How to build an email list from scratch.

One of my very best friends is in the process of learning how to build an email list from scratch.

It’s for his newsletter The Backbeat, where he sends out one email once a week sharing newly released songs and interesting tidbits and happenings in the world of music.

I’m not writing this article to you.

But, him, rather.

However, I imagine the two of you have enough in common to make this devilishly handsome little article about how to build an email list from scratch, dangerous.

Not dangerous in a bad way. But, dangerous in a warm and fuzzy, fiery explosive kind of way.

Before we continue, I should probably introduce him. His name is Ian Holbrook.

By day, Ian works in sales at a really badass startup called Predictive Index where he helps big companies hire and retain big talent. And, by night (or basically anytime he isn’t working) he is living, breathing and consuming all things music.

Additionally, while Ian has extensive sales knowledge, he doesn’t know a damn thing about building an email list, which certainly won’t hurt him because I didn’t know anything about the topic when first starting out, either.

And, finally, while I’m unaware of his exact number of subscribers, I know it’s somewhere between 0 and 100. So, like you, he is just starting out.

Now, back to Ian —

Ian, here’s how you do the damn thing…

How to build an email list to 1,000+ subscribers in 4 simple steps.

Okay, so, as you know I run Honey Copymy tiny creative writing shop that helps brands grow with pretty words.

I know. I know.

You’ve heard my spiel before. But, keep in mind there are other folks listening who haven’t.

Anyway, about a year ago, I realized I wanted to add another element to Honey Copy. I didn’t want to just sell services to brands, I wanted to sell products, too.


Because while I loved (and still love) writing pretty words for badass brands, it takes a lot of time and there is only so much time in a day… which makes scaling a one-person business extremely difficult.

So, to make more money while staying small, I knew I needed to build an email list that I could sell products to… like my copywriting guide.

Currently, I have 3,212 email subscribers (95% of which I accumulated in the past year). In this article, I plan to share with you the exact strategies I used to grow my email list from scratch, as well as some hiccups I made along the way.

1. Create a killer email opt-in page.

A lot of folks building email lists from scratch jump the gun when first starting out.

They spend all this time thinking about how they can drive traffic to their email opt-in page… not realizing that all the busyness won’t mean jack shit if the page sucks.

I’ve invested close to 10 hours into this particular email opt-in page, designing and redesigning, writing and rewriting, until it slowly became the perfect combination of clear, concise and compelling.

Currently, it converts at around 77%.

That means for every 10 people that land on the page, nearly 8 of them cough up their email addresses.

Due to the fact that my email opt-in page converts so well, I don’t have to fret about driving loads and loads of traffic to the page… because I am converting most of the traffic that lands on the page already.

In other words, if you build a strong email opt-in page, growing your list will be much much easier.

Designing and writing an email opt-in page can be tricky because it isn’t one-size-fits-all. So, instead of taking a single approach, I encourage folks to view their opt-in page as an ever-evolving piece of copy and design. You might be two years into building your email list, still tweaking, polishing and honing your opt-in page to convert better and better.

With that said, one thing I’ve noticed that doesn’t work well in regards to opt-in pages is being overly sales-y (or even scammy).

Customers today are a lot smarter than they used to be. They’re no longer taking bull-shit bait like…

“Sign up for my email list and I’ll send you my ebook for free”.

Everyone and their brother knows that free ebooks are about as valuable as a snow machine in Antartica.

I’ve found it to be helpful to just outright tell my subscribers what they will receive if they give me their emails. For sticky Notes, my offer is compelling but simple…

“Paper airplanes delivered right to your inbox containing marketing and copywriting secrets to help you 3x your sales.”

The Hustle, a media company that sends out a daily email with the latest most interesting business news has built a 1,000,000+ person list with the following offer…

“Your smart, good looking friend that sends you an email each morning with all the tech and business news you need to know for the day.”

It’s not rocket science, my friend. As long as you avoid sounding like a greasy car salesman and write a compelling offer, folks will pass along their emails.

In addition, here are a few more things to keep in mind when crafting your email opt-in page…

  • Make it pretty — you don’t like ugly things, your subscribers won’t either.
  • Make it different — my email opt-in page works because it’s like nothing else people see online, it’s different.
  • Make it concise — tell your visitor what they need to know and then shut the hell up, it’s an offer, not a novel.

Also, if you are like me and aren’t the most competent when it comes to tech shit… MailChimp, Squarespace and ConvertKit are all exceptional for crafting email opt-in pages breezily. And, in addition, all of them double as email marketing software. So, you will be able to send your emails through them as well.

Now, once you have built out your email opt-in page, you’re ready to start driving traffic and accumulating subscribers, below you will find out how you can snag your first 100 subscribers.

2. Land your first 100 subscribers.

When you’re building your email list from scratch, 100, 1,000 and 10,000 are your mile-markers.

