4 Ways to Build Your Email List

These four sources can help you raise the number of readers you have for your email content and marketing messages.

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By Robert W. Bly Originally published

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The following excerpt is from Robert W. Bly's book The Digital Marketing Handbook. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | IndieBound or click here to buy it directly from us and SAVE 60% on this book when you use code MARKET2021 through 4/24/21.

Let's review how you can use direct mail (self-mailers and post­cards), conventions, meet-ups and trade shows, and TV and radio spots to grow your email list. But first, an unexpected offline list-building strategy: cold-calling.


Nobody likes the idea of calling someone out of the blue. Bear with me for a moment: This strategy costs you nothing but time (or a bit of cash if you hire a virtual assistant to do the calling for you). It re­quires knowing the name of the individual you'd like as a subscriber and a short script:

"Hi, this is Sarah from ABC Company. I have an important email to send to Mr. Bill Bower. Would you mind connecting me with him to get his permission to send it?"

If that doesn't get you to Mr. Bower, continue:

"The reason I'm asking is that I work for Kathy Flores, a well-known and respected insurance marketing expert. She puts out a weekly email newsletter that several thousand insurance agents receive, read, and enjoy. The only reason I'm calling is to ask Mr. Bower if he'd be open to us emailing him the weekly newsletter. Our readers tell us it takes about six minutes to read each one, and they are finding a lot of value in it. Can you connect me?"

Of course, if you're connected with Mr. Bower right away, you'd use much the same language to convince him of the value of reading the email you're requesting permission to send. (Don't worry about legalities because by getting permission directly from Mr. Bower to send an opt-in email—and not just getting verbal permission and then adding Mr. Bower's name to a handwritten list of email addresses for later list inclusion—you're compliant with CAN-SPAM laws.)

Direct mail

Self-mailers (folders that can be sent by mail without enclosure in an envelope by using a gummed sticker to hold the leaves together) and postcards are two of the least expensive ways to add names to your subscriber list.

Self-mailers give you more area to work with than a postcard, and since there's no envelope hiding the contents, both self-mailers and postcards make it easy for recipients to see the contents of your mailing immediately.

Postcards are cheap: You'll pay anywhere from a nickel to 15 cents apiece for standard-sized postcards, depending on the volume ordered. Self-mailers will cost you far more, but the advantage of extra selling space may prove worth the cost.

What should you offer? Whatever it is, tie it to a sign-up: Make it so the (irresistible) offer can only be redeemed when the recipient signs up for your newsletter.


If you attend live events like trade shows and association meetings, you'll have many opportunities to add email subscribers. Some are passive: Your business cards and product or service brochures should feature a sign-up link or, better yet, a QR code. The QR code will allow people to opt into your email list simply by scanning the code.

Is collecting email addresses at such face-to-face events considered "opt-in" by email service providers (ESP)? The answer is yes if you do so using a form that clearly indicates the person is signing up to join your email list. Many marketers have found using a tablet computer with a data collection app to be the most efficient (and ethical) way to gather contact information. Be sure to send these contacts a welcome email as soon as possible confirming their opt-in to your list.

The cost of acquiring subscribers at live events can be difficult to calculate. It's not the cost of printing business cards and brochures; the cost is more in the amount of time spent and the amount of money you spent to attend the event. Still, it's relatively inexpensive -- especially when compared to TV or radio promotions, our last option.

TV and radio advertising

Now, we're in the big leagues when it comes to spending. Radio ad­vertising production costs can run you between $500 and $1,000, to which you'll have to add the cost of airing your radio spot.

And what will it cost you to run a local TV advertisement? Rates vary depending on the time of day and year as well as location. You may pay anywhere from $200 to $1,500 for a 30-second spot at noon, but an ad seen between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. will cost you far more. National TV advertising, which can run $100,000 for a 30-second spot, is beyond the budget of most small businesses.

Did you enjoy your book preview? Click here to grab a copy today—now 60% off when you use code MARKET2021 through 4/24/21.

Robert W. Bly

Author, Copywriter and Marketing Consultant

Robert W. Bly is an independent copywriter and marketing consultant with more than 35 years of experience in B2B and direct response marketing. He has worked with over 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Embraer Executive Jet, Intuit, Boardroom, Grumman and more. He is the author of 85 books, including The Marketing Plan Handbook (Entrepreneur Press 2015), and he currently writes regular columns for Target Marketing Magazine and The Direct Response Letter.

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