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Ken Mahar
CEO of Email Broadcast
Seattle, Washington
Greatly helpful
out of 10
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How to Quickly Build Your Email List

Here's some tips that will help you hit the ground running with your email marketing.
Written Apr 13, 2009, read 16775 times since then.



You and I are in agreement that email marketing rocks, right? Once you make that conclusion, the next logical step is to start thinking about your email list.

Just Start

Some people I talk to want to wait until they "build up a nice list" before they get started in email marketing. These are the same people I talk to a year later who are still “getting ready." 

The trick here is to just get started with what you have. Even as an individual, if you start digging you'll actually be able to put together 50 to 100 names and email addresses just from people you know.  You might be thinking – hey, this isn’t my target market. Don’t worry, they are your friends and want to support what you are doing so they’ll be happy to read your newsletter. Besides, they may not be your target market, but they may know people who are. If they don't want to get it, they'll unsubscribe - don't take it personally.

Then grab that stack of business cards you have in your desk and contact those people one-by-one asking for permission to stay in touch via email more regularly. Next, immediately schedule yourself to attend or host a Biznik event or two in your neighborhood where you know you can make 20 or 30 new contacts (get a business card) - asking each person for permission to stay in touch. Now book yourself a speaking engagement if you have good content to share and ask attendees to sign up. Before you know it, your list will feel like it's growing very fast.

The other reason you need to get started with what you have is that email addresses age and die.  If you are in touch regularly, it allows people to update their email address with you. If you start "next year" many of your email addresses will already be dead.

Look for Contact Points

One of our clients sells deluxe automobile roof top tents and collects maybe 2 new contacts per day from his website's "join our email list" form. While all website owners should have a join form, that's about the only place he was adding to his list.  One day on the phone I overheard him having a long conversation with a prospective customer. I asked him how many phone calls he gets a day and he told me 15-20. I strongly encouraged him to ask for an email address at the end of these phone calls. He just sent us 800 new people for his list, so apparently it’s working.

Where else are you contacting your customers? At the Point of Sale? During outbound calls? If you are attending trade shows you must collect names and email addresses or you shouldn't bother even showing up.  Are you speaking at events or trade shows? Figure out how to give your audience an easy way to sign up for more information via email on the spot. Do you do deliveries? That’s another time to ask.

Measure and Reward

If you own a company you know that your people only pay attention to the things that are measured, recognized or rewarded. Since collecting email addresses may be another new thing they are expected to do – make sure they understand the importance of it. You do that by measuring it, recognizing good performance and rewarding the behavior.

Name your Newsletter

It's a small thing, but asking people if they want to sign up for your email marketing newsletter isn't exactly compelling. "Do you belong to our Savvy Insider's Club?" however (which is the name of a client's newsletter) has much more sex appeal. Mor Furniture calls theirs the VIP List and who doesn't want to be a VIP?  Since we’re on the topic, if you like this article why not sign up for “Rock the Inbox” and get Email Broadcast’s newsletter.

Should you Purchase an Email List?

I have conversations all the time with new or prospective clients asking if they can buy an email list from me. The answer of course is absolutely not - but it's important that you understand the reasoning behind the answer.

A purchased email list is a completely worthless investment, is not allowed by us or any other legitimate email marketing agency, and is against the CAN-SPAM law. Even if you're promised by the slick salesperson at Lists'R'Us, "It's a completely opt-in, CAN-SPAM compliant list" you should know they are a liar or at best incredibly stupid.  Do you really think that there are people out there who willfully signed up for something and checked the box that said “Yes, it's OK to sell my email address to anyone on the planet?” Of course not. Though that may be buried in the fine print legalese of some privacy policy that nobody reads, you and I both know the truth - nobody would agree to that.

I understand that this whole email thing would be a lot easier if it was possible to buy a quality list of prospects eager to hear from you, but it's a fantasy. The sooner you let go, the better. People usually want to buy a list so they can have a “big” email list. Focus not on the size of your list, but on the quality of the contacts. Would you rather have a list of 1000 people where nobody cares about your information, or a list of 100 people who are eager to get your email? I’ll take the smaller list all day long.

Focus on Content 

Many people are concerned for me when I write articles like this one that seem to give away important company secrets on how we "Do Email Marketing Right."  I tell them to relax because I know that content is king. You can build the biggest and best list ever, but if you don't give people what they want to read - why bother? I know that if I can deliver valuable, relevant content for my readers it will pay off in the end.

Besides, we're looking for 100 great customers at Email Broadcast, not a million. If we provide the best information available, companies that want the best will seek us out. I also know that if our content really hits the mark, our recipients might even forward the message and those people may sign up to receive their own copy of our newsletter - helping us grow a quality list.

