Building an email list has to be a priority if you want to make money blogging. Read my email list tips in this epic beginner’s guide to fast email list building from scratch! Get inspiration and send your emails to a big audience soon. Make email marketing and newsletters your best blogging asset. Free printable checklist included.
You may or may not have heard it before: the money is in the list. But what does that mean?
All the big girls with super successful blogs talk about how important your email list is and that you are to make it your #1 priority right from the start. At least if you want a blog that makes you money.
If you are just getting started with email marketing you may feel that it is kind of sleazy to collect email addresses with the sole purpose of making money with your list.
At least, I felt that way.
And then all that techy stuff. Will you be able to set up an email marketing system and make it work? How long will it take to do it yourself? And how much will it cost?? Can you afford this endeavor anyway?
But you didn’t sign up for a hobby blog. You want to take your blog to the next level and you keep dreaming of making blogging your full-time gig. Or at least, pay for itself and super fun family vacations.
See? That is why you want, or need, a group of people who is interested in what you have to say. Who trust you when you tell them a product is worth the investment of time and money. Who can’t wait to pay for a product you created.
That is your list.
In this meaty post, I will give you all the information on how you can start your list for free today, how to get your first 1,000 subscribers fast, and what mistakes you should avoid while growing your email list.
Save this post for later reference, then grab your favorite drink, pen and paper, and dive in.
What makes email newsletters so special
By signing up for your newsletter people say, yes! They say that they are interested in what you have to offer and that they want more from you than just the content you have on your blog.
Isn’t that amazing? It’s thrilling to find out you have your first subscriber or two! I remember that feeling all too well and it was terrific! You want that, too, right?
And then, your blog content and your list are the only things you really own. You have full control. No algorithm that excludes tons of people from reading your content. No risk someone decides you are spammy and shuts your account down. No exxy ads needed to bring your best content in front of your people.
Money-wise your list is your best chance at success. Email converts a lot better than a blog post or social media. (Source) Wow!
What I love most about my list is that I can be more open and share personal stories in my emails. I don’t want to put this stuff on my blog for everyone out there. No. It is for my people only. They deserve it and they get the behind-the-scenes look.
Get the subscriber-exclusive email list-building checklist I used to get my first 1K subscribers in a month!
But how do you get there? Isn’t it complicated or expensive to set up a complete email marketing system and start building your list?
It’s not. If you can navigate WordPress and create a blog post you can totally do this. Heck, I did it and I can’t even use the Facebook app on my phone because it was too complicated for me. (No joke. I recently gave up and deleted it.)
Let’s see how we can get you started right now with what you have: a computer and an internet connection.
Have a minute, too? Cool! (If not, bookmark this page and come back later!)
Don’t worry, we cover a lot but I have a handy checklist for you at the bottom of this post.
Choose an email marketing service provider and start building that list today
The first thing you need is a partner. An email marketing service provider that is. They help you collect email addresses, keep them safe, and deliver automated emails or your carefully crafted newsletter.
They help you analyze how your emails are performing and let you do a lot of crazy marketing things, too, once you are a bit advanced.
My email marketing provider is *MailerLite and they are amazing. MailerLite is free for the first 1,000 subscribers so you can sign up risk-free.
I was thrilled when I first logged in and found everything so easy to use. I had everything up and running in no time. I put a basic sign-up form on my blog in just a few minutes.
Incentives: How to make people sign up for your newsletter
Now that you have a place to collect those sign-ups, you can go and work on your awesome freebie.
Yes, you need at least one killer incentive! Or several ones. The hard truth is that nobody, really not one single person will sign up for your email list without incentives.
I had a simple WordPress sign-up form on my blog for the first 15 months (or so?) so that people could sign up to receive “the latest” and guess how many people signed up?
Not one single person. Only an old (looking) guy from India signed up for my feed via WordPress.com but he is not my target audience of time-starved blogging moms.
This had to change ASAP!
And it did when I started taking list-building a bit more serious and created some incentives. Ok, a lot of them.
I mean, just look at what happened:
I ended March with 97 email addresses on my list. In May, I hit my goal of 1,000 subscribers. Stay tuned to learn more about how I got 1K sign-ups in six weeks using free resources only (and why I deleted half of those people a few months later). I will also let you in on why I had too many freebies.
Before we get into incentives more, you have a decision do make…
How to choose an email marketing platform that works for you
But first things first. Sign up for an email marketing provider that is GDPR compliant. As I live in Germany, I decided to go with one that is located within the EU to make sure GDPR is as important to them as it is to me.
