How to grow your email list for free in 2021

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Have you ever heard that you need an email list? Maybe you’ve seen marketers or other creators sharing this mind-boggling statistic: For every $1 spent on email, you get $38 back.

Many people talk about email marketing as if it’s the secret to success as a creative business owner. That’s not entirely wrong. Email can do amazing things for your business, like sell online courses, book your freelance services, and drive hordes of traffic to your store.

But the biggest challenge most creators face with email marketing isn’t copywriting or automation, as you might expect. It’s actually getting enough people to subscribe to their email lists in the first place.

No matter how awesome email marketing is, if you have only 12 people on your list, you won’t be seeing significant results.

That’s why it’s crucial to focus on growing your email list in 2021. Fortunately, you can do it for free. In this article, we’re showing you how.

How to grow your email list for free in 2021

Why focus on growing your email list in 2021?

Growing a social media following can feel like a bigger “win” for creators than amassing email subscribers because social media is so visible. No one knows if you have five people or 5000 people on your email list!

But in 2021, growing your email list is what will give your business the strongest boost. Here’s why.

You can nurture leads into paying customers

Not everyone who visits your website or social media profile is immediately ready to buy. But that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually be ready!

Without an email list, you might lose out on potential clients or customers just because they found you at the wrong time. But when you collect their email address, you get to show up in their inbox at regular intervals to strategically educate them until they are ready to buy.

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You can control communication 100% with your audience

Unlike, well, every other type of marketing (except possibly SMS), email marketing is direct…and there are no gatekeepers or algorithms to contend with.

You send an email. It lands in your subscriber’s inbox. They read it. You send another email, continuing the conversation. They read it. (And if they don’t read it? You can see that and send a different email they might open instead!)

In this way, email allows you to control the order of information you send to your audience, monitor who actually sees it, and then adjust communication with specific subscribers or groups of subscribers accordingly. This allows you to create strategic journeys that guide subscribers into taking an action, like buying a product, signing up for a live session, etc.

Compare this to other forms of marketing, such as social media marketing. On Instagram, for example, you might plan a series of educational posts, but you have only a limited idea who is seeing those posts, in what order they are seeing them, and whether they are seeing all of them. This makes it challenging to rely on your marketing for consistent sales.

Finally, your email list is forever yours. Email service providers don’t block or delete entire accounts as social media companies do. Even if Facebook, Inc. suddenly dissolved, you wouldn’t lose any of your audience.

Email feels intimate and natural

Email is modeled after the old-fashioned letter. Remember letters? Letters feel inherently special and deliberate because it’s one person taking the time to write something well-thought-out to another person.

Checking your inbox may not feel as special as checking your mailbox, but there is a whisper of the intimacy of old-fashioned correspondence within today’s email marketing.

Email is still a 1:1 conversation (even if you’re sending your email to hundreds). No one can pop in to leave a hasty comment, “like” the email, or quickly scroll down to the next thing.

Just like a letter, the only response possible is to reply directly to the email. (Or maybe, forward it on to someone else.) Emails even read like letters! You can include personalized salutations and closings, and you can ask for a response.

Ultimately, the efficacy of email marketing is owed in part to how emails build relationships.

You can personalize everything

Because email is direct to one person, you can make your emails stand out with personalization.

Instinctually, personalization makes us feel special, with 90% of consumers saying they find personalization appealing. This, in turn, makes us more interested and invested in the content and more likely to become a paying customer.

Email personalization options include everything from using the recipient’s name in the email to sending out specific content to each type of subscriber.

Email marketing is easier for busy creators to manage

Running a business as a creator often means making decisions on what is worth your time. So when it comes to marketing, you ideally want to find a marketing groove that requires the least amount of time and effort for the most results.

Email is the answer. Here’s why:

  • You never have to keep up with ever-changing social media algorithms
  • You can write emails as long or as short as you like
  • You can create emails in batches and schedule them in advance

Finally, email can be 100% text-based (with no visual elements) and still be effective, so you don’t have to spend time creating graphics unless you want to.

