The Ultimate Guide to Starting an Email List for Beginners!
You’ve read all the posts about how “the money is in the list”.
Now you’re ready to find out how true that is for yourself.
But first, you need to build your own email list.
As a new blogger, you’re taking the steps to start making money with your blog, but you may be confused on the connection between your email list and your website.
In fact, how do you even set it up on your site?
How do you decide on the right email software?
What the heck do you send them?
I’ve got it all in this post. We’ll cover:
- Why you need to start an email list
- What you need first to start your own email list
- How to decide on a clear purpose for your email subscribers
- The most popular email service providers to help you make the right decision
- How to invite subscribers to join your email list
- And more!
Ready? Let’s go!
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links, which helps support our site. Please read our policy here.
Why start an email list
Well, there’s a few very important reasons that you’ll hear bloggers echoing throughout the internet.
Some of these are:
A direct connection with your audience
Ways of communicating with your reader like blog comments on your website are simply disconnected from your people.
Your audience is going through something, and however you help them it needs to be direct, personable, and customizable.
Blog posts can only communicate so much, and blog comments are only short snippet replies.
Your avatar needs to have a direct connection with you. A method you can hit reply on and discuss something in depth, at length, with no holds barred. Not a public web page.
Okay – but won’t social media work?
The next best reason to have an email list is that it’s completely yours – and explains why social media isn’t the best place to hold your audience permanently.
What about that time when Instagram or Facebook went down?
What if these big conglomerate companies change their terms of service to totally block bloggers (yes, it could happen)?
Or worse…what happens if your blog is suddenly taken down and you have no way to communicate to those readers?
It sounds scary, but it’s a great reason to have an email list. You can’t rely on someone else’s platform to keep your business alive (okay, you can, but it’s risky).
It’s not a good idea! Your email list is your own, and you are largely safe from the massive changes that take place on social media platforms.
You could argue that taking down your site couldn’t happen, but Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income had a real experience where this happened. He had a group of hackers take down his site, and he would have been completely out of business if it wasn’t for his email list. He was able to keep in touch with his subscribers, let them know what was going on, and didn’t have to worry about his income completely disappearing!
So you like the idea that your email list is all yours.
But did you know that not having an email list affects your income?
Another reason to have a list is…
Pat Flynn (yes, again from Smart Passive Income) has used a single email to his list to make over $60,000 in affiliate income. No joke, a single email!
When you hear that fact, the term “the money is in the list” makes much more sense!
You can do the same.
As your blog grows, you’ll use your list as a way to make more income than simply placing ads on your site.
Affiliate income is a huge monetization method that bloggers use.
Why not get yourself a piece of that pie for a small price?!
Okay, that sounds great.
But what about using your email list to find metrics that you can’t find on social, or Google Analytics doesn’t provide?
Google can give you things like ‘location’ and ‘device type’ but it won’t tell you exactly what those needs are.
Good news! Your email list can do exactly that.
When you join my email list, I send you to a page with a short survey. In fact, I wrote a whole blog post on how to set up an automated survey for your audience.
Why would you want to survey your list?
- To learn the exact words that they use to describe their problems.
- To make sure you’re attracting the right audience.
- To use those pain points as content and product ideas.
Talk about the easiest way to feed your content machine, and grow your list! You’ll find out the exact needs of your audience, from them!
So now that you’ve decided these are some pretty compelling ideas to start an email list, lets go over what you might need before you begin.
It’s going to be a lot easier to grow your list if you have a few things in place, first.
- You should have a customer you’re helping
- You should have a website
- Your website should be solving a problem
Although you can start an email list before you have a website (say on Facebook or something), it’s much easier to convert your reader to your list if you have shown them value on your website with free content.
So having a website with content that is helpful to your audience is key!
Already have those three things in place? If so, we’re finally ready to get into some action!
You know why you want a list. You know you’re ready for one.
Now let’s discuss strategy!
First, it’s important to know some email etiquette.
That sounds boring – but it’s just a quick point I wanted to mention!
Once you’ve convinced someone to give you their email address, you have an opportunity – nay, a DUTY to give them help in whatever it is you’re an expert at!
