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The personal brand way to build an email list

Social media platforms are fickle. Algorithms change and people get censored, but your email list is always yours. Learn why you should build an email list.

Ed Latimore
Ed Latimore
Writer, retired boxer, self-improvement enthusiast

First, I have to explain the title of this article.

If you look search google for “How to build an email list”, every article is by a big company or one specifically centered around e-commerce, content marketing, and general internet marketing strategy. There is nothing wrong with this, as all of these sites have a certain level of expertise, but they also have a budget to build links, credibility to get recognition, a staff to write articles, and a large number of resources (time, money, manpower, and tech) to really make a splash.

This doesn’t make their advice obsolete for most people, but they teach from a marked position of strength. I, however, am just one man writing and growing his website. I have a small name, but only because I built it up through my writing. There is no company of Ed Latimore. There is simply Ed Latimore and everything he does and creates.

Maybe this makes you more likely to trust my information on growing an email list. Maybe it makes you think I couldn’t know possibly as much as Hubspot or Mailchimp. Either way, this is advice from a real dude growing a personal website. Not a website dedicated to marketing.

Why you should create an email list

The main reason we grow an email list is to execute some type of email marketing campaign. This isn’t to say that it’s the only reason, but everything eventually comes back to the following idea:

Email subscribers = \(\)

Even if the conversion rate of the email you send out for your online business is only 1%, it’s still better to have more email signups than fewer ones. This is why any intelligent business owner collects emails of previous and potential customers (via an email signup form on the website).

Having a decent-sized email list can make you money directly as you sell to them and indirectly as you use it as a space for people to advertise or sponsor emails to get their products in front of people.

An email list proves that you’ll be able to get a message out and sell to people. This is handy for everything from negotiating affiliate marketing deals to negotiating book deal advance. There is no downside to collecting email addresses.

Social media platforms come and go. Websites are much more stable, but I’ve even heard of those coming under fire. However, the list of emails you collect is yours to import to any email marketing provider.

I use Convertkit. I migrated from Mailchimp a few years back and have been happy ever since. They have a lot of built-in features that I’ll discuss later that make email list building easy. You can read my review of them here.

In many ways, growing your email list is easier than growing any other marketing platform on the internet. You may see your Twitter, Instagram, Facebook (and any other social media account), or Youtube subscribers increase quickly, but the quality and value of those followers greatly vary.

However, the people who bite on your “call to action” (CTA) and sign up for your email newsletter are more likely to be the type of high-quality subscribers you want. This is key because high-quality subscribers are likelier to turn into new customers.

Because the internet is always changing, this article follows the most general strategy you can adapt for building your email list. It won’t matter what tools you have at your disposal.

If you have an internet connection and the ability to write (Learn how to become better writer here—>15 ways to become a better writer), you’ll always be able to use these list-building strategies.

The power of email marketing

No one can stumble onto your email list. However, compare that to how you discover any other content you consume on the internet.

Most content is shared, recommended, or suggested by a human or algorithm. Articles, videos, pictures, and posts can appear on the timeline of anyone you follow, so you discover them in a semi-passive fashion. This is how every social media channel works to expose you to more content.

Even the content you consume from deliberate google searches is subject to competition from other available sources. The top answers to your inquiry are displayed for you to select from. Maybe you select a writer you like, or maybe you select a .org or Wikipedia page. But you are selecting from a set of options chosen for you.

Even if you sought out the content or the algorithm looked at search habits and showed you content that you love, another entity still put it in front of you. With email, the relationship has a different dynamic, and it shows in how people react to things.

A person has to actively sign up for your mailing list. This means they have decided to think so highly of you and your content that they’re allowing you into their (most likely) already crowded inbox.

To give you an analogy, this is like someone trusting you so much that they give you the keys to their house.

Above all others, the first rule of building an email list is to never abuse this sacred relationship. If people sign up to your email list for information, always give them information. Even if you sell to them, do it after giving them the day’s information.

One thing that I have learned (the hard way) is that people don’t mind when you sell things on your email list. They mind if your email list sells in every email without any accompanying “free” information.

People are bombarded by deals and offers all the time. They have not only become more sensitive to them, but they will shut out any new attempts to sell almost instinctively. This means people will unsubscribe at a higher rate than to be expected.

Unfortunately, every email sent generates some unsubscribes, but we want to keep it reasonable. Ideally, no more than .05%-1% of your list unsubscribes. So if you have a list of 10000 people, you’re doing typical if 50-100 people leave when you send an email.

I know this document is about building a mailing list rather than maintaining it, but I feel like this is important. It’s no good if you quickly get 1000 people on your mailing list if you cause 100 of them to unsubscribe every time you send something because it’s a poorly embedded offer.

