If you’ve already got your first online store or landing page promotion set up, the next step is to get it in front of an audience. Because unfortunately, most people won’t just find you by random happenstance. (“If you build it, they will come,” doesn’t apply to online marketing. Sorry Kevin Costner fans.) The next step of the game—and the most effective way to grow your online business—is to build an email list of interested prospects.
This can seem like a daunting task, especially if you’re starting with nadda single person in your database. But it doesn’t have to take years to get a sizable number of subscribers. There are some easy steps you can take today to grow your email list much faster.
Despite what you may have heard from some of the marketing Nostrdramuses over the years, “email is most definitely not dead.” (Seriously, an article like this one has popped up every year since 2007. It’s been over a decade—maybe we should all stop planning the funeral?) The truth is that email is still one of the best ways to reach customers online, especially if you’re a small business. And it delivers some of the best ROI out of all the marketing channels out there.
Source: The Emma 2019 Email Marketing Industry Report
Unlike SEO (which can be competitive and complex), social media (which can be wildly inconsistent), and online advertising (which can cost mucho money), email is practically made for marketers. It’s straightforward, predictable, affordable, and easy to use. And with email, you can build relationships that turn one-off customers into repeat business.
But first—you need to start building that email list. So let’s get started.
5 Steps to Build Your Email List from Scratch
- Get an Email Marketing Tool.
- Create an Offer You Can Exchange for Email Addresses.
- Build a Landing Page, Popup, or Sticky Bar to Collect Emails.
- Advertise Your Email-Gated Offer.
- Start Sending Regular Emails to Your List.
Step 1. Get an Email Marketing Tool
Before you start building your list, you’re going to want to sign up for an email marketing tool like ActiveCampaign, Campaign Monitor, or Mailchimp. These are some of the most popular pieces of software for not only building and sending emails to your customers, but also collecting and organizing your email list. (Because trust me… you’re not gonna want to keep track of all this on an Excel spreadsheet.) The initial costs for these tools are very low—and all of them offer free plans or trials that make it easy to get started.
Once you’ve chosen a tool, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with how it works. Each platform is slightly different, but some of the first steps you’ll want to take include…
Create Your First List(s) – You can organize the emails you collect into groups called “lists.” To start out, you may want to create a “Master” list where you can put all email addresses, a “Customers” list for people who have already bought from you, and a “Prospects” list for people who have shown interest but haven’t yet made a purchase.
Import Any Existing Contacts – If you already have some emails that you want to add to your new database, now would be the time to do so. You can set up your existing email contacts in a spreadsheet to import them all in one go. Remember, these are folks who need to have expressly agreed to receive emails from you per privacy laws.
Set Up Tags/Segments – As email addresses come in, you’ll be able to tag leads based on how they entered your database, and send segmented emails to more specific groups of customers or prospects. To start out, you may want to create tags for segments like “Landing Page Leads,” “Newsletter Sign-up Leads,” and other entry points so you know who signed up where.
Create an Email Template – These email marketing tools aren’t just for organizing your list—they’re also for sending emails. Get familiar with the different templates, and try designing and sending out a test email from your business.
Step 2. Create an Offer You Can Exchange for Email Addresses
Now that you have a tool to collect email addresses, the next step—and possibly the most important part of this entire process—is to figure out how the heck to convince prospective customers to actually give you their emails.
The traditional approach here is to put some sort of “Subscribe” button on your website’s homepage or blog and ask visitors to enter their email address. But have you ever actually filled one of those things out just… because? (No, thank you.) Most visitors skip over a form like that entirely because there’s no real compelling reason to give up your email address in the first place.
An email address is someone’s personal (and private) contact information. Most people aren’t just going to type it out onto any old website, all willy nilly like that. You’ve got to offer up something genuinely valuable in exchange.
That’s why it’s a good idea to take some time and brainstorm what your business can offer that’ll convince visitors to give up their email address first. Because getting the right strategy here will help you build an email list much faster later on.
If you’re wondering what most other marketers do, here are a few of the most common ways to get a visitor’s email address…
Offer a Coupon or Discount Code
MeUndies and other ecommerce brands often offer discounts in exchange for email addresses.
For ecommerce, one of the easiest ways to get a shopper to give you their email address is to offer them a coupon or discount in exchange. This is the most straightforward approach—but it’s also usually the most expensive. “Get $10 Off Your First Order” or “Get Free Shipping” can be powerfully persuasive for visitors… you just need to make sure you factor those expenses into your cost-per-email-acquisition.
Offer a Free Tool or Resource
SaaS companies like Later use free resources to collect email addresses.
The other common way to build an email list fast (especially if you’re in SaaS) is to create a free resource and gate it with a form. The key here is that it has to be something your audience would find useful that also aligns with your business expertise. So, for example, if you run an online pet store, you might create a free guide all about “How to Choose the Perfect Leash for Your Pet.” Or if you run a hair salon, you might create a “How to Cut Your Hair at Home” guide for customers staying at home during the pandemic.
Run a Sweepstakes, Giveaway, or Contest
This example of a giveaway run by Fat Stone Farm and Webistry helped bring in over 15,000 leads. Click here to see the full story.
