skip to content

A step-by-step guide for going from zero email subscribers to a profitable launch

Want to see your business grow big and strong? First, you need to grow your email list. Find out how using this guide to building an email list.

Your business is just starting out.

All of the small business gurus out there say to “grow your list”, but you don’t know how to build an email list, or even if it’s going to pay off in the end.

Before we go any further, let’s clarify that point: It will definitely pay off. Growing your email list isn’t some unproven marketing tactic -- it’s one of the most sensible and profitable things you can do to grow your business.

As you grow your list, awesome things can start happening -- your subscribers recommend you to others, more people purchase your products, people sing your praises on social media -- and the cycle will continue.

And that’s just the tip of the benefits iceberg. All of this “growing your list” stuff sounds pretty appealing now, right?

If so, then you’re in the right place.

Today, we’ll cover the basics of how to build an email list from nothing to a healthy subscriber count, list-building strategies, and some of the most creator-friendly email marketing software platforms out there.

As usual, let’s start by looking at why you should build an email list in the first place.  

Why build an email list?

As we said, building an email list is one of the most straightforward ways to develop relationships with your customers (and, moreover, their checkbooks).

Wondering just how profitable growing your email list can be?

Profitable enough that marketers ranked email marketing as having one of the highest ROIs among various marketing channels.

Even better? 47% of consumers prefer email for hearing from retailers.

Now, you may be curious what makes email so special compared to other marketing channels like paid advertisements or social media.

The gist of it is that email marketing is a form of permission-based marketing.

Permission-based marketing is an approach where your audience is only shown messages they explicitly agree to receive, such as when they sign up for your email list.

The key thing to remember for email marketing is that you shouldn’t use every email to promote your products or make a sales pitch -- that’s a surefire way to shrink your email list quicker than you can say “toodle-loo”.

Instead, use your email list for a balanced give-and-take with your customers where you give you them valuable, educational, or entertaining information, and they provide you with key information you need to produce better products.

As you’re starting and growing your business, your email list is prime real estate to conduct customer research, test your minimum viable product, and drive sales of your latest products by giving your subscribers access to them before everyone else.

But that’s not all you could do with an email list.

To reward your subscribers for their loyalty, you could also offer them exclusive discounts and promotions, similar to what Scott’s Cheap Flights did for their Black Friday promotion.

In a nutshell, building a list is one of the most practical and rewarding things you can do for your brand.

But if you want to achieve success like Scott’s Cheap Flights and many other successful brands out there, you can’t just toss out an occasional discount and expect to have a healthy, ever-growing list.

Though the question remains: How are you supposed to build your list?

How can I build my email list?

Some of the easiest ways to grow an email list include:

  1. Content marketing

  2. Building relationships with your audience

  3. Creating landing pages and lead magnets

  4. Penning killer emails

While each of these is a great tactic in isolation, they work best when they’re used together.

Let’s take a peek at content marketing first.

Tactic #1: Use content marketing to position yourself as a reliable, trustworthy source

Content marketing involves using content -- blog posts, videos, podcasts, webinars, and et cetera -- to educate and entertain your audience while also guiding them to take some desired action, like joining your list or purchasing from you.

But can a blog post or video really help you to grow your list?

Yes, they can.

By creating helpful and informative content, people will naturally want to hear from you and visit your website, follow you on social media, and sign up for your email newsletter.

Even better, people will gradually become curious about your paid products -- after all, if you’re sharing such valuable content for free, the information in your paid products and services must be knock-your-socks-off amazing.

Tiger Fitness is a fantastic example of using content to boost a brand. They created a stream of helpful connect -- videos in particular -- to connect with their customers, build their brand, and distinguish themselves from the competition.

As a result of their efforts, Tiger Fitness saw explosive growth across their social media channels and an enviable 60% returning customer rate  -- or how often a customer returns to make a purchase.

I think Tiger Fitness’ CEO said it best with the following quote:

“Nowadays, you have to provide content. You have to give people a reason. A reason to come back. A reason to shop. And you have to earn their business.”

As for the type of content you should produce, that’s something you’ll have to test out with your audience.

Video is one of the most popular content forms out there, with 21% of adults saying video is the most memorable form of content, and 68% saying they prefer to learn about new products and services by watching a short video.

Still, even though 87% of people have said that they want to see more videos from brands in 2019, it’s far from the only worthwhile format out there.

You could just as easily start a blog, create infographics, host webinars to promote your online course, or give out free digital downloads like ebooks and checklists to build interest in your other digital offerings.

But what if you’re in the same boat as 60% of creators who struggle to consistently produce content?

Don’t sweat it -- repurpose your content instead.

Repurposing content doesn’t mean reposting the same blog posts every few weeks or repeating the same message word-for-word across different forms of content.

Rather, repurposing content means taking valuable information from your existing content and turning it into a different format, often with a slight twist so it doesn’t sound like you’re repeating the same points.

Take the founder of Convince and Convert, Jay Baer, as an example.  

