Audience Growth

How To Build an Email List in 6 Easy Steps (+Free Mini-Course)

by Jenni Stablein · Published Sep 20, 2023

When you’re first getting started as a content creator, it’s totally normal to place a lot of attention on growing your social media following. But you should also be thinking about how to build an email list. 

We know, we know — email might seem like an ancient form of communication, or something you only have to use for work purposes. But here’s the deal: People actually prefer to receive promotional content through email over social media. That’s 72% of people to be exact as a recent study shows. That same study cites that 66% of consumers have purchased a product directly from an email. 

All this to say, spending some time building your email list can be a tremendous way to grow your audience and boost your digital product sales

So if you’re wondering how to build an email list, or more specifically, how to build an email list for free, then you’re in the right place.

Read on to learn more about why you should capture email addresses, and the best steps to quickly grow your number of email subscribers.

how to build an email list

What is an email list? 

As you’ve probably gathered, an email list is a collection of your target audience’s email addresses. We say target audience because, ideally, your email list should only include people who want to hear from you.

Think of your email list as your version of a VIP club, with exclusive benefits, offers, updates, and all that jazz. It’s your direct line to stay connected and engage with your audience, which is also why it’s an essential tool for promoting and selling digital products.  

As a content creator, these email addresses are essential to you and your business. Read on to learn why and what steps you can take to grow your email list. 

how to build an email list

Why you should build an email list 

Still wondering why you should build an email list? We’ll cut to the chase here: If you are a content creator in the business of selling digital products or services, building an email list will help boost your sales tremendously. 

As mentioned above, 72% of people prefer to receive promotional content in their inbox over their social media feed. 

The best part is that those high numbers represent your “owned” audience as opposed to your “rented” audience, which includes your followers on social media platforms. 

Own your audience

Understanding the importance of owning your audience and moving from a “rented” to an “owned” audience is key to making the business of selling digital products easier. Why? Because the truth is social media platforms favor users over creators — meaning they don’t always have your back. 

Additionally, there’s always a certain level of risk with social media platforms. For example, accounts get hacked, the algorithm changes (against your favor), there’s limited analytics, or the platform fizzles out completely. 

Of course social platforms are always essential to your brand and promoting your products, but if you think about it, it really does suck to have your hard-earned audience be at the mercy of a third-party platform. 

On the flip side, if you grow a following through email, you have unlimited access to communicating with your followers — forever. That’s why building an email list should be one of your first steps if you’re interested in making money through digital products. Read on to learn how to do it. 

6 Steps to build your email list 

Step 1: Define your target audience 

how to build an email list

The most important step in your email list journey is to define your target audience, aka your ideal subscribers. After all, you can’t write an email if you don’t know who you’re talking to. 

So, to truly understand your audience, you need to first define their demographics. If you’re not sure what your audience demographics are, it’s time to get granular and ask yourself questions like:

  • What demographic characteristics define my ideal audience (i.e. age, gender, location)?
  • What are my ideal audience’s goals and inspirations?
  • What are their values, beliefs, and interests?
  • What content format and social platforms do they prefer?

Beyond demographics, you should also be thinking about what your audience needs, what problem you are trying to solve for them, and what value you can bring to their inbox.

Once you’ve defined your target audience, you can move on to building your email list! 

Step 2: Choose an email marketing software

how to build an email list

There are plenty of email marketing platforms out there with various pricing tiers and features to choose from.

Some platforms offer a ton of extra features, like the ability to create pop-up forms or landing pages, integrations, analytics, you name it. You don’t necessarily need all of these features in an email marketing platform, but they can be helpful if you’re looking for more of an all-in-one experience. 

Ultimately, the most important feature you’ll want to keep in mind when shopping for an email marketing platform is the number of subscribers and the number of emails you’re allowed to send per month. Usually, the monthly fee will fluctuate based on the amount of subscribers and emails, or you can seek out plans that offer an unlimited amount. 