They signed up to hear from someone that they’ve given a liiiittle bit of trust to.
The question is – what are you going to do with that trust?
Now we must decide how often to email, and what to send them.
The answers for bloggers range between once a month to every day.
Every day? Yes! Some bloggers email their list daily – and their audience loves it!
But on the other hand, other bloggers know their audience would hate that.
No one hits an unsubscribe button faster than a busy mom with several kids who barely has time to shower, right?
In my opinion, the frequency of emailing your list depends on two things:
- Your schedule and what you can commit to
- Your audiences schedule
Usually these are one and the same. If you’re a young mom teaching other young moms how to save time, you don’t want to take up their time by not respecting their inbox. You know they’re short on time, so it’s likely that they won’t have enough of it to check their inbox every day.
My list is full of new entrepreneurs and bloggers who are busy running their business. I’m currently testing (always be testing) whether once a week works best for me, or maybe even less frequently.
The point is that you must be consistent. I’ll admit that’s something I’m working on myself. However if you start from the beginning knowing you have an email that goes out every Tuesday and work hard to cultivate that habit, soon it will feel strange to miss it each week.
Remember, it’s all about making sure you’re showing up for your audience. Helping them with their needs! If you don’t, someone else will take your place.
So the answer to how often do you email your list is…not simple. The truth of the matter is that it’s up to you. Just be consistent!
This question often comes up – how the heck do you know what to email them?
For me, I dug through the trenches of deciding this very question for a long time.
After some blogging experience, I decided to create a content strategy for my blog.
In this content strategy, aside from deciding when and what to post on my blog, I connected my blog content to my email content, and subsequently to my social media content.
In other words, my strategy is that whatever content I’m posting on my blog (my core content for my audience) I trickle down into deeper lessons for my email list.
How does this play out in real life?
- I create my editorial calendar by deciding what blog posts I’m going to write.
- I dive deeper into a post with next steps, expand on a point in the post, or another question someone would have around that blog post
- I then write those emails once a month, and can schedule them if I wish
Trust me, this strategy is a lot better than sitting down with a blank email wondering what to write to hundreds of people who are just waiting to hear what you have to say!
I also use a notes app on my phone to write down lessons, experiences, new things I’ve noticed that my audience would like, or questions I get. These are all emails for your list!
You can use a Trello board as a swipe file to jot down ideas, email subject lines, and to save your favorite emails from your favorite bloggers!
This last strategy tip is one is my favorites. It helped change the game for me!
Staring at a blinking cursor is dreadful. It seems like all the ideas in your head you had before are just wiped gone!
What I learned from Carly from Mommy on Purpose is to come up with a template to use each week. It solves the dreadful blinking cursor problem.
Do you want to write an email like The Useletter from Amy Andrews with cool current events/tools you find that your people might like?
Do you want to talk about something business related but always open with a hilarious story or one-liners to get your audience laughing like Ash from The Middle Finger Project?
Or maybe you want to start out with current events in your personal life, then with lessons for each category on your blog like Carly from Mommy on Purpose?
It will take some time but once you find something that works for you, try to stick with it! That consistency word is creeping in again…
P.S. Don’t confuse consistency with sticking to a strategy forever. In entrepreneurship and blogging, it’s vital that you are constantly testing what is working. Are you not churning out content because you hate the way your emails are written? Change it! Are you curious to see what happens to your open rates when you test different intros for your email? Try it out!
Congratulations! You’ve determined a strategy for engaging your email list!
You’ve decided on the frequency of emails, you’ve created an email idea swipe file, and you’ve chosen a template to start out with.
Next up is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in starting your email list:
how to choose the right email service provider for your blog.
This one is going to be a bit tricky.
Choosing an email software (or email marketing software) is going to require you to think about the future, which may be unknown.
If you’re just starting out as a blogger, you may not know exactly what you’ll need, but I’ll try to help you out the best I can!
My top choice for new bloggers who are new to starting their email lists, is Flodesk.