Freebies, lead magnets, and giveaways: Give people a reason to sign up

If you want people to let you in their home, you have to give them a reason to invite you in. Nothing makes people feel more comfortable inviting you into their home than when you give them something. The same idea works for building an email list.By giving away a free piece of content that can only be accessed if they give you their email address. Once they’ve submitted their email list to you, they automatically get the piece of content delivered.

I’ve read this described as the “ethical bribe.” You give people something of value, and in return, they give you their email address. Whatever you give them must be a digital download–a pdf, infographic, or audio file–but to get it, they must enter their email address.

This is the FASTEST way to build an email list. When you promote a new guide, e-book, audio course, or infographic that solves a problem, people will be more than happy to hand over their email addresses to you.

Now, you can’t just give them anything. Ideally, it solves a problem AND it filters out the type of person who comes to your list. If your content is about fitness, you can’t give away something related to auto-repair and expect it to do well. Maybe I’ll get a few sign-ups, but those people will almost certainly be short-lived. Giving away something related to your niche makes a lot more sense.

So there is the fastest and most passive way to build your email list.

Give something away. Ethically bribe people into being on your list. This will do more for building your list than any other strategy.

Everything else I teach you in this guide relies on the idea that you have something informative to give away in exchange for people signing up to your email list.

Technical recommendations for building your email list

You’ll need something to store hundreds of email addresses and send out your messages in mass. That will be your email client. There are many of them out there, but I can only speak to the three that I’ve personally used.

Mailchimp: This is the email client I started with. It’s free for up to 2000 subscribers, making it a great tool to get your feet wet. It doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles of Convertkit, but it’s good if you’re just getting started.

ConvertKit: This is currently what I use as my mail client for my primary email list. It currently costs me $383 per month to use it. It’s also great for setting up lead and landing pages and opt-in forms to get people to sign up for your mailing list.

Vocabulary Check: A “lead page” is a single webpage that gets people to sign up for your mailing list. Generally speaking, the thing that differentiates a lead page from an ordinary web page is that there are no outbound links from the page. You must submit your email address to continue or hit the “back” button on your internet browser to leave. This doesn’t apply to pop-ups.

Gumroad: Gumroad is technically a platform for selling digital products, but it also allows you to email anyone who buys what you’re selling or downloads anything you decide to give away. I understand this is a function common to all seller platforms, but my experience is with Gumroad. It’s very simple to set up and extremely simple to use.

It doesn’t matter which one of these you start with you. All email clients allow you to export your email list and easily upload it to whichever new client you select. The answer to all of your technical questions can be easily found with a Google search.

Regularly communicate with your email list

Regularly write your list.

Set up a welcome email and an onboarding sequence. Have it set up so that they receive an automatic welcome or thank you message beyond the standard “Thank you for signing up.”

This should go without saying, but some guys only build a list to make money. I have nothing against those. Hell, I suppose that I am technically one of them. But what these guys often forget is that people need to feel like that get value from being on your list.

Or, as I like to say, “No one is letting you f*** for free. You have to give up something.”

I stated this earlier, and now I will state it again, albeit somewhat differently: email your list more than just offers. Give them information. Interact with them. Teach them. Entertain them. Provide value to them

Give them 10x more than you try to take from them, and they will give you 100x more than you had imagined. That sounds esoteric, so I will reiterate more practically: make your email list a place of high value, and you will receive great value in return.

When you write to them regularly, they will get used to seeing you in their inbox. This decreases the odds of the mail client (Gmail for most people) treating you like spam and trains the reader to open your emails. You want subscribers to be in the habit of opening emails because this decreases their chances of completely overlooking you.

If this happens, most clients will eventually determine you’re spam. Or a promotional offer because you only about promotional offers. Once Gmail determines that you’re a piece of spam or promo, the subscriber will likely never see your emails again.

Once that happens, goodbye to that subscriber. They will be on your list in name only.

Build the reputation of your email list

You establish a reputation for delivering value when you regularly email your list.

Yes, your platform establishes you as a valuable content creator, but that’s what you show everyone else. In your email list, this is where people see you shine, completely free of SEO, social media algorithm, or monetary motivation.

This is where you can be real with your content and connect to their hearts.

If you do your job well, your list should love you and your work so much that they start begging you to sell them something. I’ve found that most people are eager to support you if they see you as a source of value.

So, make sure that you email your list. Regularly. Treat the people on your email list like seedlings that must be nurtured and grown into strong plants.

Make sure people open your emails: The Four C’s of subject lines in digital marketing

People must open your emails.

If they don’t open too many of your emails in a row, you may end up in the spam or promotion folder graveyard. From that point, it’s a tremendous individual effort to get someone back to having your emails delivered to their inbox.