Think about it for just a second. Is there anyone you know who might enjoy this article? Thanks in advance for forwarding this to a friend (look to the left column under my picture for the button). See how easy that is!

Get Relevant Details from the Start

When you are collecting people for your email list, make sure you get enough information from them to treat them like they are special - because they are. This varies depending on your business - but it's pretty easy to figure out what to ask for. First, always ask for someone's name in addition to his or her email address. Then dig into the industry specific information.

If you sell computers maybe you should also know if someone is a Mac or a PC, or uses both. If you offer guided fishing and hunting tours maybe you should know if your clients are purely fisherman, purely hunters, or do both. Sell clothes? Maybe Gender is important for your future emails. Yacht Broker? Maybe sailing vs. power boats is important for you to know. Florist? How about asking for an anniversary date or spouse's birthday?

Think about it and start collecting this information from the beginning.  It will be much easier to deliver relevant content using list segmentation and trigger messages down the road.

Hopefully these tips on how to build an email marketing list have been helpful - here's a quick review:

  • Just start with what you have, right now. Go ahead, we’ll wait. Really.
  • Consider all the points of contact you have with prospects/customers and use the best ones to consistently collect email info.
  • Get your people on board. Measure and recognize good performance.
  • Always ask permission before adding anyone to your list, and give it a cool name.
  • Build your list correctly, and disregard temptation of list buying as fools’ gold.
  • Deliver great content and your list will grow virally.
  • Collect more than just an email address so you can make content relevant.


Learn more about the author, Ken Mahar.

Comment on this article

  • Scuba Instructor 
Kent, Washington 
Cindy Ross
    Posted by Cindy Ross, Kent, Washington | Apr 14, 2009

    Thanks Ken.

    This was a timely article as I sit this morning working on my travel newsletter. I send out three targeted newsletters per general, one travel and one to potential students.

    Your article made me realize I need to come up with a name for each. Since some subscribers get two letters per month, they won't feel like it's the same thing again.

    Thanks again for the great article!

  • portrait and fine art photographer 
Bellingham, Washington 
Jeanne McGee
    Posted by Jeanne McGee, Bellingham, Washington | Apr 14, 2009

    Thanks for writing this article Ken. I am just getting started with e-marketing for my business and you gave me some good tips. I'm starting out with a small "targeted" email campaign and collecting emails at businesses that display my work already. But you gave me some reminders of other ways to gather emails that are so simple and easy! Thanks so much.

  • Internet Marketing Strategist & Online Business Coach 
Orange, Texas 
Donna Gunter
    Posted by Donna Gunter, Orange, Texas | Apr 14, 2009

    Hi Ken--

    Amen to the point of not buying email lists. I get this question from clients ALL the time, and it's sometimes hard to explain to them that buying email lists is COMPLETELY different that buying a mailing list-- a completely different set of rules apply.

    Of course, when I tell them the story of a former client who went out and bought one anyhow and really ticked someone off and that person went out of his way to report my client to my client's domain registrar and hosting company, causing my client to lose his entire online presence for 3 months until he paid a hefty fee to regain his domain name and website, THEN they pay attention...LOL

    Great article!


    Get better results with your Internet marketing by grabbing a copy of my free ebook, Turbocharge Your Online Marketing Toolkit

  • Blogging Coach and Copywriter 
Seattle, Washington 
Judy Dunn
    Posted by Judy Dunn, Seattle, Washington | Apr 14, 2009


    Good for you for focusing on two of the best ways to build a successful, must-read newsletter. So many "experts" say (quickly, and very softly), "Get the list," (as if a high-quality list just appears magically). Then they move on to advice on the mechanics of sending the e-letter out (and little if anything about the importance of excellent content).

    Bob and I, in our Marketing with E-newsletters workshop, spend a great deal of time on 1) list-building strategies and 2) developing rich, useful content. I'm glad that you are sending the same message out.

    Great job of providing an overview of the basics, complemented by good, actionable strategies.

  • Business Coach/Life Coach 
Bellingham, Washington 
Nancy Grant
    Posted by Nancy Grant, Bellingham, Washington | Apr 14, 2009

    Great information Ken. I've had a newsletter for several years and want to at least double my readership by the end of the year. You've given me some good ideas to consider and ways in which I can be more proactive.

    I also like the examples of compelling newsletter names. A great strategy!

    Thanks so much for sharing your expertise.

  • Internet Marketing - SEM 
Lone Tree, Colorado 
Scott Jacob
    Posted by Scott Jacob, Lone Tree, Colorado | Apr 14, 2009

    Nice job Ken, We also recommend that every one in your company add a very basic newsletter 'invitation' to the bottom of their e-mail stationary. It might be odd for some of the e-mail conversations - billing for example - so maybe invite those folks with a 'custoemr service' message.

