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Why you need an email list

When I’m coaching a client and I find out they don’t have an email list, I want to cry. I literally want to say, “Oh, bless your heart… you’ve screwed yourself out of thousands of dollars.”

Think I’m exaggerating? Think again.

There are several reasons you should have an email list.

The money is in the list

You may have heard that phrase thrown around before.

It’s funny because we’re so conditioned to focus our time and energy on social media as a primary way to reach and market to our customers, but email outperforms social media by a landslide.

Email campaigns also offer one of the highest conversion rates (an average of 40X more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined, according to a 2014 study by McKinsey and Company).

Email is more personal

Think of it like this. Email is like having a one-on-one conversation with your reader, whereas social is like having a group conversation. It’s direct communication and it won’t get lost in someone’s newsfeed.

It allows you to give your readers an inside peek, and helps you develop a relationship with your audience. And when readers know, trust, and like you, they will keep reading. They will share your material with their friends. And, most importantly, they will buy from you.

You OWN your email list — it’s an asset

No one can take it away from you. If people stopped using Facebook (Think it can’t happen? See: Myspace), you’d have no audience. Same with Twitter.

Plus, only a small percentage of your audience on Facebook or Twitter (roughly 2%) actually sees anything you post in their newsfeed anyway (unless you’re paying to promote your content).

You’ve already worked hard to earn those followers… why should you have to pay for them to see your posts? No thank you.

But with email lists, it’s a whole different ballgame. Even better, email marketing is a form of advertising that is virtually free. Yet so many people still don’t do it!

Today, we’re going to figure out why you’re not taking full advantage of an email list, and then we’re going to flip it around and show you how you can make the most out of yours, starting today.

Why you don’t have an email list (or aren’t using yours effectively)

I’m gonna take a guess and say that most of you fall into one of the following categories:

  • You don’t have an email list because you want to respect your readers’ inboxes. You don’t want to bombard them with emails
  • You’re afraid to put a popup (ohmygodshesaidpopup!) or ask for emails because you don’t want your readers to think you’re being too sales-ey
  • You signed up for MailChimp (or some other email service provider), but you have yet to actually put an opt-in form on your website
  • You’ve got opt-in forms on your site and an email list, but you’ve never actually sent an email out to your subscribers
  • You’ve tried to send out a few emails, but the whole process was confusing, took too long, and what the hell are you going to write about anyway?
  • It’s so easy to get discouraged because you hear other bloggers talking about their thousands of subscribers (often like it’s not a big deal), while you’re struggling just to get a couple hundred

Trust me. I get it. I was there once, too.

If you don’t have a list, you’re losing money (like I did)

Many years ago, I had a small organic t-shirt company, and I knew I needed a way to reach out to past customers to let them know about upcoming sales, new designs, etc.

I sent out maybe 2-3 emails a year. I was so scared to bug them — I wanted to respect their inbox, and I felt like if I emailed them too much, I’d seem desperate. In fact, when I would collect email addresses, I’d even tell them, “Don’t worry — I’ll only email you a few times a year at most.”

Ugh! I think about that now, and I want to crawl under a rock because of how insecure that sounds. That attitude and insecurity is probably one of the reasons that t-shirt business ultimately didn’t take off… (alongside the fact that a major t-shirt company ripped off 2 of our designs and essentially sealed our fate, but that’s another story).

But I noticed that every time I sent out an email to my uber-small subscriber list (less than 100), we got sales. Like lots of them. I wasn’t sophisticated enough business-wise to think about keeping track of conversion rates and all that, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was around 10%. So with an email list of 100, we’d get probably sell 10 t-shirts. 10 x $25 = $250. Those single emails would sometimes sell more t-shirts in one day than we had sold in 3 months!

I wonder what would have happened had I sent more emails?

Choosing an email service provider (ESP)

First things first. If you don’t yet have an email list set up, stop what you’re doing right now and set up an account with an email service provider. There are several, but there are only 2 that I recommend.

  1. MailChimp – they have a free plan that’s great for beginners. However, you can’t set up autoresponders with the free plan. You can upgrade to the business plan which starts at $10/month and increases as your subscriber count increases.
  2. Convertkit (affiliate link) – This is what I use and it’s amazing. If you plan on automating your emails, creating landing pages, and creating launches to sell to your list (which you should), you might want to make the leap to Convertkit now rather than trying to make the switch later. Their plans start at $29/month, but the ease of use, the design of the emails, and the automation makes it worth every penny.

Ok, now that you’ve got your account set up with an email service provider, it’s time to start collecting emails and growing your email list.

Maybe you have zero subscribers. Maybe you have 100. Perhaps you even have 10,000. Doesn’t matter. We want to up that.


How to start list building

To collect email addresses, you’ll need to put opt-in forms on your blog so people have a place to sign up. You can create opt-in forms via your email service provider, or via 3rd party apps or plugins. My favorite 3rd party plugin is SumoMe.

