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Email Marketing: How to Get Started and Build Your First List

March 30, 2021


Is email marketing dying?

Quick answer: email marketing is light years away from being dead.

Email marketing is the only channel where you can build a solid audience and it’s probably the one marketing channel you should rely on.

Imagine you have 1,000 customers that are loyal to your brand and are willing to buy almost every product you promote. The only reliable way to stay in touch with them is through emails.

That’s the power of email marketing

What is email marketing? 

Email marketing is all about using emails to promote content, products, or services to a list of subscribers – contacts who allowed you to get in their inbox. 

Any time you send an email for marketing purposes, you’re doing email marketing.

Email marketing has evolved over the years, going from “massive broadcast promotions” to a more targeted approach involving personalization and segmentation.

Personalized emails work because it leverages the trust that your audience already has on you when they subscribe to your list – hence more sales.

This means that modern email marketing typically involves setting up emails that are “triggered” based on customer behavior, segment, and testing. The how, when, and who you send your email is where email marketing becomes an art.

7 benefits of email marketing 

Let’s go through the seven core benefits of using email marketing as a main marketing channel, even in today’s highly modernized world. 

1. Everyone uses email

Do you know someone who doesn’t have an email? According to Statista, there are 3.9 billion people using email actively.


The fact that pretty much everyone in your market has an email means a lot. Because you won’t have to conduct market research to know if your target customers use email, or educate your audience on how to use email to communicate with you – because they already do.

Rejecting email marketing because “email is outdated” is just an excuse to avoid leaving the comfort zone.

2. Email feels personal

There’s an apparent difference between reading a Facebook post and an email. The email is specifically made for you (and only you can read it). While the Facebook post is a public message that’s accessible for everybody.

That’s why people react differently to those formats (and why email is far more effective).

Ian Brodie – consultant and author of multiple marketing books – explains it in few sentences:

“When you read material on a website, blog or even on a social media site you know it’s a broadcast. You know it’s meant for multiple people and read or watch in that context. But emails are different. They sit in your inbox next to the messages of your friends, relatives, colleagues, and clients. There’s just something about receiving an email in your own personal inbox that makes it feel like it’s been made just for you.”

Email feels personal because only you can read and interact with your emails, no one else. Even if you intellectually know that you’re receiving the same content as others, your subconscious is more open to paying attention to what it says than if you were reading it on Twitter.

3. It works for you automatically 

Thanks to email software, you’re now able to schedule, program, and “set and forget” your email campaigns.

Just imagine that for every new subscriber, you’d have to manually write and send a welcome email – it would be as inefficient as eating a soup with a fork!

Sonia Simone –  an ex-CopyBlogger – have some arguments on why autoresponders are the lazy marketer’s best friend:

“It never gets tired. It never needs the weekend off for Father’s Day or Mother’s Day (or Email Autoresponder’s Day). It never gets bored with your marketing message. It never gets snarky. It never gets sick of newbies. It delivers your best content, in the best possible order and frequency, to every new reader who finds you. Forever.” 

If you want to build a successful blog, you’d need to hire a team of writers. But if you want to run a successful email list, you’d barely need one copywriter to write your emails, or an email marketer to set up everything for you – the software takes care of the rest.

4. It converts strangers into raving fans

Effective marketing is all about getting your prospect from point A to point B.

Point A being unaware of your brand and passive, and point B being totally aware of your offer and ready to become a customer.

And the reason emails are so loved is because they move your leads one step closer to the sale – just like having a customer machine with minimal maintenance.

What’s better, it not only converts strangers into customers. It also converts customers into loyal followers and allows you to build a community.

Imagine having a group of people who recommend your brand to their friends and also defend you on social media in your back – that’s the kind of customers you want.

A marketer like Ben Settle is the perfect example of building an email community. He has a big email list of online business owners who are ravingly waiting for his daily emails (very valuable emails), and who are ready to buy his affiliate products on a daily basis.

They’re so engaged with Ben’s emails that he even refers to them as his “horde”. Which shows how close he is with his community.

5. It provides the best ROI among all the marketing channels

Email is the most profitable marketing channel.

