Email Marketing 101: 6 Foolproof Steps to Build an Email List From Scratch

Email Marketing 101: 6 Foolproof Steps to Build an Email List From Scratch

Build an email list | Shopify Retail blogIn a world full of blogs to read, social media accounts to follow, and YouTubers to watch, it can feel impossible for a retail entrepreneur to cut through the noise and reach their ideal customer.

Despite the content overload that’s weighing down the Internet, there’s still one line of access that puts you (and your business) front and center on screens around the world and directly in front of your shoppers’ eyeballs.

The thing is, it’s not always easy to get this direct line of access — which makes it all the more valuable.

We’re talking, of course, about your target customers’ email addresses.

Through email, you can show up for your target market instead of hoping they’ll come and find you. It’s a direct way to remind your prospects you exist, nudge existing customers to make another purchase, or provide additional value through exclusive content, coupons, and deals.

Email is also a fantastic medium for building connections and relationships. It’s a one-on-one conversation that can make consumers feel seen, heard, and appreciated. And that can lead to loyal customers who don’t just buy from you, but advocate for you.

Building Your Own Email List: 6 Steps to Go From Inbox Zero to a Robust Subscriber List

But again, emails aren’t easy to come by. So, how can you start building a list of potential buyers and qualified leads?

Get started using this six-step process to help you grow the number of subscribers who receive your messages straight to their inbox.

Step 1: Set Up Your Systems

Before you can build an email list, you need a place to keep it. The following are elements of any strong email marketing machine:

  • An email management system (EMS), like MailChimp, Aweber, ConvertKit, or ActiveCampaign. There are pros and cons to each of these systems and your best bet will depend on how many subscribers you want (and how many you already have), what kind of email campaigns you want to send.
  • A POS system that can integrate with your EMS.
  • A sign-up form for your email list, which you should be able to create in your EMS of choice.
  • Opt-in forms or landing pages on your website that can serve as intake points — in other words, where people can sign up for your mailing list. Some EMS systems will help you create embedded forms for your site. Or you can use third-party plugins and systems, like LeadPages or Thrive Leads, to help you create, distribute, and manage opt-in forms.

TRY SHOPIFY POS: Need a point-of-sale system that helps you collect customer emails? Check out Shopify POS.

Make sure all pieces of your system are integrated and working properly before you start trying to get subscribers on your email list. Send a test email and run through the setup the same way an audience member would to ensure everything is connected and flowing smoothly.

Step 2: Give People a Reason Why

Build your email list | Shopify Retail blogEmail addresses are valuable things because they provide direct access to someone’s inbox. It’s a vital piece of contact information — and people aren’t inclined to give out that info unless you give them a compelling reason to do so.

Building your email list starts by developing a reason why a member of your audience would gladly give you their address.

Why should they share this information? What’s in it for them? Why do emails from you matter so much that they need to appear in that person’s inbox?

Answering these questions requires you to consider the needs, desires, problems, and challenges your target audience has. If you can meet a need, provide for a desire, or solve a problem, you likely have a compelling reason for someone to give you their address.

To find these answers, you’ll need to climb into your ideal customer’s brain. Learn more about how to find your ideal customer and build buyer personas for your retail business.

Step 3: Provide Value in Exchange for Value

Kate Spade Saturday lead magnet for email list | Shopify Retail blogEven if you can come up with a great answer to the question, “why should I give you my email address?” your market may still need a little incentive to take action and give you that information.

This is when you provide value in exchange for value. Make your audience an offer so they’re not the only ones giving in this situation.

Offers to incentivize people to sign up for your email list are often called lead magnets (like the Kate Spade example above).

A good lead magnet should be something people really want — which means it needs to solve a problem, teach something people want to learn, or give recipients something they didn’t have before they got the lead magnet.

Here are some ideas for your lead magnet:

  • Special coupons or discount codes for your products.
  • Admission to a VIP group or other exclusive community where they can engage with other customers, get community-only deals, and see sneak peeks of upcoming products.
  • A free sample or a way to try your product before buying.
  • Exclusive access to content that no one else receives (which could be insider information, behind-the-scenes access, or a special content area of your website full of posts, videos, and more that your shoppers find highly desirable).

Your lead magnet should be offered as part of your opt-in form — which means you also need a great call-to-action, or explanation of what your customers should do, to get people to use the form and get your offer.

To create a great call-to-action (or CTA, for short), you’ll want to follow these best practices:

  • Use clear messaging. People need to know exactly what you’re offering in exchange for their email address.
  • Be focused. Your CTA (and the offer itself) should provide a solution to just one problem.
  • Keep it simple. Ideally, you can describe your offer in one sentence. Your CTA may be just a few words: “Claim Your Coupon,” “Give Me VIP Access,” or “Sign Up for Deals,” are all concise and to the point.