Once you create your opt-in forms, you’ll need to put them in various places on your site. Here are the 6 places I recommend putting an opt-in form.

Note: You don’t have to put opt-ins in ALL of these places. Think about your readers and put them where it makes the most sense for them.

1. Get subscribers using a landing page

One way to collect email subscribers is with a landing page. A landing page is simply a single page whose entire purpose in life is to collect an email address. That’s it.

You’ve seen hundreds of them. You’ve probably put your email address on dozens of them. They are usually big and bold and simple. Many have larger than life images that grab your attention, while others get your attention with their stark simplicity — maybe just a few words set up in gorgeous typography, and an eye-catching subscribe button.

Landing pages are designed to be unignorable. That’s why they are so effective.

Landing pages are a great option for many reasons. First, let’s say your blog is brand new, and you haven’t finished your website. You might not even have your blog niche totally nailed down yet… maybe just an idea that you’re trying to validate.

You can throw up a landing page without too much effort while you’re building your site, so when visitors land on your page (hence the name landing page), they at least have an opportunity to interact with you or your brand.

They get a feel for what you’re about, or what your business does, and if it resonates with them, they give you their email address.


And if you’re in the idea validation stage of your business, you’ll know you have a winning business idea on your hands if if people are subscribing from your landing page. Congrats.

Another clever list building strategy is to turn the home page into a landing page. The page gives the reader 2 choices: Subscribe, or click another button that takes you to the rest of the site. For instance, one button might call for you to subscribe, and the other button might say, “No thanks. Take me to the blog.” like in this example from Brie Beeks of Blissful Bosses.

Landing page example - Brie Beeks of Blissful Bosses

If someone hits the button to join her free course, a form pops up with an opt-in. Otherwise, they can continue on to her blog.

Sometimes, people get really clever with these two buttons, and use psychological tactics to all but ensure you click the subscribe button, by making the other button something you’d totally disagree with.

For instance, if I were a dog trainer, I might have a landing page that looks like this:

Clever landing pages can be one of the best list building techniques

Even though we KNOW it’s just a marketing ploy, we still don’t want to click the undesirable button.

And if you want to take it even further, once they click the button and subscribe to your list, you can set up a “Thank You” page that encourages them to share the page with their friends. You can see a great example Tim Ferriss wrote on how Harry’s razors collected 100,000 emails in one week via a great landing page.

2. Use a lightbox popup form for list building

“OMG she said popup! No — I hate popups! I’d never have one on my site!”

I know, I know. We’ve been trained that popups are terrible, evil things, but I’m not talking about the scammy popups that come with flashing text and warning messages that you can’t X out of.

I’m talking about the kind of popup that looks really classy or cool. It fits the theme of your site, and comes with a great offering, such as a discount offer, or a killer lead magnet (more on that later).

Something like this:

Popup forms can be an effective list building strategy

Yes, I’m cracking myself up for using a men’s underwear site when talking about popups.

Or this:

An example of a good pop-up opt-in form to help you with your list building

This popup on Lewis Howes’s site is nicely done

You can set these popups to appear right when someone lands on your page, once someone has scrolled a certain percentage of the way down, or after a certain amount of time has passed. You can even set up an “exit intent” popup, which only pops up when someone goes to exit your page.

The thing is, like ’em or not, popup opt-ins work. They outperform other opt-in forms which is why so many websites use them. And if you do it right, people won’t hate them. In fact, they’ll GLADLY give you their email because you’ll be giving them something valuable in return for their email address.

Warning: If you use a popup, don’t set it to appear immediately. Use common sense and put yourself in the mind of your reader.

Let’s say they landed on your blog from a Pinterest pinned post. When they land on your post, if the first thing they see is a popup, (when what they wanted to see was your post), then you disrupted that experience.That chance of a good first impression.

You want to GIVE your reader something before you ASK something of them. It’s that simple.

On the flip side, let’s say they land on your page, they’re reading along, and at this point, they are really interested in what you’re saying (because duh!). Then around the 50% mark of your article, a well-designed lightbox appears with a great opt-in offer that’s related to your topic.

At this point, you’ve already engaged them. So when a well-designed popup appears with a valuable lead magnet, they are much more likely to give you their email address.

3. Put an opt-in form at the bottom of each blog post

I love this one because if someone makes it to the bottom of your post, you already have their attention. They read all the way through, which is exactly what you want.

So why not reward them with something valuable while they are still basking in the glow of excitement that was your blog post? Ok, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but you get my drift. Strike while the iron is hot, so to speak.

Offer them a valuable lead magnet that is congruent with the blog post they just read. (More on that later.)

Opt-in form example showing it at the bottom of a blog post

An example of an opt-in form at the bottom of one of my blog posts.

4. Install an opt-in bar at the top of your page

I’m not sure what the technical term is, but I just call it an opt-in bar. You’ve probably seen these before. Usually these are set to stay at the top, even when the user scrolls. (They can also be at the bottom of the page).

