How I Grew My Email Subscriber List from 0 to 250 in Five Weeks

(This post previously appeared in Age of Awareness)

When I first started building an email subscriber list, I had no idea what I was doing. In many ways, I still do not know. It’s only been five weeks. Online marketing gurus like Amy Porterfield told me, “No matter what your subscriber numbers are, your email list is one of the most valuable assets you have in the quest to help your business thrive.”

There are so many variations of this message out there that it is hard not to take it to heart. An email list matters so much more than your number of social media followers because you do not own your followers on a social media site. They could disappear or the site could go down and you would not retain any of your followers information unless they sign up with you on your own website.

I had a subscriber box on my neglected website for over two years but no one had ever entered their information. Why would they? They had nothing to gain by sharing their email address. And I had nothing to send to them even if I had a big list.

After revamping my website one day, I decided that I would start building my list. Just like that. No plan in action, no fancy website design or strategy. I have been amazed at the results: over 250 new subscribers (yes, including my mom) in five weeks.

Here are the easy steps I took to help build my list from scratch.

Asking nicely

On a whim, I tweeted the following:

“Yes! I have 1 subscriber to my mailing list & it isn’t my mom. This one person will receive a kick-ass newsletter. Once I write it. Truthfully, I’ve been working on my website & now I’m finally brave enough to share it. Please check it out!”

My email began chiming almost immediately. Within an hour, I had over forty subscribers. By the end of the day, over sixty new names were added to my list. For someone like me without anything big to promote or anything to offer as a freebie, I was amazed. All it took was asking.

I also asked the same question on Facebook and Instagram where some of my friends, family, and coworkers supported me by signing up, too.

I am fortunate to have a fairly engaged group of followers on Twitter, which helped, but I do not have big accounts. I am not well known in any way.

What I think helped was that my website looked nice. Not very fancy or even well-designed, but I had a color scheme and some eye-catching images. Not bad for a newbie without design skills. I also think that it helped that my site showed some personality. In the place for friends to subscribe, I had written (just like in the tweet) something along the lines of, “I don’t have a newsletter yet, but when I do, it is going to be kick-ass.”

Several people commented that they looked forward to my “kick ass newsletter.” I did not have any plans for a newsletter. At all. But I wasn’t discouraged. Instead, I felt excited. I love a good challenge.

To this day, simply asking is the suggestion I would give to anyone else starting out. If it doesn’t work, you haven’t lost any time or money. You may be surprised by the individuals willing to support you. Usually I promote at least three times (always in a different way) to get some traction.

Freebies and giveaways

As I started to learn more about email marketing, I learned that I should offer free content as an incentive for people to sign up. I spent more hours than I would care to admit on creating PDF files (or lead magnets) and related blog content like this landing page. This definitely helped get more subscribers, but not as many as I was hoping for. I am not saying that freebies don’t work, but I was not prepared to do it well.

First, I had no real plan for what I wanted to give away. Part of this is an issue of audience. If I don’t know what people want, I should ask or do research rather than spend hours creating something that doesn’t have value. In addition, I am still going through lots of website updates and plans so my giveaway offers feel a bit scattered. What am I really offering or promising to people? At the time of this post, I am still figuring out some of those pieces.

One thing that did work for getting people to sign up was offering a free query giveaway. Less than thirty people entered that giveaway, but it helped let people know of one service I had started offering on my website. I promoted the hell out of that giveaway (to the point of almost over-saturation). I’m glad I did it, but a different kind of giveaway might be ideal in the future.

One thing I notice other writers giving away is free content like short stories or other pieces of creative writing. I am not personally a fan of this technique unless it is tied to a published piece of work like a novel. Reading someone’s free short story is not generally incentive to sign up for an email list, but that is just my opinion.

Serving others

Most recently, I increased my email subscriber list through my work on Medium. Right before I started a publication (Epilogue) on Medium, I asked if other writers were interested. I had been promoting my work on Medium for a few weeks and felt confident that there were opportunities for other writers on the site. I had a vision of building community and really supporting writers. When I asked interested writers to add their name to a “sign up sheet” so I could contact them about writing for Epilogue, over forty people signed on.

Again, this method wasn’t instant. I answered lots of questions and really promoted my plan. I had not yet built the publication and I didn’t have a name for it, but once I saw that there was genuine interest, I went for it.

Shortly after creating Epilogue, I asked if any writers wanted to be interviewed. No response. Finally, one writer thankfully agreed to take a chance with me and I published his interview within a week. The next time I asked if authors were interested, I had one published interview to showcase. The interest poured in. There was an overwhelming response.

I created another “sign up form” to keep track of names, which meant my email list quickly grew to over 250 names in just a few hours.

It has been a journey. I switched email providers from Mailchimp to Flodesk (more about that process here) and I have sent a few targeted emails to different segments of my subscriber list. I want to be careful not to spam my list with daily messages and I am learning as I go. If someone trusts me enough to share their email address, I want to respect their inbox by not overloading it with information they didn’t ask for.

I don’t know if I have a kick-ass newsletter, but I do have future plans to really engage with my list and serve them in new, exciting ways.

The journey has been worth all the effort so far.

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