Building your Email List: 6 Important Lessons Learned

building your email list

I started building my first email marketing list in 2015. Like most creators, I procrastinated on setting up the list, but I soon realized the significant impact on my online business. In this article I want to share the main lessons that will help you in building your email list.

I kept my marketing email strategy simple at the start: Every time I uploaded a new article or video, I would send a broadcast to people who had signed up to my email list. I slowly saw my blog and youtube numbers grow. This led to more people discovering me organically in the process.

Once I had a list of several hundred subscribers, I launched my first digital product. I managed to get a few sales but nowhere near the conversion rates that online course experts were claiming that you could get. I made many mistakes with the launch of that first digital product, but this is beyond the scope of the article.

I do however want to share the main lessons learned about building your email lists. The most important point I want you to remember is the significance of having the right people on your list rather than aiming to get as many subscribers as possible.

The wrong incentive will attract the wrong people

My niche topic was how to apply epoxy floors. (I run a building products and contracting company in this field). When I started my first email list, I offered as an incentive a troubleshooting guide for people applying floors. It was a simple 2-page pdf document, and I got quite a few people to sign up.
After about a year, I decided to experiment with a new handout by broadening my targeting. So I designed a 4-page general guide on the overall topic. My conversion rate doubled almost overnight, and I was ecstatic that I was getting more signups.

But after a few weeks, I noticed something concerning. Despite the higher number of signups, sales of my online course were not increasing. They were dropping. My email open and click rates had also dropped. Although my new incentive was getting more people to sign up, these were not the right people to be joining my new mail list. Most of these people were generalists searching for general information, but they were not my ideal customer.
I soon changed my opt-in and targeted something more suitable for contractors. My daily sign-ups dropped, but these subscribers were far more engaged. Moral of the story: Opt-in rates can often be a vanity metric. Always focus on the type of subscriber that you want to attract when building your email list. The wrong freebee will attract random people looking to get something for free, but you never hear from them again.

In the early years, most of my email broadcasts looked like this:

Hey guys, I have a new article. It’s about xxx. Check it out here

My few enthusiastic fans would click and read every single article, but I noticed that these emails rarely got a click rate of over 2–3%. People would open my emails, but they never bothered to click through to the article. For example, from a list of 1000 people, 300 would open my email, but only 20 people would click through to read the article! What’s the point of an email broadcast if only 2% are consuming the content!

So I changed my strategy and started including most of the content in the body of the email itself. At the end of the email, I would post links to any articles or videos relevant to the content. The results were fascinating. My click rates increased, despite the links appearing at the bottom of the email.

However, now I was getting more people responding to my emails and following up with questions. This is precisely the type of engagement that warms up your subscribers and turns them into customers. And as I will show later on, this is the type of engagement that keeps your emails out of the spam folder.

Send new subscribers an automated sequence with your best content

Creators can fall into the trap of assuming that everyone has read all our articles and videos. We have invested so much time in creating content, that we forget that most people have only read one or two of our pieces and probably will not even remember them after a few days.

Therefore, when someone signs up to your email list, make sure that you set up an automated sequence to get them to consume your best content. Find the articles that had the best engagement and send them to your new subscribers. These subscribers are in an enthusiastic learning mood; they are keen to consume and share your content.

Ask your subscribers why they signed up.

I cannot emphasize this point enough. The first automated email your subscriber receives after they sign up should be a quick introduction. You can ask them why did they decide to sign up, and depending on your niche, you may also want to ask them about their background.

Pay attention to these responses, and track any patterns to responses that keep on coming up. For example, in my niche, I had lots of construction guys telling me I am looking to go into this business, but I do not know where to start, or I do not know how to pick the right products.

This gave me immediate material for new content and new digital products to develop. I even adjusted my sales copy to cater to their needs,

Very few people will stay on your list forever.

I want you to look back at the last ten years of your internet activity. I bet you signed up for many email lists. And you have also unsubscribed from most of these lists. Or, if you have not unsubscribed, you leave most of these emails unread.

This is perfectly normal behavior. A young mother may subscribe to get emails on parenting until she realizes that she does not need them anymore. A newly divorced person may subscribe to get dating advice until they enter their next relationship. We move on to new things in our lives, and we are longer interested in those emails.

Many people do not bother clicking on the unsubscribe button. Instead, they delete your email, or they leave your email unread. This is a bad signal for spam filters, as the filters assume that nobody wants to read your promotional stuff.

This is why you must keep your list clean when building your email list with people who actively engage. People who have not opened an email in 6 months are highly unlikely to start engaging in your stuff again. Remove them from your list and focus on attracting people who need your content today.

By removing inactive users, your email open rate goes up. And this is an excellent signal to the gods of email that people engage in your content.
This leads me to my final point.

If all your emails end up in the spam folder, you need to own the problem

Hardly a day goes by when someone in a Facebook group moans about their email broadcasts going to spam. This can be frustrating as it often happens to my emails as well. Heck, I sometimes need to fish my broadcast emails out of my own junk folder!

It is easy to blame your email service provider or evil Google for creating the Promotions tab. But ultimately, it is up to us to provide content that is so damn good, that people will beg for it. The more people respond to your emails, the less Google will think it’s a promotion. The more people open, click and engage in the content, the less likely an automated filter will flag your address as spam.

Always ask your subscribers to confirm their email when signing up, as this is a great signal that people want to hear from you. (It is also a legal requirement in many countries). As an extra, ask them to add your email address to their contacts.

Key Points to Remember

Don’t enter the race of how to get the most email subscribers when building your email list. Create the right incentives so that you get the right people on your list. You will know if you have the right people by asking them questions and reading their responses.

Send these people your absolute best content. The content that gets them saying I am so glad I discovered this person. Content that prompts them to forward it to their peers and gets them anxiously waiting for next week’s email.

To paraphrase Steve Martin, make your emails so damn good that your subscribers can’t ignore you.

And now that I told you about my email list, join my bulletin, and once a week, I will send you a collection of the best new content on Entrepreneurship.

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