Jay produces two- to three-minute videos that his team can then repurpose for podcast episodes, social media posts, and a Medium article, among other types of content.

Jay’s approach works for smaller brands, too. Let’s say you wrote a blog post -- you could easily turn that into a series of Instagram stories, a few YouTube videos, or even as a jumping point for hosting a live webinar for your followers.

That sounds much less daunting than having to create a new blog, video, and visual content from scratch, right?

Like we said earlier, giving out free content is just one of the strategies you can use to grow your email list.

But after your produce that killer content, you can’t just publish it and forget about it -- instead, use it as a starting point for developing a relationship with your audience.

Tactics #2: Build relationships with your followers

People don’t like being sold to.

71% of consumers prefer “pull” forms of advertising where they can discover or learn about a brand themselves, such as from an online search, a friend’s recommendation, or other means.

That means whether a visitor finds your social media channels, website, or landing page, it’s imperative to make a great first impression and not be too pushy.

So, how can you advertise to visitors without being explicitly promotional?

Try gaining their trust first by providing helpful content about their problems, what they can do to solve them, and the available solutions.

By providing helpful information and saving the sale for later on, your visitors will gradually begin to trust you as a reliable source of information and not just another business looking to make a buck.

Gaining trust isn’t some fluffy marketing tactic, either -- 88% of shoppers agree trust is “extremely important” when deciding where to shop.

So, to position your brand as a trustworthy and reliable voice, discussion forums like Reddit and Quora are a great way to start since they allow you to answer your audience’s questions directly.

As a bonus, they’re also a smart way to generate organic traffic to your website, find inspiration for your brand’s content, and repurpose existing content.

On Reddit, you can ask questions, answer questions, or host an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session where users ask questions related to your experiences, expertise, and so on.

As an example of Reddit’s usefulness, consider the founder of Starter Story, who credits posting case studies on Reddit as the most consistent way he grew his email list.

But if Reddit’s not really your thing, Quora’s still a viable option.

Like Reddit, Quora allows you to ask and answer questions and host “Sessions”, which are similar to AMAs.  

However, one of the things that sets Quora apart is you can share a lengthy bio in your user profile where you can place links back to your website, social media pages and -- you guessed it -- a signup page for your email list.

Author and product marketer, Josh Fechter, used Quora to gain over 2,000 new members for his Facebook group and 3,000 email subscribers in five months.

How did he do it? By promoting an ebook in his Quora bio and by following Quora’s best practices.

And while publicly answering questions on a discussion website may sound intimidating, I promise Quora is much less daunting and more intuitive than it seems.


Being seen as trustworthy is just one among many ways you could start building a relationship with your audience, and it’s a reliable one. If you’re not sure where to start, online communities like Reddit and Quora are free, easy, and proven platforms for reaching new audiences.

As for what to do once you find those audiences, that’s where the next tactic comes in.

Tactic #3: Create landing pages and lead magnets

Landing pages are simply pages your visitors “land” on after clicking an ad or a link from another piece of content.

A landing page typically only has one of two aims in mind: to get your visitors to subscribe to your email list, or to make a purchase.

To get readers to subscribe to your list, you can create something called a lead magnet.

Think of a lead magnet as a gift you give your subscribers in exchange for their email address and permission to contact them.

The nice thing about lead magnets is that you can make them practically anything that your subscribers could want, like an ebook or a 20-part email series on podcasting.

Generally, the easier the lead magnet is to consume, the more engaged your audience will be.

However, to convert your readers into subscribers and customers, your landing page and lead magnet shouldn’t only collect their email addresses.

Instead, it should collect as much information as you need to know about your customer to send them useful and relevant email messages, such as which of your products they’re most interested or what questions/struggles they’re having which you may be able to help with.

Also keep in mind that after you’ve designed your landing page, your work still isn’t complete -- you still need to see which landing page design works best.

Many other websites have waxed poetic about designing landing pages, so we’ll keep things short: even if you’ve designed what you think is the perfect landing page, it’s worth considering running an A/B test it to see if you could make it even more effective.

A/B testing is when you test two or more pages but change only one feature, like where you place the CTA, how your CTA is phrased, and what kind of lead magnet you offer.

It’s best for websites with at least over 10,000 visitors a month, and the greater your traffic volume, the more reliable your results will be.

Regardless of how much monthly traffic you receive or whether you leverage A/B testing, ensure your landing page and lead magnets are relevant to your audience, easy to consume, and collect as much information as you need to nurture your customers.

As long as you do that, our final tactic for the day will be a cinch.

Tactic #4: Send out irresistible emails

Crafting a great email means more than just sharing a unique offer or interesting links with your subscribers.

It’s about keeping them educated and entertained.

But here’s the rub: The average email is only 434.8 words, with around 50% of emails containing three hundred words or fewer.

As for subject lines that get the best overall engagement, those are usually seven words. The best email subject line formulas vary, but almost all of them keep things on the slim side.

That’s not a lot of real estate for grabbing your readers’ interest and convincing them to take some sort of action.