Whichever plan you choose, you just want to make sure it’s scalable. After all, your email list should be growing at a rapid speed after you’ve followed all the steps in this article. 

Step 3: Set up an opt-in form 

how to build an email list

The number one key to capturing the interest of potential new subscribers for your email list is to get their attention. An email opt-in form (or “subscription form”) is a web form or sign-up box that allows website visitors or users to voluntarily subscribe to receive emails from a content creator. It’s a pretty critical tool in email marketing and email list-building. 

An opt-in form usually lives in an area of your website where your audience might be looking for additional information like the margins, navigation bar, or footer of the page. It’s important to keep in mind that an opt-in form is different from a pop-up form, which is a separate engagement tool. 

An opt-in form is usually a more subtle attractor, so you should expect your conversion rate to be a bit lower. But it’s still extremely valuable for building up your email list over time. Make sure to add a strong call to action (CTA) that indicates the value of signing up for your email list.

Step 4: Create valuable content

how to build an email list

This seems like a given, but it’s a step that can often be overlooked when you’re caught up in the strategy of email list-building. But just like any digital product that you’re creating, you want to zero in on what value your content is offering. That content could be anything from a newsletter, to a lead magnet like an ebook or template

If you’re feeling stumped, you’ll want to consider these crucial questions: 

  • What problem does my content solve? 
  • What sets my content apart from others?

Here’s where research will come in handy. Investigate the market! See what other content creators are offering. Have you noticed any gaps in your content niche that need to be filled? 

Essentially, once you locate the value proposition of your lead magnet content, the easier it should be to create it and the larger your email list will become. 

Step 5: Promote!

how to build an emai list

If you’re looking to fast-track your email growth, promotion is key! After all, no one will know about your email list if you don’t promote it. Promotion is a simple and essential step. 

One strategy for promotion is to leverage your social media presence. Use platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter (now X) to create engaging posts and stories about the value of your email content. Share snippets, teasers, or behind-the-scenes looks to pique curiosity. Don’t forget to add clear calls to action (CTAs) and a link to your sign-up form in your social media bios.

Another smart strategy is to consider collaborating with influencers or content creators in your niche. Partnering with someone who shares your target audience can give your email list a significant boost. Have them mention your email list in their content, or do a joint giveaway to encourage sign-ups.

Remember that, at the end of the day, consistency is key. Regularly remind your audience of the benefits of joining your email list and offer incentives like exclusive content, discounts, or early access to keep them engaged. By combining these strategies, you’ll fast-track your email growth and build a dedicated community of email subscribers.

Step 6: Engage and nurture subscribers 

how to build an email list

It may seem counterintuitive but nurturing your existing subscribers has the potential to encourage new email subscribers. How? By focusing on content that speaks to your audience’s interests and needs, you’re also fostering a loyal community of subscribers who are more willing to share your content with others.

Consider sending valuable insights, exclusive tips, or early access to exciting content or digital products that align with your audience’s interests. Exclusivity is key here. You want your email list subscribers to feel VIP. 

An engaged email list is a powerful tool since— without sounding too corporate robot —it’s a list of owned media assets. Meaning, that your email list is immune to sudden algorithm changes or a social media platform fallout. That’s a big deal for your creator business. 

5 Tips to fast-track your email list growth

Now that you know the basics of building an email list from scratch, here are some ideas for making your subscribers count grow fast.

1. Optimize your landing page 

how to build an email list

Optimizing your landing page can significantly boost email sign-ups. Just keep in mind that it’s all about making the process easy, engaging, and compelling for your audience. 

That means, simplifying your landing page. Make it clean and straightforward. At the end of the day, your landing page should only have one goal: to get website visitors to subscribe. Remove all other distractions, unnecessary links, and clutter. A cool thing about landing pages is that you can apply A/B testing, so you get to experiment with what grabs your audience’s attention the most.

