In this article, I’m going to show you how to build an email list from scratch.

But instead of sharing a list of strategies that have worked for me, I’m going to actually attempt to build my email list “live”.

I’m going to share everything that is working for me, what isn’t working for me, and where I’m going to double down my efforts.

Why Build an Email List?

I actually don’t know if every business needs to build an email list.  

If you’re a saas company, it might just make sense to get everyone who comes to your site to sign up for a free plan.

At Time Doctor, the saas company that I do content marketing for, we actually discovered that getting people to sign up for an email list decreased monthly trials.

Basically, we were asking people to convert twice - once to get to an email list, and then to sign up for a trial.

That being said, there are two really good reasons to build an email list.

  1. 1
    You’ll have an army of people to distribute your content to.  Once your list gets to a certain size, and assuming you have maintained healthy open rates, promoting your blog posts is as easy as hitting the send button.
  2. 2
    When you go to launch a new product or service, you have a whole lot of people to promote it to.  At some point in time, I want to launch a course on teaching people how to grow a blog with SEO content.  It’d be nice to have an email list to let people know when it’s ready.

Setting a List Building Goal

In order to figure out where I want to go, I should probably start with where I am now.

And I’ll tell you what, it ain’t all that pretty.

But here goes.

At the time of this article, I have 534 email subscribers.

Current Email Subscribers


And I’m adding between 5 and 10 net new subscribers every week.  

email subscribers per week

That’s not all that impressive.

Back when I started actively promoting this blog in August of 2019 (These stats are from April of 2020), I set up a few quick optins, exit intent popups, and haven’t really done much since.

It’s time to change that.

My goal is to get to 50 net email subscribers per week.  

That’s 5x where I am now, to where I want to be.

How to Build an Email List from Scratch

Right now, one of the sites I’m working on is called Running Remote.  It’s a conference for remote workers.

And we are spending a lot of time and energy growing our email list, so we have people to tell about our next conference.

I generally like to think of list building in terms of frameworks.  A framework is a concept that allows me to see how I will acquire email subscribers given a specific strategy.

For instance, I can say a strategy such as “I’ll run webinars”.  But that doesn’t answer the question of how I will get people to watch my webinars.

The strategy is the what; the framework is the how.

At Running Remote, we have 3 frameworks put in place to grow the email list.

Framework 1:  Leverage existing assets.  This is things like traffic and our current email subscribers.

Framework 2:  Leverage other people’s assets.  This includes partnerships, guest posts, and co-promotions.

Framework 3:  Leverage paid marketing.  This includes cold traffic and retargeting strategies.

What I’ve decided to do is come up with a list of ideas I can use to grow my email list within these three frameworks.

List Building Strategies

Now it’s time to get into the nitty gritty.

Instead of a huge list of list building strategies, I decided to list 10 I know can work very well.

Remember, I’m not trying to do all the things, I just want to find 3 or 4 strategies that can get me to 50 email subscribers per week. 

You can click here to see the list.

list building strategies

When you click the link, you’ll notice a few different columns.

Strategy:  This is the strategy that I think will help me achieve the goal.  Things like Facebook ads or content upgrades would be considered a strategy.

Framework:  As stated above, the framework let’s me know how the strategy will help me acquire new email subscribers.

Difficulty:  How hard is this strategy going to be to implement?

Impact:  How much will this help me achieve my goal of 50 email subscribers per week.

Score:  And finally, the score let’s me know which strategies I should focus my efforts on first.  This is a formula that is impact/difficulty.

For instance, hosting an event will have a massive impact on the number of leads I get.  We ran an event at Running Remote and acquired 4500 email subscribers.  But the event damn near killed us.  

So, that means the impact is high, but the difficulty is also high.

On the flip side:  changing your email signature to have a call to action for a lead magnet is very easy.  But it will have very little impact on the number of email subscribers you acquire.

Over the next 4 weeks or so, I’m going to implement several of these strategies in order to go from 5-10 email subscribers a month to 50 email subscribers a month.

