How to build an email list: The secret to finding your first 1,000 subscribers

It’s not an exaggeration to say that your email list is the lifeblood of your business.

With an email list full of engaged readers, you can find yourself four-, five-, even six-figure launch weeks.

But it’s not just about the money.

how to build an email list -- inbox

What if you could wake up to an inbox like that, full of readers who LOVE your content and are ready to buy?

Answer: you can. But it all starts with building your email list.

So let’s talk about getting those first 1,000 subscribers.

How to build an email list: Focus on the RIGHT subscribers

A quick caveat before we get started: We’re not just talking about any old subscribers here.

We’re talking about QUALITY subscribers. The kind of subscribers who turn into buyers.

Some people will never buy your product. And yes, some of these people will inevitably wind up on your email list. And that’s okay.

But for the most part, you want to optimize your email list–building efforts around quality subscribers. People who care about the things you care about, and who genuinely want the kind of advice that you have to offer.

Here’s how to build an email list that attracts those kinds of subscribers — let’s dive in.

Step 1: Make an IRRESISTIBLE offer

There are a few social media groups for entrepreneurs that I creep on regularly, and there’s one post I’ve seen in those groups more times than I care to count.

It goes something like this:

“I have my website up. I built my online course! I’m ready for my customers! Where are they?”

Questions like this bring out the exasperated Simon Cowell in me:

how to build an email list -- Simon Cowell

Here’s the reality: people aren’t going to sign up for your list because your website looks good, or you ask nicely.

If you want to build your email list, you need to give people a reason to sign up. And for that, you need a lead magnet: a gift that you offer soon-to-be subscribers in exchange for their email address. For example:

  • Checklists
  • Templates
  • E-books
  • Ultimate guides
  • Video content

The format your lead magnet comes in is less important than what it does, namely: draw your readers in and get them to GIVE YOU THAT EMAIL ADDRESS.

It needs to be something your audience wants,that perfectly answers some question they have or some burning pain they’re struggling with.

That way, they won’t just be okay with giving you their email address — they’ll be happy to.

how to build an email list -- Tony Stark

Here’s an example of a lead magnet in action.

Sam Gavis-Hughson is the founder of a site called Byte by Byte, focused on helping computer programmers nail their coding interviews and land jobs at top tech companies. A while back, his email list was hovering right around 500 subscribers, mostly from videos he posted to YouTube.

Then, he introduced his first lead magnet: an e-book called Dynamic Programming for Non-Geniuses.

All of a sudden, his email list jumped from 500 subscribers … to 1,500.

how to build an email list -- Byte by Byte

Why? Because he gave people a reason to sign up. The e-book offered a solution to his readers’ burning pain — understanding how to get through tough programming interview questions. Entering their email address was a small price to pay for something they already knew they wanted.

ACTION STEP: Brainstorm a list of 5-10 lead magnets you can offer to prospective subscribers that solve problems you know they have RIGHT NOW.

Step 2: Go where the fish are

So you create your delicious lead magnet that draws your customer in by making them realize that, actually, they want to give you their email address.

Next, you need to get out there and actually find some subscribers. For that, you’ll need to find the right fishing hole.

We’ve talked about fishing holes before, in the context of customer research. But fishing holes don’t go away once you’ve moved past that initial discovery stage and started creating content. In fact, they become even more important.

One of my favorite things about working at GrowthLab is watchingpeople find the right fishing holes for their business. A few examples:

  • Instagram: Talia Koren added 700 new email subscribers in just one week last year for her online business, Workweek Lunch, using Instagram
  • YouTube: Géraldine Lepèregrew her email list from under 1,000 to more than 26,000using her YouTube channel
  • Product Hunt: Zak Slaybackadded 1,000 new subscribers to his email list after posting a landing page on the tech forum Product Hunt that landed at the #5 spot for the day

There’s one more kind of fishing hole we should mention. In fact, it wouldn’t be a GrowthLab post about growing your audience if we didn’t mention it, because it’s our favorite: guest posting.

Guest posting: The email list-building powerhouse
If posting to your own personal YouTube channel or Instagramis like fishing with a single fishing pole, guest posting is like trading that fishing pole in for a net.

Here’s how it works:

  • You find a website that your target audience already loves,
  • You write an amazing, value-packed guest post for the site,
  • People read your post, love your ideas — and then follow you back to your website for more awesome content.

