You and I are in agreement that email marketing rocks, right? Once you’ve come to that conclusion, the next logical step is to start building your email list. For businesses that haven’t collected email addresses before, and those with a very small email list, this becomes an immediate concern and the question, “How do I build an email marketing list?” is raised. This article will answer that question for you…

Just Start

Some people that I talk to want to wait until they “build up a nice list” before they get started with their email marketing. These are the same people I talk to a year later, and they are still “getting ready.”

The trick to building an email list is to just get started, now, with whatever you have. If you start digging you’ll probably be able to put together 50 to 100 names and email addresses just of people you know.  You might be thinking – hey, this isn’t my target market. Don’t worry, these people are your friends and they want to support what you are doing. Ask them! They’ll be happy to read your newsletter. And even if they’re not your target market, they may know people who are. If your friends are not willing to get an email from you, get some new friends!

To get going, grab that stack of business cards in your desk drawer and contact those people one-by-one asking for permission to stay in touch via email more regularly. Next, immediately schedule yourself to attend a networking event or two in your neighborhood where you know you can make 20 or 30 new contacts. Get their business cards, and ask each person for permission to stay in touch. Then, book yourself a speaking engagement if you have good content to share and ask attendees to join your list. Before you know it, your list will feel like it’s growing very fast.

Email addresses age and die sooner than you realize… If you are in contact with people regularly, it allows them to update their email address with you. If you wait to start “next year” people will forget you, and many of your email addresses will already be dead. Follow Nike’s advice here.

The Website Sign Up

Let’s start with the obvious; you should be collecting email addresses from your website. Your website join-form should be well designed and located above the fold so that it’s easy to find. Next, you should offer a clear benefit to signing up. Remember – your visitor has a goal in mind. If you can offer something of value, helping them move towards that goal – you will get sign-ups. On the contrary, If you offer “Sign Up for Our Newsletter” you’ll likely hear crickets.

In addition to a sign-up form, we encourage our clients to install a Supercollector on their website. These can take various shapes and can be programmed in various levels of aggressiveness, but the basic idea is to make SURE your web visitor knows that you offer something of value for signing up. We’ve designed Supercollectors that are gathering emails 24/7 with conversion rates as high as 5%. That adds up.

One more thing about join-forms – don’t just ask for an email address only. If you do that you’ll have to treat everyone like a commodity, won’t be able to mail merge in the person’s name into your communications and overall you’ll have a weaker campaign. If your offer isn’t good enough for people to give their first name in addition to their email address – make a better offer. There are also times when you should ask for even more information – just ask us about this when you contact us.

Look for Other Contact Points

One of our clients, Mike, sells deluxe automobile rooftop tents and collects maybe 2 new contacts per day from his website’s “join our email list” form. While all websites should have a join form, that’s the only place our client was adding to his list.

During a phone conversation with me, Mike put the receiver down and talked to a prospective customer on the other line. He spent a good 5 minutes giving free advice on how one of his tents could be supported by the prospect’s particular vehicle.

I could tell from just one side of the conversation that the person was very grateful for the information. After Mike hung up and returned to me I asked, “How many conversations like that do you have on any given day?” and he responded, “Maybe 15 or 20.”  I just about fell out of my seat. I not-so-gently urged Mike that at the end of these conversations he should ask – “Are you getting our newsletters on topics like this?” and if not, ask those people for their email addresses. I guaranteed him he’d get the email address 80+% of the time. Then to make sure he’d act, I built and sent him a nice form he could keep next to his phone on a clipboard.

Mike just sent us a spreadsheet with about 800 new names on it, and many of those were from phone calls.

Where else are you in front of your customers? At the Point of Sale? During outbound calls? If you are attending trade shows you must collect names and email addresses or you shouldn’t bother even showing up. Give away a chance to win a prize in exchange for an email address, and then tell everyone in your first email who the winner was. Are you speaking at events or trade shows? Figure out how to give your audience an easy way to sign up for more information via email on the spot. Do you do deliveries? That’s another opportunity to ask.

Think about your business processes and the number of contacts you have with a customer throughout the cycle, and make sure you are asking for it when appropriate. Why not make a list of contact points right now while you are thinking about it?

Measure and Reward

If you own a company you know that your people only pay attention to the things that are measured, recognized or rewarded. Since collecting email addresses may be another new thing they are expected to do – make sure they understand the importance of it.

With some clients, we have advised kicking off the email campaign with an email collection contest. We measure the percentage of emails gathered from the number of opportunities and rank the contestants. This worked in a competitive sales environment, but maybe you need to measure it as a team.

Since you know that email gathering is an important task long term, make sure your employees see the big picture. If you use MBO (management by objective) in your review process, you may want to include email address collection as one of those MBOs or even “spiff” your people for each email collected. For this, we recommend a “random” contest. As you measure your email collection effectiveness, randomly announce a winner for “last month’s contest.” People will say “I didn’t know there was a contest last month” and you can reply that it’s always important, that you are always measuring it, and they can expect a random contest to occur anytime – so keep asking for the email address.

