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Start and Grow Your Email List: A Simple Tutorial

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

You need an email list. That goes for all of us, whether you’re a blogger, freelancer, small biz owner, a nonprofit, ministry, or a large corporation.

Start and grow your email list: a simple tutorial with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #FreelanceWriting #WritingTips #ContentWriting

The reason you need a list is simple. Email is the most common form of business communication. Nine out of ten of people check their email every day, some up to 15 times a day. A list is a tool that lets you stay in touch with readers, build relationships with them, and yes – eventually turn them into customers along the way. 

An email list has meant all the difference for me – a “little fish” – because email allows me to build my own readership. And boy, do I value my readers!  Each address is a person I have the privilege to talk to through my emails.

My guess is that’s you want that, too. When you focus on building a list like that, you’ll also build…

  • Reach. Maybe a reader pops into my website just once. She might disappear and never read my posts again. But when I capture her email address, then I can communicate with her over and over. She becomes part of my “family."
  • Relationships. When I send valuable content to my email readers – especially if I send it regularly and reliably – I become their “go-to” for information in my niche. I find out what they need and I can work to meet those needs.
  • Scalability. By using automated email, I save time. I can communicate personally with increasingly large numbers of readers simply because I add them to my list
  • Reliability. With an email list, you’re not at the mercy of how and when another person or entity wants to communicate.  You choose because you have established these relationships. If Facebook or Pinterest change its algorithms, you can still send email to your readers consistently. They can count on you.

3 Things You Need to Start and Grow Your Email List

You can begin to take advantage of all that email goodness when you put just a few key structures in place.

#1: A Place Readers Can Find You Online (Your Blog or Website)

An online home allows people to find you and becomes the center of your operations. For most of us, this is a blog, website, or landing page. (Here are tips for starting a blog or website.) Your online home acts like the center hub of a wheel. All of your other outreach efforts, like your social media sites, drive readers back to your hub.

Wouldn’t it be a shame if visitors stopped by your online home once and never found their way back? You’d miss out on the opportunity to build a relationship with those readers. 

But when you capture your contact information with a sign-up form on your hub to join your email list, you can stay connected with them. That’s why you need to give your visitors…

#2: A Reason to Stay in Touch (a Lead Magnet)

Why would a casual visitor want to give you her email address?

Because you give her valuable information that she simple cannot resist. Your offer solves a problem or answers a question that has plagued her.

Your gift is called a lead magnet. It can be formatted as an article, white paper, report, eBook, tip sheet, checklist, guide, resource list, toolkit, video, mini course, download, free trial, assessment …

People love freebies – especially freebies that meet a burning need. Provide one and your visitor will not only give you her email address but will also be willing to read more of what you offer.

Which means you need ...

#3. A Way to Stay in Touch (an Email Service Provider)

Now that you’ve started to collect email addresses, don’t let them languish in a black cyber-hole. Send them valuable information at regular intervals in an email newsletter!

To do that, you need an email service provider (ESP). An email service provider can help you create a sign-up form to capture new email subscribers, send your lead magnet to those sign ups along with a thank you note, help you create an email newsletter template, help you organize your new subscribers into segmented lists, help you manage bounces, send your emails on a scheduled date and time, give you information about each email’s impact (how many and who opened it, what links they clicked on) …

There are plenty of ESPs to choose from, but I use and love Constant Contact. I recommend CC to my clients and to those who are starting out and growing their email lists. Constant Contact takes care of all the tasks I listed above plus more. For instance ...

  • CC has a free trial. Yep – you can use Constant Contact for free for 60 days. Two months! That’s how I got started. The free trial gave me time to try out the program, although after creating just one email I saw how easy it was. Plus, you can send out unlimited emails during your trial and afterwards. You don’t pay extra for every campaign that goes out, so you can stay in touch with your new email list as much as you’d like.
  • CC is easy (and fun) to use. That’s what three out of four first time users say – including those who have tried other ESPs and have struggled. Constant Contact makes email simple and even fun. It’s got plenty of templates you can load up and plenty of online how-to videos and help (including chat) that makes it simple. I love how I can customize my CC emails with my own branding. I can load up my images and pop them into emails easily. I can create links to my website with a click. My emails look good and that makes me feel good. Plus I get wonderful feedback from my readers.
  • CC has tools to grow on. It can be easy to be overwhelmed by options, but with CC you don’t have to dive into the online marketing menagerie all at once. For years I simply used CC to send out my newsletter. Meanwhile, they added features like social media shares, autoresponders, list-building tools, A/B testing, and e-commerce tools which I could take advantage of when I was ready. 

(Check out Constant Contact.)

One other thing I really appreciate about Constant Contact: they offer a special discount (20-30%, depending on your pay schedule) to nonprofit organizations. This is important to me because I work with so many ministries. The CC folks appreciate the good work that my clients do and acknowledge that with a discount.

Get Started Building and Growing Your Email List

Use your online hub to offer a sign-up box (also provided by Constant Contact!) and then set up a regular mailing schedule. I started out sending content to my email list just once a month. Some list owners send out email daily or even a couple of times a day. Experiment and find out what schedule works for you.

An email list lets you communicate one-on-one with readers, extend your reach, and build your business. It can help “little fish” become “big fish.”

But most importantly, an email list lets you be a “helping fish” to your website visitors, who become subscribers and then avid readers … and friends.

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