People love free stuff. There’s something about sweepstakes, giveaways, and contests that just appeal to our lizard brains. (“Why yes, I do want a chance to win a lifetime supply of mayonnaise. Where do I sign up?”) You could even consider setting up ongoing sweepstakes like this one from Fat Stone Farm to collect customer emails on a weekly basis.
Set Up an Email Newsletter
An example of a newsletter by Toast to help restaurants during COVID-19.
I know I said earlier that people never sign up for newsletters “just because,” but they will sign up if you give them a compelling reason to. You can offer a newsletter as a way for folks to hear about your latest products or curate content based on what might be important to them during COVID-19. (This strategy works particularly well in B2B, where you can use a newsletter to share stories of how your other customers are navigating the crisis.)
Ultimately, it’s up to you to choose the approach that makes the most sense for your business. You may even want to test a combination of these two approaches to build your list faster. For example, check out how this baby food brand brought in 14,000+ email subscribers in less than a year using both coupons and a free guidebook. (You may also want to look into other creative ways to generate leads, such as free webinars, templates, quizzes, and online tools.)
A word of caution—be careful with any emails you collect for purposes other than marketing (like when someone places an order on your website). With regulations like GDPR in place, you’ll want to obtain explicit consent from your visitors in order to send them promotional emails.
Step 3. Build a Landing Page, Popup, or Sticky Bar to Collect Emails
Next, you’ll need to create a landing page or popup (or both!) to start collecting emails for your list. These will be the spots where you display your offer and ask customers to enter their contact information.
- Landing pages are great if you have a juicy offer that needs some explanation (like a free resource).
- Popups are perfect for short and to-the-point offers (like discounts or coupons).
- Sticky bars are good for adding onto the top or bottom parts of your existing storefront or website for quick offers (again, think discounts, coupons, newsletters).
Creating a landing page or popup is pretty simple.. (You don’t even have to get your hands dirty with HTML or CSS—which is super helpful if you’re not a developer like me.) Get started with one of our lead-generation templates and customize it using the drag-and-drop builder to match your brand and offer.
Creating a landing page or popup. (You don’t even have to get your hands dirty with HTML or CSS—which is super helpful if you’re not a developer like me.) Get started with one of our lead-generation templates and customize it using the drag-and-drop builder to match your brand and offer.
Some of the lead-generation templates you get with Unbounce for collecting email addresses.
You’ll want to connect the form on your landing page or popup to your email marketing tool, and then test it out to make sure everything is hunky dory. Hit publish when it’s ready to go, and you’ll be ready to start building your list.
In Unbounce, it’s easy to set up your landing pages, popups, and sticky bars so all new leads get routed directly into your email marketing platform.
Step 4. Advertise Your Email-Gated Offer
Now, it’s just a matter of directing visitors towards your offer. There are a few different ways you can do this, depending on what type of offer you set up in the previous step…
Use Popups and Sticky Bars to Promote the Offer on Your Website
An example of a discount offer popup by the clothing store Chubbies.
If you already have a lot of visitors coming to your website, you can set up a popup or sticky bar to get people’s attention and promote your offer. You can set these to show up (or slide down) on any high-traffic page of your website, including your homepage. Advanced targeting options let you time ‘em so they only appear when you want them to—like when a visitor is exiting the page without purchasing anything, for example.
Post to Your Blog or Social Media Channels
If you already have an online audience on social media (or via a blog), you can use these channels to organically get the word out about your offer. This is a great way to connect with your existing audience and turn social media followers into email subscribers so you can reach them more directly.
“But wait, why do I need the emails of people who already follow me on social media?” I hear you asking. The sad truth is you only reach a small portion of your audience with organic posts on most social media platforms. (For example, according to research done by Hootsuite, the average reach of a Facebook post is only 5.5%.) Getting directly into your prospect’s email (where open rates are typically above 20%) is far more valuable than relying on organic social impressions.
Set Up Paid Ads to Drive Traffic
An example of a paid ad on social media for a free resource by Shopify Plus.
If you don’t already have an online audience and you’re truly starting from scratch, you may want to try investing in some online ads. Lots of brands use social ads on Facebook and Instagram to promote their free resources or discounts that get customers in the door. Think of this as an investment—once you have a list of emails, you’ll be able to reach out to these customers directly (for free).
Step 5. Start Sending Regular Emails to Your List
An example of an automated welcome email from HubSpot.
Once the ball starts rolling, you should start seeing the email addresses come in from your offer. Don’t worry about waiting until you cross a certain threshold of subscribers before you start sending emails to your list. Instead, build a personal relationship with those initial subscribers and get feedback from them on what types of emails they would like to see from your brand. This will help you create an email strategy that resonates with your audience as it continues to grow.
It’s also a good idea to set up automatic email nurtures that go out to new subscribers and to begin scheduling promotional emails on a regular basis. If you’re consistent, your list is much more likely to be active and engaged.
Build Your Email List
Once you have the email addresses for your customers (and prospective customers), you’ll be able to easily let ‘em know about your latest products for sale, landing page promos, and store updates.
Get started today by checking out some of our lead-generation templates. Just contact us