When choosing an ESP, consider:
- Your needs
- Your budget
- Current reviews
- Signing up for a free trial
There are quite a few ESP’s out there with varying features and pricing.
For new bloggers who are often on a tight budget, you may consider going with a free service like Mailerlite. Mailerlite is free up to 1000 subscribers, but it may not offer the tagging and segmenting features you want.
Maybe you’re okay with that starting out!
Or perhaps you would rather choose an ESP that has the features you need from the beginning. That’s what I did!
I didn’t want to worry about transferring ESP’s and losing proprietary data from one software to another (funnily enough, I did change providers recently. I’ll explain why)!
When I first started blogging, I tried out Mailerlite. I never did send an email through them, because I decided to start with Convertkit due to their advanced tagging and sequencing.
I wanted to segment my list from the get-go in order to target my audience in special emails directly to them.
It was also the most inexpensive ESP at the time, with the features I wanted.
Unfortunately, Convertkit can be confusing starting out, and the price increases as your subscriber count increases. It’s good for more advanced bloggers with more requirements, but if you’re just starting out, go with Flodesk.
This is true for most ESPs.
In fact, I switched from Convertkit because of this cost increase. I don’t feel comfortable forking out $50/month when I hit a certain subscriber number.
It’s as though they think my income increased right when I hit that 1000th subscriber!
It’s like you’re being punished for growing your business!
Although Convertkit is a robust software, even considered the king in the industry in terms of features + lower price, another company is coming up fast behind it!
I recently found a company called Flodesk who doesn’t do price increasing, and that has many other benefits (beautiful emails with no coding included)!
In fact, I switched from ConvertKit to Flodesk very recently and am loving it!
It’s way less confusing, and it’s even less expensive than Convertkit.
Along with beautiful emails, Flodesk is super easy to work with, and it’s intuitive to create a scheduled email sequence. The best part is that you don’t get punished for growing your list! There will never be a price increase when your subscriber count increases.
(Right now you can get the beta pricing, instead of $39/month, you’ll get 50% off for LIFE if you sign up now!)
A few things to consider when looking at each provider:
- Do you need a way to segment your audience? If you have more than one category on your blog, you will want to segment your audience. You’ll want to make sure there is a way to ‘tag’ them (like in Convertkit).
- Are you willing to skip landing pages or use another program?
- What types of opt in forms or landing pages do they have?
- Do they use coding or templates that you can use to design your emails?
- Do they allow you to view open rates, unsubscribes, and other reporting that you need?
- Do you need an ESP that allows you to connect to a cart software?
- Can you resend to unopens?
How many email subscribers do you have, and how much do you want to spend?
If you’re starting from scratch (we all started here!) you may want to choose one that is free up to a number of subscribers (like Mailerlite). Are their prices going to go up when you get more subscribers?
Currently, Convertkit is $29/month (after your free trial), up to 1000 subscribers, and then the price goes up to $49, while Mailerlite is free up to the 1000.
However, they both have their pros and cons, as well as features that differ depending on your needs.
Flodesk is currently 50% off, at $19/month for life! No card required, and no price hikes, ever!
The 50% off beta pricing won’t last long – so check it out now!
- How are the current reviews for the ESP you’re looking at?
- Do they offer good tech support?
- When are they available?
- Do they have contingencies in case their main servers go down?
- What are people saying about spam rates or deliverability rates?
The only way you’ll know if you really like the software is to try it!
Luckily most ESPs have a free trial.
The two I recommend are Convertkit and Flodesk, as I mentioned.
If you’re a beginner…Flodesk is best! You won’t need some of the more robust features quite yet and can save some cash that way. It’s growing fast and features are being pushed out almost every day, so I predict that it will surpass Convertkit very quickly!
Remember you’ll get 50% off for LIFE if you sign up during their beta period! You’ll save tons of money each month instead of increasing the price as your list increases, too!
If you need advanced features…Convertkit is great for reaching those features for beginner-intermediate bloggers, being somewhere in the middle with great features, but also a lower price tag than the other names out there.
I would recommend Flodesk for everyone, but it’s currently in its growth stages and needs to grow a bit more to include a few more things before I can recommend it by itself for advanced bloggers. Convertkit has the ability to integrate with many software programs, while Flodesk has only a couple at the moment.