I have found the race to 100 subscribers to be the biggest hurdle to overcome.

Once you have 100 subscribers, you have some momentum and a platform you can leverage to hit that 1,000 subscriber number.

So, here’s how you’re going to quickly and easily snag up your first 100 subscribers.

You’re going to open your phone and you’re going to text everyone who is a family member, a friend or an acquaintance the following message…

“What’s up [fill in the blank name]. So, I’m trying this new thing where I send out an email each week about [fill in the blank topic]. No pressure, but I’ve always thought you have great taste in this specific area and I’d love to get your feedback on the first few emails. Would you mind if I send over a link to the page?”

Your family member or friend or acquaintance will say yes because you complimented them and because they care about you and from there, you will send them a link to the email opt-in page we created above.

From your phone contacts alone, you should be able to get 40–50 subscribers. Once you’ve done this shake your other social trees and see what fruit will fall — Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

I like this approach for two reasons… while it’s a bit tedious it is a very easy way for you to get 100 subscribers in a day or two. And, by sharing it with your homies, loved ones and followers (I hate that word)… you have more social pressure to do the damn thing.

Now that you have an email opt-in page and 100 email subscribers, it’s time to really fucking build this thing. It’s now a race to 1,000 subscribers.

3. Implement realistic strategies to gain 1,000 subscribers.

My strategy for growing Sticky Notes to 1,000 subscribers is the same strategy I used to grow it to 3,000+ subscribers and it will be the same strategy I use to grow it to 10,000 subscribers and so on.

While getting your first 100 subscribers is about hustle, getting your first 1,000 subscribers and so on is about building a brand and an email lead capturing machine of sorts (which we will talk about here shortly).

There is a lot of advice on the web about building email lists — most of which consists of guerrilla marketing tactics. While these tactics might be useful for landing a nice chunk of emails quickly they lack the longevity necessary to grow a large list.

After you capture your first 100 emails, your goal should no longer be capturing emails in bursts but instead capturing them steadily and consistently… daily.

I have found writing blogs posts to be the best and most evergreen way of capturing ongoing leads, regularly.

Each week I write and publish one, two and sometimes as many as three articles on the Honey Copy blog.

In these articles, I sprinkle in links to my email opt-in page. If you’ve been paying attention, I’ve already sprinkled in a few in this particular article.

As you create them, place them all over the web… tweet them, publish them on LinkedIn, post about them on Instagram and republish them on Medium.

Be sure to make these articles extremely focused and relevant to your audience. In other words, if you want to capture the emails of fathers who knit cat sweaters, don’t write articles about how to teach a dog to roll over.

Additionally, to see a return, you need to plan on investing significant time and energy in the articles you are writing… I try to make all my articles on Honey Copy 2,000+ words.

Now, I understand that writing might not be your thing. So, what are a few alternative ways to create evergreen content that drives email sign-ups?

  • Jumping on podcast episodes is a great option — look for smaller lesser-known podcasts because there is less competition to get on as a guest.
  • Creating your very own podcast is an option, too.
  • If you have a large following on Instagram, craft valuable posts and point your followers to “the link in your bio”.

Articles can easily be replaced with another form of content, it just needs to be valuable and it needs to be evergreen. After a podcast episode goes live, it’s not going anywhere. It will keep working for you, day and night, as listeners stumble upon it.

4. Create an exceptional email newsletter.

We hear a lot about building email lists… little about building an exceptional email newsletter.

When it comes to email marketing, view your email newsletter like a valuable product you’re giving away free to your list each week. If you invest a ton of time and energy into designing a great product/newsletter, you will naturally grow.

The past month, I’ve seen my list skyrocket in size and much of it is due to word of mouth. When folks enjoy a particular newsletter I send them, they will forward it to their friends and colleagues and these people will sign-up for Sticky Notes.

Here, here, here, here and here are all examples of previous emails I’ve sent out to my list.

There are a handful of directions you can go with your newsletter…

Like The Hustle, you can send out an email with curated news from a specific industry.

Like Andrew Holliday at Special Sauce Branding, you can simply send out an email highlighting interesting things you’ve noticed in the world of marketing.

Like Laura Belgray at Talking Shrimp, you can send out emails packed full of witty puns and funny stories related to writing.

Like, you can send out emails with great deals on products.

Whether you want to share news, thoughts, stories or products you have every opportunity to craft an exceptional newsletter.

So, while I can only speak for myself, Honey Copy and Sticky Notes… I think growing an email list from scratch really comes down to a great opt-in page, a hustle to 100 subscribers, evergreen content and a damn good newsletter.

By Cole Schafer.

You gotta check this out — Sticky Notes is my email list reserved strictly for entrepreneurs and creatives looking to sell like a Florida Snow Cone Vendor on the hottest day of the year.

I write pretty words and sometimes sell things.

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