Jane Friedman

How to Grow Your Email List

by Hernán Freschi | via Flickr

This guest post is from Kirsten Oliphant (@kikimojo). This is the fourth post in a series about email. You can also read about why you should start an email list, how to customize your forms, and what you should put in your email newsletter.


Perhaps the element of email lists that excites (and frustrates) people the most is list growth. We all love numbers, don’t we? At least, we love numbers when they are on our side.

I hear people all the time waxing on about their 20,000 or 50,000 subscribers. Rarely do people talk about their lists when they have tens or hundreds or in the low thousands. You never see “Join my list of 48 awesome subscribers (one of whom is my mom)” on an email signup form.

The 10,000-subscriber mark seems to be the magic number. This is where agents and publishers take notice of nonfiction authors (listen to my interview with Chad R. Allen of Baker Books for more). Indie author Nick Stephenson heralds this number in his Your First 10,000 Readers course, and Bryan Harris of VideoFruit also has a Get 10,000 Subscribers course that is not geared specifically toward authors.

If you are one of the many people just starting with list growth or feeling frustrated with your far from 10,000 subscribers, let me give you some encouragement before I dive into practical tips for list growth.

Imagine you are asked to speak at a local event. Fifty or 100 or 650 people pack into chairs to hear you. Would you feel pleased and honored to look out over those faces?

If so, imagine your subscribers as your willing audience the next time you send an email. Don’t knock the small numbers. You can be pleased and encouraged with your current readership even as you strive to grow, whether your longterm goal is 1,000 or 10,000.

List growth is a battle, fought on the hill of very crowded inboxes. To be successful, you need to prepare by getting your foundation in order. Know why you are growing a list and which email service provider to use, customize your signup forms to engage readers from the start, and create a content plan.

It’s also a good idea to consider your ideal readers. A list of 10,000 random people will not be as effective as a list of 1,000 loyal fans. If you haven’t thought about who your target audience is, try this free guide to create an ideal reader profile.

Once you have a foundation in place and know who you are trying to reach, you will primarily grow your list on two main fronts: the home front of your website and the outside arena of social media and other platforms.

Optimize Your Website for Subscribers

Create Great Content

This is pretty simple: if you create great content, people are more likely to want to hear from you in their inbox. Great content isn’t enough, but if you aren’t giving value in your blog posts, people certainly won’t want to hear from you via email. Be sure every post is a quality post that relates to your ideal readers.

Make It Easy to Sign Up

Sidebar blindness (where we are so used to sidebars on websites we hardly see them) is a real thing. You can have a signup form in the sidebar, but you should also use other tools too. Consider using:

Clearly you don’t want to use all of these options all the time. Find a balance and make them noticeable but not obnoxious. Change them out a few times a year, but make sure there are a few signup options on each page and post.

Offer a Targeted Freebie

Another great motivator to grow your list is to offer a freebie of some kind. People often get stuck here on the freebie and I understand why: it’s hard to think of something that people want enough to give you an email address. This could look like a short ebook, a resource guide, a companion to a novel, or even entrance into a private Facebook community. Consider what you might want to receive from your favorite author or what content of yours people engage with the most.

Offer Content Upgrades

This is a fancy term for smaller-scale freebies that you offer in a single post, related to that post’s content. Amy Porterfield is the queen of content upgrades, with a free download for every weekly podcast episode. They are typically quick wins: a cheat sheet or a handy guide or actionable list. You can create a freebie and then embed a special signup form in that post that will deliver the freebie in the welcome email.

Optimize Your Social Platforms

Schedule Weekly Opt-ins

Sometimes I think we overlook the simplest method of list growth: asking people to sign up. To make this effective, don’t simply tweet that people should join your list. Consider different ways you can entice people, and then schedule out weekly (or with busy platforms like Twitter, daily) posts. Here are a few ideas:

Be aware of each platform’s ecosystem. You could post varying links to Twitter once or even twice a day because that platform moves so quickly. But on your Facebook page, even once daily might seem spammy unless you are posting many times a day.

Place Links in Your Profile or Bio

Many people simply link to their website in the profile or bio for each platform. Instead, consider linking to a landing page on your site for your email list. If you do this, make sure that page is friendly to people who might hit your site for the very first time from a platform. You could even make separate landing pages for each platform, as users from Instagram might be expecting something different than Pinterest users.

Pin a List-Building Post to the Top of Your Profile

Twitter and Facebook will allow you to pin posts to the top of your feed. I pinned a tweet about my Free Email Course (a free course sent via autoresponders when people sign up), and the interaction far outweighs my norm.

Use Platform-Specific Tools

You can also utilize Twitter cards (read this tutorial to get started) or Facebook ads (read this helpful post to guide you) to help you be more effective on those platforms with your list-growth.

Optimize Your Books

Much of the indie writer community has relied on this method to grow their email list. In the typical Nick Stephenson Reader Magnet method, you offer a permafree book on Amazon with a link inside the book for another free book if someone joins your email list. (Yes, that’s two books you’ll give away.)

While this works, the idea is daunting to many authors with only one book or two books total. Some authors don’t want to give away free books. Period.

Even if you aren’t following that typical reader magnet strategy, you can still optimize your books for email signups. Consider these options within your books:

As an example of this last option, I created a printable workbook to go along with my ebook Email Lists Made Easy for Writers and Bloggers. I mentioned the free workbook in the introduction with a link to a landing page to sign up. I also ended every chapter linking to the landing page and giving a call to action for readers to do that chapter’s work in the workbook. This has been converting at just over 20 percent. This means I’m growing my list even from a paid product!

Online Events

Webinars and virtual summits have been all the rage the past few years and continue to be a great source for list growth. These may be outside of your comfort zone, but don’t have to be an insurmountable task. You can code a simple webinar onto your own webpage or consider if speaking at or running a virtual summit might be a realistic option for you (read this post to see what’s involved in creating a summit). Each of these kinds of events also requires promotion on social media the same way you would promote your email list or a blog post, but can result in a surge in subscribers.

The thing to remember about list-growth is that it’s a mindset. If you want to grow your list, you constantly have to be thinking about list growth. Experiment with signup options and change out the subscribers forms on your sites every few months. Plan ahead to try a webinar or consider writing a guest post on a site that allows you to include a content upgrade within the post. Plan realistic goals for growth and write up a strategy for the coming months to hit your target.

Above all, don’t be discouraged by unsubscribes or someone else’s numbers. Remember that your subscribers (whatever that number is) make up a room full of people waiting on a word from you.


For more insight into sending meaningful email, check out Email Lists Made Easy.