It’s one thing to understand the importance of email marketing and quite another to actually build an email list that allows you to reach a large audience.
One of the best things I ever did as a blogger was build my own email list. It gave me the power to not longer have to beg for a attention but be able to communicate regularly with an audience of people who wanted to hear what I had to say.
Not only that, it changed my life and work forever. My email newsletter has been the most important asset to my online platform, helping me attract an audience, publish five books in six years (two of which were national bestsellers), and build a business that led to me quitting my job and pursuing my dream of being a full-time writer.
So, yeah. I think email marketing is kind of important. And you should, too. If you’re not getting people on your email list, whether you're a writer, artist, or entrepreneur, you’re missing out big time. Email is the best way to start a conversation with an audience and continue it over a long period of time.
So whether you have something to sell or share, you need to be building an email list now.
Email marketing 101: The basics
What does it take to actually build an email list? Well, to begin, you need the following tools:
- a self-hosted WordPress blog
- a solid email marketing tool
- a form on your website to collect email addresses
But that is just the beginning. Let’s say you’ve done the work of setting up a list and getting those pesky forms embedded on your site. What now? Once you've done that, it's time to move on to what it really takes to grow your email list.
Now, you want to make sure website is ready to turn visitors into subscribers. Which means you need to design for readers, not just yourself. Your content is only as good as your ability to capture an audience's attention. So make sure that you're creating compelling content. If you need help with that, check out my post on how to write great blog posts.
Otherwise, you run the risk of having to keep reintroducing yourself to the same people over and over again. Which means you'll never have permission to follow up. And that’s a problem.
What it means to get permission
Do you have something to say? A message to share? Something worth listening to? Then you need permission. Everyone has a story to tell or a message to share. I believe that. But without an audience, how good is your message? What kind of impact will it have?
You may feel like you have something amazing to say, a word we all need to hear. And that's great. But without getting people’s permission to communicate, your message won't go far. Without someone saying, “Here: I trust you; send me stuff,” you're forced to throw stuff out there and hope some of it sticks.
The smart way to share a message is to get permission ahead of time so that when you speak, people listen. And how your website is designed is an important piece of the puzzle.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Is it difficult for people to sign up for your newsletter?
- How many clicks does it take to get to a place where they can give you their information?
- How long does it take to even find a place to sign up?
You can’t assume people will search for ways to subscribe to your blog, that they’re dying to get more email in their inbox. They won’t and they aren’t. You have to make it easy.
Okay, now that we've covered the basics behind why you need an email list and how to get one set up, let's talk about to use email marketing to actually grow your audience.
5 steps to growing your email list
- Use a feature box or popup. Derek Halpern was one of the first people to popularize the big email signup form on a blog. What he learned in doing this was that one of the best things you can do to get new subscribers is make it super obvious where people can sign up. An alternative to this is to have a pop-up form. (If you're on WordPress, be sure you use a theme that has a feature box built in to it or get a plugin like Sumo that allows you to easily have pop-ups on your site.)
- Have multiple signup forms. Not only do you want to have a big signup box or a pop-up; you want to make it easy for people to sign up wherever they are on your site. For example, I include a signup form at the end of each article. Some sites include one in the footer or sidebar, as well. Wherever people are going, there should be an opportunity to join your list.
- Leverage social proof. You can use a celebrity endorsement or share how many subscribers you have (e.g. “Join over 1000 daily readers!”). The idea behind social proof is that people want to be a part of what people are doing. But be careful that it doesn't backfire on you (i.e. sharing a small number that prevents people from signing up).
- Offer bait. Seth Godin calls it an “ethical bribe.” I like to think of it as a reward. However you view it, you want to incentivize people to join your email newsletter with an immediate signup bonus. When I did this with The Writer’s Manifesto, my subscribers grew from 75 to over 1000 in a week.
- Ask people to share. This is an obvious one, but most will overlook it. Once you’ve started getting subscribers, an easy way to grow your list is to ask existing followers to tell their friends. Inserting a tweetable link in a newsletter can work wonders. If you’re offering great content, your audience will be happy to share. A great tool that allows you to do this is SmartBribe, which incentivizes new readers to share your website with others.
When in doubt, make it obvious, simple, and valuable for the reader. Reward people for their attention, never taking permission for granted, and don't be afraid to occasionally ask them to share. Do this, and your email list will grow. And your message will spread.
Getting started: simple next steps
If this is too overwhelming and you don’t know where to start, I understand. This stuff can feel like Greek 401 if you’re just beginning with blogging and can’t wrap your mind around all the technical stuff.
If that’s you, start here:
- Begin with a piece of bait. Find something useful you’ve already created (like a short eBook, blog series, or resource list) that you can quickly package and offer for free on your website. For a thorough walk-through on how I did this, check out The Essential Guide to Writing an eBook & Sharing It.
- Ask people to share. Use a free tool like clicktotweet.com to automatically generate a message readers can easily post on your behalf (see how I'm doing that here).
- Collect new subscribers. And watch your list grow!
This doesn't have to feel sleazy
One of the things I often hear people say is, “But I'm not a marketer…” Or: “I don't like self-promotion.” But that's not what this is about.
Whether you consider yourself as a marketer or not, don't forget this isn't about you. It's about your message, which deserves to be heard. Email, in my experience, just happens to be the best way to get it out there.
Having a strong email newsletter list will allow you engage with an audience, build trust over time, and lead people wherever you want to go.
For more on how to do this, check out this short video from my recent creativeLIVE class:
One last thing: Art is only as useful as the people it changes (tweet that). You have an opportunity to use the incredible tools that technology affords us to reach more people than you ever imagined. But you have to start.
Good luck, and here’s to your message spreading and your email list growing!
What questions about building an email newsletter list do you have? And what success stories do you have? Share in the comments.