The easiest way to avoid this problem is by ensuring that your subject lines make people want to open your emails. The easiest way to do this is to ensure that your subject lines touch on one of the Four C’s.


People are more motivated by the avoidance of loss rather than the potential of gain. In psychology, this is called “Loss aversion bias.” Your headlines will generally do better if you show people how to shield themselves from suffering rather than increase their level of enjoyment.

“How To Avoid Dehydration” will get more viewers than “How To Stay Hydrated” even though they express the same idea.


This is the natural extension of pain avoidance. It’s not so much that people would rather avoid loss than chase gain. It’s more so that both take energy, and only one is coupled with an immediate benefit—relieving pain felt.

People’s loss aversion decreases in direct proportion to how quickly the benefits of potential gain are experienced. People will pay attention if you can promise to make something easier, faster, and more pleasant without additional risk or effort.

“The Easiest Way To Lose 10 Lbs in 10 Days” will get more readers than “The Slow And Steady Way To Lose 10 Lbs in 10 Weeks,” although the latter is likely much safer and more reasonable.


Competition is one of the driving forces of evolution. Whether it’s two people competing for a mate or a promotion, there’s always the desire to outperform and dominate others. Make your headlines appear that you have the secret to victory.


Relationships are another natural motivator we can’t shake. Whether being more popular or getting a girl, people will pay attention if they believe you can improve their social status.

Competition and community appeal to the main goals of any human. When you strip away our fancy technology, humans still operate on their basic desires: to survive and reproduce. This is why headlines and content centered around those ideas do so well.

These four play on biological needs we can’t shake. Your engagement will skyrocket if you understand your niche and play your cards right.

What’s the worst thing that can happen when building a list?

What’s the worst-case scenario for someone trying to build an email list?

That would be that they don’t have a website to reach their target audience, or they have a small social media presence. In putting together this worst-case scenario, I’ve assumed that you have something worth saying and teaching, but you’re low on an audience. If you don’t have a skillset or something to share, you’ll need to take care of that first.

With that out of the way, now the problem is exposure.

The “ethical bribe” is the most effective tactic for using your website to increase your mailing list. However, the tactic is not limited to your website. It’s effective anywhere you can place a static banner of text.

This means you can entice people to sign up in your social media profile, a pop-up on your website, or at the bottom of a post description. This is static and passive promotion. It’s effective at providing a steady stream of new subscribers.

Pop-ups are special. A pop-up form on your website can do a lot to capture traffic passively. If your website doesn’t have a lot of traffic yet, don’t worry. It’s still a valuable setup to invest in.

I’ve had a lot of success with advertising or promoting the next newsletter I’m writing to my social media following. This is where I give people a head’s up notice about the content of my next newsletter.

I give people a sample of the upcoming newsletter’s topic with each tweet. I do this with either a sentence or two that’s a powerful idea piece of writing, or I give a summary of what it’s going to contain. Sentences work best, though I’ve had some success discussing the topic from different angles.

Twitter is my medium of choice, but the same idea should work for Instagram, Youtube, and Facebook. Don’t ask me about Snapchat or TikTok. I simply don’t know those platforms.

Use parts of what you’ve already written to promote your list whenever you have an upcoming newsletter.

As much as we’d like to think that just telling our following to sign on to our email list will work, it rarely does, and when it does, it’s never better than ethically bribing them or promoting with a preview of your content.

People need to be enticed and bribed to take action. Remember: they’re following you on other platforms because it’s passive engagement. When they sign up for your email list, it’s active engagement. People don’t take active engagement without the proper incentives.

I don’t use paid promotions to build my email list.

I have nothing against Google or Facebook ads, but I’ve never tried them.

My general philosophy is that you pay in time or money. I put a lot of time into building my organic audience rather than money, but that doesn’t mean organic traffic doesn’t have its place. The leads gathered by a strong organic campaign are likely to translate into high-quality leads because they’re so targeted.

This is good if you’re selling, but I question how useful they are for a general newsletter, especially when you’re writing emails that won’t sell things to them and just maintaining a relationship.

Summary of building and maintaining your email list

  • Give people a reason to sign up for your newsletter with either an ethical bribe or a preview of what you’re writing.
  • Put your writing in a place where it will be easy to see. Use your social media and website to promote it.
  • Write your list often. Every message doesn’t have to be a marketing email. It’s a good idea to just communicate with your list and give value.
  • Write authentically to your list. You don’t have to worry about search engines or social media algorithms. You can be honest, raw, and real.
  • Make sure that your headline hits one of the “Four C’s.”
Ed Latimore
About the author

Ed Latimore

I’m a writer, competitive chess player, Army veteran, physicist, and former professional heavyweight boxer. My work focuses on self-development, realizing your potential, and sobriety—speaking from personal experience, having overcome both poverty and addiction.

Follow me on Twitter.