On the flip side, using email marketing software like ConvertKit makes designing beautiful emails easy and fast with drag-and-drop templates, even if you have zero design skills.

Email marketing has a proven high ROI

Speaking of results, email marketing has proven time and again to deliver. For example, did you know that customers who purchase through email spend 138% more?

And the ROI of email is four times higher than any other marketing channel!

For time-strapped creators, email marketing will give you the return on investment you need to keep your marketing efforts sustainable.

There are little to no startup costs

To start growing your email list, all you need is an email marketing software and a way to capture email addresses, like a landing page. You don’t need marketing collateral, a team, or an expert to get started.

ConvertKit even has a free option to dip your toe into email marketing.

3 steps to growing your list for free

Once you have decided to start an email list, your focus should be on growing your list immediately. Here are the three steps to growing your list for free.

Step 1: Offer an irresistible incentive for signing up

People will need a reason to sign up for your email list, so give them one!

Here are some ideas:

Create a lead magnet

A lead magnet is free information that you package into a downloadable format. The goal of a lead magnet is to get people to hand over their email address in exchange for your free information.

Common examples of lead magnets include the following:

  • Ebooks
  • Video trainings
  • Template
  • Worksheets or tools

For example, illustrator The Curly Creative offers free journal prompts as a lead magnet:

Journal prompts are a great example of a lead magnet to grow your email list. Image via The Curly Creative.
Journal prompts are a great example of a lead magnet to grow your email list. Image via The Curly Creative.

Offer a content upgrade

A content upgrade is content that’s only available to email subscribers. For instance, you might write a simple blog post on a topic and then offer an upgrade to a more in-depth guide on the same topic.

Another example is what Backlinko does. Backlinko creates two types of free content: Open and “locked.” The open content is available to anyone on the internet. But the locked content is only available to subscribers.

Content upgrades can be effective ways to capture email addresses and build your list. Image via Backlinko.
Content upgrades can be effective ways to capture email addresses and build your list. Image via Backlinko.

Provide an email course

Delivering a course via email is a no-brainer way to get more subscribers because it’s obvious why they need to provide an email address to get your incentive.

ConvertKit contributor Nathan Barry revealed that after creating an email course for a friend of his, Wes Wages, Wes gained 428 subscribers in just three days.

Nathan explains how repackaging your existing content as an email course can add value for subscribers:

How you package your content heavily affects perceived value. A short PDF ebook is perceived to be worth more than the same content in a blog post. The same way a video course delivered over email is perceived to be worth more than the same videos on a blog. By packaging up Wes’ videos as an email course we could increase the perceived value and make it more likely to be shared.

Offer a discount

If you’ve ever been online shopping and been served a popup offering you 15% off your first order, then you’ve seen the power of this incentive.

Offering a discount works well for product-based businesses that want to both encourage new visitors to make their first purchase and build their email list at the same time.

For example, Kieonie Gift Company offers a $10 discount for new email subscribers:

A discount code or coupon is an ideal option for online shops to build their email list. Image via Kieonie Gift Company.
A discount code or coupon is an ideal option for online shops to build their email list. Image via Kieonie Gift Company.

Host a webinar, workshop, or masterclass

A webinar, like an email course, requires an email address to share the incentive. Webinars are also often perceived as high value and high-touch. As a creator, you can host a webinar to share your expertise and collect email addresses.

And don’t forget that, after the live webinar is over, you can still use the recorded webinar as an email capture (similar to how a lead magnet works).

For example, take a look at Mariah Coz and her free masterclass:

Hosting an online masterclass or webinar naturally builds your email list. Image via Mariah Coz.
Hosting an online masterclass or webinar naturally builds your email list. Image via Mariah Coz.