I think it’s going to take a bit longer than 4 weeks to get there, but we should start moving in the right direction.

And at the end of the 4 weeks, I’ll know which efforts to double down on, and which I should eliminate.

Set Up Goals in Google Analytics

You can’t optimize what you can’t measure, right?

So before we get started with all the cool “bells and whistles”, we have to set up our goals in Google Analytics first.

That way, we know which pages and posts are actually converting the most visitors.

To access your goals, look in the admin section of Google Analytics, and find the “view” column.

Step 1:  Goal Setup

For a simple email capture goal, you actually want to choose the Custom setup all the way at the bottom of the Goal Setup screen.

Goal Setup

Step 2:  Goal Description

Next, you fill out the goal description.  Name your goal.  This can be anything really.  But make sure you know what it is. I usually just name it by the name of the lead magnet.

And your type is going to be “destination”.

Goal Description

Step 3:  Goal Details

Last, you want to enter the suffix of your thank you page url.

Goal Details

Click save, and you’re all done!

Now, it’s time for the fun stuff!

Note:  if you find Google Analytics as confusing as I do, I have been playing around with a cool alternative called Plausible.  It's Google Analytics simplified.

Optimize High Traffic Pages

To be honest, my blog doesn’t get enough traffic to where I’ll be able to optimize my highest pages and call it a day.

I’m going to have to do a lot more work.

But, in the meantime, I want to make sure that I’m acquiring as many leads as possible.

I’ll show you how I am trying to optimize my highest traffic pages step by step:

Step 1:  Identify High Traffic Pages

In Google Analytics, I want to identify my highest traffic pages.

But, I’m not looking for just ANY page.  I am looking for pages that are attracting the most amount of traffic from Google in the past 60 days or so.

I LOVE referral traffic, don’t get me wrong.  But referral traffic comes and goes.  It could be that I was just promoting in forums, or it got picked up in someone’s newsletter.

All good stuff, but that traffic comes and goes, whereas Google traffic is consistent and grows!

Top Traffic Pages

As you can see, my post on Evergreen Funnels, Lead Magnets, and Thank You Pages get the most traffic from Google.

So, I’ll start there.  

Step 2:  Create a relevant lead magnet

There are a lot of ways to create a relevant lead magnet.  If you’re looking for ideas, here’s 101 lead magnet examples.  

In my Evergreen Funnel post, I go into detail about the email sequence that helped build a 6 figure online course business.

What I decided to do was put all of the emails that I describe in the blog post and create a swipe file in Google Docs.

That way, the reader of the blog has access to the emails when she needs to create her own evergreen funnel.

Step 3:  Add In Text Form

Next I added an in text form.

evergreen funnel in line form

I didn’t get all fancy.  I just used ConverKit to design the form.

It sticks out and describes what the lead magnet is.  Nothing more. 🙂

Step 4:  Exit Intent Popup

Last but not least, I added a custom exit intent popup.

evergreen funnel exit intent

The copy pretty much emulates the copy from the in line form.

So the messaging is quite consistent.

Optimize Posts I’m Building Links To

I’m always promoting blog posts, trying to build links, and rank them.

So I usually have a few posts that are climbing up the rankings, but aren’t in the top of my traffic yet.

For instance, just this past week, I started ranking number 5 for the keyword “Best Blogging Courses”.

Best Blogging Courses Rank

This post also ranks 9th for the keyword “Blogging Courses”.

blogging courses rank

So I suspect traffic to this post will be going up very soon.

That’s why I wanted to get ready with a customized lead magnet.

Step 1: Identify Lead Magnet Idea

This post is a list of really cool blogging courses that I’ve either taken or have heard good things about.

So, my lead magnet idea was pretty straight forward:  Create a Free Blogging Course.

The free blogging course is a 3 part email course where people will learn how to create and promote a blog post that gets lots of readers.

It’s in context with what they’re searching for when they arrive at the blog post.  So it’s highly relevant.