I also need to use double opt-in. People get a confirmation email upon signing up and must confirm their email address. Only then, I can send them my emails. For my records, I need to have a proof, too, when exactly and with what IP-address they confirmed and actively opted in. phew…
I chose *MailerLite and am so happy with them that I can’t see why I would ever leave them. Because I signed up through an invitation link, they gave me a 20 Dollar credit right away. That’s right. They don’t pay affiliates only but also new customers – if they are coming from an invite link!
By the way, here is my invite link for friends and family to sign up for MailerLite and get a credit of 20 Dollars to your name. Signing up is free (as well as up to 1,000 subscribers)! So, no risk at all.
Another thing I love about them is their friendly customer support! They are doing great and when I was working on the whole list-building thing, in the beginning, I would just pop up the chatbox and ask away while working on something. Most of the time, I got real-time support.
You can set up the basics in minutes because everything is pretty much self-explanatory.
In case, you get stuck or want to do something fancy, *MailerLite has tons of videos and step-by-step tutorials to help you set everything up.
MailerLite users get free templates en masse. My most successful landing page is a template from *MailerLite that I customized in a few minutes. I created a few pins to send people to the landing page and my list started to grow while I slept. Other templates they have include exit pop-ups (have you seen mine?), slide-in forms, or forms on the top or bottom of your page (hello bar style).
You can use these templates not only for list-building but also to send people to your Facebook page to follow you or an affiliate sales page, for example.
After you hit 1K subscribers, you will need to upgrade to a paid plan. Any paid plan will also unlock new features that facilitate email marketing. Paid plans start at affordable 10 Dollars a month.
If you will ever struggle with funding, you can always downgrade, even to the free plan, without losing your list!
Don’t just blog. Build a business with this simple blog business plan workbook!
After you signed up for your free account, connect MailerLite to your blog by adding a code to the header script of your blog. That sounds horrible but is as easy as copy and paste. Copy the code provided by MailerLite. Navigate to your WordPress dashboard. Go to General Settings, scroll down to the header box and paste in the code. Save and you are all done.
If you need help, chat with the MailerLite people or watch this step-by-step video tutorial.
Next, create your first sign-up form and put it on your blog.
In MailerLite, go to “Forms” and choose if you want an embed form or a button. Here is a video that walks you through the features of the embed form in less than 3 minutes. Don’t panic because the form looks so ugly. You have a ton of options to customize it and add images to it. Some of the features only came recently so they might not show up in the video.
This here is an example where I put an image into the form. I admit that I haven’t been very creative. I didn’t create the image especially for the form but I just used one of those I had. Have a look at the page here. I made this in a hurry and with my notoriously bad design skills. I’m pretty sure you can do better.
I usually choose an embed form, copy the “form URL”. and then add the copied link to an image in the blog post like this one here:
If you click on the image, the sign-up form will show.
Customize forms using your brand colors and fonts. The form can also contain an image of your freebie. My sign-up forms usually don’t contain images because I already have them in the image on the blog.
Tip: From now on save screenshots and links of pins, graphics, mockups, etc that inspire you for list-building! There are bloggers out there who nailed their email marketing and visuals. Collect ideas and create a go-to place for them.
I have a secret Pinterest board for beautiful pins, a folder in Firefox for links, as well as a folder with screenshots on my laptop to collect bits of websites I love. This is especially helpful if you are not a graphic designer and new to list-building!
How to decide on a freebie to market your list
As I said, you do need a freebie or incentive. Don’t panic. You can keep it simple. People don’t usually want a 100-page ebook or 30-day email course but a quick win. Checklists, a printable and workbooks work well as list-building incentives. They provide a quick win. People can start using them right away.
If you blog about several topics that do not intersect with each other create at least one freebie for each of your main topics. You don’t need a new freebie for every blog post you write. You can promote the same freebie in different blog posts as long as the freebie relates to the blog post!
If your blog is laser-focused, you are lucky and could get away with creating one freebie only. But make sure it is a stunning one.
Want to get your feet wet with freebie creation, keeping it simple and using free resources only? Go to Canva and choose one of the free Worksheet Templates by Canva. You could create a checklist, calendar spread, or even workbook in no time.
Customize the worksheets with your fonts, colors, and maybe a few stunning stock images (which can be found for free, too). Add your URL, download as pdf for print, and voilá! You have finished your first freebie today.
If you are new to Canva, don’t worry. Graphic Designer Kara Fidd has a free course that walks you step by step through the basics of Canva. You can master this in a few hours and end up with not one but several great-looking incentives and blog graphics.