No exaggeration – DMA studies show that you get $42 for every $1 you spend on email marketing.

This is a very well-known but misunderstood stat in the marketing industry. Because it doesn’t mean that you’ll generate $4.2 million from investing $100,000. The main reason why email marketing provides such ROI is because it’s cheap. And its potential of revenue has no ceiling because there’s no limit to the size of your audience.

And yes, email marketing can provide tons of revenue, but it’s not a guarantee just because you “invested”. Revenue comes from great marketing strategies and it will always be like that.

So the benefit of email marketing here isn’t the ROI in itself. it’s the fact it has a low entry cost for you to get started – debunking the “don’t have the budget” excuse.

6. It puts your audience in a safe locker

Email lists are one of the most flexible things in the world. It doesn’t matter if your laptop explodes, if the software you use shuts down, or if Gmail stops being the most used email provider – your audience will always be safe in a .csv file – as simple as that.

You can always migrate your subscribers, remove invalid emails, add new emails, and even delete them. Your subscribers belong to you and not to Facebook or Twitter.

So many businesses are vulnerable to social algorithm changes while craving more followers and interactions. But no business is vulnerable to “email protocol changes” or something like that. That’s why a subscriber is worth more than a follower.

A subscriber is looking forward to receiving content from you and reading it, while a social follower just so happens to see your profile picture in their feed and let their instinct decide if you’re worth their attention. 

7. It’s the best way to know your audience

Email marketing is the best channel for customer research.

There’s no need to post an idea on social media and see how random people react. On email, you’re reaching out to your ideal customers to confirm what resonates with them.

If you have a big enough list, you no longer need to do much market research. In fact, you can just ask questions to your audience and see their response. Or if you’re more methodical, send a survey link to them to see how they reply in comparison to other channels. 

The possibilities are endless.

Experimenting with your list allows you to define your business for the long run. As you’ll find: 

  • Content ideas you can repurpose into blogs, videos, etc.
  • Stories that resemble your customer’s problems 
  • Your audience’s desires and goals
  • Insights on what your audience thinks, feels, and believes

How to get started with email marketing 

If you already have a business, getting started with email marketing only requires three steps.

1. Find a way to collect emails

First off, you need contacts to send emails to. If you already have lead’s emails in one of your business’s databases, that’s good. But in order to sustainably generate subscribers and grow your business you need a lead generation strategy. This involves:

  • Finding a lead generation channel. From all your marketing channels, which ones are great to generate leads? If your blog is driving tons of traffic, or if you’re already investing in paid ads. You might want to generate leads from there.
  • Offering a lead magnet. A subscription is a transaction. And a lead magnet is what you give to your prospects in exchange for their email address. Doesn’t have to be a random ebook though; it can be a cheat sheet, a course, or even a free trial.
  • Writing a persuasive opt-in form that converts. Create an opt-in form or a landing page where you can sell your lead magnet so people can subscribe. Make sure to write great copy that converts.
  • Sending traffic through your channel. Once you have a place where people can subscribe, start sending high-quality traffic to it. Whether you do it organically or through paid ads, you need to put your offer in front of your target audience if you want to have an audience at all.

2. Choose your email marketing software

Once you’ve set up your lead generation channel. It’s time to select your email marketing tool. How many features you need depends on what type of business you run and the kind of audience you’re speaking to. But most of the time, you want to start simple and expand later on.

Overall – and to avoid having to migrate your list in the future – these are the features you’d want to look for:

  • Plans with the number of subscribers you need
  • Autoresponders and automation options
  • List segmentation 
  • A/B testing
  • Lead tagging and scoring
  • Behavioral workflows to create more complex campaigns 
  • Compatibility with your CRM or other software you use

Check out the best email marketing software and make a decision.

3. Set up your first email campaigns

Now, you just need to start playing the marketing game. Start by outlining what kind of emails you need to send first. Deal with the basics first, and then you can start experimenting. However, you first need to understand that your email campaigns will depend on whether they’re broadcast or triggered.

Broadcast emails

Broadcast emails are sent to your whole list at the same time without requiring any action. They’re normally used to communicate news about your business, seasonal content, or some promotions.

