Writing

The Exact System I Used to Build an Email List with 45,000+ Subscribers

Marketing with Tim Denning

Photo by Alesia Gritcuk on Unsplash

Ignoring the power of an email list is stupid.

A social media follower is a person you don’t have the contact details for and can only speak with when an algorithm shows you to them. An email subscriber is a human you can contact, whenever you want, on their most-used communication channel. Translated: worship email lists.

I have an email list of more than 45,000 subscribers. I don’t tell you that to brag or sound important. I tell you that so you will start building your own today. Whatever you want to do in life, you need people.

Email subscribers are people. Email subscribers are potential customers, beta-testers, prospective business partners, future affiliates for your digital products, or just nice people you can chat to as an escape.

If you want to be a marketer, writer, or business owner, you must have an email list. End of story.

Here’s the exact system I used to build an email list. (Copy, borrow, steal.)

Set up Email Software from Day One

If you are about to write your first blog post, set up some free email software before you get started. It takes minutes to create an account.

I copied Tim Ferriss and chose ConvertKit. Why? The number of emails I send that are opened is higher than other software options. Tim Ferriss did the testing, I benefited from his research. There are lots of options for email software. Research them and pick one.

What is email software? Gmail is good for sending an email to one person at a time. Email software is good at sending 100+ emails at a time and ensuring those emails don’t get blocked by a spam filter (took me 5 years to learn that).

Create a Simple Landing Page For 6-Year-Olds

A landing page is a single website page with one button. The email software you choose will come with landing pages. Use these.

Even with the most simple functionality, people stuff up this step of the process. I recently tested several different landing pages to see if I could increase how many people visited the page and became email subscribers (conversion rate).

You know the landing page that produced more than double the subscribers?

The one that had a plain black background with minimal text that a six-year-old could understand. I tried fancy backgrounds, complex sales pages, etc. None of it worked as good as minimal, basic, six-grader text with one photo.

Write 800+ Word Blog Posts 4 Times a Week on Your Chosen Platform

Okay, you can now collect emails via a landing page and email those people with your email software. The next step is to have a place on the internet to collect email subscribers.

The options for this step are endless. Here are a few:

  • LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram (in the caption section)
  • Major publications like Forbes, INC, Huffington Post
  • WordPress blogs with decent traffic
  • Your own website (not recommended unless it already has traffic)

Once you’ve chosen one platform to write on, at the end of everything you write, you place a call to action. A call to action is just a single sentence that tells people to join your email list, and most importantly, explains why.

A good call to action is simple, concise, and gives the reader a reason to click the link which takes them to your landing page. Adding social proof to your call to action, too, is a good idea. You could say “Tim Ferriss did it” if he did. Or you could say “1000 others have done it” if that is the case.

A/B test your call to action to find the best one. In other words, which call to action do people click on the most? Use that. The hard part about this step is that you have to write consistently for it to work.

You can’t publish one blog post and build an email list. If you publish 100 blog posts where they can be seen, you will be well on your way.

Make Your Landing Page Highly Convertible

I had a Zoom call with Liz Willits recently. Liz used to work for email marketing giant “AWeber.” She’s a weapon when it comes to building lists. You know her biggest secret that people pay her a lot of money to implement:

Build a targeted landing page for each topic you write about.

I write about entrepreneurship, writing, self improvement, and personal finance. This means, ideally, I need a landing page for each topic. Let’s talk about what currently happens with my email list. Every person who reads my articles goes to a landing page about how to use social media better. If you read a personal finance story and then saw this page, you wouldn’t join my email list. That’s what has been happening.

Now, I still got 45,000+ email subscribers without having four landing pages. But if you want to make the most of the email subscriber opportunity, you can use this pro tip from Liz.

Blogger, Benjamin Hardy, racked up 800,000 email subscribers with a landing page about productivity, even though he too writes about a lot of different topics. So you can build an email list the hard way, but this strategy will get you there faster.

You Need a Kick Ass Lead Magnet

If you go through all the pain to get a reader to your landing page and then you offer a terrible lead magnet, you’ll waste a lot of effort.