Enroll for free now here at Teachable: *Canva 101 – Rocking The Basics of Canva for your Blog” (Affiliate link)
Now you will be a Canva rockstar in no time, check out this post of Blog, Brand, Hustle and create some more graphics once you get the hang of it: 12 Images Every Lead Magnet Needs for KILLER Conversions. This is my go-to post whenever I get stuck with graphic creation.
Still clueless about what the heck you should create? In this post by Applecart Lane, you will find some examples of freebies that convert like crazy and fill up the lists of these bloggers with people who are interested in the content they create.
Get inspired here: 10 Bloggers killing it with their opt-in freebie
Freebie Mistake: Having too many freebies that are unrelated to your newsletter content
Make sure you have freebies that support your goals with your blog. In the beginning, I had incentives on my blog that didn’t connect to the topics of my newsletter. I soon had a ton of people on my list who were not interested in my newsletter about productivity and blogging at all!
So I created newsletters that were like a magazine covering a ton of topics. They also took a ton of time to put together and my open rates were hideous. People don’t want newsletters on 1001 topics with 1001 links in them. They don’t have the time to sift through them.
Next try. I sent out several different newsletters to different groups of subscribers so everybody would get what she wants. ouff… burn-out alert!
Don’t stretch yourself too thin as I did. Focus on a few topics, even better niche down and write about one topic in your newsletter that goes along with the affiliate products you promote or the paid offers you have.
Then, collect the ideal readers for that newsletter by publishing blog content that matches your topics. Create freebies that are very specific and relate to the blog post topic.
If you blog about several topics, you need to segment your list, too. For example, you can create several groups right upon signing up. I have a catch-all group to which every single subscriber is added. And then more groups based upon interests and the topic they signed up for. You can also group your list by having them click a link in your emails so you can create a group that gets a special email sequence or have them exclude themselves from an upcoming promotion (which will reduce unsubscribes).
I once did a “blog to business training” email sequence. People who wanted to participate had to click a link in my newsletter where I was pitching the training. That way I could find out how many of my readers are interested in turning their blogs into a business and they could get free on-demand training.
It’s super easy to set up. MailerLite has a tutorial here on how to create an action triggered by link-clicking. In my case, the action was that people added themselves to my training by clicking the link.
Give your freebies away deliberately and make them easy to access
Make sure people get the freebie easily and timely. It’s a pain with GDPR and double opt-in (both mandatory in Germany). I have my freebies in a resource library and make sure people get the password to enter as soon as I can give it to them which is, unfortunately, only after they confirmed. I learned German law does not allow anything fancy in the confirmation email besides the confirmation button and disclosures. So, as soon as a person confirms her email address she gets the password.
I also have the password in every email I send together with a link to the resource library.
If you only want to promote one freebie, you can upload it, for example in Google drive, get the shareable link, and share it in the welcome email sequence.
Maybe you want to track how often people download a specific freebie. It helps you find out what people like most. You can do this by using a link shortener that tracks link clicks, for example, the free version of bitly. In the bitly dashboard you can see how well each link is performing. That is great if you have a resource library with many different freebies!
Engage your new email penpals with a welcome email sequence
Right after people sign up for your newsletter they are most engaged and curious about what’s to come. Take advantage of that! Send them a welcome series of 3 to 5 emails. Introduce yourself, why you do what you do, and tell them what they can expect from your newsletter.
You can give them a little more personal information about you than you would post on your blog. Create an additional freebie they can’t find anywhere else as a Thank You! for opening your emails.
Use the P.S. of your welcome email to tease the next email of the series.
Finally, add people who have received the entire welcome sequence to a new group to send your regular newsletter to.
Ask them to hit reply and tell you about their struggles or something like that. Then, answer each of these replies personally and be as helpful as you can.
Be careful with your subject line! Make it short and sweet. Don’t sound scammy! If your subject line sucks, your emails will not get opened. Ouch… Other than with a blog post you have nothing else that promotes your emails than those few words. When you are getting started you don’t even have people’s trust yet and you will need every open.
CoSchedule has a free subject line checker here. When you get your results, you’ll also receive a lot of tips on how to do better. So, take a few minutes extra for a compelling subject line. Google for “Free Subject Line Templates” to get ideas. But know that not every subject line works well in every niche. Once you have sent out a few emails make your own file of subject lines that have worked for your audience!
Need a little help? Meera Kothand is my go-to resource for email marketing and she has an awesome blog post about how to write a great welcome email series here.
Set up an automated RSS campaign to keep your list warm
When I first started list-building I would rather create freebies and promote them to jumpstart my list. I felt it was a better use of my limited screentime than writing newsletters that nobody was reading.