You can schedule broadcast emails and they’ll still be considered broadcast. The key is that it doesn’t require a specific condition of your subscribers to be sent.

Broadcast emails include:

  • Newsletters. News about your company, recently published content, most purchased products, or any kind of engaging content you can come up with. It must be appealing to your general audience and sent consistently.
  • Promotions. Some promotions (seasonals or special deals) are better sent to the entire list in order to maximize reach, buzz, and gross sales rather than conversions. 
  • Product updates. Announcements about new features or changes in your product (a software, tool, game, or any kind of service) that you want your audience to know.

Triggered emails

Triggered emails are sent whenever a subscriber performs a specific action, such as clicking on a link, buying a product, attending a webinar, etc. These emails are more targeted and specially written for maximum performance and to achieve a purpose. Some of these include:

  • Welcome emails. The typical email you receive when you subscribe to a newsletter. Smart marketers take this as an opportunity to engage their new subscribers with great content, interesting stories, or to segment their list right away.
  • Onboarding sequences. These emails follow the welcome emails with the main content. The goal is to onboard subscribers into your product or service and make a sale.
  • Upselling campaigns. These are promotional emails for people who have already bought from you and might want to buy additional products or features. 
  • Segmented promotions. Emails that are specifically made for one part of your audience, not everyone. And since segmented emails get 70% more open rate and 152% higher click-through-rate, it’s a very good idea to send content according to your subscriber’s goals. 
  • Re-engagement campaigns. These are email sequences that are sent to subscribers that haven’t opened your emails for a while. It serves as a way to gain subscribers back with special content or offers that would make them engage with you again (plus a good opportunity to curate your list).

3 tips for building an email marketing list 

When doing email marketing, growing your email list is the main focus. More leads mean more money. That’s why you need to actively get more subscribers over time and follow some best practices like these. 

1. Make your offer too good to be true

Random eBooks, PDFs, or “content upgrades are just fine, but not enough.

People these days are rarely giving their email addresses for an ebook they’ll probably never read. So when you’re creating your lead magnet, make sure that it’s specifically made to help your target audience.

If your lead magnet is truly valuable, they won’t hesitate to give you their email. As a rule, make your offer so good, that people will feel that they’re stealing from you. The key is to give a valuable secret that would help your target audience reach their goals – a secret that you could otherwise sell for money.

For example, Roy Furr does it pretty well when it comes to sharing his marketing secrets: 


Some formats that you can inspire from include:

  • Industry reports
  • Case studies
  • Tutorials
  • Calculators
  • Spreadsheets
  • Checklists
  • Swipe files
  • Templates

The best lead magnets provide evergreen value, meaning that they can be used repeatedly – such as ROI calculators, a cheat sheet, a list of resources, or anything that your new subscribers might use again and again.

2. Create content regularly

Email subscribers are far more valuable than social followers or website visitors. But in order to get more subs, you can’t just tell people to do it – they must know your brand first.

Hence you need to find ways to drive traffic that could potentially convert into loyal customers. And the most reliable way to do it is with content.

Creating high-quality content will attract high-quality traffic. So you need to become a content creator too if you want to grow your email list. Whether you publish content on your blog, youtube channel, or social media, these fundamentals will always apply:

  • Consistency beats quantity and quality (make sure that your content is always great and worth consuming).
  • Collaborate with other content creators to expand your reach.
  • Make your content actionable. Don’t only say what to do, say how to do it.
  • Include calls to action, and make “subscribing to your newsletter” the next step to get closer to your audience’s goals.

Creating content is smart because if your audience follows you on multiple channels, you’ve built something more than an email list… you’ve built an asset that will ensure your business survival.

3. Curate your list

Once you start growing your list significantly, you’ll have to start curating. You’ll notice that conversions and open rates will start decreasing. This is because email lists naturally decay around 22% on average per year.

Some unqualified leads change or abandon their emails and never opt-out from your list, or they simply forget to unsubscribe. Truth is, you want to remove these emails ASAP if you want to keep your domain reputation healthy.