Step 2:  Create in Line Form

Next up, I created an in line form.  

Once again, I just used the forms that ConvertKit provides.  It’s nothing fancy, but it should be effective.

free blogging course inline form

Step 3:  Create a Call to Action

In the blog post, I go into a description of my course:  who it’s for, what they get when they sign up, what they’ll learn, etc.

It’s a mini-sales page.

And at the bottom of my description, I have a call to action with a big green button where they can easily join my mini-course.

kickstart your blog cta

Lead Magnet Swaps

A lead magnet swap is a form of partnership whereby you swap your lead magnet with another individual.

I learned this strategy from the folks over at Growth Tools and it worked pretty well for me once before.  (Honestly, if you want to get really good at this I highly recommend their partner accelerator.)

It led to two of my biggest growth days I’ve ever had.

lead magnet swap results

So, I thought, why not do more of it?

Here’s the thing about lead magnet swaps.

If you have a huge (and engaged) list, EVERYONE is going to want to do this with you.

However, if your list is small, it can still work, you just have to be creative.

Here’s how to do it.

Step 1:  Identify Potential Partners

Before you start pitching people, first start with the relationships that you have.

At first, I wasn’t sure who I would be able to partner with because my list was so small. 

But then I started to realize just how many people I’ve met over the years who might have an email list similar in size and demographic as mine.

After looking through my Facebook messages, Email correspondences within the past year, and my LinkedIn messages, I was able to put together a decent sized list of folks I could reach out to that I have an existing relationship with.

I started to create a partner outreach sheet to keep track of everyone I reach out to.

partner outreach sheet

Step 2:  Make Your Pitch

If you have a relationship with the person you’re pitching to, this is pretty informal.  Below is a pitch I sent to a friend of mine who I used to be in a mastermind with.

Hey Matt

How is everything going?  

I know it has been quite a while.

I think there is some overlap between our demographics, and am wondering if you'd be interested in doing a lead magnet swap. 

Here's how I'm thinking it would work;

I'll email my list your best lead magnet, and you could email your list my lead magnet?

It might be worth some "free" subscribers.

Let me know what you think!

Step 3:  Negotiate a Mutual Date

I’ve been trying to schedule these partnerships far enough apart so that my list isn’t too bombarded with them.

So far, I’ve been trying to schedule a cadence of every other week or so.

Step 4:  Send Them the Emails

Make this stupid easy for everyone involved and send your partner the email that you want them to send to their list.

Here’s the one that has been working for me.  (Note:  I’ve been writing the email as if I was my partner, introducing me. It might sound complicated, but when you read the email, you’ll get it.)

Subject:  Want to increase your website traffic?

Hey (first.name)

Today, I have something pretty cool to share with you.

My friend Greg is an SEO expert, who has helped many companies grow their website traffic to over 100,000 visitors per month.

And the software company he works with now gets 160,000 visitors and generates over 8,000 leads per month.

How does he do that?  

By creating SEO content.

You see, most bloggers create content, email their list, do some sort of promotion, and after a few weeks or even a month, the blog post is lost on the internet forever.

Instead, Greg creates content that ranks on the first pages of search engines, and gets traffic for months, and even years after the post is created.

Here’s what I mean, Greg wrote a post in August of 2017 (over 2.5 years ago), and to this day, that post is getting well over 10,000 visitors a month.

If you want to learn how Greg does this, he created a case study where he’ll show you everything you need to know in order to create (and promote) content that ranks on the first page of Google.

(I’ve checked it out, it’s really in depth and thorough.  He’ll show you how to come up with blog post ideas, create amazing content, promote it to get your first few hundred readers, and build links so it ranks on page 1 of Google.)

To get it, all you have to do is click here and add your email address and it will be delivered to your inbox immediately.

Step 5:  Collect Email Subscribers! 

In the beginning, you might not see huge results.  After all, your partners are the same size as you.  Which might not be that big.

What I’m looking for right now is simply adding 5-20 people to my email list using partners, and then scaling the process as my list grows.