How you can build an email marketing list and start making sales

How to start email marketing
Nick Malekos
Growth Marketer
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Email has been the internet’s main tool of communication for more than half a century and for good reason. It is the most important, personal communication tool of the digital age, the equivalent of a real-life mailbox.

Email marketing has four times the ROI of any other marketing channel, making it a must-use channel for marketers and sales professionals. What makes email marketing that effective? It is essential, personal and direct.

Even with the recent technological changes, the main concept of email is direct communication, and nowadays it's our main touch or middle-point between multiple services.


Getting access to a prospect's inbox means a direct line of communication to be used many times at a low cost. But, that’s just the beginning. Having a big email list does equal success.

Email marketing is a combination of quantity and quality. Having a large email list or sending messages without context is like fishing without bait. You need to collect the correct email, and write a good subject, message and offer in order to succeed.

Are you ready to embark on a journey of email marketing tips, strategies and hacks?

In the following article you will learn how to utilise email as a marketing channel in four key steps:

  1. Acquiring quality email addresses
  2. Types of emails for digital businesses
  3. Increasing email open rates
  4. Writing good copy and inspiring actions

You can use the above links to skip to the section most relevant to you.

How to build an email marketing list from scratch

Until you better understand your target audience, you will be collecting emails in quantity rather than quality. However, as you understand your audience better, you will be able to filter through the junk of old, unused and irrelevant addresses.                                     

Let’s take the process of building an email list step by step, starting from collecting the emails.

1. Primary data - the emails you already have

When you start your business it might feel like you're starting with zero resources. That could not be further from the truth. Your experience, previous work, networking and knowledge is a cumulative resource that you always carry with you. Similarly, the contacts you develop are a cumulative resource for your new business.

You probably already have hundreds if not thousands of email addresses ready to be used. Chances are that you have been working, volunteering or networking within the community you plan to start selling to; time to start looking for those emails. Here are some quick ways to collect the first thousand addresses:

Export your contacts from your personal email accounts

You have sent and received many emails. That’s probably a few hundred addresses you need to go through. Export your Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook or other contacts (check the links for details on how to do it). Clean the irrelevant, subscription, info or promotional emails from there and you've got your first batch of email addresses.

Collect your professional email contacts

Whether you have been freelancing, or working at a big or small company, you probably have a professional email account. Take care to ask for permission if needed, but you may be able to get a few hundred email addresses from your communication with partners, clients and colleagues that are relevant to your new business.

Go through your business cards

Have you been saving all those business cards from meetings and networking events? Go through your desk and your drawers. It will take some manual labour, but that way you can add a substantial number of emails to your list.

Make it personal. While creating your email list, remember to include different fields. You will need those to personalise the emails you send or for future segmentation of the lists, it's better starting early than later.

Essential fields:

  • Email
  • Name
  • Surname

What you could add:

  • Phone
  • Address, city, town, country
  • Company
  • Industry
  • Position
  • Notes on how you met

2. Social media

Another email rich place is social media. Your friends, followers and people you follow are probably your early customers or business partners. You could directly ask your social media connections to join your mailing list using a number of posts or collect them from their public profiles.

A lot of professionals share their email addresses in their Twitter and LinkedIn bios. LinkedIn also has a section at the right called Contact and Personal Info where some people make their email public.

You can also use tools like that checks websites for public email addresses, or Email Extractor when you look at a website and can’t find an email address. These tools are great for email outreach, but should not be used for unsolicited massive advertising. You could, however, send them an email inviting them to join your email list. In this case, always include an unsubscribe link.

Social media email lists

Facebook remarketing and lead generation forms

Instead of advertising your website or blog to collect leads, you can collect them directly through tools like Facebook’s lead generation forms,. LinkedIn and Twitter also have their own lead generation ad formats. 

You might not want to start with this method as it can prove to be quite expensive. However, it is a good combination with Facebook remarketing. That way, you can collect the email from anyone who did not convert through your own website.

3. Capture emails through your own website with lead magnets

What if your site has many visitors, but no-one signs up to your newsletter? Very few people will stay engaged and seek out an email subscription. What you need to do is up your game a bit.

First in your checklist should be a good lead generation tool such as Leadpages or Sumo. Prepare a pop-up or landing page that will ask visitors to share their email addresses.

However, just asking visitors to sign-up for your newsletter might not be enough. What you need is a good lead magnet. This is something that will catch your readers’ attention because it provides value for them. They should be able to access the resource by giving their email address.

