By Nick Wolny
If you want to start an email list but feel overwhelmed by all the technical mumbo-jumbo, there's good news: You can ignore most of the fancy bells and whistles for at least your first 1,000 subscribers.
I recently shared with my email list some compelling statistics about email marketing. According to studies rounded up by HubSpot, 58% of consumers check their email first thing in the morning, 64% of small businesses use email marketing to reach customers, and four out of five marketers said they'd rather give up social media than email marketing.
Read that last stat again; these are the people who have to market effectively to put food on the table, y'all. If you want your marketing to directly translate into money, an email list is one of the best and most effective approaches you can take.
When I shared this information, however… I began getting trolled.
"Email is so 2000's," read one reply. Why is there such a disconnect between the effectiveness of email and its cool factor? Email, SEO, and blogs continuously outperform their social media counterparts, yet TikTok, Clubhouse, and other fancy video platforms get all the buzz — even though their return on investment is murky at best.
I'm an online entrepreneur who helps people grow their businesses through writing and email. And I get it: Email newsletters can be intimidating if you haven't tried them before or made them a priority. If you know you're ready to join the newsletter renaissance, there are the four steps you need to take today to set yourself up for success.
Before we get to those, however, let's get on the same page about why you should even bother leveraging email in the first place.
Why bother having an email list?
Whether you aspire to be an online entrepreneur — selling a product, program, or service — or just want to focus on building your platform as a creator or influencer, you'll have to create and publish content on a regular basis.
Content is all around us. It's the videos you watch on Instagram, the podcast episodes playing in your earbuds, and the perfectly manicured recipe cards you bookmark on Pinterest. This article you're reading right now is content.
If you want to build influence and credibility on the internet, you have to create content and ensure it gets in front of your followers on a regular basis. Most of us are excited to create content because we love and are passionate about what we do.
However, repetition is easier said than done. Social media algorithms can make your posts go viral one day and bury them the next. Websites are great for content, but getting ranked and noticed in Google or other search engines — what's known as Search Engine Optimization — can take months if not years to see results. Paid ads can be a solution, but they lead to skepticism, and the number of repetitions you need to warm prospects up can quickly get expensive.
Enter the email, a free and immediate way to reach your fans. When you send a piece of content via email, everyone receives it at the same time. Whether or not your subscribers open your email is a different animal, but at the very least your subscribers will see your name in their inbox on a regular basis and recall who you are. Email lets you avoid the algorithmic hijinks that sometimes come up on social media platforms. You've worked too hard putting this valuable marketing material together to get TKO'd by an algorithm deprioritizing your content.
Lastly, email marketing allows you to create automation: Sequences of pre-scheduled emails that go out automatically based on a subscriber's decisions, clicks, or behaviors. You may not be thinking much about automation today, but there might come a time in which you want to reuse or recycle past newsletters for future subscribers. Email lets you do this, which is why you want to go with an established email service provider.
There's an additional unspoken benefit to email: It lets your fans and subscribers form their own opinions about who you are and what you offer. Too often, we develop first impressions or make snap judgments of a brand based on how other users are talking about it.
Excited about email yet? I am! Let's now dive into four steps you need to take to get started on your email marketing journey.
Create an email address on a proper domain
If you want to establish an email list, you won't be able to use an @gmail or @yahoo email address for very long. The reason for this is that you'll be mass-emailing a potentially large group of people all at once; doing so from one of these personal addresses will trigger spam filters for most inboxes, and your email is likely to skip the inbox entirely and end up in a subscriber's spam folder, never to see the light of day again.
Your custom email address can be purchased from the same provider where you purchased your website domain or web hosting. If you don't have a website, that's no problem; you can still purchase a domain and custom email address and your email will be functional. (You may want to think about setting up a simple website though, in case people actually want to visit your site and learn about who you are).
BlueHost has a nice explainer here if you want more context, and DreamHost has an email-only hosting option. An email address with a custom domain projects credibility and professionalism; if you haven't even taken the time to set this up, your subscribers will have a hard time taking you seriously.
Choose an email service provider
Once you've minted your shiny new email address, the next step is to choose an email service provider.