To do this, there are few things you can do:

  • Make sure that the quality of your traffic is good. If you get leads from paid ads and you’re targeting a segment that feels off, the quality of those leads might not be as good as if you were targeting the right niche.
  • Encourage unqualified leads to unsubscribe. Send an email to the subscribers that haven’t opened an email from the last 3 or 6 months. Give them a last chance to stay on your list by clicking a link, and remove them if they don’t do anything.
  • Try re-engagement campaigns. Some leads might have engaged with you for a while, and then started to ignore you. In this case, tell them how things have changed, what promotions exist right now, and perhaps offer them a special deal if they re-engage with you. And remove them if they don’t react (you did what you could).

Grammarly has a great example of a re-engagement email. Since they encourage ex-users to reinstall and start writing again, people who just stopped to write will most likely unsubscribe. And if they keep writing, they might get convinced to try the app again for free.


6 email marketing best practices

Following these email marketing best practices will help you get started with the right foot.

1. Create an email marketing calendar 

If you don’t want to lose your mind, you need to create an email content calendar.

Start by planning out your content either yearly or quarterly in a calendar. The goal is to keep your content as organized as you can so you can avoid bottlenecks and ensure consistency.

However, building an email marketing calendar can be quite frustrating without a process. Here’s what you can do:

  • Start with seasonal content. This is a good tactic to avoid facing a blank page, as seasonal content dates are almost always set in stone, you don’t have to figure out when to send them. 
  • Build a structure. Giving structure to your email campaigns will give you an idea of how many days you need to block for them (3 days, a week, etc…). This also depends on how frequently your audience likes to receive emails.
  • Avoid overlaps with triggered emails. Schedule your content so your newsletters are sent on Mondays, promotions on Wednesdays, and so on. Also (depending on your email software) you can limit how many emails to send in a day/week to avoid overwhelming your audience with too many emails.
  • Fill the gaps. Never leave an empty hole in your calendar even if you think that you’ll “come up with something later”. Take those gaps as an opportunity to test new ideas or formats and see what hits. You won’t progress much without testing so don’t be afraid!.

2. Don’t do marketing campaigns – do customer experience 

To stand out on these day’s inboxes, it’s necessary to approach email marketing as customer service.

It’s no longer a “borrow me your attention and get rewarded” kind of relationship. Your audience must get a service from you once they are on your list – they need a great customer experience.

Even the professional email marketing consultant Kath Pay wrote a book about customer experience in marketing, where she says:

“Customer experience (CX) email marketing is what you get when you combine customer service with marketing-led values and principles in the email channel. The customer experience comes into play because your entire program focuses on the interaction between your customer and your emails – not just what you want to say, but how your customers will perceive your emails, how well your messages meet your customers’ needs and expectations, and how well they help your customers achieve their goals as well as your own business needs”

This means that customer experience would involve more than just raw selling, it should include:

  • A big goal that motivates your audience to read what you have to say.
  • Valuable content that surpasses your customer’s needs and expectations.
  • Interaction and incentive for them to reply to your emails.
  • Great responsive design, compelling tone of voice, and accessibility.
  • Building a close relationship instead of being a transaction.

In the same book, Kath Pay says you need to answer a simple question: “how do my emails help my customers achieve their goals and objectives and be successful in the part of their lives that my products/services touch?”

If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that all of this is just copywriting.

3. Learn email copywriting

Sending emails is pointless if your readers won’t open them. The goal is to prompt your readers to take a specific action. And for this, you need to know how to sell – you need copywriting.

Copywriting is the most essential element for any successful campaign. And if you have never written copy before, you’re going to have a bad time with your first emails.

Here’s a minimum-viable procedure to write email copy:

  • Determine your purpose. What action do you want them to take? Or what do you want them to believe? Why now and not later? Answer these questions.
  • Start with the conclusion. What’s the message you want to plant in their heads? Study your audience’s beliefs, fears, and desires. And come up with a conclusion that resonates with them.
  • Build the body of your email. Start by using a copywriting formula to structure your emails such as AIDA or PSA. And make use of storytelling to make it more compelling. Feel free to experiment and see what hits.
  • Include social proof. Whatever you’re selling, you need validation. Things like case studies, quotes from industry experts, testimonials, or product reviews can be a nice addition to your copy to make it more convincing.
  • Spread your CTA (call-to-action). If the email isn’t short, include more than one CTA after the introduction, when introducing your offer, and in the P.S. It almost always increases click-through rates.
  • Write the subject line. Write the subject line and invest as much time as you can in it. This is the most important part of the email and it’s better to have a great subject line with a decent email body than the best email with a sub-par subject line.