Create a quiz

Quizzes are a fun and entertaining way to collect email addresses and get to know your subscriber base from the beginning.

Plus, quizzes are known for having high conversion rates, with some creators reporting average conversion rates of 50%!

Done well, a quiz can help you create customer avatars and segment your email list for targeted messaging.

For inspiration, check out the quiz Jackie Simek created, “Find the Block to Your Success”:

An online quiz that requires an email to reveal results is a fun and entertaining email capture. Image via Jackie Simek.
An online quiz that requires an email to reveal results is a fun and entertaining email capture. Image via Jackie Simek.

Step 2: Get eyeballs on your incentive offer

Once you’ve created an awesome incentive, it’s time to share it with as many people as possible. Your goal should be to get it seen as much as you can. Visibility not only helps you get more people to take the offer, but it also helps you recognize quickly if your incentive is compelling or not.

And if it’s not converting like you’d hope, you can just create something else (maybe choose another option from the list above).

Rinse and repeat until your offer is gaining you tons of new email subscribers!

In fact, this is how ConvertKit contributor Molly Marshall increased her email opt-ins by 247%:

In addition to putting the focus of my website on list building, I also changed the call to action on each of my social media platforms. I put the Instagram Strategy Guide in: my bio link on Instagram, my video descriptions on YouTube, in my About sections on Twitter and Facebook. Every time someone found me online, I wanted them to know that this guide was available to them. All of this was great! Six months after I implemented these changes on my website, my email opt-ins increased by 274%!

Here are some ideas to get that crucial visibility:

Use opt-in forms to capitalize on your website traffic

Everyone who visits any page on your website, be it your homepage or a blog post you wrote six months ago, should see your incentive offer and opt-in form. We’ve gathered some examples of how to set up your incentive:

A pop-up on your website, like Bernadette Marciniak:
Add a pop-up opt-in form on your website to capture email subscribers from your website traffic. Image via Bernadette Marciniak.
Add a pop-up opt-in form on your website to capture email subscribers from your website traffic. Image via Bernadette Marciniak.
A banner on your website, like Sol Studio:
A top banner on your website catches attention for your email opt-in, without feeling pushy. Image via Sol Studio.
A top banner on your website catches attention for your email opt-in, without feeling pushy. Image via Sol Studio.
A feature box on your home page, like Atwater Designs:
You can add your email opt-in into the content on your web pages. Image via Atwater Designs.
You can add your email opt-in into the content on your web pages. Image via Atwater Designs.
In your website footer or top navigation, like Pai Skincare:
Capture last-minute email subscribers with an easy-to-find opt-in in your website footer. Image via Pai Skincare.
Capture last-minute email subscribers with an easy-to-find opt-in in your website footer. Image via Pai Skincare.
On a sidebar on your blog pages, like Ayalie Marketing:
Include an opt-in in a sidebar on your blog pages. Image via Ayalie Marketing Blog.
Include an opt-in in a sidebar on your blog pages. Image via Ayalie Marketing Blog.

Set up a landing page to easily share your ideas

A landing page is the fastest way to get your ideas out into the world. If you’re looking to grow your audience outside of your website, creating a landing page is your best bet. You can share your landing page link in an email, in a text, in your social media bio and more.

A landing page, like Swell and Rosie:
Create a landing page for your email opt-in, so you can share the URL everywhere. Image via Swell and Rosie.
Create a landing page for your email opt-in, so you can share the URL everywhere. Image via Swell and Rosie.

Promote your incentive to reach a wider audience

Aside from your website, aim to attract attention from the broader world. The best way to do this? Promote, promote, promote.

Here are common places to promote your incentive:

Instagram:

Elisabeth Jackson includes a link in her Instagram bio for her incentive. Image via Elisabeth Jackson on Instagram
Elisabeth Jackson includes a link in her Instagram bio for her incentive. Image via Elisabeth Jackson on Instagram

Facebook:

    • Sidebar opt-in
    • Post
    • Story
    • Paid ad
Bright Cellars promotes their list-building quiz in a Facebook ad. Image via Digital Marketer.
Bright Cellars promotes their list-building quiz in a Facebook ad. Image via Digital Marketer.

