Building an Email List from Scratch

Vinny La Barbera
Written by

Vinny La Barbera

Do you want to maximize each visitor and lead your website generates? And, do you want to do this for less than most other marketing channels?

This can be done with email marketing and it doesn’t have to cost you a fortune….just some time, creativity, consistency and discipline.

In this article we are going to show you how building an email list from scratch is possible, and necessary, for just about any business.

How to Build an Email List from Scratch

What is an Email List?

If your business doesn’t have one yet or you’re still not quite sure what an email list actually is, then all you have to do is check your inbox.


Because you’re probably on at least a couple of them already.

That’s right. All of those emails you don’t want, and even some of the ones you do want, are coming from companies that have placed you on their email lists.

How did you get on that list?

Well, you most likely purchased something online or provided your contact information somewhere and either checked a box that said something like “Subscribe to our email newsletter” or you forgot to uncheck a box that said something similar.

Don’t feel tricked if you never checked anything as it’s pretty common for companies to opt people in when they purchase something or provide their contact information. You can always unsubsribe so don’t go getting all upset.

The point is that email lists are very common and there’s a legitimate reason for this…

Email Marketing Quote

A strong email list coupled with a creative email marketing strategy can be one of the best ways to generate more revenue for your existing customers and attract new business from leads and prospects interested in your products and services.

Email Marketing ROI
Image courtesy of iContact

Compelling Stats About Email Marketing

  • Consumers who receive email marketing spend 83% more when shopping. (source: iContact)
  • Average return on email marketing investment is $44.25 for every $1 spent (source: iContact)
  • 82% of consumers open emails from companies (source: Litmus)

Let’s take a look at how you can start building your email list from scratch to take advantage of these statistics.

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Why haven’t you started an email marketing strategy yet?

There seems to be quite a bit of resistance when it comes to email marketing. Tell us why you haven’t started yet in the COMMENTS BELOW as we your input helps us to learn too.

Making Your List Irresistible

Before you can start building your email list you need to build up and maintain the demand for it.

If you overlook these important steps, then you are going to have a rather frustrating experience trying to get people to sign up.

So, how do you make your email list so irresistible that everyone will want to sign up?

There are many different ways to build demand, but here are some of the more effective methods we have seen that you should try…

Ways to Build Demand for Your Email List

  1. Pinpoint and communicate one main advantage that subscribers will receive for signing up (e.g. inside information, exclusive promos, free advanced tips)
  2. Provide a preview of what your email communications might look like so subscribers can more easily see the value
  3. Showcase real testimonials from subscribers on signup landing pages
  4. List out exactly what subscribers will receive and how often they will be receiving emails from your company
  5. Offer an exclusive, ongoing discount for subscribers only

Are you seeing a theme from these 5 tips?

If not, here you go: Be specific about what someone is going to get when they subscribe.

And when those signups start coming in…..make sure you DELIVER.

Best Ways to Build an Email List from Nothing

To build a strong email list you need to learn to take advantage of every single opportunity you have to convert someone into an email subscriber. This mindset needs to extend throughout all of your activities, online and offline. Our 20+ tips below should be a great start for you.

Email Listing Building Methods

Email List Building Ideas

Here are some recommended ways to start building your email list

Use Your Website

If you’ve got a sound inbound marketing strategy in place, then you should be driving most of your traffic to your website. If so, then you need to make sure you’re capitalizing on each and every visitor.

To do this you want to optimize your website to convert your visitors – no matter what stage they are at in the buying cycle. It doesn’t really matter if they’re just window shopping or if they’ve just purchased something from you – there’s always an opportunity to get each visitor into your email list.


  • Add a simple email signup form that can be seen on any page of your website (your header and/or footer may work best)
  • Add an email opt-in option on all web lead forms and checkout steps
  • Use “thanks” pages to entice visitors to sign up to your email list after they purchased something or submitted their information
  • Place a simple email signup form below each blog post
  • Use strategically timed / placed lightbox pop-ups to attract email signups
  • Include links to an email signup page throughout your content
  • Integrate an email signup form on your “about” page
Take your thank you page one step further by setting up a referral program on it. After a person enters their email address to collect your lead magnet, they are taken to your thank you page. There, they are enticed with bonus content to share your landing page with their friends on social media.


Use Your Social Media Channels

Social networks are more than just places to promote your content or to spoil the Game of Thrones season finale for everyone else. When used properly, these channels can be fantastic places to help you build your email list.

To accomplish this you may need to change your mindset a bit about how you use your social media accounts. Instead of using them to talk at your followers and friends you need to start using them to engage them and entice them to signup to your email list to get even more / better interaction with your company.