There is a big variety of lead magnets you can create such as:

  • Checklists: Prepare a checklist based on your expertise that will save time and effort, but is super relevant to what you offer eg. a wedding checklist or a vacation checklist
  • Discounts: Increase sales by including coupons or offering special discounts along with your email list. Who would refuse a 70% discount on their first buy just by joining your email list? Coupons are a great way to break the ice of the first sale and collect an email address
  • Quizzes: Quizzes attract people and are great for lead generation. Ask people to answer a few questions and send the results to their email address. You can ask them to subscribe in the process!
  • White papers: An expert report that is informative for your readers, normally explaining an industry trend or providing advice on how to do something. White papers can help share years of expertise and may include case studies
  • Ebooks: Ebooks can cover a huge range of topics and are generally differentiated from other online content by their length
  • Free online courses or section previews: Selling online courses is quite rewarding, but people need to connect with you before buying a premium course. Giving a preview of your course or offering free courses to get their email and introduce your product is always a good idea
  • Pre-launching: In the case of many digital services and products (especially online courses or training) pre-launching is a good way to collect leads months before you actually start selling
Using courses to generate email leads

4) Collaborations with influencers

Identify bloggers, vloggers, podcasters and other influencers in your industry to work with. Find someone who would resonate with your brand and propose a collaboration.

You can always create a competition with a relevant giveaway that would attract some extra traffic and value for the influencer. Then share the email list.

Also, you could offer free content in the form of a guest post or video, and even guest in their podcast or vlog to raise awareness and traffic, and use a lead magnet (see above) to collect their email addresses.

Many influencers will not expect to work for free or for the sake of collecting email address, so it’s good to start with influencers that are at the same level as you (with activities that offer value to both) and grow your businesses together.

Types of emails for digital businesses

Having a databased of hundreds or thousands of email addresses means nothing if you don’t put them to use. For that, you need a purpose, a reason to communicate and a context. So, what types of email communication would really resonate with your brand and products? Let’s go through the options.

1. Newsletters and other Informative emails

News articles, blog posts, professional or inspirational articles that resonate with your brand can be sent individually or in a weekly newsletter. Keeping your readers coming back to your website is important to selling (and upselling) your products. You might have noticed that people who spend more time on your website or visit multiple times are more likely to make a purchase. Keep them engaged.

Try not to overdo it and avoid sending too many emails. Also, a good tactic is to send your newsletters at a specific day and time. Test options you feel more likely to give better responses and keep one or two that work best for your business. If needs be, you can send an additional newsletter for important updates, product launches or breaking news.

2. New products and offers

Product launches or special limited offers are a great excuse to get in touch with your customer base. Give them a heads up about new products and, if you are using an advanced marketplace platform, suggestions about products they might like.

Make your subscribers feel special and save your weekly or monthly offers for them. But remember, a limited offer is not limited if it goes on for months. Tweak or change your discounts and special offers every now and then or keep them for a limited amount of days every month. Some of your customers will be satisfied to pay the whole price while others will be waiting for those days, which will give your business a sales boost.

3. Pre-launching, launching and welcome emails

Every occasion is a reason for communication. Don’t wait until the last minute to sell, in most physical and digital products you don’t need to hold off. Create a pre-launching page to collect emails, let your subscribers know about your upcoming product and prepare them for the launch. You can also use early-bird discounts to prompt people to indulge.

Is your business working on a subscription basis or are you planning on creating a community? Then do not forget the welcome email. Prepare an automated email to welcome new customers, guide them through the product and take the opportunity to create an engaging Call to Action (CTA) such as:

  • Encourage sharing your product on social media
  • Join your community and discussions
  • Or even let them know about offers, products or subjects of interest

4. Follow up emails

Your sales process does not end with the money exchange. In fact, increasing customer retention rates by 5% can increases profits by 25% to 95%. Keep in touch with your customers and support them in the use of your product to keep them coming back for more.

Here are some things you could do as a follow-up email:

  • Send a ‘Thank you’ email
  • Ask for feedback and reviews
  • Share a checklist
  • Teach them about your product and how to use it
  • Suggest similar products

But just keeping in touch is not enough. You need to connect with your customers. And a follow-up email written as a personal message, even automated, will help you do that. Prepare your after-sales messages and retain your customers to sell to them another day!

5. Automate the email process

I know it’s a lot of work to do all of the above. That’s the reason there are so many software solutions to the problem. It’s important to start building your automation, and never stop tweaking and improving it.

Depending on the platform you are using to create, deliver and sell your product you might have a way to communicate with your clients. Be sure to check about white labelling your email communication.

Here are three of the most used email automation tools that will do wonders for your email marketing:

  • Mailchimp - Works with most platforms, easy to integrate, and has a beautiful and easy to use interface
  • GetResponse - A more advanced solution to automate your email flows and serve multiple audiences
  • Mailshake - Cold outreach and emailing. Great to start selling and finding new customers

Crafting an effective email subject line

How many times have you received an email newsletter you just skipped, deleted or totally ignored? Right, let’s try to avoid that!

