How to get subscribers: Building your first email list

Apr 17, 2017 | Beginner Basics, Focus Fast

Email list building basics

This article continues my occasional series on “Priming the Pump:” topics focused on moving from Zero to Something as you start your business and start content marketing. This lesson is all about how to get subscribers for your essential email marketing efforts.

“I don’t have an email list yet” is one of seven content marketing excuses that can kill your new business before it starts. While it can certainly be daunting to dive into a new venture when your known audience is zero, it’s actually the perfect time to get subscribers. And it’s not as hard as you might think. Let’s look closer.

Why get subscribers? The role of email in content marketing

Email is essential to a complete content marketing platform. While your blog, website, social posts and other widely-cast content channels can reach your target audience if they happen to be paying attention, only email can proactively communicate with them.

The intentional one-on-one aspects of email help you reach through the digital ether and speak directly with a follower.

And when you get subscribers to sign up for your email list, you’ll enable a number of valuable functions:

  • Personalized messages
  • Alerts about a new blog post or other content
  • Time-sensitive announcements and offers
  • Sequences of messages sent out over time
  • Automatic confirmations and responses to your audience
  • Interactive, two-way conversations
  • Messages tailored to segments of your audience
  • A better understanding of audience interests

Pretty cool stuff, right? Email has the potential to do this better than any other communication channel. And it’s still well accepted by both business and personal audiences – if you use it ethically.

Get subscribers up front

The best time to start building your email subscriber list is at the beginning of your business. That’s because your early audience members will help you refine your content topic, identify issues they care about, and create connections that will drive your business forward.

Get subscribers up front! Don’t wait until you feel like you’re an “expert” in your topic, or you might end up writing about things no one cares about. And don’t wait until you’ve got a product to sell, or it may not be the right product.

Get subscribers first to tell you what to write about and what products to build!

Get subscribers fast: Set a goal and focus on it

Whether you already have some subscribers or are starting from scratch, you’ll grow your list faster if you set a list-building goal and really focus on it.

If you’re at ground zero, set your sights on building your list to 100. If you’ve surpassed that, set a target of 1000 subscribers.

If you already have over 1000 subscribers you probably don’t need this lesson, but you shouldn’t stop building your list!

Your email list is so important that you should get subscribers before tackling other early startup tasks such as building a website or a blog.

Write your subscriber goal on a piece of paper in big, bold numerals and place it by your computer.

Open your calendar and block out at least an hour per day for working on this goal. Schedule appointments with yourself, and make sure you show up!

Then work on that goal every day until you reach it.

Build a list from scratch: 0 to 100 in seven steps

I’m going to take a wild guess that most people reading this are in the zero-to-zilch subscriber boat. I was there myself before I launched Content Marketing Startup.

Here’s a step-by-step plan to get subscribers starting from nothing – your first 100 interested email subscribers. It’s the plan I used, and the plan that thousands of other entrepreneurs have used to get subscribers initially.

1. Define your topic

Spend some time thinking about and refining your topic. Make it as specific as you can. “Winter-hardy rose care” is better than “flowers,” for example.

2. Think of ten people

Now write down the names of at least ten people you know that might be interested in your topic: friends, family, colleagues, church members, gym partners, whatever.

3. Write individual emails

Write an individual email to each person on your list. If you don’t have a person’s email address you can use text messaging, a Facebook message or whatever way you might normally connect with that person. The message should simply say:

“Hi (name)! I’m thinking of starting (or I have) a website to teach people about (your topic). Would that be something you’d be interested in learning about?”

You can reword this in your own voice, but your only ask is “would that be something you’d be interested in?” You’re not asking if they want to join your email list. Just keep the language this simple to get subscribers!

4. Handle “no” replies

If you get a “no” reply, thank that person politely and move on. For “yes” replies, go to the next step.

5. Record email address

A “yes” means the person wants to hear more from you – good! Note their email address on your sheet of paper, or put it in a spreadsheet. If the reply came via text or other non-email method, respond with something like,

“Great! What’s the best email address to stay in touch with you about this?”

6. Expand your reach

Repeat Steps 2-5, but expand your list to a wider audience. Consider Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections, Rotary Club members, people you met at a networking event and more. Ask as many people as you possibly can, carving out as much of your day as you can for this task. For “no” replies consider a response something like this:

“That’s okay, thanks for considering! If you know anyone who might be interested, don’t hesitate to let him or her know. You’re welcome to just forward my email to make it easy. Thanks again, and all the best!”

These six steps are the foundation of your plan to get subscribers. Keep doing this until you exhaust all your potential contacts. Keep sending individual emails – you don’t need an automated email program for this, and the personal nature of those first contacts will really help you.

7. Try more tactics

Try some additional tactics to augment your personal contact mining:

  • Ask the “are you interested?” question as a P.S. in your email signature
  • Ask people you meet throughout the day in person
  • Interject your topic in existing (relevant) social media conversations

I’ll cover some more advanced ways to get subscribers beyond 100 in another blog post, so watch for that and keep your list growing!

Once you get subscribers, get an email service provider

An email service provider (ESP) is a company that uses software to give you an automated way to manage and communicate with your subscriber list.

Although you don’t need an ESP to get subscribers initially, eventually it’ll be more efficient – and more powerful – to have one. An ESP can also help you keep your email communications legally compliant with opt-in laws!

Select an ESP that will best support your list-building and content marketing efforts. There are many providers to choose from, including both free and low-cost options. Look for a provider that helps you:

  • Build and manage a database of subscribers
  • Easily send emails to multiple people at once
  • Personalize messages to each individual
  • Send a planned sequence of emails automatically
  • Segment and tag subscribers to define sub-groups in your audience
  • Manage sign-up forms on your website and landing pages

The ESP that I use and recommend is ConvertKit. It does all these things and more, and does them well. Full disclosure: I’m a ConvertKit affiliate, which means I earn a commission (at no cost to you) if you follow my link and end up purchasing. I do hope you’ll check it out.

Make email work for your startup

In order for your startup-marketing engine to fire on all cylinders, you need to get subscribers. It’s not hard, but you do need to focus and put in the effort.

I hope these tips have given you both a way to get subscribers for your business, and the motivation to get going!

Let me know how these steps work for you – I’m interested in your success!

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