Our CEO, Ramit Sethi, talked about how crucial guest posting was to growing GrowthLab and our sister site, I Will Teach You to Be Rich.

For example, he guest posted on the website of 4-Hour Workweek author Tim Ferriss, whose huge audience of followers were already interested in the topics Ramit talks about. Ramit was able to turn those posts into traffic — and turn that traffic into subscribers.

And it’s not just Ramit.

One of our students, John Fawkes, netted 900+ subscribers from a guest post on the MyFitnessPal blog.

how to build an email list -- MyFitnessPal

And why limit yourself to blogs? Guest appearances on podcasts, YouTube channels, even in-person at conferences and events can fit the bill.

how to build an email list -- podcast


In addition to guest posting on his site, Ramit also appeared on Tim Ferriss’s podcast.

Anywhere that large groups of people in your target market gather to talk about the things you talk about — that’s where you want to be, ready to give value and turn that value into SUBSCRIBERS.

ACTION STEP: Make a list of 3-5 “fishing holes” where you know your ideal customers spend time and where you could potentially start publishing content that audience didn’t even know they needed (yet).


Step 3: Deliver your call to action

So you’re posting awesome content and you have people’s attention. Now you need to take those good vibes, and bring them home with you, back to your website.

It’s time for your call to action, or CTA.

CTA is my favorite term, because it’s so beautifully clear and descriptive of what you’re doing. You’re rallying the troops, urging them forward to VICTORY.

And by “victory,” I mean VISITING YOUR WEBSITE.

how to build an email list -- warrior

This part that routinely trips beginner entrepreneurs up. And I understand why. It’s scary putting yourself out there and asking people to do something.

But here’s the thing: everybody does it.

It’s the Instagram influencers you follow, pointing you to the “link in the bio.”

It’s your favorite YouTubers, reminding you to “like, subscribe, and click the ‘link in the doobley-doo.’”

Everybody who makes stuff on the internetis telling people to click things and go places ALL THE TIME. So hold your nose and dive in. It gets more natural as you go, I promise.

The important thing to remember: The easier you make it for people to do what you want them to do, the more likely they’ll do it.

how to build an email list -- YouTube


Look at this beautiful call to action, baked DIRECTLY into her YouTube video.

Step 4: Reel ‘em in

Okay. You did it. You got your lovely prospective subscriber to click through to your website. Time to sit back and rake in the subscribers, right?

Not so fast.

There’s one last hurdle you need to clear: Getting the people who visit your website to sign up.

It’s time to talk about your opt-in form: the actual area of your website where visitors input their name and their email address, and that information gets whisked away to your email service provider to be added to your email list.

Your top mission is to make this journey to your email list as seamless and easy as possible. That means making your offer and your opt-in form as VISIBLE as possible.

Maybe it’s an impossible-to-miss pop-up:

how to build an email list -- pop up

Pop-ups not really your style? No problem — try putting an opt-in field right smack-dab in the top part of your website. (This is called “above the fold” because site visitors see it as soon as they hit your site.)how to build an email list -- above the fold

It’s also a good idea to throw a lead magnet in at the bottom of blog posts on your site. If the lead magnet is relevant to the topic of the post, even better.

how to build an email list -- opt in box

Growing your email list: From 0 to 1,000 to 100,000

You did it! You got actual humans to opt in and join your email list!

So now what do you do?

Answer: You do it again. And again. And again.

Step 1: Create amazing content that your audience loves
Step 2: Get that remarkable content out there where your dream customers can actually find can find it
Step 3: Point those dream customers back to your website
Step 4: Turn those visitors into subscribers

You don’t go out on your very first day of fishing and, oh, look! A thousand fish just jumped into your boat all at once! Isn’t that great?

You catch one fish. Then another. Then another.

Getting your first 1,000 subscribers is how you get 10,000 subscribers. And 100,000 subscribers.

Start now.

How to write the email of your audience’s dreams

Getting your dream audience to subscribe to your email list is step 1.

Step 2 is writing the kind of content that will keep your readers engaged and make them excited to hear from you.

We have something that can help with that:the Ultimate Guide to Email Copywriting.


In the guide, you’ll get all of our best tips for writing emails your readers can’t wait to open.

Like this blog post? Learn how to create amazing content like this that attracts and engages your target buyers with our FREE Ultimate Guide To Remarkable Content.

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