If you want to improve your email copywriting skills, study how other businesses are doing it. Create a new email and subscribe to as many lists that you like. Read their campaigns carefully, especially if they made you buy something.

And then? Just write emails! You’ll only get good at writing by writing.

4. Embrace automation

The only way to leverage email marketing is with automation. Email software will always work for you day and night while you focus on strategic work.

As a rule, you only need to spend your time replying to your subscribers, or creating only new content. The rest can just be scheduled to be sent to the right person at the right time.

To get started, you need to make use of behavioral workflows. The idea is to avoid sending the same emails to your paying customers as if they were new subscribers, or to send more than one campaign to a prospect at the same time – that’s bad for your reputation.

Let’s say that you’re promoting a new “checklist to build a minimum-viable SaaS” to generate more leads. And you send an onboarding sequence that adds more value to it.

You shouldn’t send the sequence if your new leads didn’t download the checklist. So what you need to do is to send a reminder to give them a second chance to get value from your other campaigns.

This is how your workflow should look like on any regular email software:

Now, don’t limit yourself to this. The possibilities are endless so feel free to try it and play with it.

5. Segment your email list

An Experian’s study showed that personalized emails sell six times more than non-personalized emails.

See, every customer is unique, and not everyone on your list is in the same stage of their journey. That’s why following a sniper approach with your emails pays more dividends than a shotgun approach.

Email software makes it easier to personalize emails with segmentation. Allowing you to send highly-targeted emails to people under a specific tag or score.

You can segment your list by:

  • Stage of your sales funnel. So you can send content exclusive for regular customers, or special offers to leads that are very close to their purchase. 
  • Profession or titles. To send content that meets their specific needs and goals.
  • Purchase behavior. If they buy more in certain seasons, or if they’re only interested in certain products. 
  • Buyer personas. If you have multiple types of buyers, you can ask your audience what kind of person/goal it’s closer to them and make them click a link. Such link would tag them and include them in a segment.

The idea is to send the right content to the right person. So make it worth the effort.

6. Never stop testing

A great part of successful email marketing comes from experimentation. Every piece of advice you’ve read here exists because people have been experimenting with email for years, and they’re still doing it.

But in the end, every audience is different, and you must experiment with their unique characteristics as well. In your emails, you can test many things such as:

  • Sending hours and days
  • Subject lines
  • Calls to action 
  • Structures
  • Formulas
  • Ideas

Most email marketing tools will let you send two different versions of an email to just one part of your audience (email A and email B), and send the best performing version to the rest. So you can start by doing that.

You can either test a few tweaks or very different emails. Doesn’t matter as long as you never stop testing.

Write your first email today

There’s no doubt that email marketing is the most reliable channel right now. No other channel allows you to own so much value and grow your business immensely as email does.

And not only that, getting started doesn’t have to be hard. A few simple autoresponders and a newsletter should be enough. You’ll be making progress and sophisticating your campaigns over time – boosting your value as a marketer.

This will only work if you put what you read into practice. Don’t wait until you regret it.

_learn-what-is-a-webinar@2x Level up your email marketing.

Want to make sure those cold outreach emails actually get read? Use email marketing software to take your email game up a notch.

_learn-what-is-a-webinar@2x Level up your email marketing.

Want to make sure those cold outreach emails actually get read? Use email marketing software to take your email game up a notch.

Email Marketing: How to Get Started and Build Your First List Email is one of the most profitable marketing channels in existence. Go through this post to learn how to use it and leverage its full potential.
Kevin Daniel Kevin is a SaaS marketing writer. He helps software brands create all-purpose marketing content that resonates, engages, ranks, and converts. He loves to compose music and share his marketing thoughts on Twitter. Get in touch at

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