So, when writing your emails, it’s important to reference email best practices (and then test them yourself) that can boost your chances of subscribers not only opening your email but taking action after reading it.

Wondering just what makes an email great?

So many things, from storytelling to personalization and beyond.

For example, this email from the Oregon College Savings Plan uses emotions, powerful imagery, and a great opening line to pull you into their email.

Similarly, TheSkimm sent this email to a subscriber to mark the second anniversary of her signing up.

While it was sweet of TheSkimm to mark the subscriber’s anniversary, what made it stand out is that they asked her if she wanted to become a brand ambassador, which would require her to share her special link with 10 friends.

In just one email, TheSkimm showed their subscriber they valued her, offered a reward, and found a way to promote referrals. That’s a model email if there ever was one.

To wrap up, crafting a great email is the final step in your list building process, but not quite the last thing you have to do before beginning to build your list.

Before you can actually begin that process, you need to pick the email marketing software that best aligns with your brand.

What’s the best email marketing software?

When it comes to growing your list, you’ll want to ensure you have an email marketing provider which is both intuitive and flexible enough that you can tailor your emails to your audience.

There are major brownie points, too, if it can save you time and technical hassle by integrating with whatever online course platform, membership hosting platform, or digital download software you use to sell your products.

So just what email marketing software should you choose?

As ever, it depends on your needs. The following three are some of our favorites and among the most creator-friendly platforms out there.

#1. Mailchimp

If you’re new to email marketing or are looking to dip your toes into the email marketing waters, Mailchimp may be a match for you.

Their free plan allows you up to 2,000 subscribers and access to basic templates, automations, and more, with additional perks built into the paid plans.

As a Mailchimp user, you’ll also be able to segment your list (i.e., divide your subscribers into groups based on what you know about them).

According to Mailchimp’s own exhaustive research, segmented emails receive 100.95% more clicks than non-segmented emails, 9.37% fewer unsubscribes, and perform better overall.

Even better, Mailchimp integrates with Podia so your emails and website can work hand-in-hand.

(No website with product pages just yet? Then try out Podia’s 14-day free trial to see how it can simplify your business even further.)

If none of Mailchimp’s plans are quite what you’re looking for, Constant Contact’s two plans may prove an easier decision to make.

#2. Constant Contact

Constant Contact offers a 60-day free trial before users transition to a paid plan.

One of Constant Contact’s most notable features is that both paid plans offer unlimited emails, so you don’t have to worry about exceeding your email quota and can send as frequently as your audience prefers.

Another nice feature for smaller creators is that Constant Contact allows you to create welcome emails and emails based on your subscribers’ previous behavior.

What makes those so great, you may wonder?

Welcome emails generated an average open rate of 29% according to one report (the average email open is 18.1% across industries), while trigger emails like birthday or anniversary emails also tend to perform better than regular emails.

However, while Constant Contact is a great platform in its own right, some creators may not like its pricing system, which fluctuates as your list grows and according to how far in advance you pay.

Fortunately, Constant Contact isn’t the only email software that was designed with creators in mind -- ConvertKit also has you covered.

#3. ConvertKit

Built “by creators, for creators”, ConvertKit’s paid plans offer practically everything a creator could need, from unlimited emails to customizable templates and integrations with 70+ services, including Podia.

One of ConvertKit’s most appealing features is its customizable forms.

Remember earlier how we talked about A/B testing landing pages? Well, one of the things to test is your form’s length and what information you ask for, as there is no one-size-fits-all form length.

For example, reducing the number of fields from eight to six reduced one landing page’s conversion rate by 14%, but another landing page saw a 109% increase in conversions when its form had 15 fields.

The point to this seemingly contradictory information is that there’s no perfect form length or landing page design.

But luckily for you, ConvertKit’s customization options give you ample opportunities to find what works best for your brand and subscribers.


Join our newsletter

Join thousands of creators receiving our weekly articles about launching, growing, and thriving as a creative entrepreneur.

Take your email list from nothing to hundreds starting today

Building an email list can be immensely beneficial even for the youngest businesses out there for doing customer research, launching new products, and keeping up sales.

While everyone has their favorite list building strategy, some of the most reliable tactics include:

  • Using content marketing to help educate and entertain your followers.

  • Leveraging social media and discussion boards to answer your audience’s questions and gain their trust.

  • Building landing pages and designing lead magnets to entice your website visitors to subscribe.

  • Sending killer emails that prove valuable to your subscribers and which can gently nudge them to make a sale later on.

  • Picking email software like Mailchimp, Constant Contact, or ConvertKit that can help you welcome and nurture your subscribers.

Once you do all of that, your email list is ready for action. Will it explode overnight? It happens, but no, probably not -- like most worthwhile things, it takes patience and dedication.

But if you keep up your efforts, your subscriber count will climb up right alongside your revenue before you know it.

About the author

Taylor Barbieri is a content marketer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and membership websites – alongside their creators – thrive. Taylor enjoys learning foreign languages, fiction writing, and pugs in no particular order.