Step 4: Invite People You Already Know to Join Your List

Invite contacts to your email list | Shopify Retail blogIt’s time to start adding people to your built-from-scratch email list. Before you try to convince total strangers to join you, start with who you know and who already supports you.

That means you can pull from:

  • Your current customer database. Go through your POS system or pull up old online orders and make a spreadsheet of past customer emails. If you’re not yet collecting contact info at the point of sale, start now.
  • Your existing network of influencers and partners. Business contacts might not be your ideal target market when it comes to customers — but they can be advocates for your retail brand and help spread the word about your products. Inviting them to your email list means you’ll be in their inbox, and therefore, on their minds, more often.
  • Your friends and family and other close supporters. Who already has your back? Reach out to them and invite them to be part of the list you’re building.

Now, there’s a right way and a wrong way to add even people you already know to your list.

Do not add people to your email list without asking them first! Always provide people the ability to opt-in to your list themselves. That goes for everyone (yes, including your friends, your mom, and your dog).

Shuttling a bunch of people who never asked to receive marketing and sales emails from your retail business onto your list can prompt recipients to not only unsubscribe, but mark your emails as spam.

That hurts the health of your list and may make it more difficult to land in the inboxes (rather than the spam filters) of future subscribers who actually do want to hear from you.

So, here’s how to invite these folks to your list the right way:

  1. Reach out to people individually through email, social media, chat apps, or whatever communication channel feels most natural for that particular relationship.
  2. Share that you’re working to build an email list for your retail business, and you’d love to invite them to join.
  3. Explain what’s in it for them. (Yes, you need to do this even for people you know!) Will they get a special friends and family discount? Free product? Access to content they’ll love? Be clear about the value they’ll receive in exchange.
  4. Get permission to add them to your list or send them a link to your sign-up form so they can add themselves.

For bonus points, ask that person to share your list with other people they know who might be interested. It’s a great way to expand your reach even before you send your first official list email.

Step 5: Promote, Promote, Promote

Let’s recap the work you’ve done up to this point:

  1. You set up your systems and tested them out.
  2. You created forms and landing pages that allow people to subscribe to your email list.
  3. You identified why people would want to sign up for your list and created a tempting offer that set up a value-for-value exchange: you’ll provide them with your lead magnet in exchange for their email address.
  4. You invited people you already had a connection to or relationship with, and asked them to invite others who might find your emails useful.

You’re ready to start promoting your list to the wider world — and start pulling in more prospective customers. Here are a few ideas on how to do it:

  • Put a link to your sign-up form in your email signature.
  • Include a link to your list (or the landing page for the email list) in your social media profiles along with any bios, bylines, or other “About” sections that you or your business owns online.
  • Create social media posts to promote your list and encourage people to subscribe (remember to tell your audience about your offer and what they’ll receive when they do sign up!).
  • Pitch yourself to publications or podcasts who accept guest submissions or who conduct interviews for their platform. As part of your guest appearance, mention your email list or include a link in any materials you can share.
  • Share your list with communities you’re part of, like LinkedIn groups or Reddit threads. Just make sure when you do so, it’s relevant to the conversation or the group — otherwise, you’ll appear salesy and spammy.

Ultimately, share your email list far and wide and everywhere you feel comfortable. And get creative with offline promotions, too.

Consider having a tablet in your store where people can opt-in to your list. Or use an old-fashioned sign-up sheet at in-person events. Have a printout at your booth, shop, or location so people can sign up for updates, coupons, or other appealing offers.

There’s no limit to the ways you can find to promote and share your email list. Just be sure the people who go on the list of subscribers either gave you permission to add them or chose to add themselves.

Step 6: Consistently Send Your Email List Subscribers Valuable Content

Steps 1 through 5 of this process will help you gain subscribers, a(n obviously) clear objective if you want to build your email list from scratch.

The final step, step 6, will help you keep those subscribers over time and eventually convert many of them into paying customers.

And it’s super simple: all you need to do is provide value.

Every email you send should have a clear purpose and should be about the recipient’s needs and desires, not your own (or the needs of your retail business).

Email works because it’s personal and can be personable. But as soon as you disrespect the fact that someone entrusted you with their email address and you abused it by sending them junk, they’ll hit that subscribe button and be gone in a flash.

Remember that there is always a person — and probably a busy, stressed-out person desperately trying to clear the clutter out of their inbox — on the other end of your email messages. Keep that in mind and always ask how you can add value to that person.

Use that philosophy for your email list, and you’ll not only build it from scratch, but you’ll turn it into a highly valuable database of happy, engaged, and loyal consumers who actually enjoy seeing your messages pop up in their inboxes.

Photo of Kali Hawlk

About the Author

Kali Hawlk is a writer passionate about using her skills and knowledge to help others make, do, and create more. She’s been featured as a financial expert for Millennials in many online publications including Forbes, Fast Company, US News, and Mashable.

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