Twitter:

Dave Pell links his email newsletter opt-in in his Twitter bio. Image via Dave Pell’s Twitter.
Dave Pell links his email newsletter opt-in in his Twitter bio. Image via Dave Pell’s Twitter.

YouTube:

    • YouTube card at the end of videos
    • Link to incentive in video descriptions
Ramit Sethi promotes his email opt-in in the description for his YouTube videos. Image via Ramit Sethi’s YouTube.
Ramit Sethi promotes his email opt-in in the description for his YouTube videos. Image via Ramit Sethi’s YouTube.

Talk about your incentive

Word of mouth is powerful! Take advantage of opportunities where you’re in front of someone else’s audience to talk about your incentive.

For example, if you get an opportunity to…

… Make sure to mention your free incentive.

Step 3: Maintain and engage subscribers long term

After working hard to grow your list, you must keep the majority of your subscribers. If your subscribers leave soon after joining or never read your emails, then all your hard work will be lost.

Here’s how to keep your subscribers engaged and happy long term:

Create a welcome sequence

A welcome sequence is a set of automated emails that deliver to subscribers right after they join your list. Welcome emails are important for setting the tone of the relationship right from the beginning, establishing expectations, creating a welcoming atmosphere, building trust, and reducing unsubscribes.

In fact, subscribers who read one welcome email go on to read 40% more content from the sender than those who don’t!

Send consistent, valuable content

Why would someone remain on your email list if you weren’t providing value?

Your goal should be to always share something that will make your subscribers’ days better, whether it’s a story, lesson, or something else.

Here are some quick tips for ensuring value with every email:

  • Write content with a narrow focus instead of jumping from topic to topic
  • Be original instead of rehashing others’ content
  • Pay attention to what your audience wants by tracking open rates and clicks
  • Don’t just be promotional, give value more than you sell

For more ideas on providing value, check out this article by email marketing expert and ConvertKit contributor, Val Geisler: “How to Grow Your Email List Like a SaaS Company.”

Clean your list

Cleaning your list means getting rid of subscribers who are no longer opening your emails. Cleaning your list periodically is important because it ensures that your data about what your subscribers want is accurate and because it keeps open rates high.

Before you remove inactive subscribers, you can always send them an email asking if they’d like to stay on your list. If they don’t respond, it’s pretty clear that for some reason, they have disengaged completely and can be removed.

Segment your audience

Segmentation means dividing your subscribers into different groups based on behavior, type, or how they joined. For example, you might segment your audience by customer avatar, or by who joined from a webinar you did vs. those that joined from an opt-in form.

Segmenting your list helps you retain subscribers because it allows you to send highly relevant emails to each type of subscriber group. And the more relevant the content is for someone, the less likely they will be to unsubscribe.

Need proof? Segmented emails have a 14.32% higher open rate!

Track what’s working

A surefire way to keep subscribers engaged is to pay attention to what types of emails are being opened and responded to the most–and then do more of that.

Aja Mclanahan, a ConvertKit contributor, writes,

Tracking what’s performing and what’s not is key. This is why I suggest you invest your time and money in tools with prominent reporting features. Both ConvertKit and SumoMe have list growth and conversion rates displayed in a conspicuous manner allowing you to see your daily and weekly goals being realized in real-time.

Ready to start growing your email list in 2021?

Email is full of opportunities for creators. Hopefully, this article has given you a great starting place for creating and growing your email list.

To get started, the first thing you need is an effective email service provider built just for creators like you.

Grow your email list—and your online business—in 2021 with a free ConvertKit account.

The post How to grow your email list for free in 2021 appeared first on ConvertKit.

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