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21 tips for building an email list from scratch

Category: Build Your Business

21 tips for building an email list from scratch
Table of contents
Read time: 5min

Dollar for dollar, email is one of the most powerful marketing channels available to digital entrepreneurs today. On average, it returns $42 for every $1 spent.

That’s why 81 percent of SMBs turn to email as a driver for customer acquisition, and another 80 percent use it for customer retention, according to Emarsys. But it all starts with building an email list. 

In this guide, you’ll learn the basics of building your email list from scratch, including both free and paid strategies. 


What is an email list? 

An email list is a list of people who have opted in to receive email updates about your brand, products, and offers.

Email lists are hosted for your business by your email marketing software. On their platform, you create a form that you can use on your website to build an email list. When you want to send an email to your list, you use their email service to format the email and blast it to your list.

In many ways, email marketing software is like a customer relationship management tool. It holds your list of warm prospects and customers, grouping them into segments, and tracking your email interactions with them.

Why is an email list important for your online business?

Email marketing is important for growing your digital businesses. It helps you turn a random collection of individuals into loyal fans who feel they know you. More importantly, it helps you turn those prospects into customers.

Today, email is the primary means of communication for businesses and their customers. A study by ExactTarget confirmed that 77 percent of consumers prefer receiving marketing messages through emails. The second favorite, direct mail, was preferred by only nine percent of consumers.

Chart with the preferred channel for promotional messages from companies. with email being the top response with 77% of consumers listing it as the top preference

Email marketing is also the most effective way to connect with your followers. Sixty-six percent of consumers buy from emails, according to ExactTarget. Direct mail is a close runner up, but the third choice, telephone, is less than half as effective at 24 percent.

Chart showing that 66% of consumers have made a purchase as a result of receiving an email marketing message

Here’s why email can’t be beat for growing your business: 

  1. When someone signs up for your list, it’s because they’re interested in what you do. So they’re usually qualified prospects.
  2. Your subscribers are eager to hear from you. They know you’ll send them marketing messages and welcome them.
  3. It’s a two-way channel. At any time, your subscriber can hit reply and start a conversation with you.

Compare email to social media. Most people are on social media. But there, you’re relying on dumb luck to get your message in front of them when they happen to be active. 

Furthermore, on social media, people don’t want to be pitched. They’re on social media to be social, not to buy.

With email marketing, you can connect with anyone, anywhere, anytime. You can send engagement messages to build relationships. And you can send marketing messages to promote and sell your courses. 

So how do you build an email list of people who love you and want to buy your courses? Let’s look at some creative (and strategic) ways to do just that. We’ll start with free methods and then review some paid methods.

How to build an email list for free (12 tips)

1. Create a Subscribe page on your website. 

A few years ago, I got a message from a new Facebook connection. They loved my website and wanted more. But they couldn’t find my subscription form. 

This happens more often than you realize. And if you only put one subscription form on your website, many of your visitors will miss it. Just like my new friend.

Make it easy for your website visitors to opt into your email list. Build a Subscribe page. Then add that page to your navigation bar.

Here’s an example from Solopreneur Life.

Subscribe page of the Solopreneur Life website

This is an easy page to build. Give it the title, Subscribe. Then explain what visitors get for subscribing. Focus on the value they get. 

Make it as easy and painless as possible to join your list. Embed the form on your page, so visitors don’t have to click through to take action.

2. Create lead magnets

Once your Subscribe page is built, the next step is to create a lead magnet. Lead magnets are small offers that are closely related to your product. They’re designed to attract your ideal customer and do one of three things: 

  • Generate interest in your paid offer 
  • Give them information that will help them be better buyers
  • Share valuable information that creates a desire for more

For example, you might create a:

  • Free report
  • Buyer’s guide
  • Ebook
  • Resource that goes with a blog post
  • PDF of a pillar post in your blog
  • Template
  • Checklist

After you create your lead magnet, build a landing page for it. On that page, tease the information your visitor will learn from your lead magnet. Embed a form for visitors to sign up and access it. 

