How To Build Your Email List Starting From Nothing

As a small business owner, I feel that my focus should be on creating assets, and having the ability to leverage those assets at a later date. More specifically, you should be building and controlling how you distribute the info/content you create. Learning how to build your email list helps you do just that.

I know people who built their businesses on Facebook when things were easy and all you needed was a Facebook page, only to wake up one day, and have Facebook say “You now have to pay to reach the audience you have built on your Facebook Page.”

I know people who set up affiliate businesses using Google Adwords (back in the day) making an excess of $5,000-7,000 per month, only to wake up one day to find their Google Adwords account shut down, because Google did not want to work with those businesses anymore.

Google Adwords

The above events are cyclical, and business owners have been talking about it for as long as I can remember. The thing is though, we get sucked into this new “Platform” or method and at the start, things are ALWAYS easy because the platforms/methods are new and they need to attract as many people as possible to use it. The easiest way for them to do that is to make it SUPER EASY for you to get results using the platform or method.

Then because things are easy, people get sucked in and don’t think about some of the fundamental things they should be thinking about to secure their business or income for the long term.

If you want to truly grow your business and make the most out of your content, you need to find the best solution that allows you to have full control of your relationship with your audience. This is where we talk about why it is important to build your email list, because not only will you own the racetrack (more on that later), but you will also be able to build a strong foundation of know, like and trust. 

Recently, I held an email list accountability program for a small group of business owners on Facebook to help people grow and start their email lists. The goal was for the participants to get their first 100 subscribers if they didn’t have an email list yet. And for those who already have a list, to get additional 100 subscribers. 

I also wanted them to start building the habit of consistently emailing their list. Being consistent doesn’t necessarily mean 20 times a week or 5 times a week. What I mean by consistently is that there has to be a set schedule and you stick to that so that you stay consistent. 

Another point I covered was tips on how to easily come up with ideas for your emails so you don’t stare at the “black screen of death” because you didn’t know what to write about.

Black Screen of Doom

43 people took part in this accountability challenge, and 25 successfully started their email lists. Currently, someone was able to build a list of 2,000 people at an open rate of 20% and CTR of 1%. 

And because these people started an email list, they were able to own the racetrack and grow their following.

Unfortunately, I don’t plan on hosting this challenge again anytime soon, but the good news is that you can find all the juicy bits in this blog post to help you start your own email list.

But before that, let’s talk about how important an email list is and what do I mean exactly by owning the racetrack?


Building your email list will definitely take some effort on your end, but the benefits to your business make your efforts all worthwhile. Here are the top 3 reasons why you should focus on building your email list:

  1. You Own the Racetrack. Personally, the biggest benefit of building a list is that you get to own the race track. This concept is something I got from James Schramko. If you like horse racing or if you are into horse racing, you can be the person who pays money to bet on horses. If you want to make money from horse racing, you can either own a horse or own a jockey. But if you want to be paid by everyone I just mentioned, you can own the race track. And because you own the race track (or your audience in this matter), no one can take that away from you. 
  2. It’s Easier to Build Relationships. Everyone is talking about the importance of Social Media, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But what I want you to realise is that you are beholden to whatever platform you are posting on. So that means that your account and all your information is never really secure. Through your list, you are able to build better relationships with your subscribers through more personalised emails depending on their journey. 
  3. Ultimately Make the Cheddar. The thing with email lists is that whenever you build your list, you build your audience. And when you build your audience and strengthen your relationships with them, you are ultimately going to make money whenever you make an offer because of their trust in you. 


In this blog post, we will be covering the following:

  1. The tools that you need 
  2. How to build your email list
    1. Free Methods
    2. Paid Methods
  3. How to start emailing 
    1. What are you going to be emailing about? 
    2. Who are you going to email?
  4. How to manage your email list

Let’s get down to business…


The tools and the features of these tools are important if you want to effectively grow and manage your email list. But if finance is a limitation, you can always resort to free tools at the start and McGyver stuff together so that everything works. 