These are simple and unintrusive, but they work well because even if your reader doesn’t subscribe right away, when they are ready, they don’t have to hunt down a subscribe button. Easy peasy.

An example of an opt-in bar at the top of a webpage.

You can get a free opt-in bar from Hello Bar. They also have a pro version which gives you the option to remove their logo and add other features, but I’ve seen the free version on even some of the most sophisticated sites.

5. Put a subscribe form on your sidebar

This is probably one of the most popular places to put an email subscription form. It’s unobtrusive, it’s inoffensive, and it’s probably the least effective place to put a subscribe button besides the footer.

I’m not saying not to put one on the sidebar, but you need to think strategically about it. First, if you have one, put it at the top of your sidebar so your reader sees it first.

Next, you need to spice up the copy, and add an incentive. Don’t just say, “Sign up for my newsletter!”

Which brings me to the next place to put an opt-in form.

6. Put an opt-in in your footer

An opt-in form in the footer of your page is very similar to the sidebar, except it’s probably going to be the least effective option, simply because most people won’t make it to the bottom of your page before signing up. Again, it’s not a bad thing to put one there, but I would also have an opt-in in at least 1 or 2 other places on your page.

Use effective lead magnets in your list building strategy

It’s not enough just to put opt-in forms on your site. You need to give your readers something worth opting in for.

You see, most people just throw up a generic form that says something like, “Sign up for my newsletter to get news and updates.” This is not a good approach because it makes it about you, and not about your reader.

“Hey, over here! Don’t you want updates on me?” No. I don’t even want news and updates on Bradley Cooper. Even the word “news” is depressing, and why should I want updates on you just because I landed on your webpage? What’s in it for me?

So the key is to give them something that they want.

Let’s say you have a fashion blog, and you just wrote a post on upcoming fall fashion. You might offer a video or a guide that shows 10 simple (yet gorgeous) ways to wear a scarf.

If you have a mommy blog, your readers might appreciate a list of your top 10 productivity hacks (since moms are always juggling a gazillion things at once).

Checklists are great. If you write a travel blog, a checklist of “10 things to always have on hand in your carry-on bag” is handy.

Don’t get intimidated by this step. It doesn’t have to be super fancy. It just has to be valuable. In fact, the best lead magnets are often ones that are short and tactical. Things that the reader can implement right away.

If you don’t have a lead magnet that pertains to your blog post, you can always convert your blog post to a PDF in Google Drive, and make that your lead magnet. Just say something like, “Want a copy of this post to print and read on the go? Sign up and I’ll send you a PDF right away!

It’s that simple!

Beyond the opt-in form: other ways to get more subscribers

There are other ways you can get more subscribers outside of just your opt-in forms.

  • Encourage sharing – ask your readers to share your content, both in your posts and in your emails. If they signed up, chances are they’ll know someone who would also be interested in your blog
  • Online contest/giveaway – host a contest or giveaway that requires someone to opt-in to enter (I recommend KingSumo)
  • Create a free online tool or product and require email to get it – I saw this recently done by a graphic designer. She created a really cool font and gave it away for free, but you had to give your email address to get it. I saw another example of someone who had a free online tool to help track your Amazon book sales, but to get access to the free page, you had to subscribe.
  • Integrate social media and email
    • Promote your lead magnet on social (link to a special landing page for your lead magnet instead of linking to your homepage)
    • Use the call to action button on Facebook to get your Facebook fans to sign up
    • Use Twitter Lead Generation cards. Followers can subscribe with the single click of a button without ever having to leave Twitter)
    • Use share links in your emails so others can share your actual email
  • Do you use video? Add a call to action to your videos to encourage subscribers
  • Put a CTA to subscribe on every page of your site
  • Guest blogging – this is one of the best methods for list building. Write a kick ass guest post on a site that has a bigger audience than you. Instead of just linking to your homepage in your byline, create a specific landing page or page on your site with a lead magnet that goes perfectly with your guest post. At the bottom of the post, give them a teaser for your lead magnet and link to the page where they can get it.
  • Co-promotions / JVs – Team up with another blogger in your space and combine your resources! You create one lead magnet, she creates another, and you both promote them both as a package deal (and get new subscribers to each of your lists!)
  • Webinar – Host a webinar and get emails during registration

List building challenge

Ok, now you know why you need an email list. You have some recommendations on email service providers. You know 6 places you can put opt-in forms on your site. I gave you some examples of lead magnets to use to help maximize your list building efforts. And lastly, I gave you 10+ other ways you can build your email list.


My challenge to you: post a comment below with:

  1. How many subscribers you currently have right now, at this moment (if it’s zero, that’s fine!)
  2. What method(s) you read here that you haven’t tried (but you’re going to implement)

Bonus points if you check in later and let us know how much your list has grown.

Good luck!