Then create a confirmation email in your email marketing software. This email will be sent automatically to the people who opt in, giving them a link to your lead magnet.

3. Optimize your website for subscriptions

Don’t stop there. Every visitor will look for your subscription form in a different place. So optimize your entire website for subscribers. 

Here’s how we do that on the Kajabi website:

Opt-in offer on the homepage

Screenshot of the Kajabi website with an opt-in Watch Demo button

A banner at the top of the blog

When someone visits the blog, they can’t miss this form. It’s in our brand color and quickly explains what they get for subscribing.

Screenshot of the Kajabi blog opt-in form saying "Stay in the loop" and "Get free insights"

Exit intent pop-up when you leave the site

When a visitor moves to exit the site, this form pops up. Notice how similar it is to the banner at the top of the blog. That creates consistency in our messaging, so visitors know what we’re all about.

Screenshot of the Kajabi exit intent popup saying "Grow your digital business" and an image of a Black woman working on a computer

A floating subscription form in the sidebar

This form stays visible even as visitors scroll down the page. If they don’t subscribe at the top of the page, they can join here without scrolling back up. 

Screenshot of the Kajabi blog with a sidebar opt-in form

Note: It’s okay to be direct. Noah Kagan invites people to subscribe at the top of his homepage:

Screenshot of OkDork by Noah Kagan's opt-in form with an image of him dressed in a green shirt

4. Do a giveaway

A giveaway is a way to gamify your list building. Instead of giving your content or information to everyone who subscribes, a giveaway has only one winner. That being the case, you can offer a bigger, more valuable prize.

Here’s a giveaway by Notice the value of the giveaway prize:

Screenshot of the AppSumo video giveaway

Giveaways are especially powerful because they can go viral. When someone enters the giveaway, they’re offered the opportunity to share the giveaway with their friends. Each time they share, their name is added to the drawing again. The more they share, the better their chance of winning.

You can run your giveaway with a tool like KingSumo. Integrate it with your email marketing software, and it will automatically add all your participants to your email list. Or, when the giveaway ends, you can download the CSV of participants and add it to your email list.

5. Gate part of your blog

Instead of creating a lot of lead magnets, you can ask visitors to sign up to get access to your highest-value content. 

does this by putting their entire blog behind the gate. If you aren’t a registered subscriber, you only see a portion of their blog posts. 

Screenshot of the MarketingProfs blog requesting that people click a pink button saying "Read the Full Article"

Click the button, and you’re shown this opt-in form.

MarketingProfs opt-in form asking for a work email address

To be clear, signing up is free. But you must sign in to read their blog and access their content.

You don’t have to put all your content behind the gate, though. You could, instead, create some advanced guides, long-form articles of 10,000-plug words, and ask people to subscribe if they want full access. With this approach, some of your content becomes lead magnets.


6. Offer webinars and live content

People often prefer live presentations, because it gives them the chance to engage with the host and other attendees. If they have a question, all they have to do is ask.

But today, many brands also offer evergreen webinars. These are recorded presentations that are offered on demand. The visitor opts-in, and they’re given a link to the video.

Amy Porterfield
does this on her website. As you scroll down her homepage, a pop-up is triggered. It offers a masterclass, which is actually an evergreen webinar.

Amy Porterfield opt-in form for a Free List Building Masterclass evergreen webinar

As with all our list-building tactics, once someone signs up, they’re added to your main email list, so you can send them content, other learning opportunities, and marketing offers. 

7. Offer premium content in different formats

As you’ve probably noticed, building an email list is as simple as offering premium content that answers your prospect’s questions. We’ve talked about written content and webinars. You can also create:

  • An email series 
  • A short video training
  • An audio series

Instead of one-off pieces of content, create a series that you’ll deliver by email over several days or weeks. This is especially valuable for teaching your subscribers to open your emails. Since you’re delivering the information one piece at a time, they must open your emails to get all the information.

