How to Build Your Email List From Scratch: 8 Tips to Help You Grow Your Small Business

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Among marketers, it’s commonly known that ROI derived from email marketing is far greater than other forms of outreach. In fact, no other channels really come close.

As such, it makes sense that your business should have and nurture an email list.

That said, it can be difficult to get started, especially if you don’t have experience in email list building. Though the methods you use will vary depending on the nature of your business, here are some incredibly valuable tips to help get the ball rolling.

Opt-In to Some Email Marketing Software

Before we go any further, it’s important to mention that you’re going to want to use email software to manage your email list. I mean, unless you want to send out all those emails one by one every time… but who wants to do that.

The great thing about email software today is the myriad of tools they bundle into one package. Not only do they send your emails, but they allow you to build landing pages, email automations, and embeddable signup forms, among many other things.

With such a wide variety of options available, it’s important to choose software that works best for your specific business. Where some are more powerful, others may be more user friendly. Where some specialize in building lead generation landing pages, others have superior automation options.

The good thing is almost all offer a free trial period. We typically recommend trying out a few to test the waters. Create a few accounts, send some test emails, and play around with the functionality. After spending a bit of time with each, you’ll likely hone in on one that works best for you and your business.

Here are a list of favorites used by many of our clients:

Build A Landing Page

Now that you have your email marketing software all set up, it’s time to start building out your list. One of the most effective methods for gathering emails is through landing pages.

Essentially, landing pages are stand-alone web pages used to drive specific user conversions (in this case, the conversion would be email signups).

You may ask why to bother creating specific landing pages when you can just have people enter their email addresses on your homepage. In short, your homepage and other website pages are often cluttered with information not entirely specific to signing up for your email list. Landing pages, on the other hand, are entirely dedicated to whatever conversion event you choose, and therefore, perform far better than homepage signup forms.

When designing landing pages for your business, it’s important to consider an incentive for a person joining your list. After all, if they’re going to do something for you, they’re going to want in return. Some examples of incentives are discounts, free materials (a free guide/book), or even just exclusive tips/tricks not found on your main site.

Most email marketing software will have built-in landing page builders which will allow you to easily build landing pages for your site without the need of a web developer (most times).

Dashboard of available Mailchimp email design templates.
Mailchimp template design center

Looking at Mailchimp, they come with a variety of landing page templates that each serve a different purpose. After selecting your specific template, you can then customize the page to match your brand by including your logo, specific text/colors/ and images.

The benefit of using email marketing software to build your landing page is that the signup form is automatically connected to your email list. Building by scratch or using a 3rd party service typically requires a more advanced setup.

Add a Signup Form to Your Website

OK, OK, I know I just said landing pages are better at converting than signup forms on your main site. They are. But there’s nothing wrong with double, triple, or even quadruple dipping when it comes to building your email list.

The brilliant thing is, there are a million different ways to add a signup form to your main site. It all depends on your specific business and the layout of your site.

The goal is for users to see the form and sign-up, but we don’t want to be so intrusive that they decide to leave the page altogether.

Here are a few interesting ways to add an email sign-up form to your website:

Standard Homepage Opt-In Form

Most of your site page views are going to start on your homepage. Therefore, it makes sense to include an opt-in form at some point on your homepage. The difficult part is finding the perfect placement.

Backlinko homepage showing top of page email list sign up form.

Backlinko founder Brian Dean includes an email signup form right at the top of his homepage. This typically works best with knowledge-oriented businesses where users arrive at your site looking for information.

Kylie Cosmetics bottom of page opt-in form with discount.

Kylie Cosmetics, on the other hand, has a signup form at the bottom of the site, right above the footer. You’ll notice that with the signup form comes several incentives including $10 off your first purchase, launch, and restocking updates.

For e-Commerce stores like Kylie Cosmetics, it often makes sense to have a signup form at the bottom of the site. Why? Well, people don’t typically browse an online store looking for information. They’re looking to shop. Let them do the browsing first, and then hit them with an email form that also happens to give them a discount they can use to make a purchase.

Pop-Up

"Digital Marketing' pop-up email form.

I know.. everyone hates popups. But gone are the days of “Get Rich Quick” or “Do This Now to Lose Weight” pop-ups. When I say pop-ups, I mean smart pop-ups that provide specific value to the user.

