How to build an email list from scratch (an 11-step guide)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 20 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Email is one of the most effective ways to communicate with potential customers. Marketing managers use email lists to send details of everything from new products to company news and promotional offers. Understanding how to build a successful email list can help you communicate with your customers more effectively. In this article, we discuss how to build an email list from scratch, including why it's important, along with 11 steps you can take to build your list and develop your marketing opportunities.

Related: What is email marketing? (Tips on how to launch a campaign)

What is an email list?

Before discussing how to build an email list, it's important to understand exactly what one is. An email list is a compilation of email addresses and contact information that an organisation collects from individuals or past customers. When someone fills in a form with their contact details or offers their email address, they agree to receive information from that organisation or business.

The email list is the contact information for people who've given you permission to send out company emails. These individuals may have purchased something in the past, or they may have signed up for marketing materials, such as an e-book, white paper or newsletter. In other cases, an individual may give you a business card with their email address at an event or conference, or they may sign up to join the email list while purchasing something in-store.

Related: Digital marketing skills: Definition and examples

Why is an email list important?

Email lists are one of the most effective ways for companies to reach customers. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Communicate directly with potential clients: By having a ready list of people to receive your company news, you can reach potential customers much more quickly. This increases the likelihood that they will see your offers and learn about your latest promotions.

  • Control when and who you contact: Your email list makes it easier to plan marketing strategies. You can focus on a particular group within the email list and tailor the information you send out, or you can email the whole list with more general information and offers.

  • Generate more sales: People who subscribe to a mailing list have shown an interest in your company and are more likely to interact with or buy something from you. By sending out regular emails you can sustain communications and increase the chances of converting them into customers in future.

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How to build an email list

Here is an 11-step guide to help you create an effective email list:

1: Choose an email service provider

The first step to building a list is to pick an email service provider (ESP). There are many different providers to choose from so take some time to look at the different features each one provides so you can find an ESP that most closely matches your needs. One important feature may be the ability to automate a series of emails when new subscribers sign up.

You may also require that those emails differ depending on when and why someone agreed to give you their email address. So it's essential that you can control different emails going out to specific customers. Another important consideration is to look at the pricing structure and how much it increases according to the number of subscribers on your list.

Related: What is an email service provider and how do you choose one?

2. Import your existing contacts

If you have a list of contacts you can import these into your new email provider. It may be necessary to extract email addresses from your customer relationship management system (CRM). You may decide to group different contacts into different lists depending on which product or service they bought from you and then tag or label them accordingly.

3. Choose a strong incentive

Customers are far more likely to agree to give you their email address if you're offering them something in return. You may create a free e-book or a short guide about something that your company sells or the service you provide. If you're an e-commerce business, you may provide a discount or special promotion to subscribers who are willing to give you their email addresses.

4. Set up automated emails

This email automatically goes out to someone after they agree to join your email list. It usually includes a welcome message to the subscriber and perhaps some information about your business or organisation. It also delivers the incentive you promised in exchange for the email address, for example, an e-book, a newsletter, or a special discount code.

Related: Everything you need to know about email automation

5. Develop subscription opportunities on your website

One of the keys to building a large email list is to make it very simple for people to give you their email addresses. Your website is a great way for customers to find you and sign up for news and marketing information. You may use email sign-up forms when customers buy something through your website since they give you their name and address when they use the checkout. Asking customers to tick the box to join an email list is an easy way to do this.

6. Ask through a contact form

By setting up a contact form on your website, you can ask customers to subscribe to your email list at the same time as contacting you. Whatever reason they may be filling in the contact form, whether for a quote for your services, or something else, it shows that they're interested in your organisation. Therefore asking them to tick the box to receive a newsletter is a reasonable request.

7. Capture email addresses through your blog

A blog is a great way to find new subscribers to your email news. Since the people who read your blog are already interested in your organisation or business, they're a valuable source of subscribers. Once a visitor has been reading your blog for a short period of time, provide a simple tick box in a popup location.

8. Ask people to sign up on social media

If your organisation has many followers on social media channels, you may ask them to subscribe to your email campaigns as well. Since social media allows people to read the most current news and up-to-date promotions, add a link to your posts for people to sign up. You may also construct a post specifically asking people to sign up for your campaigns.

Related: 10 email design best practices for more effective marketing

9. Use your email signature

Another easy way to gain permission for you to include people on an email list is through your contact details at the bottom of an email. A personal email is a great way to gather subscribers to your newsletter or email campaigns. You can add a simple link in your email signature.

10. Ask at the checkout

Shop assistants may ask customers when they buy something at the checkout if they want to sign up for news or offers. By offering a discount, reward card or another incentive, you're more likely to persuade customers to sign up. This is a simple way to reach customers who have already bought something from your business.

Related: How to become an email marketing specialist (with tips)

11. Collect email addresses at trade events

Having a stand at a trade fair is a great way to reach potential customers. You may ask visitors to sign up for your list when they visit the stand. If this is too time-consuming, consider placing a bowl on the counter to collect their business cards.

Related: How to collect email addresses easily for marketing campaigns

Tips for building a successful email list

Here are some tips to help you with your email marketing campaign:

  • Make sure your email list is up to date. As people move around and change locations or jobs, they may abandon an email address. By spending some time ensuring your email list is valid and fresh, you can be sure that those on the list receive your emails and that there's a good chance they click on your campaign news.

  • Provide valuable blog content. If you're offering a blog to attract visitors, ensure you provide good quality content that visitors can engage with. Unique content that helps the website visitor somehow is more likely to result in a potential customer offering you their email address to find out more about your organisation.

  • Offer early access to promotions. Once you've created a good level of interest in your brand, it's fairly straightforward to ask for customers' email addresses in exchange for early access to a promotion or an offer.

  • Include a subscribe button. By providing an attractive subscribe button to your website, you're allowing customers an easy way to join your email list. The button usually leads to a small popup that potential customers fill in with some simple details.

  • Consider automated campaign tools. There are many online tools to help drive potential leads to sign up for your campaigns. These include opt-in, automatic subscription forms and third-party tools that smooth the process of collecting email addresses.

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