  • Using Facebook Ads, drive people to a landing page on your Facebook page that entices them to “Like” your page AND signup to your email list at the same time
  • Give your followers some teaser content that sparks their curiosity enough to want to signup to your email list (e.g. YouTube video)
  • Use status updates that drive followers back to your email signup landing page on your website
  • Run a Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest contest to collect signups by offering a prize to a random winner *(state contest / sweepstakes laws may apply)*
  • Setup a Facebook or Linked Group or a Google+ Community that connects people and provides valuable information so you can subtley ask for email signups to your list (provided that you’ve built value for it)
  • Use Foursquare to remind patrons (when they check-in) to signup to your email list
  • Use LaunchRock to offer beta invites for early adopters and encourage them to share the opportunity with their social networks


Use Your Community

One of the most overlooked ways of building a valuable email list doesn’t actually involve any type of online marketing or website optimization.

Instead, just going out into your local community to physically collecting email signups can be one of the more effective ways to build your list. Make sure you have a plan though or else you’re going to annoy a lot of people.


  • Go to local events related to your business and request email opt-ins after providing some type of valuable takeaway or handout (e.g. “Top 10 Ways to Bring More Customers to Your Store Tomorrow”)
  • Setup a small booth at a local trade show, conference or meetup and request email sign-ups in exchange for a free, on-the-spot service (e.g. Website analyses, Competitor analyses, Q&A, etc)
  • Host a Meetup in your area and ask attendees to opt-in to your email list before and after the event. If your event’s content is good, then you shouldn’t have any issues.
  • Ask the business owers (or frequent patrons) of your favorite local spots if they’d be interested in joining your email list
  • Offer something of value to a popular local business in your area to get them to push your email signups as well (e.g. table cards, register forms at checkout, web address or QR codes on loyalty cards)
Since you really want people to be opting in themselves it would be beneficial to take an iPad with you that uses a simple app for collecting email opt-ins. A couple good ones are Enlist and Chimpadeedo



Use Your Relationships

Although we’re listing this one last it is far from being the least important or the least effective way to build an email list.

As a matter of fact, if you’ve done a good job of building real (online and offline) relationships, then this should actually be the easiest and most effective way for you to build your company’s list.


  • Ask strategic partners, vendors and even clients if they would be willing to exchange access to their lists for your services
  • Don’t rule out the possibility of bartering with competitors in your space for list access if there’s a void that your company can provide to their customers
  • Train and encourage your sales team to get prospects and customers to subscribe to your email list…especially when they’re not buying something
  • Train and encourage your support and project management teams to send email signup information to customers they work with on a regular basis

List Building Never Stops

Subscribe to Our Monthly Email Newsletter

Your priorities as a business usually center around keeping your customers happy and generating revenue for your business. We would never advise against these, but we would encourage you to start integrating one more priority into your business practices…

Get people to subscribe to your email list

Email is still the most popular online activity and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

You want to be able to reach your prospects and customers in a scalable, cost-effective, highly targeted way and email marketing is still the best solution for that. And the best part is that the barrier to entry (getting an email marketing strategy started) is extremely low.

By following the tips above, using a reputable email marketing provider (like MailChimp or Campaign Monitor) and committing to an on-going email marketing strategy you will start to build one of your business’ most valuable assets – an email list of opt-in recipients.

So, what are you waiting for?

Either get going on the tips we have outlined in this post or get in touch with us to learn how we can help you get your email list on a growth trajectory and get your business using it to generate more revenue.


Need help building your email list?


Categories: Email Marketing


    June 14, 2013

    Really solid post. In many cases I’ve opted not to implement a subscription form fearing that I would lose out on the conversion I am trying to solicit or the lead I’m trying to generate.

    I’ve run tests before and have found that even asking for an email address can drive your visitors away. Nevertheless, building a list is very important and definitely should not be overlooked.

    June 14, 2013

    Thanks Patrick!

    We appreciate you sharing your experiences with us. We can’t say that including an email field on lead forms has had the same negative effect, but every site is unique in its own way.

    If you don’t mind me asking, how do you build your list if you’re not collecting emails from lead forms on your website? Are there other methods we mentioned that you use that are more effective?

    August 11, 2014

    Great post! I think that it is our modern obsession with instant results which prevents most people getting started with list building. But that is so short-sighted…having a genuine asset (your list) is something that can seem a leap of faith, but you get many more opportunities to try to sell your products if you ‘take the risk’. It really isn’t a risk. This is a really balanced and fair overview of what is involved.

    August 11, 2014

    You couldn’t be more spot on, Keith.

    Thanks so much for reading the article and for your input.

    October 17, 2014

    I agree keith, building a list is everything. I wrote an 8000 word piece about this too:

    October 17, 2014

    And a hell of a piece it is, Giles. Seriously nice work. I’m glad you checked on this one and mentioned yours. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for even more info.

    November 4, 2014

    Thanks Vinny!

    February 4, 2016

    Vinny – Great article but have you had any success with paid advertising online to speed the ramp up time? I have used some paid campaigns through Udimi with pretty good results. Great stuff though!!

    February 4, 2016

    Using paid traffic to grow an email list is certainly an option that should be considered. Just remember that the cost per acquisition (email subscriber) needs to make sense for your business.

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