8. Speak at events

Anytime you show up or deliver content, you can create an opportunity for people to join your email list. Put together a lead magnet for your audience. 

Create a landing page specifically for the event. Put the URL on your slides. Encourage the audience to visit so they can get your free resource.

9. Create a quiz

A quiz is highly engaging for most visitors. They like the idea of filling out their details and getting a personalized recommendation.

That’s why quizzes are terrific for building an email list from scratch. After taking the quiz, they’ll be told more about their situation and which course or product is best for them. But to get the report, they need to subscribe. 

Noom has grown its entire email list with this strategy:

Screenshot of a Noom quiz asking for the user's goal with choices: lose weight for good, get fit for good, or both

10. Tell your social media followers to subscribe

This is the easiest way imaginable to build an email list from scratch. Just ask. 

Once your Subscribe page is built, share it in social media and invite your connections to subscribe. You can be as direct or creative as you want to be. 

This example comes from Sharon Hurley Hall on Twitter:

Screenshot of a tweet from @SHurleyHall with a list of ways to work with her and support her anti-racism work

11. In each email, ask the recipient to share

Another simple option is to ask your subscribers to invite their friends. Do this in your P.S., and include share buttons to make it easy on your subscribers.

Here’s how Bob Bly does it in his daily newsletter:

Screenshot of an email with a request to forward this email to a friend

Notice, too, how much he packs into the P.S. of his newsletter. He offers a sample chapter of one book and a link to order another. He invites feedback to build relationship with his followers. He also includes his social media links, so his subscribers can connect.

12. Offer a 7-day trial

It’s possible to promote your product and build an email list at the same time. A trial of your course or membership program is a lead magnet that quickly converts happy customers.

Here’s how to do it:

Create a landing page for your product
. Pack it with promotional copy that explains the features, benefits, and outcome of buying. Include testimonials from your existing students. 

But don’t include the price
. Instead, invite prospects to sign up for a 7-day trial.

Find ways to give them quick wins
within the 7-day trial. Front-load your course to ensure they get addicted to your product.

On Day 6, remind them
that their trial is about to end. Give them a link to your order page.

illustration of a man wearing a shirt that says "Free Join My List" to passerby

How to build an email list using paid strategies (9 tips)

The 12 tips we covered above are a good place to start. For many businesses, they’re sufficient. But if you want to fast-track your list building efforts, try putting a little money behind your efforts. Here are nine tactics you can try today.


13. Invest in advertising

If you’ve got a valuable offer on your website, it’s worth making sure as many people as possible see it. When you advertise, you target your ads to reach your best customers. That can give you more subscribers in less time. 

For this approach, you need an offer:

  • Lead magnet
  • Guide
  • Event
  • Webinar

Create an ad in Google Adwords, LinkedIn, or Facebook. With as little as $10 a day, you can put your ad in front of hundreds or thousands of people who fit  your ideal customer profile (ICP).

Here’s a Google ad promoting a guide and the landing page where people can sign up to get the guide.

Screenshot of the google search results for "stats on email marketing" with a paid ad at the top promoting a 2021 email marketing guide
screenshot of the Q1 2021 report on Key performance indicators in email marketing

14. Pay to promote your high-value content

This tactic will help you boost your brand while also building your email list. You’ll use the same approach as Tip #13. But instead of sending prospects to a landing page, you send them to an in-depth article with a resource offer.

Here’s how:

Find your best-performing blog post. You can do this with Google Analytics. Make sure it closely relates to your product, and make sure it will whet people’s appetite for more. Look for an article that can work as a lead magnet.

Create a resource that goes with the article
. Is there a worksheet or checklist that you could create to go with this article? Offer it on the blog post, and ask people to sign up to get access to it.

Post about your amazing blog post on Facebook.

Boost the post
. Set this ad to target your ideal customer, so you’ll only drive qualified traffic to your article.