But if you truly want to grow an email list that is going to support your business, you will really need to invest in the right tools eventually. It doesn’t mean that you have to start with paid tools, but in the long run, you have to invest so that you won’t have any headaches from maintaining your list from all the “McGvyver-ing.”

Here are the following tools you will need:

  • Email Service Provider – there are plenty of options in the marketplace. The one that you will choose will depend on where you are at the minute in your journey and to how complicated what you are doing is. Here are some of the options that you can choose from:
    1. If you are just starting out:
      • Mailchimp
      • Aweber
      • Getresponse
    2. If you want more advanced options:
      • ActiveCampaign
      • Drip
      • ConvertKit
      • Clickfunnels
      • Infusionsoft
  • Landing Page Builder – choosing this will depend on where you are and what your technical skills are. For my business, I use ClickFunnels, which can be a bit pricey, but it is what I found fits with my business needs. I’ve used ClickFunnels on several occasions, especially when I ran a 5-Day Ads to Leads Challenge for my audience. Here is how part of my landing page looked for the challenge:

Landing Page

  • Website/Web Host – this is one of the things that people are debating about. Whether you actually need one or not, because most landing page builders negate the need for you to have one. But my point of view is, if you truly want to own the racetrack, why should you beholden yourself to a landing page service or builder? Let’s take ClickFunnels for example, which is the page builder I use. In 2019, it went down 5 times so people could not send traffic to those pages. So can you imagine people who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on paid traffic and if they don’t have a backup page if ClickFunnels goes down, that’s money down the drain. Owning your own website gives you full control and security. 
  • File Storage – depending on what you’re doing and how big you are, you can use services like DropBox and Google Drive without needing the paid plan. It all comes down to personal preference. 
  • Lead Magnet – most people think of lead magnets as a PDF, free email course or anything that you give away in exchange for someone’s email address. Although this is true, something most people don’t talk about is that you can be your own lead magnet. This means that you can share your own personal experiences with other people. and those who are interested to know about it can sign up to your email list. Don’t constrain yourself to thinking of it as a deliverable and think of it a bit more creatively. Here is a sample of one of my Lead Magnets:

Lead Magnet

Although I did mention some of the tools that I personally use, I highly discourage you to use these if ever your reason is just because I use them. Remember that we all have different needs and so the tools relevant for your business will be different from mine.

And once you’ve decided on your tools, know that you can always decide to switch if you find that the ones you’ve chosen don’t seem to fit. It’s all about trial, error, and experimentation.


There are primarily 2 ways by which you can build your email list. It’s either through paid or free ways. In an ideal world, you should use a mix of both because each option, to some degree, helps you leverage for list growth. 

For both methods, I just want to point out that I haven’t used ALL of these options, so this will all just be a brief overview of everything.


Here are some of the free methods you can use to build your email list:

  • Content. This is something that I believe everyone should do. This can include written, audio, video, and content upgrades (aka bonus material to amplify or enhance the experience of the reader/viewer after going through your content). So whenever you create content, you always have to focus on the objective of growing your email list. 
  • The 3F Formula. The 3 F’s consist of your friends, fans, and followers. The idea is to make a list of each of these people, roll up your sleeves, and make the time to get these people into your email list. What I did is that I sent a personalized email to the people in my 3F’s and asked them if they are interested in XYZ with the goal of receiving XYZ benefit. If yes, they sign up for my email list. And the worst thing that can happen is that they say no. And if no, simply say thank you and move on. You really have nothing to lose! 

These two organic methods are all about leveraging on what you have, especially if you have a following on any of the social media platforms. Work on creating great content, add a few content upgrades, and encourage people from your 3F’s to sign up for your email list. 


Let’s cover the super basics of using paid traffic to start building your email list (since I don’t consider myself an expert on the subject).

The beauty of using paid traffic is that when you see that you have good conversion rates for any of the organic content you put out there, you can use paid traffic to promote your content and get more exposure and subscribers from there. 