  • Local Search Optimization & Small Business Marketing 
Bellevue, Washington 
Richard Geasey
    Posted by Richard Geasey, Bellevue, Washington | Apr 14, 2009

    This is great practical information. It's also very easy and simple to implement. Every name you collect is a long term revenue producer if manged correctly.

    I hope to see some more great articles from you soon.

  • CEO of Email Broadcast 
Seattle, Washington 
Ken Mahar
    Posted by Ken Mahar, Seattle, Washington | Apr 14, 2009

    Thanks all for the comments. This was not an exhaustive list by any means. I was limited by the word count of Biznik and by wanting to provide some explanation on each point. There are lots of other methods of building your list, some of which have been mentioned here by others.

  • Writer  Spiritual/Motivational 
Redmond, Washington 
Terry Thomas
    Posted by Terry Thomas, Redmond, Washington | Apr 14, 2009

    The stuff I am getting from Biznk is unbelievable--great events packed with info --the opportunity to meet terrific people--and stuff like you article. This we just what we need to learn at this start-up point for us. What i need is, that I didn't see, was some specific nuts and bolts about the best way to keep you list--what form--how to, in other words. And then some tips on script design, and other details. Thanks very much! Maybe it would be better just ot send you names and let you do the list and mailings,--if that is your business. Again, your article is a 10 for me.

  • Shea Butter Spa Products 
Lynnwood, Washington 
Rebecca Wood
    Posted by Rebecca Wood, Lynnwood, Washington | Apr 14, 2009

    Excellent (and timely) article as I really need to work on our newsletter..both in obtaining new subscribers and revamping the entire look of the newsletter itself.

  • Builder 
Vashon Island, Washington 
Bob  Stewart
    Posted by Bob Stewart, Vashon Island, Washington | Apr 14, 2009


    Great article and timely for me too. I especially liked the tip about points of contact. I bet i miss a bunch of opportunities there.



  • Decks, Gutters & General Contractor 
Sedro Woolley, Washington 
Dan Estabrook
    Posted by Dan Estabrook, Sedro Woolley, Washington | Apr 14, 2009


    Thanks for sharing your information. I am in the process of starting our E-newsletter and got some great ideas from your article. I need to come up with a catchy name.

    I have gotten so much great information being on Biznik, it's Awesome.

    I look forward to your next article.

    Have a great day......Angel

  • Marketing Coach-Consultant 
Boulder Creek, California 
Robert  Middleton
    Posted by Robert Middleton, Boulder Creek, California | Apr 14, 2009

    Great article, Ken.

    My e-list is my number one marketing tool.

    One thing you didn't mention, which is incredibly important is to send your email newsletter out like clockwork. I've been sending mine , More Clients, out on Tuesdays for 12 years straight. I never miss an issue. Whether you send once a week, twice a month or once a month, don't make it an optional activity. If you do, before long you'll have stopped sending it.

    Also, balance content with promotion. Some do nothing but content, i.e., an informative article and no promotion at all. Some do virtually all promotion. Both are mistakes.

    By providing very solid, valuable content, your subscribers will be open to your promotions. I have sold millions in online products and programs through my e-list.

    But don't make the mistake of doing nothing but promotion. Everyone will stop reading! And then in desperation, you'll start sending more. I've signed up for lists that end up sending me one or two emails a day. Hard to believe anyone is reading them anymore.

    It's also important to use a good email management program. I've used for years and I love it. is also highly rated.

    Finally, I think the biggest thing that stops people from doing an email newsletter is that they don't think they have enough valuable ideas to share.

    One way to start is with client problems.

    Write a big long list of every problem you've encountered with your clients. Those then become the topics for your eZine. Just solve the problem, as Ken did in this article. There never seems to be an end to problems, so there's always new ideas to write about.

    Cheers, Robert

  • Stuff Engineer 
Portland, Oregon 
Mary Rondthaler
    Posted by Mary Rondthaler, Portland, Oregon | Apr 14, 2009

    Thanks for this article Ken. I was just in an accountability meeting this morning with a business associate and we were discussing this very topic - perfect timing! I think "just start" is a very valuable piece of advice for the beginner e-mail marketer.

