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Today we are going to discuss possibly the most important part of email marketing: how to create an email list. By now you should have already picked out your email provider and gotten set up with your contact lists (or lack thereof).

Without a decent list, there’s really no point in sending emails in the first place. Now, when I think of an active 100,000 person list, I start to drool a little bit, but to be completely honest, even a list of 250 is a good start. Remember, we all start somewhere. And when it really comes down to it, the quality of your leads always trumps the quantity. You could have a 50,000 person list, but if you’re only getting a 2% open rate, then it’s pretty worthless. (We’ll get more into numbers and open rates later.) It’s all about building your list, which can take some time.

How to Create an Email List

There are several ways to build your email marketing list, with your actual buyers being the first and easiest. As a business owner, you should always be tracking your sales and keeping your customers’ information. Remember what I said about integrations in the last post? This is where they come in.

Whenever you make a sale, have that contact automatically get imported into your email marketing list. I recommend having a specific list for your buyers. You will communicate to your existing buyers differently than you would potential buyers. They already know (and love) your product, so it’s a lot easier to get them to buy again, and you don’t have to offer as many sales or discounts like you would to non-buyers.

Your buyer list isn’t necessarily going to grow as fast as your other lists, but I can guarantee it will perform better than your other lists. This is going to be your core group of devoted users. They are your bread and butter. It’s important to capture these users and keep this email marketing list warm so they continue to purchase from you.

Lead Magnets

Lead Magnets are a marketer’s best friend. To put it simply, lead magnets are a bribe you use to get someone to give you their email address. Back in the wild west of internet days, people would pass out their email address like Halloween candy. It was a privilege to own an email address, like getting your own phone line when you’re a teenager. (Really killing it with the analogies, aren’t I?) Now that we’re in the “future,” and because all of those Nigerian princes ruined it for the rest of us, people are much more careful about giving out their email addresses. Heck, I won’t even give my email to my dentist (no, I don’t want an appointment, sir). Because of this, we use bribes, aka lead magnets. We will give you something for free and in turn, we get your coveted email address.

There are a ton of different lead magnets you can use, so of course, there’s a wrong and right way to use them. We’re going to go through each type of lead magnet, and you can decide what you think will work best for your own business. As always, we’re all about testing, so try one and see how it performs, and then test another one out.

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about selling eBooks online, but eBooks work really well as a free resource too. In fact, if you have eBooks already, you can take an excerpt out to use as a smaller eBook which can act as your lead magnet for email marketing. (And eventually lead to the sale of the main eBook, heyo!)

If you’ve never created an eBook before, read through this article that walks you through the steps to actually creating an eBook. Follow up to step 5, and you’ll have your free eBook ready!

Coupons are a surefire way to get an email address. People love free money.

Now, you’ll want to test how much of a discount you need to give first. From previous tests, I’ve found that 20-25% performs best. Of course, this depends on the cost of your product. Any higher than 25% and you may not be making a profit. Any lower than 15% and you may find that no one bites. Find the number you feel comfortable giving away, and test that against a lower discount to see if one drives more leads than the other.

Coupons are usually the fastest and easiest lead magnet to create and disperse, but they can be the most costly because you’re giving a hard discount. I would throw up a coupon and see what type of results you get from your visitors, and then test other lead magnets once they’ve been created.

Hosting a webinar can generate thousands of leads, but is easily the most work. A webinar is usually a live hosted event where you share your knowledge with your followers. It can be a class, an interview with an influencer, or even a Q&A. Whatever is it, make sure it’s something your followers can directly relate to, and make sure you have it well planned out before even launching it.

Once your webinar is planned, then you can start taking registrants. Collect the email of each registrant and keep them on their own list. You can email them after the webinar, and even offer a webinar special discount to promote immediate sales.

While contests can be pricey, I’ve found that they give you the best bang for your buck. First, determine what you can give away. Is it a product bundle? A free membership? If you feel like you can’t give enough with your budget, you can always team up with another company and bundle your products together. Then you both get a share of the email marketing list.

You can advertise your contest on your website and also use your social channels. Instagram and Facebook are a great way to promote contests, and you’ll find a lot of entries from them. Once you’ve completed the contest, you can announce your winner via email and throw in a promotion as well. From there, your list is free game for future promotions.

What Not to Do
One thing to keep in mind when building a list is that offering someone a “newsletter” is typically not going to get you an email address. Maybe a few diehard fans or family members will sign up, but because we just get so many emails on a daily basis, chances are they won’t opt-in just for another newsletter. The point of lead magnets is that you’re giving them something of serious value.

Ok, so now that you have a lead magnet in mind, we need to talk about how to actually implement these bad boys. You know I wouldn’t just leave you hanging like that. Ok, well I’m sort of leaving you hanging because we’re going to talk about how to use a lead magnet in the next article. Until then, start planning out your contest, start writing your ebook, or figure out how much of a coupon you can give. When I’m back, you should be ready to load up your lead magnet on your site and deliver it.

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About the author

Molly Corless

Molly has been marketing for small startups for over 5 years. From marketing automation to Facebook ads to copywriting, Molly has figured out the key to growing a business from the ground up. She lives in rainy Portland, Oregon with her dog named Hamms.


  1. Lidia Woelzlein

    As someone that is attempting to get a better understanding of all things associated with marketing, I’m always interested to hear and see how marketing in all it’s types is being utilized.

    1. Kristen DeCosta

      I’m so glad you are finding this information helpful, Lidia! Stay tuned, there is a lot more of this coming!

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