To get started, there are a couple of things you need to have in place:

  • Basic funnel. The goal here is to keep this as simple as possible. There’s no point in making it complicated because based on my personal experience, this leads to procrastination. You need to have your opt-in page, thank you page, and download page for a start. Here is a sample of a thank you page I created:

Thank You Page

  • Your indoctrination emails. When people opt-in to your list, the first email you should send is an indoctrination email. This should be prepared beforehand so that when people signup, you know what email they are going to get. The main goal here is to build KLT (know, like and trust) and further encourage them to use the thing that you’ve given them. 
  • Your platform of choice. You need to choose your platform such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. to manage and promote your content. This will depend on what you’re comfortable with and whether you already have a following in any of these platforms.

The key thing to note is that whenever you use paid traffic, you need to have your pixel, whether it’s a Google remarketing pixel or Facebook pixel, installed funnel-wide. This means that it should be installed in every page that people are going to visit. 

The reason for this is that when you run cold traffic, a number of people won’t opt-in on the first go, so you need to go back to them with ads called retargeting ads, which reminds people about the ads that they didn’t click on the last time. 

Utilizing pixels answers your question on knowing whether someone has opted in or not. To go even more granular, if you want to separate those who have opted in and downloaded, and those who have opted in but not downloaded, you can set up something called Conversion Events which can be setup via Facebook or Google.

So when you are doing retargeting, someone who opts in and downloads is more likely to become a customer as opposed to someone who opts in and doesn’t download. 

It’s all about knowing how to read your data and doing all the necessary adjustments to make the most out of the funds you spent on these paid methods.

Another great practice when you have access to paid tools is that you can segment your audience, so that you can send the right email to the right person at the right time. 


What is segmentation? Basically the idea of segmentation is dividing up people on your list or creating a way to identify the people on your list so that you know where they are on their journey. 

Segmentation is something that you can implement for paid email service providers such as ActiveCampaign so it is a little bit more advanced, but I wanted to give you a quick overview on this topic. 


To give you some context, let’s talk about segmentation for a fitness coach who specializes in weight loss for women. 

So possible segments for this coach’s list can be professional women, stay-at-home moms, and brand new moms. These three belong to different segments because they are from different stages of their weight-loss journey. 

The brand new mom for example will be trying to shed some baby weight, the professional woman is not going to have enough time to dedicate to working out, and the stay-at-home mom may only be able to work out at home. So the message to each of these women should be different, right? 

That is how segmentation goes. Knowing where your customers are allows you to send them the right messages that are relevant to their needs.

When it comes to how you decide to segment, there are three types that you can do:

  • Pre segmentation – this is when you identify people before they get on your list. This means that the messages you put out should ideally pre-segment your audience. So if a certain call-to-action or content upgrade is relevant to them, they decide to sign up for your email list and receive KLT messages related to what it is they are looking for. 
  • Post segmentation – this happens when you segment them AFTER they are already on your list. I’ve done this with ActiveCampaign through the tagging function and asking people some questions to help them identify which bracket they fall under through letting them click on specific links. In other words, for every email you are sending out, there is an automation working in the background to segment people based on the types of emails or messages they are interacting with. You can do this with simpler email service providers but it’s a bit more finicky. 
  • Campaign-based segmentation – this type of segmentation is relevant if you plan on launching a campaign and you can ask your audience if they are interested in it or not. If they indicate that they are interested, they will be getting all the emails for that campaign and all the promotions. On the other hand, for those who aren’t interested don’t get anything related to the campaign but will still be on your email list. Campaign-based segmentation allows you to get to know where people are on their journey.


When it comes to starting your email list, there are a number of things I believe that you need to ask yourselves and know the answers to:

  1. What are you going to be emailing about? 
  2. Who are you going to email?

Let’s cover each of the points.