Again, if you’re just starting out and don’t have products yet, Flodesk is perfect.
Other softwares out there include names like Drip or Constant Contact, who are better for bigger companies with more complex needs and advanced features. Not necessary if you’re just starting out with your email list – not to mention confusing!
Alrighty – so I hope I was able to narrow that down and help you decide on an email service provider to try.
Now we need to attract people to your list!
When you’re providing highly valuable content, it will make it that much easier to convince someone to join your list – but a bribe doesn’t hurt either!
We call these lead magnets, optins, freebies….bribes… lol!
They are simply an exchange of free, valuable information for an email address. It’s a huge endeavor because it means someone trusted their actual time to you by inviting you to their inbox.
My very first lead magnet was a workbook on how to hire your first virtual assistant. If you’re curious about what it looks like (I made it in Canva) and would like to reverse engineer it, as well as my welcome sequence, feel free to sign up for it here:
*wink wink* see what I did there?
You’ll want to customize your lead magnets for the category of your blog. For example, if you are writing a post on desserts, don’t place your gardening opt in on that post. Come up with the best opt in for that category!
I decided I needed to test out several lead magnets to find a couple that would really work, including one for each category of my blog. I’m challenging myself to make at least 1 opt in per month to continually test and grow my email list.
Click here to read the best high converting lead magnet examples!
After choosing an ESP and deciding on a lead magnet, it’s now time to set up your email sign up forms on your blog!
If you’re looking for a lead magnet template, I’ve got one created here in Canva that you can use!
This is where I was most confused when I started an email list. No one seemed to have the right information I was searching for on how to use MY email service provider (Convertkit at the time) in the easiest way possible. It all seemed so complicated, even though I’m a tech person!
The best news for you, is that it’s not!
Depending on your email service provider (I recommend Flodesk as I mentioned), it can be easy! You design the form in the email software, and you take the code and paste it into your website where you want the form!
When you sign up for the software, they will have instructions for you to use, since each software is different.
When I started my list, I was confused on how people organize their email forms. What happens if you change a form, do you have to go through every single post to find them?
My Divi theme has a plugin called Bloom to help with the organization, but most themes don’t.
So how do you organize your forms, you may ask?
Keep a list or a spreadsheet with each post that mentions the opt in name with the posts you’re promoting on.
Or if you have a master list of all blog posts you’ve written with publishing dates (you should), add in a column so you can keep track of what you’re promoting on that post!
It will help you in the future when you have to go through and delete forms, opt ins, or know which ones are performing the best and why.
Here’s a list of places to put your forms:
- As a pop up
- As a welcome mat (a full screen page that comes up when you first visit a site, with an opt in form)
- At the end of your post
- In the middle of your post
- On your sidebar
- On the footer of your website
- A floating footer (like Hellobar)
- A bar at the top (also recommend Hellobar, it’s free!)
For more information, Brandon Gaille from The Blog Millionaire recommends the best places to put your opt in forms here in this post. He also gives great information like the time before a popup.
A landing what?
A landing page, or a squeeze page is a website page you create with limited visuals. All it has is your opt in offer and the email sign up form.
Bloggers use these to eliminate distractions like your links and sidebar. It really puts your offer into their face for them to consider.
You can use a plain old website page with an email opt in form, or you can use a software like LeadPages to do this.
Some email marketing softwares like Convertkit also offer landing pages.
If you want to go the free route, you can create a page on your own website and place an optin form on the page. For inspiration, I go to LeadPages and take a look at their landing pages, and create my own. This keeps it free and in your control.
If you do it this way, you can place a Pinterest image at the bottom of the page, and that allows you to pin the page directly to Pinterest and increase your subscriber count.
Once you’ve got people signing up for your list, what are you going to send them?
How are you going to get your freebie to them?
We have to sit by our computers anxiously and send them an email every time someone new signs up.
Just kidding! Just making sure you’re paying attention!
Luckily in today’s world you don’t have to wait anxiously for each email subscriber to sign up, and manually send them emails.
