5 Proven Tactics To Building & Growing an Email List From Scratch

Those early days when you know you’re doing everything right, but NO ONE is signing up to your email list.

Okay, maybe a few people are signing up…like maybe five people a week. A blip on the radar for the kind of business you want to build. At that rate, it is going to take you around 4 years to get to 1,000 subscribers. 

Many experts will tell you to write guest posts. The theory goes that you'll reach a wider audience, your great content will have them falling in love with you, they click back to your site, and still think you’re so awesome that they become a subscriber immediately.

But that rarely happens in reality. Maybe a few people subscribe. But again, it’s never in the numbers you’re hoping for - especially relative to ALL the effort it takes to implement a good guest blogging strategy.

You need a focus on how to drive the bigger numbers, not on nice-sounding high-level theory.

So - especially if you’re on a budget - here are five different and practical ways to make those email subscriber numbers come in the sort of volume you're actually looking for.


List Building Strategy #1: Side Project Marketing

According to Brian Clark, the golden rule of online marketing is this:

“Give something valuable away in order to sell something related.”

So when you get to a point where blogging and content production take too much time, or buying advertising space kind of works, but you don’t feel like you’re really breaking through the noise of all the online chatter, using a side project to get attention is a great way to grow your brand awareness... and your email subscribers.

Side projects are a product or service that is clearly not your business' main offering, but is a related and free offer provided to your audience in exchange for their email address.

It might sound like a lot of work at first, but it really doesn’t have to be.

A lot of SaaS companies do this with a freemium version of their offering while those customers gear up and grow to the point that they’re ready to become full-fledged, paying customers. (Think Buffer or MailChimp)

But beyond freemium, you can offer something completely different, too.

Crew, a company that matches companies with high-quality, hand-picked freelancers, can’t exactly offer a freemium version of their service, so they have six different side projects they offer for free in lieu of other marketing or advertising tactics:

Including things like a calculator to help people figure out the cost of an app they want developed,

a collection of free stock photos, and a list of what they call ‘unicorn’ coffee shops to work from that have the ultimate trifecta of working perfection: good coffee, good wifi, and plenty of outlet plugs.

You might be thinking, "OMG, we don't have money and resources to build this".

Here's the deal:

Your side product marketing doesn't have to be expensive or labour intensive. It can be as simple as an excel sheet. 

Take a look at Greenlane Search Marketing's side project - Rank Tank. Those DIY tools didn't cost a fortune to build, but take a look at the number of keywords it's ranking for:

  How to Build an Email List From Scratch - Rank Tank SEMrush data

If that doesn't convince you how about this stat instead:


That’s the percentage of Crew’s revenue driven by their side projects - How Much Does a Website Cost - a week following its launch on Product Hunt.

Here's what Ali Mese of Growth Supply had to say on finding side project ideas….

“1. Catch key decision breakpoints — (X vs Y): Core product variations, core product substitutes, your competitors, and related benefits

2. Help your customers get better at what they do: Take a step back and think about all of the ways your customer measures success, not just the one you are directly trying to provide.

3. Do the legwork: Find ways to help them work smarter and break through the constraints they’re currently facing

4. Free tools for lead generation: Offer one or few features of your core product as a standalone product and give it away for free, build a tool that solves ‘microproblems’, build a tool around things that stop your customers from buying your product”

[via Medium]


List Building Strategy #2: Guest Blogging…. With a Twist

Getting featured on a site with a bigger fan base than yours is one of the best ways to grow awareness of your brand and your offering in your target market.

And like I mentioned in the intro, it’s a good idea in theory, but unless you reverse-engineer your approach to it, it’ll yield fewer subscribers than you’re hoping for from your efforts.

But it can be effective, if you do it right.

Here’s the trick, though:

That irresistible offer that is your lead magnet, make sure it’s something that’ll resonate deeply with the blog audience.

Otherwise, don’t even waste your time.

And make sure you use the information in your blog post or the podcast interview to build up to a call to action for people to click through back to your site to get the lead magnet.

Yes, the post itself should have a call to action. Not just the author bio at the end.

Bryan Harris talks about this in his tutorial on writing what he calls an expanded guest post.

His strategy is twofold:

First, set a really big expectation at the very beginning of the article that you’ll deliver on throughout the post and with your call to action to download your lead magnet at the end of the post.

  How to Build an Email List From Scratch - Expanded guest post 1

Continue reminding readers of this promise to build up the expectation before the climax of delivery.

  How to Build an Email List From Scratch - Expanded guest post 2

Second, use lots and lots of visual examples. 

He suggests you set the reader up for these by using the words ‘for example’ over and over again, every time you’re about to introduce something that validates the claim you’re making.

How to Build an Email List From Scratch - Expanded guest post 3

This provides visual proof that you really do know what you’re talking about and gets the reader hooked on you as the expert to trust for this kind of information.

According to Tim Soulo’s epic post on the ROI of guest posting, the average referral traffic from the average guest post is a measly 56 visits.

  How to Build an Email List From Scratch - Guest post traffic

Which is hardly worth your time to write, if you ask me.

But when you make sure you’ve got links back to your content within the body of the guest post, your potential referral traffic boosts by 387%... and you get even more ‘juice’ if the things you write leading up to that link make people want to click it.

And when Bryan Harris used his own strategy of writing an expanded guest post:

He went even further beyond that and collected a massive 323 new subscribers from one guest post within three days of it publishing!


List Building Strategy #3: Create an Irresistible Lead Magnet or Content Upgrade

eBooks are popular. 

But so are slightly easier-to-produce lead magnets like checklists or multi-part email courses.

