How To Build an Email List From Scratch

By Chris Shaffer •  Updated: 12/10/21 •  8 min read

Like most things in the online world, building an email list (especially if you have never done it before) can seem like an extremely daunting task.

In this article when I take a deep dive into the different things you'll need to know and understand to build an email list from scratch.

Choose a Lead Magnet

The first thing that you will need to do to start building your email list is to create what's called a lead magnet.

A lead magnet is simply a way of “attracting” the attention of people in your audience, like a magnet.

Some common forms of lead magnets include things like e-books, video series, giveaways, and how-to guides or checklists.

In the instance of the case study that we’re discussing in the video attached to this post, we chose to go with the giveaway method.

There are a wide variety of reasons why you may choose one lead magnet over another, but in this case, a giveaway was the easiest we could put together because we hadn't created any content for the site yet.

If you'd like to learn more about the step-by-step process we use when we create a giveaway (as well as all the pros and cons of using one as your lead magnet), you’ll want to check this post out here.

Build a Landing Page:

After you've chosen the type of lead magnet you're going to use to build your email list, the next step is to build a landing page.

At its most basic, a landing page is simply a page of our website dedicated to one single thing (getting people to opt-in to our email list).

While some of the elements present on your landing page may vary depending on the type of lead magnet you are using, they will typically be made up of the following:

This process may sound intimidating if you're not a professional web developer or you've never built a landing page before.

Thankfully, most email service providers (like our favorite, Convertkit) offer landing page builders as a part of their software.

The process will vary slightly depending on the email service provider that you're using, but if you'd like a good idea of exactly what to expect you may want to check out our article about how to build a landing page using Convertkit here.

Build a Thank You Page

Once you've gone through the process of filling out your landing page, the next step is to build what is commonly referred to as a “thank you” page.

Unlike a landing page where someone is taken before they've joined your email list, thank you pages are where people are taken after they have completed the opt-in process on the landing page.

Here, they will be given a confirmation message to let them know that their attempt to join your list is successful and will be given additional resources such as a one-click link to download your lead magnet or potentially some sort of sales offer.

Generally speaking, thank you pages are automatically created as part of the landing page creation process through most email service providers.

In most cases, all you need to do is update a few critical details on this page and your email service provider will take care of the rest for you.

Just because it doesn't require a lot of work doesn't mean it's not important. 

These pages can go a long way to helping let people know they completed the process and are a great way to prompt new email subscribers to share your lead magnet offer with their friends and family on their favorite social media networks.

Email Follow Up

Now that you have your lead magnet selected, landing and thank you pages created, we can move on to the second step of the email list creation process.

This is the part of the process where the rubber starts to hit the road.

It's all fine and dandy to have a fancy lead magnet and a high converting landing page, but if we don't nail the follow-up all that effort is wasted.

It's important to understand that there are two different kinds of follow-up, first is the initial follow-up and what is often referred to as continuous or “future follow-up”.

We will be covering both in detail below.

Initial Follow Up:

As the name implies, the initial follow-up happens immediately after someone joins your email list.

This type of follow-up is essentially an email “repeat” of the thank you page that you created to confirm to everyone that they have joined your email list.

The message can be very basic and should include a quick thank you and a reiteration of why they have joined the list.

Additionally, it should be used to deliver your lead magnet (if you have something to deliver to the user, like a pdf or video link).

While this type of message doesn’t seem to be important (it’s a “reconfirmation” of information they’ve already seen), it’s also the first interaction you’ll have with someone via email.

Spend some time writing this email and feel free to show off your personality a little.

If you can get someone to open and interact with this message, you’ll be starting off your list-building journey on the right foot AND building rapport with them at the same time, making them more likely to open future emails.

Continuous/Future Follow Up

After we've written and sent the initial follow-up email our work is still not done,  After all the entire point of having people on our email list is to…email them.

As a general rule, we should be writing and sending a minimum of one email per week after someone joins our email list

Additionally if there's a variety of information we want to communicate with our list that specifically relates to the lead magnet gave them, we can do this using what email service providers call sequences or campaigns.

Using this style of email we can send emails at a specific date and time based on a trigger (like someone joining our email list) to deliver messages that someone would need exactly when they need the information.

If you’d like to learn the exact strategies and timings that we use to create and send emails to our lists after the initial follow-up you'll want to check out this article here.

Learn to Drive Traffic

Once we have our landing page, thank you page, and email follow-up planned and built out it's time to move on to traffic.

After all, even if we have the world's best lead magnet and email follow-up if no one ever sees it, it does us no good.

This is also the phase where people most often get tripped up or confused, but it doesn't have to be. 

Let's take a quick look at the two different ways to drive traffic to our new lead magnet below.

Free Traffic:

The first thing we need to think about when it comes to traffic is if we have any ways of getting traffic from free sources at our disposal.

Thankfully, in this day and age, we have a wide variety of places to go to get free traffic.

Our favorite source for most lead magnets is to join and contribute to a variety of Facebook groups in our niche.

As long as we are providing value to the members of the group, most group leaders are okay with us sharing additional resources that require an email option

Keep in mind that you want to check the individual rules for each group to see if this is a group rule violation.

Additionally, you may want to look at other social media networks such as Pinterest which may be useful depending on the niche you are in.

Lastly, you'll want to put the lead magnet in a prominent position on your website using something like a site-wide popup, banner, or sidebar ad.

Paid Traffic:

In addition to using all the free traffic sources we have at our disposal, there is often a reason to look at driving paid traffic to our lead magnet as well.

Generally speaking, we prefer using Pinterest and Facebook as do this because of how easy it is to find individuals that share our interest on these platforms.

If you'd like to get a deeper understanding of exactly how to set up Facebook ads for your lead magnet, you'll want to check out this article here.

That’s a Wrap:

Now that you understand the four basic steps you need to start building your from scratch, it comes down to you.

This process sounds a lot more complicated than it is and I highly encourage you to check out all of the different resources that we link to inside of this article to get an understanding (and see step-by-step walk-throughs) of exactly how each step of this process works.

When done even mostly correctly, this process can result in an email list that will help you grow traffic and sales for years to come.

Chris Shaffer

Chris lives at the intersection of business strategy and growth tactics. Having consulted with dozens of different businesses (as well as building several of his own), he brings a unique perspective on what's working across the eCommerce world in businesses of all shapes and sizes.