The best performing pop-ups are typically scroll or time activated, appearing after a user has scrolled a specific length down the page or spent a certain amount of time on your site. That way, they’re already invested in your content by the time they see your pop-up offer.

Another powerful way to use pop-ups is in retargeting non-converting users. By only showing pop-ups to people who have visited your site before and haven’t taken any action, you’re better able to display relevant information, increasing your odds for sign-up conversions.

All of these options are commonly available within your email software package.

Your Blog

If you’re running a business and don’t have a blog, stop what you’re doing and create one ASAP!

Aside from improving your SEO, well-written blog posts help build credibility with your target audience. By establishing yourself as an authority in a given niche or industry, you become the go-to resource for people. Touching back on something we mentioned earlier, with an established blog you can use your email list to offer content people can’t find anywhere else.

Let’s take a look at Backlinko again. Brian offers a myriad of articles and tools through his free blog. On his homepage, he claims that when you join his email list you’ll have access to “Exclusive SEO Tips That I Only Share With Subscribers”. Given how good his blog is, imagine what’s included in his exclusive newsletter.

By running a blog that serves the needs of your readers, you can easily generate that same level of intrigue and quickly convert blog readers to email list subscribers.

Content Upgrades

What’s a content upgrade you ask? According to Neil Patel, it’s as easy as three simple steps:

  1. Write a blog post.
  2. Create content that goes more in-depth on the posts topic.
  3. Exchange the upgraded content for a users email.

It really is as simple as 1,2,3. Just like our last tip, content upgrades allow you to leverage the existing interest your readers have in your blog. Instead of giving them additional content in the form of a newsletter, you give it to them through online courses, books, and other forms of media. They’ll need to provide their email first, of course.

The only downside to content upgrades is it can often be difficult to come up with content. A quick tip is to take a look at what your competitors are doing, and just do it better. That could mean providing more information, offering it in a more user-friendly format, or any other improvements that may be valuable to your audience.

Host a Giveaway

Hopefully you’re sensing a trend by now. People love incentives. And of all the incentives out there, theres nothing people love more than a FREE GIVEAWAY. For you, a giveaway may be the thing that pushes your email list over the edge.

Here are a few things you always want to have when running a giveaway:

  • A great prize (of course!!)
  • Bonus referral entries
  • The right audience

Pay close attention to that last one. “The right audience”. It should go without saying that the point of hosting the giveaway is to gather email addresses. And the point of gatering those email addresses is to eventually convert subscribers to paying customers. That’s why it’s important that your giveaway is targetted to the right audience.

A simple way to ensure this is by offering a prize that ONLY your target audience would want. If you’re running a subscription service, a FREE 5-year subscription is a great offer. You wouldn’t want to offer a free I-Pad or something similar because you’ll likely end up with an email list full of people who couldn’t care less about your business.

Add Signup to Your Invoices

Honestly, we’re surprised everyone isn’t doing this. It’s super simple, and works like a charm. The next time you send an invoice to a client, include an email opt-in link. It’s that easy! And if you really want to get fancy, add with it some sort of incentive – perhaps a discount on their next bill if they join your email list.

Facebook Ads

We couldn’t end this guide without including the mecca of targetted ads, Facebook. Among the many features Facebook Ads offers is Lead Generation Ads.

Lead Generation Ads allow you to target and convert potential customers into giving you their email addresses. From there, you can use various email campaign methods to turn those subscribers to paying customers.

While you have the option to create a simple ad and ask for email addresses, it’s always best to offer an incentive (once again).

Facebook lead generation email sign up sample advertisement.

Take a look at this example from Facebook themselves. “Jasper’s Market” is offering a 40% off coupon in exchange for providing your email and a few other pieces of information. What a deal!

Well targetted ads like this have the possibility to deliver high quality leads to your email list at a fraction of the cost of other lead generation and list building methods. On top of this, you’re able to scale much faster than other organic leads. Say you’re gathering 20 leads a day on a $10 budget. Bump that to $100, and your lead totals will scale in tandem.

With an effective email marketing strategy, this is a powerful way to boost your business’ revenue.


Email marketing is a powerful way to attract and grow your audience. By utilizing the tools outlined above, you’ll be well on your way to building a revenue boosting email list for your business!

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