5 Ways to Build a Powerful Email List

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.

Build Email List
Photo Credit: gajman via Compfight cc

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:

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

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.

69 thoughts on “5 Ways to Build a Powerful Email List

  1. Only recently found out about you, Jeff. It quickly becomes apparent why you’ve built such a following. Genuine. Mighty Fine Storyteller. Enthusiastic.

    Keep it rolling…



  2. Amazingly useful and timely article for me. I will definitely be trying out the “tweet that” button.

    I’ve been working on my “ethical bait” since your last post on the power of the email list. (almost ready!)

    Thanks Jeff.

    -Christine @ Better Novel Project

  3. I recently released an eBook on books.noisetrade.com to help grow my e-mail list and it’s been incredibly helpful for people discovery my list. Some of those will certainly end up unsubscribing, but I’ve also already made connections with people who didn’t know about my writing before!

  4. Retweeted This. I like the fact that you don’t promise the world by following these methods. You simply put out what worked best for you, and you seem to be doing well with them!

    I’ve also heard of others who would put email signup forms at the end of their post. If the reader lasted that long, they must have liked it and could mean a potential subscriber. Just another idea. Glad to see you doing well Jeff.

  5. I sat in on your creativeLIVE class (virtually) and now I have a ton of excitedly scribbled notes on this topic. Thank you for your generosity and your open wisdom. I’ve been using an e-mail list since Christmas, to deliver a free primer on storytelling for bloggers, and sign-ups have been shockingly rapid, even though I’ve been neglecting to refine the whole process. I’m working on that now – so thanks for this post. Very timely.

    A few weeks back I saw a Gary Vaynerchuk presentation in which he said, direct quote, “e-mail is dead”. He’s a smart guy and I love to listen to his ideas – but in this case, based on my personal experience, he couldn’t be more wrong.

  6. Jeff these are great tips. I’m encouraged to read them knowing I’m on the hopeful right track to building my audience. The one I have missed that you’ve help me catch in this post is asking people to share.

  7. Great post Jeff. Thanks for your open and honest style:) These things that you have written about that I have used really do work. The only thing I struggle with personally is the popup box. Not sure about using it so I haven’t.

  8. Agreed. Building a list is one of the Assets that every author or person with something to say or sell needs. By far, email still outweighs anything else as far as generating a response (getting people to actually take action). Good tips Jeff.

  9. The tip to ‘Have Multiple Sign-up Forms’ was a revelation for me. I had never given any thought to placing the sign-up form also at the end of posts! Very helpful; thanks!

  10. I was really surprised when I saw 3 boxes for an email address on your blog. I then realised how important that must be.

    Bloggers should rely more on their own tools to keep in touch with the community instead of just focusing on the social media which is not in our control.

    Thanks for this post. It is perfect timing for me as I am about to set newsletter mechanisms on my blog.

    1. Sorry, Robyn. Hope you get a chance to watch it with some better bandwidth! (No worries, though; the article had a lot more content than the short video. It was supplemental.)

  11. Awesome, awesome, totally awesome Jeff. You’ve given me such excellent food-for-thought as I build my email list. Muchas gracia!

  12. Great advice as always. I use the Genesis platform for my blog. I have an “About Catherine Tatum” at the end of each blog post. I noticed that somehow you created hyperlinks to your sign up form and social media sites. How did you do that. I don’t see a dashboard with the tools I did to do that when I am adding my biographical information.

    1. Catherine, you can do that by editing your profile. Add links by include some text using an actually link in the YOURLINK part and some text in the “some text part. Don’t forget the quote marks. 🙂

  13. I keep getting snagged right at this exact point:The email subscribe box. The rss feed won’t work or the sign up plug in shows up but doesn’t work out when visitor actually want to subscribe. So I emailed Andy Traub today and asked, how long will it take to set up MailChimp with Andy’s super amazing course? He said about two hours. YES. I can do that. So I am doing it. I am going to buy Andy’s course and get that sign up function WORKING.

  14. Just a flat out brilliant post. The video is helpful as well, but the general topic and the clear-cut methodology laid out is wonderful. You’ve convinced me. Tonight I wrote my IT contractor and asked him to quote me a rate and a time-table for plugging in an e-mail address gathering component to my website, much like you’ve laid out here.