Name your Newsletter

It’s a small thing, but asking people if they want to sign up for your email marketing newsletter isn’t exactly compelling. “Do you belong to our Savvy Insider’s Club?” however, which is the name of one our client’s newsletter, has much more sex appeal. Mor Furniture calls theirs the VIP List and who doesn’t want to be a VIP?

Should you Purchase an Email List?

I have conversations all the time with new or prospective clients asking if they can buy an email list from me. The answer, of course, is absolutely not – but it’s important that you understand the reasoning behind the answer.

A purchased email list is a completely worthless investment, is not allowed by us or any other legitimate email marketing agency, and is against the CAN-SPAM law. Even if you’re promised by the slick salesperson at Lists’R’Us, “It’s a completely opt-in, CAN-SPAM compliant list” you should know they are a liar or at best incredibly stupid.  Do you really think that there are people out there who willfully signed up for something and checked the box that said: “Yes, it’s OK to sell my email address to anyone on the planet?” Of course not. Though that may be buried in the fine print legalese of some privacy policy that nobody reads, you and I both know the truth – nobody would agree to that.

I understand that this whole email thing would be a lot easier if it was possible to buy a quality list of prospects eager to hear from you, but it’s a fantasy. The sooner you let go, the better. People usually want to buy a list so they can have a “big” email list. Focus not on the size of your list, but on the quality of the contacts. Would you rather have a list of 1000 people where nobody cares about your information or a list of 100 people who are eager to get your email? The answer should be obvious. I’ll take the smaller list all day long.

Sponsor an Existing Email Newsletter

One technique where you can use someone else’s list is to be featured on an email list that is already going out to people in your industry or target market. Owners of large lists will often allow you to advertise on their email piece, or even allow guest “writers” for content. That’s a good way to build some buzz. Make sure to ask if you can have a link to your own sign-up form so the investment pays long-term dividends by garnering you new list members. Offering a free white paper or something else of value can be a great enticement.

Focus on Content

Many people are concerned for me when I write Blog posts and articles like this one that seems to give away important company secrets on how we “Do Email Marketing Right.”  I tell them to relax because I know that content is king. You can build the biggest and best list ever, but if you don’t give people what they want to read – why bother? I know that if I can deliver valuable, relevant content for my readers it will pay off in the end.

Besides, we’re looking for 100 great customers at Email Broadcast, not a million. If we provide the best information available, companies that want the best will seek us out. I also know that if our content really hits the mark, our recipients might even forward the message and those people may sign up to receive their own copy of our newsletter – helping us grow a quality list.

Think about it for just a second. Is there anyone you know who might enjoy this article? Thanks in advance for forwarding it to your friends.

Get Relevant Details from the Start

Relevancy is a giant topic that deserves it’s own Blog post and newsletter (coming soon), but with regards to building your email list, knowing that relevancy is your end goal will help you build your list correctly from the beginning. If all you have from someone is an email address, you have to treat them like everyone else – and that’s hardly relevant.

When you are collecting people for your email list, make sure you get enough information from them to treat them like they are special – because they are. This varies depending on your business – but it’s pretty easy to figure out what to ask for. First, always ask for someone’s name. Then dig into the industry-specific information.

If you sell computers maybe you should also know if someone is a Mac or a PC, or uses both. If you offer guided fishing and hunting tours maybe you should know if your clients are purely fisherman, purely hunters, or do both. Sell clothes? Maybe Gender is important for your future emails. Yacht Broker? Maybe sailing vs. power boats is important for you to know. Florist? How about asking for an anniversary date or spouse’s birthday? Think about it and start collecting that information from the beginning.  It will be much easier to deliver relevant content using list segmentation and trigger messages down the road.

Hopefully, these tips on how to build an email marketing list have been helpful – here’s a quick review:

  • Just start with what you have, right now. Go ahead, we’ll wait. Really.
  • Make sure your website is an email sign-up machine.
  • Consider all the points of contact you have with prospects/customers and use the best ones to consistently collect email info.
  • Get your people on board. Measure and recognize good performance.
  • Always ask permission before adding anyone to your list, and give it a cool name.
  • Build your list correctly, and disregard temptation of list buying as fools’ gold.
  • Deliver great content and your list will grow virally.
  • Collect more than just an email address so you can make content relevant.



If you have more questions about “Email Marketing Done Right” or are ready to get started, give us a call right now at  Email Broadcast at 805-316-3201. And if you haven’t already – you really need to check out our email campaign called An American Dream. It’s about a guy named Bob who is faced with a huge new competitor. He has to take a real look at his marketing plan before it’s too late. As a thank you for reading this far, here’s Episode 1.