A lead magnet is just something free you give away to a reader in return for their email address. Examples of lead magnets are eBooks, email courses, checklists, or a free consultation with you over a video call.

Liz Willits helped me cut through the noise. An email course will help you build your email list the fastest. A free eBook is the second-best option. The rest of the options are much less effective.

A pro tip here is to give away more than anybody else. For example, I put together a free 3-day email course and gave away a lot of good stuff that many others in my field charged for. People said “normally, I only get a few free hints, but you gave me entire parts of your process for free!”

Surprise people by giving them more free stuff in your lead magnet than they expect. In other words, if your email course was going to be 3 x 10 minute lessons. Make it 3 x 90 minute lessons. Share your screen of you doing the thing. Make it personal, not dry and salesy. No one wants to be sold. But people do want to learn something new from you.

There’s nothing worse than boring webinars that tell you nothing and slam a paywall in your face before you learn anything at all.

Actionable step: create a free email course about your favorite topic and overdeliver on it.

Build the List. Email the List.

My buddy Gavin is a quiet internet marketer you’ve never heard of. He does email marketing for some of the biggest authors in the world. Every time I talk to him he repeats this phrase over and over: “Build the list. Email the list.”

That’s his entire two-step strategy. He said this to me the other day: “so what you’re saying is you built the list and emailed the list?”

Gavin makes me laugh. But his strategy is no joke. If you build the list, you must email the list. Those emails need to be weekly.

Bring Value to Your Email List

I hate the word value. It’s confusing. Let me translate value for you as it relates to an email list:

  • Care about your email subscribers
  • Give your email subscribers free content — writing, video, images, audio
  • Help your email subscribers with a real problem
  • Survey your email subscribers to learn about them

Formula for sending emails:

9/10 emails = free content.

1/10 emails = ad.

An email that asks someone to take a specific action or buy a product/service is an ad. If every email you send is an ad, people are going to run for the hills.

This is by far the most underrated strategy. Gary Vaynerchuk’s version of contacting your email subscribers is give, give, give, right hook. My version is different because an ad for every four emails is ineffective.

Give 90% value and ask for value back the other 10% of the time.

Segment Your Email List to Decrease Unsubscribes

A segment just means if you have an email list of 10,000 people, you divide them up into different audiences. Some email subscribers may hate you selling stuff to them. Some email subscribers may want to hear from you daily. Some email subscribers may only want to hear from you weekly.

A person who has bought something from you would be a different segment as opposed to someone who has only ever consumed your free content.

The reality is this: Every time you email the list people will unsubscribe.

Segmentation won’t stop people from unsubscribing, but it will drastically reduce the number of unsubscribes. You spent so much time to gain an email subscriber. Why not keep them?

Email list churn

Your email list will always be churning with new subscribers, and subscribers who leave you and never come back. That’s why you have to keep greasing the email list machine. How?

You have to keep writing free content, placing a call to action at the end, and collecting new email subscribers. There’s no other way. If you stop publishing content your email list will get smaller over time.

A Tiny Email List Can Make You 7-Figures

As you build your email list, remember size isn’t everything. Kevin Kelly spoke of the, now, cliche 1000 True Fans concept as a way to do well from a small audience. I want to go to the next level of detail.

If your intention is to use your email list to earn a living, would you rather 45,000 email subscribers from all over the world, or 20 Fortune 500 CEOs?

See, 20 CEOs can make you 7-Figures just like Benjamin Hardy’s 800,000 email subscribers can too. Where do you get 20 CEO’s email addresses from? Places like LinkedIn.

That’s why writers and marketers spend so much time on LinkedIn. They’re getting in front of a few small whales (CEOs) as opposed to becoming Kim-Kardashian-Famous in order to reach tens of millions of people and afford a downpayment on their dream house.

Bigger isn’t always better.

Sequence Your Email List

The next step is to sequence your email list. Sequence means automate.

The most important email you ever send is the “welcome email.”