It doesn’t really matter what kind of lead magnet you decide to produce as long as it’s super easy for your readers to digest AND it promises to solve a pressing problem for them relatively quickly.

Which means that even some of the most interesting content out there isn't irresistible.

Think about it, which lead magnet would you be more compelled to download:

A 20-page ebook titled ‘10 Ways to Improve Your Email Marketing

- or -

A 1- page checklist titled ‘7 Must-Dos to Make Every Email Campaign More Profitable’ 

The second one, right?

Sure, the 20-page ebook would probably be incredibly interesting... and maybe even more beneficial than the checklist.

It’d also be more difficult to produce than the checklist.

But difficulty & benefit aren’t the ultimate measures here.

The ultimate measure is how many people willingly and happily sign up to your list in exchange for the lead magnet you’ve got to offer.

So irresistibility, in this case anyway, trumps length and effort.

****Note: In no way are we promoting being lazy with your lead magnets. You still need to deliver SOLID value. But with that first opt-in, easier & shorter is often the way to go.

But what happens if someone comes to your blog, loves what they’re reading and wants more, but your lead magnet is on a totally different topic?

  Growth marketing playbook

The ultimate growth marketing playbook

The exact 41 strategies we used to grow from 4-figure to 6-figure traffic in one year.

What is a content upgrade

A content upgrade is almost never something that’s overly involved to produce… it can literally be as simple as offering a download of a PDF version of the blog post.

Just cut & paste. Export as a PDF. And boom, content upgrade.

If you feel like doing a bit more ‘work’ on the content upgrade, take 15 minutes to turn the main action points into a checklist.

If you have a handful of posts that get a higher amount of search engine traffic than others, add content upgrades to these.

You know people are highly interested in what you’re talking about, so making sure you hit them with an offer that’s exactly tailored to the information they’re looking for will really increase your subscriber percentages from your traffic to that page.

For example, in this Backlinko post, Brian Dean talks about how he added a content upgrade that was nothing more than a well-designed 10-item checklist.

And his result?

A 785% increase in conversions.

He used to only convert 0.54% of his visitors to that blog post, but with a simple, irresistible lead magnet, he upped it to almost 5%. It was a small, easy-to-implement change that made a huge impact.

What are some content upgrades/lead magnets:

  1. Templates - That solve a problem for your prospect
  2. Swipe files - A Collection of tested and proven advertising and sales letters
  3. Scripts - Guides used by sales representatives during interactions with prospect
  4. PDF - version of the post (convenience)
  5. Additional resources
  6. Checklist version of the post
  7. Additional items - that are not listed in the post


List Building Strategy #4: Place CTAs (to your Lead Magnet) Everywhere

Your calls to action to download your lead magnet need to keep appearing to be truly effective.

Sure, you can create a page with a download form and hyperlink text to that page from elsewhere, but it’s not going to help you eek out as many subscribers as possible from the traffic you get.

And at this stage, you absolutely want to make the most of your traffic.

So make sure that no matter where anyone is on your website, there’s at least one prominent call to action to download your lead magnet.

Here’s how:

  • Identify the pages where people most commonly enter your site & put a prominent, page-covering call to action there. Welcome Mat by SumoMe is great for this (and it’s free!). 
  • Use popups.
  • Put a call to action for it at the end of your lead magnet delivery email for the recipient to forward your lead magnet offer to a friend. 
  • Put calls to action within the lead magnet itself to email it or share it on social media. 
  • Add calls to action over your YouTube videos that take people to you lead magnet page.

When Nature Air, a Costa Rican airline, did nothing more than adding an additional CTA in the content area of their site, their conversions went up by 591%.

The ‘Daily flights throughout Costa Rica’ call to action was already there, but adding the ‘Fly to Tamarindo From $58’ – a compelling CTA in its own right – boosted conversions on this page from 2.78% to around 19%.


List Building Strategy #5: List Swaps

Once you’ve got a small list established – say four or five hundred – you can start thinking about list swaps.

A list swap is when you reach out to another blogger or business in your space who isn’t a direct competitor. They should have a very similar target audience but you are not directly fighting for their business.

If you each have a lead magnet that would be incredibly beneficial to the other person’s audience, you ‘list swap’ by each writing an email to your list about how awesome the other blogger’s free lead magnet is.

Beyond leveraging someone else's list for more signups, you’re also doing a service to your own list by introducing them to valuable information that’ll really help them in a fundamental way.

On Easy M6, Liudas Butkus talks about doing ad swaps, which are essentially the same thing.

He says to not expect too much at first – maybe 50 clicks and 15 new subscribers.

But, he also points out that in his record month, he earned around 1,500 new subscribers from this easy-to-execute strategy.


Build and Grow Your List From Scratch... And On a Budget

The best thing about all five tactics listed above?

If you have the time to spare to implement them, none will take much budget to implement.

They’re proven to be super effective and you can start activating these ideas right away.

If you want more ideas on how to grow your email list and increase the number of leads coming in from your business, check out our free ebook, How to Get Leads on a Budget, where we ask 14 top CEOs and marketers, such as Sujan Patel, Benji Hyam, Ross Hudgens, and many others this question: ‘If you had to start your business from scratch and only had $250 to get leads, how would you spend it?


Dennis, whose legal name happens to be just Dennis (it's quite common from where he came from), is a content and digital marketing addict.

When he's not too busy coming up with content ideas and promoting content, you can find him at 5.30am at the gym. Yeap, he's that guy.

Previous PostB2B eCommerce Portal
Next Post20 B2B eCommerce Platform Features