When it comes to the content of your emails, here are a few things you can write about to help you get started:

  1. Results – this is all about sharing your results or achievements and talking about what action plans you took to achieve them.
  2. Day in the life – you can talk about the stuff that you’ve learned from your own personal experiences or even any books, movies, or insights you’ve recently encountered.
  3. Challenges, “failures” & triumphs – my friend Dan Meredith has a knack of sharing these types of experiences on Social Media and his email lists wherein he takes a “failure” and turns it into something funny and memorable. You can then talk about how you overcame these challenges and turned it into triumphs.

What to Email About

When sharing to your email list subscribers, the key thing is really to just live your life and from the mere act of living, “failing” and trying things, you are going to have an endless amount of content you can revert back to. Being natural also means that you don’t sound too pushy or sales-y when it’s the time to make an offer. 


As we covered a while ago, knowing who to email to is important because you need to tailor your messages for each of your readers/groups. I segmented the readers three different groups:

  1. Leads
  2. Buyers
  3. Repeat Buyers

Everyone who is one of these groups will respond differently to the different kinds of emails that you send. So going back to the previous example, theoretically, leads would be more interested in you sharing a story about your results rather than a day in the life email. 

Buyers would be more interested in you sharing the challenges and trials you’ve experienced in your weight loss journey (as with the example of the weight-loss coach) and would far more likely convert them into repeat buyers. 

This is where segmentation comes in. To help you identify who to send what specific email to. You need to also know where you will be starting and who you will be targeting from the three groups above. That way, it’ll be easier for you to craft your emails.


Gaining an audience is only the start of the journey, and the work doesn’t end there. 

The main goal of list management is to maintain the quality of the people on your list. So this includes people who open your emails, engage, click through your emails, and those who are buying.

Manage Your Email List

Here are some of the things you can do to maintain a quality email list:

  1. Remove the deadwood. Some examples of deadwood are people who simply subscribe to your email list just to get their hands on the lead magnet. Some people even go to the extremes of creating fake email addresses so you don’t have access to their real ones. Other examples are emails that bounce back, people who don’t open your emails, and people who unsubscribe. For a service where you are paying per contact on your email list, you want to pay particular attention to deadwood to save on costs. Personally, I remove deadwood every 6 months. 
  2. Create segments of active readers and clickers. If you’re using simpler autoresponders, this is something you might have to put more steps into. But for tools like ActiveCampaign, Infusionsoft, Drip, and ConvertKit, you can actually mark the people who are most engaged and what you can do is that when you send out your emails and you want to boost deliverability, you can choose to send to them first. 
  3. The Tags vs List Debate. (This step is a little bit more advanced) So in this debate, it’s all about setting up your email marketing system so that you’re sending the right message to the right person at the right time, rather than sending a general blanket message. You could argue that it is a matter of preference because some people still do it the old way, but what you tend to find is that whenever you have your list and the contacts on your list are tagged properly, you are better able to send relevant messages to the different segments (tags) because you know what they are interested in as they are tagged whenever they engage in emails. In my opinion, the perfect scenario would be for you to have between 3-5 lists and in those lists, you’re tagging people so that you know what they’re interested in and you can tailor your emails properly.
  4. Using automation where it makes sense. Automation is only available in the more advanced email service providers. Automation saves you from having to create the same emails over and over again. This is something that you set up only once and everytime that automation is triggered, a particular set of conditions or workflow happens. You can also do something called lead scoring, which means that when someone opens up an email, they are given points and for example, if they have three points, you can tag them as an active reader (tying back to the second point).
  5. Integrate with your website where it makes sense. How this works is that you can place a pixel on your website so that when someone from your email list goes to your website, you can segment this person further to refine the message.


Although my goal for the original accountability challenge was to grow your email list to 100 subscribers, I hope that this article helps you grow your list twofold. 

Email lists tend to be overlooked at this day and age, especially with the rise of Social Media Marketing and an increase in the number of platforms available. And although these avenues are GREAT ways to create a connection with your audience, ultimately you still want to own the racetrack and have full control of your audience.

Own the racetrack

I hope that this quick guide gives you a good idea on how to start and manage your email list so that you can create better relations with your audience and grow your business to its full potential. 

Good luck!

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