Focus on including compelling headlines and copy that helps concisely explain why subscribing is a must. This is where a clear call to action comes into play. A CTA button should stand out and use action-oriented words like “Subscribe Now” or “Get Started.” 

The goal here is to make your CTA impossible to miss. You can also consider including a privacy assurance claim to reassure your subscribers that you won’t spam them incessantly. 

2. Create valuable content as lead magnets 

As discussed above, creating valuable content is critical to your success as a digital product creator and email list aficionado. Valuable content should be a given no matter what, but it can also be a strategy. 

For example, rather than producing valuable content in exchange for money, you can think about creating content as a lead magnet. 

What is a lead magnet?

In marketing, a lead magnet is a technique for acquiring a prospect’s contact information. As a creator, part of the success of your job is based on identifying your audience and acquiring a larger following. So, by amassing a robust list of contacts, the hope is that you’ll be able to convert more people into loyal followers. 

There are tons of platforms and products out there that can help you produce content as lead magnets. For example, The Leap makes it super easy to create and offer digital products for free as lead magnets to attract and grow your email list audience.

If you’re stumped on what type of content to create as a lead magnet, here are a few ideas to get your juices flowing: 

  • Create a mini-course: Offer new subscribers a taste of your content for free and they’ll be more inclined to pay for more content. 
  • Run a challenge: Promote a time-dependent challenge. For example, a 30-day home workout challenge.  
  • Create an ebook or guide: Produce an ebook or guide that’s relevant to your content and brings value to your subscribers.  
  • Templates: Creating and offering a template is a quick, easy win for you and your subscribers. 
  • Quizzes: Sending out a quiz can be a creative way of engaging with your audience.
  • Discount: Nothing attracts people’s attention more than a good deal. Offering a one-time special discount for new subscribers is a great strategy for email list growth. 

Want to build an amazing lead magnet, quickly and easily? The Leap’s AI-powered tool can help you do just that. Get started now for free.

3. Add pop-ups to your websites 

how to build an email list

A key driver to email list-building is pop-up and sign-up forms. Pop-ups are successful for a single great reason — they tend to get people’s attention. That being said, a pop-up form can also be annoying if you’re not careful with the delivery (we’ve all had to scroll past multiple pop-ups just to get to the end of a recipe page).  

You want to make sure you distinguish your pop-up sign-up form from those obnoxious spam pop-ups that come up when you’re trying to watch a movie. This shouldn’t be too difficult though as long as you keep it simple and noninvasive. 

At the end of the day, the art of a perfect pop-up lies in a great CTA (call to action). What defines a great CTA, you ask? Any message that encourages your potential subscribers to fill out and submit their contact info. Think of the CTA as a gentle nudge. The message should be quick, clear, and to the point. 

4. Leverage social media 

how to build an email list

Since we’re already talking about CTAs for your website pop-ups, let’s talk about the value of embedding a CTA on your social profiles. Embedding a sign-up button for your email list on social platforms is an easy and completely free way to advertise your newsletter. 

Most social media platforms support buttons or forms. For example, Facebook allows you to feature a “Sign Up” button on your profile. On platforms like Instagram, consider using a link-in-bio tool to include multiple links, including a sign-up form for your email list.

We love an email list for its ability to grow an “owned” audience as opposed to a “rented” social audience. That being said, never underestimate the power of leveraging social media as a strategy for funneling potential subscribers to your sign-up form. 

5. Run contests or giveaways 

how to build an email list

People love free stuff, so it’s no surprise that running a contest or giveaway campaign can be a lucrative method for increasing engagement and growing your email list. 

What’s nice about contests and giveaways is that you determine the terms (unless you’re collaborating with a brand sponsor, but even then you should have a say). 

Before you launch your giveaway, some important points you’ll want to consider include eligibility terms, entry requirements, giveaway time period, winner selection, and prize details.

Some examples of general eligibility include age restrictions (e.g. 18+), residency limitations, or any other requirements you find necessary. 