Newer newsletter tools like Substack have popped up in recent years and created a fever about online newsletters, especially paid newsletters. These tools are often light on features; if you can swing it, I suggest you opt for a more robust email service provider instead. Household name providers like MailChimp and ConvertKit are free up to a certain number of subscribers, and you'll have far more flexibility.
When you use an email service provider, you can request that subscribers give you their name, phone number, and/or address upon signup. The more information you request, the more likely it is that users will click out, but in industries like real estate or B2B sales, this additional information might be essential. I own coaching and consulting business for early-stage entrepreneurs, so I collect first names and email addresses only.
In your emails, you'll be able to recall this information using what is called personalization tags. This is how a newsletter knows to address you by name, and it adds a personal touch to your communication. I recommend you request users' first names and email addresses to keep it simple.
You honestly can't go wrong with any of the major email service providers, all of which have been in business for years. Choose one provider and familiarize yourself with how to use it effectively.
Set up a form or landing page so followers can subscribe
Fancy email address: check. Awesome email service provider: check. Now we need a way for prospective subscribers to sign up for your list so they can start receiving your emails.
Most email service providers enable this by giving you a forms feature. Forms are what allow your readers to input their email address and any other pertinent information; you can either embed a form directly onto your website, have it be a pop-up, or create your own URL (web address) for the form. Avoid the pop-ups option if you can, everyone hates them nowadays.
Many providers have now also started offering what are called landing pages. Landing pages — also sometimes called squeeze pages — are web pages on which there is only one action to take. The more buttons and links you give people on a web page, the more likely they are to be distracted. A landing page helps your prospects stay focused, and when given the opportunity to do something rather than nothing, many readers will choose the former — especially if they are interested in your business, blog, or brand.
One last point on the signup process. Most people don't want more emails — the average American worker gets over 120 emails a day, according to a whitepaper from the Radicati Group — but these readers DO want education or entertainment on a regular basis. Instead of saying "Sign up for my free email list," consider offering a free gift or something of value instead. In marketing, this is known as a lead magnet.
A lead magnet is a piece of content or a discount given to readers in exchange for their email address. Lead magnets are also known as "ethical bribes" or "opt-in carrots;" you're making an offer to your reader to give them something valuable for free in exchange for joining your email list.
If no one is signing up for your email list, but they are seeing your posts and blogs online on a regular basis, it's time to create a compelling lead magnet that people actually want to download. This is where a lot of newer entrepreneurs get tripped up: They don't make their lead magnets compelling enough. How can you add value to your readers and save them time, money, or heartache? Start there, and you'll be on the right track.
The good news is you only need to do this once. Once your signup process is in place, you won't need to mess with it again. Make people aware of your lead magnet in your blogs, social media posts, and other networking groups or communities.
Add value on a regular basis
Readers are now signing up for your fancy new email list. Excellent! Now… we actually need to email them on a regular basis.
Here's some good news: Your emails don't need to be complicated. In a past episode of the Social Media Marketing podcast, Social Media Examiner founder Michael Stelzner noted that when the company tested many different email formats with their list of more than 500,000 subscribers, the simplest emails actually performed the best. Fancy graphics aren't necessary in email marketing if your newsletter content itself is solid.
Challenge yourself to send a weekly newsletter. The advantage to sending newsletters on a regular basis is that you train your list to expect communication from you at a certain day and time each week. The same psychology that justifies weekly TV shows or new podcast episode releases applies to email newsletters here; set clear expectations and your audience's open rate will improve with time.
We often receive newsletters that have 15 or more buttons in one newsletter, especially from retailers. For most of us, giving our audience lots of options will backfire and cause them to not click on anything at all. A rule of thumb in conversion marketing is One newsletter, one call to action. Your call to action can be to click on a link, reply to an email, forward the newsletter to a friend, or schedule a call with you, depending on what actions you want your readers to take.
Email newsletter writing can quickly take you down a rabbit hole if you're not careful. Remember to focus on your reader and make your content all about them. Help them with their challenges and problems so they can realize their goals and dreams. This is why one of my offers to my readers is email scripts; short, punchy emails sent at a weekly cadence build momentum and relatedness with your readers, which is exactly what you want before getting ready to sell a product, program, or service.
There's a saying in online marketing: "The best time to start an email list was two years ago; the second best time to start is now." Get the ball rolling with your email efforts today, and you'll be well on your way to cultivating an audience of raving fans.