The most effective newsletters are the ones that do not mention the word ‘newsletter’ at all. Every newsletter you send needs a theme, a reason and a unique email subject that will attract the eyeballs of your readers.

Subjects that work well are:

  • Questions
  • Personalised subjects
  • Controversial or one-sided opinions
  • Directly addressing pain points

Would you open ‘Cat products for your cat’ or ‘10 ways to make your cat obedient’?

Make your email feel real

We receive so many emails that most of them go unopened. And we are more likely to open an email from a person than one that’s clearly automated. Your emails need a bit of humanity in them. Customise your email address with your name, brand and image or logo to make it warmer and more welcoming.

My personal preference is signing as “Nick from LearnWorlds”, but you don't always have to use your full name or brand name. Add your image by creating a Google Plus profile for Gmail users and you will see your email open rates increase.

Brand image and email

A/B testing and the power of words and emoticons

Testing your email is probably the best advice you will ever get. Whatever intuitive improvement you make, testing your idea is the only way to be sure of the impact.

Email tools that allow A/B testing normally work by sending two versions of an email to a small group of your email list, the best performing of which is then sent to the rest of the list. This can be used to learn about the effectiveness of everything from layouts to the name of the sender.

In our most recent A/B testing, we tried the same offer with one difference in the subject line. One email had three emoticons that conveyed the meaning of the offer visually. The results were incredible:

Subject line Open rate Click through rate
Original title 32.1% 11.5%
Title with emoticons 15.2% 2.5%

Other than doubling the open rate, emoticons also influenced click rate, with five-times the number of recipients clicking through to the website. This is not necessarily the answer for your business, however, it is something worth testing and learning from.

Another little tip to get you started; add a bit of sauce to your subject line with power words. It will help inspire emotions to get that precious email open.

Getting inspiration to create your emails

Looking for that spark of inspiration to get started? There are three ways to do it.

  1. Subscribe to great businesses you admire in all sectors to learn from their approach
  2. Subscribe to your competitors
  3. Look for websites with examples, such as,, and Email Scripts

T.S. Elliot famously attributed this quote to Pablo Picasso: “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” There is no parthenogenesis, every good idea has its roots in an inspiration. And, there is no point in starting from scratch. Build up your business with great examples, test what works for you and improve upon it!

Email content and call to actions 

Sharing a story from a friend’s business, I once asked him: “Why are you sending a plain text email? It is not so attractive or clear, I would prefer a designed template.” His reply was very simple and straightforward: “We tested both and this one works much better. We were also surprised but kept it.”

That’s the right mindset. You might not have the time and resources to do everything, but testing small things in all parts of your process will improve your results. Even if you strongly believe or disagree with an idea, if it is not tested, you can’t be sure.

Instil your brand’s personality

Whether you represent your personal brand or your company’s brand, your email communication has to be consistent. Are you representing a serious business brand or a playful, fun loving one? That has to be clear by the tone you are setting on your website, social media and email communication.

Would you imagine a matchmaking business closing with ‘Blessings to your family’? Wouldn’t you think that would go better with a spiritual brand?

When writing your message, you need to be making a connection and to meet the readers' expectations. While surprising people will make them intrigued, not meeting expectations or pushing them to unfamiliar paths might put them in a defensive mindset. Remember your final goal (the action or actions you want a customer to take) and plan accordingly.

Writing an email sequence

Talking about planning, it’s time to get into multiple emails. Automating your email is one part of sending emails based on scenarios. But going deeper into it, creating an email sequence will keep users engaged, help teach them about your business, and nurture leads into sales and sales into repeat sales.

Email sequences help nurture relationships by giving small pieces of digestible information at each contact point. It's also possible to send users on different paths, depending on the decisions they make. For example, they could receive a different follow-up email if they don't open the first email.

The easiest way to create an email sequence is to write the first email. Before starting, here is a checklist that will help you get started:

  • Collect all the material you already have (blog posts, giveaways, banners, discounts etc.)
  • Write down all the messages you want to share with your audience
  • Sort the subjects into themes
  • Write a title for each theme
  • Sort them in a logical order (or based on your engagement strategy)
  • Start writing

A little trick with that process; if you are not a computer-orientated person or don’t like making lists in Excel, try writing them on post-it notes. You can now easily move them up and down the sequence, rather than re-writing a list from scratch every time.

Call to action, readability and visuals

The two most important aspects of your email are its readability and the CTA.

Whatever you are writing it needs to be able to convey the correct meaning. Whether created with a beautiful template or simple text, it has to be easy to read. Please, avoid Comic Sans font, text that’s too big or too small, and filling it with bold and underlined sections (a few might be ok, however). In short, what’s the purpose of text if it cannot be read?

