “is that even possible” to “wow, this is happening!”

Your lead magnet should transform us from who we are to who we want to be.

Think back to the last lead magnet for which you traded your email. The best ones, the lead magnets we remember and share with our friends, are the ones that give us a “wow” moment and open our eyes to new possibilities.

Epic lead magnets show us new ways of thinking and transport us from where we WERE, to where we ARE, and to where we WANT to go. In other words, your lead magnet should transform us from who we are to who we want to be.

Now that you know the five key elements of an epic lead magnet pick up Exit Strategy, and I'll show you how you can convert all of those new subscribers into paying customers.

And, in Exit Strategy, I'll show you exactly how to do that and much more!

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