conceptual graphic of computer screen to illustrate how to build an email mailing list

You can build an email mailing list from ground up, but it will take some time.

A healthy subscriber list can be a great boon to any business. It allows you to promote your brand, nurture contacts, and distribute your content. But building a list can take a lot of time and hard work. If you’re starting from scratch, you can expect to put in several months to a year of dedicated list-building before you see a substantial following.

This tempts many businesses to purchase a list instead of building one themselves. However, purchased lists can do your business substantial harm. Some email marketing services will suspend your account if they find you engaging in spam activity. So instead of going the purchased route, try these strategies to build an email mailing list the legit way.

Sign up form on your website

Let’s not complicate things: put a sign up form on your website. This is one of the most obvious ways to build an email list—so obvious, that some of us overthink our strategy and forget about it entirely. You don’t need a massive campaign to get this going, you just need to ask.

Keep it simple, and include it in the footer of your page. Only ask for name and email to encourage subscriptions. You can learn a lot of data about your subscribers based on how they interact with your emails, but you need them to subscribe before you can gather that data.

Be strategic about where your sign-up form displays. Having in the footer of every page is not a bad place to start. However, if you already another strong Call-To-Action on that page, including a second form may be confusion for your users. This is an especially important thing to take into account if you’re also including some prominent gated content.

Gated Content

While a simple “subscribe to our mailing list” form may bring in some contacts, most subscribers will need some inducement. You can draw in some subscribers by offering a piece of valuable content, accessible by a download form. When the submit their emails, be sure to include a pre-checked box granting permission to send them further material. So long as they leave the checkbox selected, you can include them on your mailing list.

The plus side to gated content is that even if they don’t give you permission to add them to a list, you can still reach out to them individually as part of your sales process.

Social Media

If you post regularly on social media, you can occasionally use signing up to your newsletter as a CTA. Don’t swamp your newsfeed with it, though. If you post once or twice a day, maybe put out a post about your newsletter once a week (or every other week). If you post quite a lot, you can increase the frequency. As a general rule, however, only 10% of your posts should be directly promoting your business. (The other 90% should be content, either original or shared.)

However, make sure that the content you offer in your newsletter is different from what your followers see on social. If your newsletter content is the same as your social feed, your new subscribers will disengage.

Live Events

How much time to you spend networking? Attending conferences? Are you involved in industry conventions? You can use the personal connections you make at these events to build an email mailing list.

This isn’t to say you should walk around with a clipboard (although you could have one at your table if you’re sponsoring at a conference). Instead, print out some business cards with a QR code that will link folks to a simple form. You can include this on your regular business card, or have the business cards themselves be a small advertisement specifically for your email list. By passing these out in person, you stand a stronger chance of convincing folk to sign up. And by  making it easy to do from their phones, you lower a major barrier to entry.

Bonus: 2 more ideas to help you build an email mailing list (but not quite from scratch)

The above ideas work for almost any business. But if you’ve already done some email marketing, or if you have some budget to through behind your list-building campaign, there are a couple more strategic steps you can take.

Reach out to your current mailing lists.

You may already have a mailing list. It could be that you send out one or two regular mailings to certain segments of your list for specific reasons. Maybe one group asked to hear about new product announcements, and another group receives promotional offers. Now you want to create a regular mailing to promote your blog.

You can’t automatically add subscribers from one list to another without asking permission. Not only could this get you in trouble with your email marketing service, it can also irritate your subscribers. No one wants to suddenly start receiving marketing emails they didn’t sign up for. Even if they’re on one list, they haven’t asked to be on another. You could harm your engagement metrics, at and worst you could end up marked as spam.

However, as part of your regular communication with those lists, you can inform them about your new mailing list and give them an option to subscribe. Not everyone will, but those who do will appreciate being asked.

Put money behind some ad promotion.

If your new mailing list forms a huge part of your marketing strategy, think about directing advertising budget toward promoting it. Build some landing pages and advertise through AdWords, placement advertising on key websites, and on social media.

Again, this only makes sense if you plan to provide a huge amount of value to your subscribers through your list. In other words, your email newsletter has to be a destination, rather than another marketing tool. If your email newsletter is in and of itself a marketable product, go ahead and market it. If it’s a means toward some further marketing end, focus that ad budget toward the ultimate end rather than an email campaign as in intermediary step.

As we said at the beginning, it takes time to build an email mailing list. However, if you think into the future, this is an investment well worth the time you put into it. The subscribers you get on this list are higher-value than those on social media. They will engage with you more, and offer a more personal point of contact.

Published 11/03/16 by Laura Lynch