How to Start an AMAZING Email List

Here’s my disclaimer: Despite the title of this post, the content will probably be a bit of a let down. You may have found your way here expecting to find some grandiose plan to market yourself or your products to your list only to find yourself faced with the bare - and boring - mechanics of list building. I won’t apologize for that. I do promise that I operate on the goal to EDUCATE you. I make no promises about solutions or results, because that comes down to you. There is no “magic formula”. There’s only hard work.

One of the most common questions I am asked is “How do I start an email marketing list?” My answer is always the same, and I’ll be so brazen as to stay it’s the most underreported part of the list building process. As a matter of fact, I have NEVER seen a post on my answer to this question anywhere. Not here, here, here or here. This one came close, but missed the mark. Not even Forbes gave my answer in their Definitive Guide to Building and Email List from Scratch.

Each and every post I’ve seen, while having some great tips, has dropped the ball in ONE area.

Are you dying to know what my answer is? Prepare for disappointment - and the hard truth. 😉

You start with your actual list.

Totally anticlimactic, right?  Now, I know you’re probably saying “But how can I start with my actual list when I don’t actually have a list yet?!” Bear with me here, because I promise I’m about to blow your mind.


There are MILLIONS of articles out there on how to build an email list. 660,000,000 at the time I wrote this.

Each of them will tell you the same basic steps:

  1. Sign up for an email service
  2. Create a sign-up form
  3. Integrate said form on your website & social profiles
  4. Create a catchy lead magnet
  5. Watch your subscriber list grow exponentially!

What each of them is missing though is what happens AFTER you’ve grown your list. Because invariably, you’re only going to be able to keep those people engaged for so long before they start dropping like flies, bringing your metrics(link to Metrics article) down with them.

The best way to avoid that is by segmenting your list into different groups based on their individual interests. Now, when you’re just starting out, this may seem like a waste of time, but I promise that if you make the time to do this BEFORE you start, you’ll save yourself a LOT of headaches down the road.

Think about this example for a minute:

You sign up to someone’s email list because they had an amazing lead magnet that you just HAD to have, and you assume that their emails will all be on the same topic. But three emails in, you’re realizing that every email they’re sending you is full of sales pushes and irrelevant content that has NOTHING to do with the lead magnet that prompted you to sign up in the first place. So what do you do? You either stop opening their emails or you unsubscribe.

While I know you think your list and your content will be different, the fact remains that it won’t be. Everyone who is using an email list is doing so for one ultimate purpose: to increase their sales.

So how do you keep your subscribers from unsubscribing? You keep them engaged. How do you keep them engaged? You give them what THEY want, not what you want to send them. How do you do this? You SEGMENT YOUR DAMN LIST!

And the groundwork for segmentation should start BEFORE you have a list.

So how do you segment a list that you don’t have? It requires some thought about what your goals are when it comes to your email marketing efforts, and what kind of content you plan on sending out.

So you’ve created a great lead magnet. What are you sending out next? Discounts? Product updates? Courses? Education? Updates? What terminology did you use when you created your list sign up form? If you are using more than one lead magnet/sign up form and funneling all your subscribers into one list, the subscribers should be segmented by HOW they got onto your list so that you can send them specific content relevant to their interests.

You also want to think about what information you want to gather about your subscribers. Oftentimes, you’ll see a list that asks for nothing more than an email address. This method doesn’t allow for much (any) personalization, and can lead to an unengaged list. While gathering only email addresses isn’t inherently wrong, it won’t provide you with all the options for segmentation that are possible.

Even if you’re going to be implementing segmentation initially, it is something that should be on the forefront of your plans before you start.

Need an example of a pre-segmented list template? Click here to download a FREE Excel template.