    I am indebted to you. Very well done, Jeff. Thank you.

  15. I absolutely agree that making it easy to sign up is key. Just like a business should make it easy for you to give them money, a website should make it easy to consume their content.

  16. I follow Derek Halperns advice to a T, and I have to say it works well. I even use his Social Triggers Thesis theme. But, I’m with Kimanzi who commented below. I should have started collecting emails years ago.

  17. I’ve heard it said that your email list is like “currency”. I would have to say that that is right on-the-money.

  18. Jeff, love this quote – “Art is only as useful as the people it changes.” So true. I love the tactics of what you share and teach through your content. Actually, first time commenting here, but love how your tactics always come from a place of passion and they answer the “why I exist.”….and, at least in my humble opinion, the “why” must have altruistic purpose in helping others and ultimately, through that, having the power to change the world for good. Love your stuff! Thank you.

  19. Jeff, I’m always grateful you share the tactics and tools you’re using so openly. Click to Tweet has really helped to drive the sharing of my content.

    Getting past the “I’m not a marketer” self-talk was a hurdle for me. But once you realize you are sharing something valuable that will positively impact others, it changes things. At that point, you can’t NOT share it. 🙂

  20. Great post. We all start out with 0 readers, 0 followers, 0 fans. I love your voice and willingness to help others. Your ability to convey useful information has me hooked.

  21. Jeff, great articles here; I am enjoying reading your posts. Given that email is such an important tool for the blooger, I’d love to know what (besides the blog articles themselves) constitutes good email content or topics, and if you have found a “magic number” of emails per month to send? Thanks for the concrete practical information.

  22. Hi Jeff ,
    Great info and what wonderful comments you get. Thanks to your advice I am finally getting a few comments on my blogs. Now I have to work on my email list. I still havent got a newsletter but will now create one.

  23. Hey Jeff!

    I launched my blog today! Thanks to your encouragement and words. I’m very happy to have done this, so my first blog was written about how I came to terms with writing. You can find it here at https://www.julianpgriches.com/2014/03/24/coming-to-terms-with-writing/

    Thanks Jeff for your time. I’m really happy about having found this website and it has encouraged me to get up and at it for doing this and many other things that I have wanted to do with my life.


  24. Hello Jeff! Just want to thank you here for sending The Writer’s Manifesto. I’ve recommended it in apublic post on Google+! Your words ring true – they’re what every writer should realize and they’re exactly the concepts that made my blog famous twelve(!) years ago. So where’s that blog now? I guess (I can only guess) that the host shut down due to financial constraints because my blog just plain disappeared! Now, as if (and only as if) making up for lost time, I’m in the middle of starting my ten (yes, ten) blogs at WordPress. I’m not starting them for fame or anything resembling it (although I’ve tasted it twelve years ago)…Writing’s just what I was born to do! I’m not (yet) promoting those ten blogs here by mentioning their names and web addresses, because I will be officially launching them sometime in the middle of July or August of 2014. However, I can tell you and everyone basic stuff: I’m Annie Windward, and I’m going to launch 10 blogs on the dates I’ve indicated at WordPress.com! Perhaps I’ll be back here to announce the actual date/s of the launch and/or after I’ve written in them for quite some time. I have a Facebook account under the same name and my Twitter account is @1_angelinflight. I’ll make sure I follow you on Twitter, Jeff, and thanks again for the blogging tips!

  25. Jeff – you started on Mailchimp and then moved to aWeber. Can you point me to your article on why you made the switch and what you recommend for people starting to build their lists now?

  26. Im not an author as of yet but I want to build a web site & get bait going on. Since Im not published can I use Fan Fiction free to site visitors? Im going to start working on this free ebook concept thanks. Also I have had the idea to give the ideas I have had behind what inspires me to write the fiction I do write. So basiclly visitors get insight to the authors head in creation of the writing somewhat & leave it as a wanting to read more click here type of thing. Feedback welcome. Thanks.

  27. Hey Jeff,
    This is indeed a great post. You have succinctly explained 5 ways to build an email list. Whether one considers it a bribe or a reward offering something of great value is a surefire way to add subscribers to an email list. I’ve been able to add subscribers to my list quickly through content upgrades of my popular posts. What’s your thought on content upgrades?

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