Speak to any group of writers about platform-building and within five minutes you’ll hear someone mention that they “should” be building their email list or how nice it would be to have a paid newsletter.
We’ve all received the memo that our email lists are one of the only pieces of owned media we have, rather than the audience we borrow from Twitter or Facebook. Emails are not at the mercy of the algorithm and do not take hours to master, like Reels. Then why are so many writers thinking about building their email list, but not really doing it?
List building and newsletter strategy are two different things.
Many writers stall out while developing a complex newsletter strategy, or can’t conceive of what they would share in a regular email, so they don’t build their list at all.
But you don’t need to start strategizing newsletter content or setting a delivery schedule. All that can wait. Instead, you can (and should) start today by building your list.
I have grown my audience over the last few years, but mostly ignored my email list. That is, until the Instagram and Facebook blackout last October. I had interviews to promote and a book to sell, but I was left without any connection to my audience. For each of us, having a way to contact our audience directly is essential. I never wanted to worry about being cut off again, no matter what changes Meta (Facebook) introduces down the road.
That day I created my first freebie: a one-page document (PDF) in Canva. Since then I’ve gained 22,000 new signups and launched two paid newsletters. I’ve helped clients’ lists grow exponentially as well.
What can you offer that people need?
Your audience journey goes something like this: someone reads an incredible essay you wrote, watches one of the videos that you shared, hears you on a podcast, or catches your Instagram Live.
They’ve made first contact.
After that initial impression that your writing or speaking made on them, they’re going to want more.
- What did the reader love about the piece or the interview or the video?
- If your writing impacted them, what do they want from you?
- And how can you give that to them?
As writers, we often feel that we could offer meaningful support, encouragement, inspiration, or education by sharing our personal perspective and experiences. We create connections by making people feel seen, and offering insight, camaraderie, and value to our audience. That value is the key to turning views and likes into email subscribers.
So give it away. Focus on the problem you can help people solve and then share your solution as a free (and simple) download that people can receive when joining your mailing list.
Your freebie is the answer to this essential question: what value are you putting into the world?
The right freebie should fit in naturally with what you are already writing and speaking about and what you know your audience wants. Your freebie can even act as a reverse mission statement. Looking at it should give people a one-page snapshot of who you are and the writing you do.
To visualize it, think of your freebie this way: if you were profiled in the New York Times, what photo would they choose for the main feature image? What would they highlight in the caption? If you were featured in Women’s Health or Cosmopolitan or Rolling Stone, what headline would make the cover of the magazine?
“Five easy ways to solve your big problem …” is a popular marketing approach that draws interest, creates curiosity, and tells the reader in two lines what problem that article is going to solve for them. Your freebie should do the same thing for your potential audience by homing in on the value that you provide.
Signing up for your email list will be an impulsive decision, just like grabbing that magazine at the checkout counter. Lead with a great title and don’t worry about oversimplifying. The one page freebie does not have to encompass all you know and have to offer. Consider it the gateway doc, the first invitation into your world.
Once you’ve developed your freebie and a simple call to action, set up your delivery system so that when folks sign up, your freebie is automatically sent straight to their inbox. Contact created. Value delivered. (Flodesk is my favorite email service for easily segmenting new audience members and putting together quick workflows.)
How to publicize your freebie and ensure signups
Start by linking to your freebie in your bio across social media platforms. If your freebie does not make sense in your bio, ask yourself if the rest of your bio makes sense. Where do you need to create clarity? Do you need to shift or pivot the way you’re positioning yourself as a writer?
Like a steel thread through your work, your freebie will help you make decisions on how you show up and what content you share. When you are about to post on Facebook or Instagram, ask yourself, does my call to action fit in with this post?
If it makes sense, fantastic, hit “publish.” If the post isn’t aligned with your CTA, ask yourself if the content you’re looking at is what you want to be known for in your writing.
You don’t have to link your freebie in every post, but asking yourself if each post fits your call to action before you share anything is a fabulous exercise for keeping yourself intentional.
That doesn’t mean that you’re only allowed to talk about one thing, but it will ensure that you are showing up consistently and being mindful of how you frame yourself and the work you put out into the world.
Offering a freebie will not only help attract people to you and your work, it will also guide your content creation and your newsletter strategy. Nothing inspired me to write a regular newsletter quite like 1,000 new people each week signing up to say they’d like to read my newsletter.
It’s not a question of the chicken or the egg. To make any progress one needs to come first, and let it be list building.
Ashleigh Renard is a former figure skating coach and choreographer who coaches writers on building platform and connecting with their readers. She is the co-host of the biweekly Zoom platform chat The Writers’ Bridge.