For this reason, I only created a welcome email sequence and then set up an automated RSS campaign.
This kind of email newsletter is sent at a time of the week you can choose. I chose Thursday morning. When this time arrives the MailerLite system checks my blog to see if new content has been published. If not, nothing happens. If so, an email is created automatically that sends out the new blog content to the subscribers.
I did this until I hit 1K subscribers and used “Here is the latest” as subject line. When I had my first 1,000 people on the list, I started to create a normal newsletter with more than just blog content.
A Word About Unsubscribers
I remember the feeling of seeing people unsubscribe. It hurt. I work my behind off to get great emails out and some people say, “No, thanks. Farewell…”
I’m still not partying about unsubscribes but I know it is part of email marketing. What you want is a targeted and engaged list. Unsubscribing is good because it will remove those who are not interested anyway. Some only wanted to grab your kick-ass freebie, some sign up for just about anything free.
Depart with no hard feelings. This is list-cleaning.
Additionally to this self-cleaning, you may want to unsubscribe inactive users. I don’t know about other platforms, but in MailerLite people who have been on your list for more than 6 months and didn’t open any of the emails you sent are marked inactive and you can unsubscribe them with the click of a button.
A well-maintained list will help to keep open rates high and unsubscribes low.
Open Rates, Click Rates, Unsubscribes – How well are you doing?
Once somebody in a blogging Facebook group asked about people’s open rates. The first person to answer said her emails’ open rates are around 80%! I was shocked and felt miserable. My open rates are slightly above 20%. Where did I go so wrong?
But guess what? That is average and completely normal!! According to email marketing service provider MailChimp, the average open rate across all industries is 20.81 %. And they have a wealth of data to pull from.
Also normal is that only a handful of people (2 -5 %) click on links in an email and that there will always be a few unsubscribes (0.1 – 0.5 %).
Have a look yourself and see how you are doing: Average email campaign stats of Mailchimp customers by industry
Don’t freak out because your rates are lower than average! Like with everything else, there is a learning curve and you will do better over time. Keep going!
Now, get started and don’t waste any more time!
Start by signing up for my list and you will get the email marketing checklist to put this huge post into action and access to a lot of other nice resources for mom bloggers inside the exclusive library. -> Psh…You will also see MailerLite in action. <-
Get Your Content In Front Of People! Start Today with these Pinterest-ready images.
Where do you go next when building your email list?
Learn more about How to Leverage Pinterest to Grow Your Email List with Kate Ahl of SimplePinMedia. You can read or listen to this blog post. Yay!
Get more people to take action and grab your awesome freebie: 130+ Proven Opt-in Headline Ideas to Get More Email Subscribers (Cheat Sheet) via OptinMonster.
Brian Dean of Backlinko goes deep into list-building strategies in this post. He covers 17 ways to go about list-building, from simple to advanced.
In a nutshell, here is your to-do list to start growing your list for free right now:
- Sign up for MailerLite (referral link, including a 20 Dollar credit) or another Email Marketing Service provider who is GDPR compliant
- Confirm your website: Get the (MailerLite) header script and paste it into the header section of your WordPress blog
- Create a freebie specific for your niche and relevant for your blog topic
- Create a sign-up form that promotes the freebie, using a clear Call-to-action
- Put the form on your blog or create a visual with CTA, add it to a blog post and link it to the subscription form
- Create an automated welcome sequence that gets sent to new subscribers
- Create a new group that catches people who got the entire welcome email sequence so that they will only get your newsletter when the welcome sequence is finished (and not both at the same time)
- Optional: Set up an automated RSS campaign until you have your first 1,000 or 2,000 subscribers. That way you can focus and list-building while people on your list get an email automatically when new content is on your blog. I had this set up in the beginning and had my emails sent every Thursday automatically (given I had new content up in that week)
Optional, but highly recommended:
- Sign up for my newsletter and download blogging resources for list-building in the exclusive insider library
- Create a landing page that promotes your freebie. I had great success with the landing page templates within MailerLite. You can also create your own in WordPress or with a page-builder like Elementor (which has a free plan!)
- Create pins and link them to the landing page
- Create new blog posts with specific, relevant freebies
- Create new pins regularly (As a subscriber, you can use the 29 Pinterest-ready images from the insider library)
- Promote your freebie in Facebook groups, on your Facebook page, your Twitter profile, in your sidebar, homepage, etc.
Phew… now sit back and relax. You have done some fundamental work today and you will see your list grow like a weed from now on.