Your boosted post will look like a regular Facebook post, but Facebook will only show it to people who fit your customer profile. They’ll click through to read your article. Then, because they like what they see, they’ll sign up to download your resource. 

This is a low-pressure way of building your email list. It’s not as direct as other methods, but it gives you a list of people who love your content.

15. Pay for celebrity endorsement 

With this strategy, you’re looking for a known celebrity to use your product, give you a glowing testimonial, and help you promote your product. For instance, Jessica Simpson has endorsed Proactiv skin care and Matthew McConaughey has endorsed Lincoln Motor Company.

Look for someone whose personality and values align with your audience. They don’t need to be a movie star, but they do need to be well known to your audience. 

Offer them free access to your product. In return, ask them to write a review, create a video, or be an evangelist for your product.

16. Sponsor popular media creators: YouTubers and Instagrammers

If your audience isn’t very large yet, you can get in front of other people’s audiences by sponsoring a Youtube or Instagram personality. This partnership allows them to offer value to their audience while helping you build your email list.

Find an influencer
who has an audience that looks like your ICP. Reach out to see if they do sponsorships.

Negotiate a fee
that works for both of you. The sponsor will promote your lead magnet and send traffic to your landing page. 

Create a unique landing page
for the sponsor to use. On this page, offer a unique resource or lead magnet that will interest their audience. 

17. Sponsor a blog or newsletter

Media companies often sell sponsor packages to pay the bills. They have a large, engaged audience, and they sell ad space and sponsorships to vendors in their space. 

Sales Hacker
, for instance, is a blog that sells sponsored articles and webinars. The Hustle sells ad spots in their daily newsletter.

As a sponsor, you’ll purchase a promotional package. Then you’ll work with the company to develop a campaign that features you and your message.

Since your goal is building an email list, you’ll need to develop a landing page offer. The sponsor will send traffic to that page. As people download your offer, they’ll be added to your email list.

18. Sponsor an event

Most conferences and large events look for sponsors to help pay for the event. Sponsors often get promoted on the landing page, in brochures and on screens, and from the stage.

Look for conferences and webinars that target your best audience, and reach out to see if they use sponsors.

This is a good way to build brand awareness and drive traffic to your website. And that almost always leads to higher traffic and new subscribers.

19. Sponsor a booth at an event

Most conferences have an exhibit hall. There, vendors (people like you) can pay for a booth, where they show off their products, generate leads, and sell. Attendees browse the booths and stop to chat when they see one that interests them. 

Have a laptop or tablet ready, so you can show people your website. Then ask them to opt in to get a package of resources you’ve put together for them.

20. Put on your own conference

This option requires a huge investment in time and money. But it’s a fantastic way to build your email list and sell your courses.

Recruit thought leaders in your space to speak. Create a schedule, and build a landing page on your website to sell tickets.

Your event can be free or paid. But you’ll get more subscribers from a free event. If you want to monetize, you can always sell the recordings after the event.

Promote the conference to your email list. Ask your speakers to help you promote it. Advertise it. Then add every attendee to your email list. 

21. Offer monetized incentives

Instead of offering a lead magnet, you can ask people to sign up to get a coupon or discount. This is a tactic used frequently by e-commerce sites:

Screenshot of a pop up offering 20% off the first order for entering their email

But it can work just as well for digital entrepreneurs. For instance, you could create a popup or banner offering a 20 percent discount on any of your products. 

Cost-per-lead modeling for list building

When building your email list with paid tactics, you must carefully monitor the cost of each subscriber. It’s important to keep your cost of acquisition below the value of each lead.

Here’s the formula for determining your cost per lead:

CPL = cost of your lead generation campaign / number of leads generated

If you spend $1,000 on a campaign and get 100 leads, for instance, divide 1,000 by 100. Your CPL is $10. Your goal is to lower the cost of each lead while maintaining or raising your revenue.

Once you know that figure, you know how much you can spend on advertising. If every dollar you spend on building your email list returns $2 in profits, you’ve essentially doubled your money. 