Also, you need a clear purpose for writing and to include a CTA. For example, while writing an email to sell a product, you might need to explain the value of your product and how that will solve your customer’s problem. A CTA, in this case, might be a button to ‘buy now’ or an image with a special coupon or discount linking to the offer.

People may vary, but at the core, we all share some similarities. While others might be more visual, auditory or kinesthetic, we all at some degree get influenced by a well-structured and visually guided text. Create a readable email, using visuals or templates if you feel like it, but remember to test for effectiveness.

Building an email list is the easiest part of the whole process. Writing engaging copy, creating visuals, and the right combination of offers and timing takes time to perfect - email marketing is a process that needs constant evolution and improvements.

Using tools you can automate or improve results but, in the end, you need to find what works for you. Test your hypothesis, learn from the results, improve your strategy and repeat the process. While email can be a great way to start, nurture and grow a business it needs time to set it up in an efficient manner. In return, it can help you retain your repeat customers and provide a low-cost, high return marketing channel for your business.

Do you feel ready to start selling your products utilising email marketing? It would be great to hear your experiences in the comments below!

About Nick Malekos

About Nick Malekos

Nick Malekos is the head Growth Marketer of LearnWorlds, the top all-in-one platform for creating and selling online courses. He is a results based and well-rounded Digital Marketer with years of experience in the education industry that doubles as a youth trainer and volunteers’ coordinator in his free time.


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14th Jul 2017 06:19

Hi Nick, Great information, i would like to know more about how to buy an quality email list ? can you help me on this ?

Thanks (0)
14th Jul 2017 15:21

Don't buy email address lists! It's a terrible idea. The quality will be poor, there's no intention to buy or brand buy-in, and you run the risk of falling foul of data legislation.

Work hard, build your own list.

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14th Jul 2017 18:15

Hi Asha,

I totally agree with Chris, not worth it. Any kind of big email list, whatever the quality will most probably get your domain into a spam list and could cause legal troubles (depending on your country and how you do it).

And also, don't trust people selling email lists, whatever the quality they promise, the best quality emails are:
1) The ones that people give freely
2) The ones you collect by yourself by prospecting

Thanks (0)
14th Jul 2017 11:30

Do you think that social media will ever overcome email? Should business strategies be aimed more and more towards platforms like Facebook or should they stay aimed at the email industry?

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to samanthaprowell
14th Jul 2017 18:24

Hi, Samantha, the short answer is no. However, the issue is more complicated than this. Saying that Facebook or Email is better is not the right approach. Your question needs to be "Will email or Facebook work better for my business?"

To find out you need to test and see what will give you the best return on your investment (time, money and other resources). My suggestion is if you run a small business, try working with 1-3 marketing channels. Find you ONE that works best, keep it and when you have the time, test a few things to other channels until you find the second and third.

The best marketing however works in a multichannel way. Your clients will find you through Google or an Ad, will read your blog and get targeted by remarketing. They might join your newsletter or follow you on Social Media, they might expect a phone call or prefer to visit you once in a while to read about you, or visit other websites that write about you or your subject (so using guest blogging). While you grow, you will need to combine several of these to be successful.

Email works for us at LearnWorlds along with some other channels and we are constantly refining and improving all of them, and looking for more suitable marketing channels. You need to test what your intuition and experience says and work from there to prove or disprove that hypothesis. Find out what works best for you. For us, it might be email, for you might be social for others paid ads.

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By JackGr
17th Jul 2017 13:48

Hey Nick, thank you very much for sharing this with us.
I am building my email marketing list now and I will be trying some of your tips.
I didn't think I should go through my old business cards.
Great idea!

Thanks (1)
to JackGr
17th Jul 2017 13:57

Hi Jack, I appreciate your comment :) Wish your email building and sales goes well!

Thanks (1)
10th Aug 2017 12:21

Hi, I should be very thankful to the person who has written this wonderful write up as email marketing is a very tough task nowadays and a bit risky if you do it in a wrong manner as chances are of your website being banned. So, thanks for guiding in a right manner and sharing the strategies with us.

Thanks (1)
10th Aug 2017 12:23

Hi, I should be very thankful to the person who has written this wonderful write up as email marketing is a very tough task nowadays and a bit risky if you do it in a wrong manner as chances are of your website being banned. So, thanks for guiding in a right manner and sharing the strategies with us.

Thanks (1)
31st Aug 2017 12:16

Hi Nick. This is an indepth and good quality article. Difference between spam and email marketing is narrow. It varies from business to business and area to area. Today people are receiving more email (and most of those goes to s folder).

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