Your welcome email sets the context. Often, the only chance you will be given with an email subscriber is the welcome email. If a reader hates your welcome email then they leave your email list quickly.

Your welcome email is where you show some personality, thank a person for joining your list, give them the free product (lead magnet) you promised them, and tell them what to expect going forward.

A welcome email is also where you can give a subscriber the option to do an email course you’ve created.

After the welcome email, you can have automated emails go to your subscribers. These sequence flows can become complex or simple. I call them “if-then, do-this” sequences.

There will be emails you manually write for your audience, and then there will be emails you automatically send. Automated emails help you to continually understand how you can be helpful to your subscribers.

The Todd Brison Effect

Todd taught me a highly effective strategy.

Your welcome email is a place you can segment your audience. You can give new subscribers a button they can click to select what topics they care about. The landing page can tell you what a subscriber cares about, but so can your welcome email. Either way you must find out what your readers care about.

The Stoic Discipline of One Link per Email

I have a rule: one link per email.

There’s nothing worse than getting an email full of links. Sending one link says to your email subscriber “I put in the effort to save you time and deliver you the most important link this week.”

Have One Action on Your Website

Stoic discipline applies to your website too. When someone comes to your website, what’s the one thing you want them to do? For me, I want a person to join my email list so we can be friends and stay in touch. I don’t want a one-night stand that ends after 90-seconds of climax.

If you have a website, consider tailoring its primary purpose to be building your email list. Build an email list, build an empire.

Place a Link to Your Website on Every Social Media Channel

Every social media channel I have leads back to my personal website. The homepage is dedicated to… you guessed it, joining my email list.

Use your social media to link back to your website. Because a social media follower is nothing more than a person you can never contact when you want to talk about something important.


What Is Flawed About My System That You Can Improve On?

  • My current lead magnet could be even better. It’s a little outdated.
  • My landing page could be more specific to the exact topic I’m writing about. (This is changing.)
  • My landing page could have some custom illustrations to make it near-impossible to resist. Good design attracts people.

What’s Even Better than an Email List?

I love to throw a spanner in the works. The average email open rate, according to Campaign Monitor, is 15%-25%. Liz Willits says you can get that to between 30% and 70% if you use more targeted landing pages and lead magnets. This is nice.

You know what has a higher open rate than an email? An online community you create and manage through a group chat app like Telegram, Slack, or WhatsApp. Yep, people open and see more messages in group chats than they do in their late 90s designed free email service full of ads, that secretly spies on them and shows them subliminal marketing.

A helpful group chat has a higher open rate than an email.

This Is How You 10X Your Email List

You’ve come this far. You will build a decent email list if you follow the tips presented so far. Unfortunately, I’ve learned the hard way that some of you want to level-up and go pro.

If that’s the case and you’re looking to 10X your email list, this is how I do it and you can too.

Syndicate your content.

You can publish your writing in one place and then automatically have other places on the internet publish your articles too. These other places are typically major publications like Huffington Post.

You won’t get paid for syndication. The trick isn’t to earn money. The trick is to beg a major publication to allow you to have a call to action. A call to action is more powerful than getting paid for your written content.

By having your work automatically published in other places online, you introduce the compounding effect of building an email list.

For every article you publish yourself and place a call to action on, that same article is being published elsewhere without you having to do anything. If you do this for long enough then your email list will grow 10X faster. I’ve only just started to do this and it’s been highly effective.

Do this: take a single blog post and publish it on multiple sites with a call to action.

There you go. That’s the exact system I use to build my email list. It works, but there is room for improvement.

Write content, use a call to actions, send a reader to a specific landing page related to the topic you wrote about, send them an email course or an eBook via your welcome email, email the list weekly with free content, continuously segment the list, then finish it off by automating some of the emails you send.

An email list is a gateway to a whole other online world you control.

Tim Denning
Tim is a thought leader in the personal development, entrepreneur and startup fields.Outside of blogging, Tim works for a large organisation helping fast moving technology companies come to Australia as well as helping Australian tech companies go to the world.

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