Some entry requirement examples include: 

  • Signing up for your newsletter
  • Following your social media accounts 
  • Tagging friends on social platforms 
  • Using specific and relevant hashtags 

If you decide to encourage email list subscribers through a contest or giveaway, you’ll want to make sure that you make it easy for participants by outlining exactly what they need to do to enter. By hosting contests or giveaways, not only is there potential to grow your email list, but your social following as well. 

Mini-course: Building Your Email List

Now that you have all the steps and tips to build a badass email list, you’re ready to start creating and selling digital products.

For a total pro crash course on email list building, check our free mini-course with creator Millie Adrian here.

Mini-Course: Building Your Email List

Join creator Millie Adrian as she teaches you what it means to own your audience by building an email list.


How can I build an email list from scratch?

Wondering how to build an email list from scratch? It might feel daunting when you first start building your email list. But with a few intentional and strategic efforts, your email list can go from zero to the hundreds (or thousands!) in no time. 

Firstly, create a compelling lead magnet. This could be an exclusive ebook, a discount code, or access to premium content. Whatever you choose as a lead magnet, keep in mind that you want it to provide real value to your potential subscribers. Make sure it’s something that resonates with your target audience.

Next, set up a sign-up form on your website or landing page. Keep it simple and eye-catching, with a clear call to action. Make sure it’s mobile-friendly too because, let’s face it, most of our browsing is done on our smartphones.

Once you have your sign-up form set up, don’t forget to share it across your social media platforms and in your content. Use Instagram, TikTok, Twitter — whatever platforms you’re active on — to let people know about your awesome lead magnet and why they should subscribe. 

As long as you’re engaging with your audience and staying consistent with your email content by sending regular updates, exclusive offers, or valuable information, your subscriber list will grow in no time. 

Building an email list from scratch takes time and effort, but with patience and dedication, you can create a thriving community of followers who genuinely love what you have to offer.

Can I build an email list for free?

Absolutely! Building an email list doesn’t have to break the bank, and you can definitely get the ball rolling for free.

First, start by finding affordable email marketing platforms like Mailchimp or Shopify Email that offer free plans to get you started. These plans typically allow you to collect a certain number of subscribers and send a limited number of emails per month without any cost. It’s a great way to dip your toes into email marketing without spending a dime.

Secondly, you can build your email list organically through your website or social media. Create compelling content as lead magnets that encourage website visitors to subscribe (Think: informative newsletters, ebooks, or exclusive discounts). Social media can also be a free and powerful tool for driving traffic to your sign-up forms.

However, keep in mind that as your list grows, you might want to invest in a paid plan to access more features, advanced analytics, and automation tools. But yes, you can definitely start building your email list for free, and it’s one of the best ways to connect with your audience and grow your online presence.

What makes a great email list?

Sure, you may have X amount of followers on your social platforms, but at the end of the day, a great email list is like a treasure trove for businesses and content creators. But what makes an email list great? 

First things first: Quality over quantity. It’s not about having thousands of emails; it’s about having the right ones. A great email list includes people genuinely interested in what you have to offer. You also want to make sure that everyone on your list has willingly subscribed. No shady stuff here. You want to respect your audience’s privacy and build their trust. 

Other hot tips for making a bomb email list include consistency, value, mobile-friendly design, and clear CTAs that tell your subscribers what you want them to do (whether it’s to buy your digital product, read valuable lead magnet content, etc.). 

How to measure the success of a great email list? If your email subscribers are full of active, engaged folks who open your emails, click your links, and interact with your content — then you’re well on your way to greatness. 

Follow The Leap on TikTokInstagram, and YouTube for more audience growth tips. We also make a newsletter.

Further reading

jenni stablein
About the author

Jenni Stablein

Jenni Stablein is a content marketer and freelance writer passionate about producing compelling and educational content for a range of clients across tech, fashion, product design, and art. When she's not writing, Jenni is nerding out about clouds (yes, clouds) or how to keep things alive in her garden. 
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