But as you optimize your marketing and improve your results, you may gain $10, $25, or $50 for every dollar spent on getting new subscribers. 

It also frees you to pay other people to help you build your email list. You can share some of your profits with affiliates, letting them do the work of attracting new subscribers and customers. 

Cost per lead modeling is a form of performance-based advertising that allows you to pay someone a negotiated fee for each lead they generate for you. You base this fee on the value of each subscriber.

Note: The affiliate is compensated for acquiring subscribers for you. It’s up to you to convert them to customers. This creates a partnership. Both you and the affiliate benefit from the arrangement. 

But it hinges on one thing. You must know the lifetime value of every subscriber. 

Illustration of two men in front of laptops. One says "outbox delivered -10" and the other with a happy expression says "outbox delivered 10,500+"

Importing your email marketing list into Kajabi

You can build your email list on your website. But you might also use other platforms to attract new subscribers.

It’s important to keep your list in one place, so you’ll need to import your contacts to your Kajabi email list. That makes it easy to promote your courses, coaching, and memberships. So let’s look at how to import your email marketing lists into Kajabi

Kajabi’s contact import features allow you to: 

  • Upload a CSV from your other apps and tools to Kajabi 
  • Create new fields during import 
  • Intelligently map your Kajabi contact columns to your upload list 
  • Add notes and tags to your imported contact list

Most platforms allow you to generate a .CSV file of your contacts, including tags and notes you’ve assigned to each subscriber. Simply upload the .CSV to Kajabi. Even if these contacts are coming from a different CRM platform, Kajabi lets you keep all the fields and information you’ve gathered around your contact. 

If you don’t need those extra columns and fields, you can strip those away when importing to Kajabi. You can also add new notes or tags to the imported lists.You’re in complete control of your lists.

Leveraging your list for success

Email marketing is about building a list of potential customers, building relationship with them, and making offers that you know they’ll appreciate. Generally, only 10 to 15 percent of your list will open your emails. Another percentage will click through to your offers and buy.

That being the case, the bigger your list, the better: Ten percent of 10,000 will give you higher profits than 10 percent of 1,000.

In this guide, we’ve given you 21 smart tactics for building an email list from scratch. Now let’s look at how to leverage your email list for success.

Your email marketing software does a lot of the heavy listing. That’s why it’s important to choose an email marketing software that integrates with your website. It’s also why Kajabi offers email marketing as well as hosting for your website and courses.

Now, let’s get into the weeds. Here’s the process for setting up your email list:

Create a new list in your email marketing software
. Your first list should be your newsletter list. This is the primary list you’ll use to engage your subscribers. Everyone who signs up for any of your lead magnets or buys any of your products will be added to this list.

If you’re offering a lead magnet, create a separate list for it. Tell your email marketing software to put subscribers of that list on your newsletter list as well. That will keep your list segmented while making it easy to send email blasts to your entire list.

Create a form for your new list
. Do this in your email marketing software. Use your copywriting skills to create an eye-catching headline and description. Change the colors to match your branding.

Create your confirmation email
. In this email, you’ll congratulate your subscriber for signing up. You’ll also give them the link to any gift or lead magnet you’ve promised. This email doesn’t need to be long, but it should get them excited about being part of your tribe. 

Create a Subscribe or landing page on your website
. Use the tips we shared above. Your email software will give you the code to embed the form on your website. Get that code and add it to your page.

Now you’re ready to start building your email list
. Start driving traffic to your page, and inviting people to subscribe. 


Bottom Line

Building an email list is key to building a strong, profitable business. And it’s easy to do with a good email marketing software.

Use the strategies we’ve outlined in this guide. Set up your email lists to allow for segmented campaigns and whole-list blasts. Then start sending emails to your list on a regular basis. 

Email marketing will allow you to build a large, engaged community of people who love your products. It will allow you to nurture those relationships, build loyalty, and sell more courses.

So what are you waiting for? Start building your email list today.

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