Thank goodness! We’d never get anything done!
So you’ll want to set up a sequence of emails. We call this the Welcome Sequence.
You’ll create a welcome sequence to automatically send your new subscriber their freebie.
This welcome sequence also includes a few emails to welcome them to your list!
It could go something like this:
- Welcome email #1: Hello, here is your PDF!
- Welcome email #2: Hi again, are you ready to party?!
- Welcome email #3: By the way, about me…
- Welcome email #4: Welcome welcome welcome!
You can acquaint them to your email list by telling them about yourself, your story, when you send emails, and what to expect. Keep them short, sweet, and full of value for them! Convince them to stay a while.
Note: Avoid using words like “Freebie” to avoid being caught and sent to the spam filters, otherwise your users won’t get your emails! Check out this post for more information.
Then, in your email provider, you’ll want to set up a workflow or an email sequence (whatever they call it in the software) which will allow you to choose timeframes, like one or two days between emails.
You connect the form to the sequence, then create the workflow.
Again, your email provider will have instructions!
We’ve got our email software set up, now how do we get subscribers?!
It’s time to start sharing!
Share your lead magnet on Facebook.
Share on Pinterest by creating pins and pinning your landing pages, or blog posts!
Share in groups during share days! (Check out my free spreadsheet to organize this! Or the blog post on how to share in Facebook groups!)
Ask your friends and family if they’re interested in joining (hey we’ve all had our mom on our list!)
Start getting the word out there – you’ll start seeing subscribers sign up in no time!
If you don’t see any email opt ins within a couple of weeks, and you’re sure that you’ve promoted it enough, try tweaking the headlines, photos, colors, pins, and give it a bit more time. Usually you just need a tweak to get things going!
Once you’ve gotten your first subscriber, it’s time to implement your email strategy you made earlier!
Okay, you’ve done all this work ahead of time, and now what do you do?
Send an email!
Keep them engaged!
Offer them free lessons, tidbits you’ve learned, insightful stories about the problem you’re trying to help them solve.
If you’re following my previous content strategy, you’ll write your emails after writing your blog posts for the month.
You’ll know you’re hitting the right spots and pain points when you start getting replies from your audience!
Well, after you’ve set up your email list to collect subscribers, it becomes more of a rinse and repeat strategy.
You’ll want to keep testing, keep tweaking, keep emailing, and keep growing your content!
You’ll want to test email subject titles, see which emails are opened, which have more unsubscribes, which pop ups work best, which placement works better, what optin performs best, and what colors and headlines on your optin forms work best.
There’s tons of things to test – just start doing it! Make sure to give enough time for each test to perform. This will depend on your blogs traffic, and there’s no set answer, just be sure to do it!
The best way to keep consistent with your email strategy is to keep up with your content calendar. I use a top to bottom content strategy (think like a content pyramid) where my biggest core content is my blog posts.
Whatever blog post I’m writing that week or month, I use that as my topic for my emails. Using the same topic helps me knock out content faster, but also deep dives into the topic further. It also helps tell my readers what my new posts are that month!
Since you’re focusing on growing your content to attract more readers, you’ll want to have a refined content strategy.
Here’s a post to help with that!
At any point, if you’re feeling discouraged because you only have, say, 5 subscribers (or even less!) – don’t!
You’re doing amazing!
You’ve literally got a room full of 5 people waiting to hear what you have to say.
That’s a huge deal! Don’t feel scared.
Or rather, it’s okay to feel scared, but don’t let it stop you!
It’s easier to imagine you’re talking to one person. Use your customer avatar, the one you want to help, and imagine you’re sitting next to them chatting over coffee.
Use your message, your passion, your lessons and create emails and value for them that they can’t find anywhere else!
There you have it – my ultimate guide to starting an email list.
I hope it was helpful, and packed full of information to get you started!
I really believe that it’s important to have an email list – it hasn’t gone away yet, and it’s solidified itself in todays digital world more than, say, Myspace has.
It’s not too late to jump on – in fact, it’s a must if you are a blogger, online shop owner, or even a local business.