  • Leather Handbags Designer/Manufacturer 
San Diego, California 
Patricia Kor
    Posted by Patricia Kor, San Diego, California | Apr 14, 2009

    Great article Ken! I was also talking about email list/newsletter/marketing today with my assistant. I lost my 60 days trial period in Constant Contact for "lack" of time but after reading your article this is my next most urgent project. My concern though is consistency. I back up Robert 's notes about sending a newsletter regularly, otherwise you look not serious. Anyhow, thanks for your ideas. Cheers! Patricia

  • Reiki Master, Natural Healing, Cancer Support, Cancer Coach, Pet Cancer 
Portland, Oregon 
Rosemary Levesque
    Posted by Rosemary Levesque, Portland, Oregon | Apr 15, 2009

    Ken, I'm taking your advice to heart. I have collected many email addresses and send emails to nearly 500 people. The title is really important, as you said, so I've recently made the change and am targeting specific markets. All this is a new direction for me, so I'll let you know how it goes!

  • Life, Prosperity, and Small Business Coach. Author. Speaker. Trainer. Singer/Songwriter. 
Seattle, Washington 
Kate Phillips
    Posted by Kate Phillips, Seattle, Washington | Apr 15, 2009

    Amen, Ken, I agree that having a "list" and starting today if you haven't already is crucial for every business.

    Curious if "Can I keep in touch via email?" is the only question you ask someone you meet networking before you add them to your mailing list. I feel torn about whether or not that is 100% accurate. (I.e., there is a difference between receiving a personal email and being put on a mailing list).

    When I am putting on events, I now pass out feedback forms at the end that allow people to opt in for whatever information they want (because I send out information on different topics - from my ezine to announcements on workshop instructional events to my concert calendar).

    Thanks again Ken (and thanks to our other resident experts for adding on some great tips on top of the great article).

  • CEO of Email Broadcast 
Seattle, Washington 
Ken Mahar
    Posted by Ken Mahar, Seattle, Washington | Apr 15, 2009

    One and all, thanks again for your comments. I'm happy to provide my expertise on the 9 years experience we have on what it takes to do email marketing right.

    Robert - this article was limited in scope on 'how to grow you email list' but I appreciate your enthusiasm. I'll be writing more articles on other aspects of email marketing.

    Kate - generally it's not the only question I ask. Permission is a vital part of successful email marketing, so if I haven't expressly mentioned it when I met someone, I will in a personal follow up email.

  • Awesomely Good Direct Response Copywriter & Social Media Consultant, Seattle 
Bellevue, Washington 
Carol Schiller
    Posted by Carol Schiller, Bellevue, Washington | Apr 17, 2009

    Another great article Ken. The hardest part, I think, is delivering great content. We all get so much email, that it's hard to find the time to read even useful stuff. So it takes a superb newsletter or offer to get through - even to a signed up list.

  • Creative Clarity Coach 
Bainbridge Island, Washington 
Jennifer Manlowe
    Posted by Jennifer Manlowe, Bainbridge Island, Washington | Apr 19, 2009

    Ken, your tips are so helpful to people like me who have a bad taste in our mouths born of spammers. I'm so happy to see some guidelines to follow that are different from the days when I worked at Drexel Burnham Lambert and was a junior cold caller fishing for prospects in the bull pen. Talk about bull@$&* seeking suckers to believe in the permanence of a bull market.

    Keep up the great tip offerings! If you ever want to collect your tips into one lead-generating tool (in the form of a book), I hope you'll consider hiring me as your book coach.

  • award-winning photographer | videographer for business | sustainable industries | positive change 
Seattle, Washington 
Jed Share
    Posted by Jed Share, Seattle, Washington | May 05, 2010

    Another very helpful article Ken, thank you.

  • Tax Accountant 
Newport Beach, California 
Brett Lawrence
    Posted by Brett Lawrence, Newport Beach, California | Dec 30, 2010

    Well, I'm glad you don't sell your lists because many apparently are because I get tons of junk mail. I wonder how successful they are sending random junk sales pitches to random people. I have a newsletter sign up on my Tax Services website and do not get many to subscribe. Maybe most don't care about taxes. I do have plenty of contacts and I did do an email but it was just explaining my services. I will use your tips and go at it again with better content that tells them how they can save taxes. I would think I could have some success here with all the tax news lately.

  • Sales Rep. 
Toronto, Ontario Canada 
Sal Ciuro
    Posted by Sal Ciuro, Toronto, Ontario Canada | Jan 02, 2011

    Thanks Ken,

    Sal Ciuro Desco Plumbing & Heating supply.

  • Tax Relief Consultant 
Escondido, California 
Regann Marchantze
    Posted by Regann Marchantze, Escondido, California | Jul 25, 2011

    This article hits home and is very informative, but I struggle with putting forth the energy to build such a list. Everyone I speak to whether in internet marketing or some form of Tax Relief consulting says building a targeted list is the best form of marketing. Thanks for not recommending list buying as I get plenty of spam email already. Thanks for the tips.