3 Steps to Start an Email List (Even if You Don’t Have a Business)

Jenna Kutcher 

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June 17, 2020


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All my listeners, we are business owners, and we need to address the elephant in the room. We’re working in a new environment, the world is changing on a day to day basis. Behind closed doors, I’ve been asking myself a lot of hard questions and exploring what forward will look like. I have something personal that I’ll be sharing with you soon, and I wanted to note that we are not back to business as usual. The usual is what got us here. Especially considering what parts we all play in the unification of the human race. This particular episode fits into our normal framework, honoring my commitment to serving our community. As we move forward with our business content, please expect for me to infuse content that is candid, sharing some of the things I am experiencing and learning in this time. This will be me removing the leader hat and leaning into being the student. I only ask that you stick around and learn with me, if you’re ready. Stay tuned as we adjust in forward motion. Now, onto the show.

When it comes to marketing, so many business owners are getting it wrong. They are so focused on social media and when social media is your ONLY marketing strategy, you’re building your business on borrowed land. You don’t own the followers, you can’t control the platform, you’re not in control of the changes, shifts, or the experience people are offered.

When we look at email, it’s this safe space for you to serve and to know that without hesitation the your emails are landing in the inboxes of people who raised their hands saying they want to know and learn more. Business owners should have two main priorities — that’s it — two. You should be starting or growing your email list and the sole focus of your social media is to be the handshake, the connection creator, that invites people off of the platforms and on to said list.

Let’s focus on your email list. The goal of my social media channels is to guide people to my email list so that I can serve them well in their inbox and eventually invite them to join a paid program or take advantage of an offer. That’s it. Digital marketing simplified, so let’s dive into all things starting your email list.

No Business? Start a List Anyway

You don’t need to even have a business established to start your email list. That’s right, you don’t need a website, a business plan, or really even a fully fleshed out idea of where you want to go in terms of speaking to your future subscribers. That can and will come with time.

The main thing I want you to walk away with is the tools to start an email list — no matter where you’re at with the business side of things — and the belief that you deserve to show up in people’s inboxes.

Let me first ask you this: do you have social media accounts? Do you post stuff online? Those same messages and topics you write about on social media, which by the way, only 3.5% or less of your followers actually see that stuff, are the same things you can weave into your email strategy and get WAY BETTER engagement… and sales in the future… by showing up directly inside someone’s email inbox.

But before we even talk strategy or copy, let’s get your email list off the ground and up and running. Spoiler alert before we get too far in — but it’s not as hard as we’d like to believe it is. And I’m here to walk you through 3 steps to get started.

Step 1. Pick a Provider and Sign Up

The first step is to simply pick an email provider and get all signed up. Now there are TONS of email service providers out there but don’t let the amount of options cause you to be paralyzed and never make a decision. Do your research on MAYBE 2 to 3 providers and then go with the one your gut is pulling you toward most. How do you know what your gut says to do? YOU JUST KNOW. Seriously. It’s the one that excites you the most and feels easiest to jump into and get started. A level of intuition when making decisions is a huge factor for success, so lean into the decision of the one that makes you feel most capable of moving forward.

I have been on 4 different providers throughout the years as my list grew and my needs changed and so it’s important to know that our decision that you make today does not mean you’re stuck for life.

If you have NO clue where to start or what kinds of providers to look for, I have to shout out my friends over at Flodesk, a newer email marketing business but legit the best I have ever seen — and I’ve been around the block with email providers.

You can change your mind and change providers down the road quite easily, so don’t let the amount of options out there keep you from just picking one. I know it’s easy to open a million tabs, get stuck comparing all the options and promises and language, get MEGA-confused when you see a word that makes zero sense right now like “funnel” or “sequence” and then just give up.

So my best advice? Just pick one. Today. Now! If you’re sitting in front of your computer. Marry it — for now — and get on with the next steps. If you don’t love whatever you pick in 6 months or 2 years, it’s changeable… but as soon as you make your choice, you’ll be well on your way to getting that list moving, grooving, and growing.

Step 2. Create One Free Offer

Next step? Create ONE free offer, and this will be your opt-in, or otherwise known as a freebie or lead magnet. You might’ve heard all of these terms before and they’re all interchangeable and mean the same thing.

Basically you want to figure out something that is of value for your people that they’d be willing to give you their email address to receive. Think of it as the rule of reciprocity. They hand over access to their inbox and you give them something awesome in exchange.

This doesn’t have to be complex, professional, perfect, or take a million hours. In fact, most of my students complete this step in 24-48 hours with my encouragement.

Ask yourself what YOU can offer — without having to do hours of work and research — that adds some sort of value to someone else’s life? In other words, what are you an expert at or what have you gotten results doing? What’s a template you’ve created that you could share or a life hack that changed your world that could help someone else? What’s some sort of value-add you can give to others that doesn’t cost you a whole lot?

You can position it as a free guide, a coupon code, a download, a challenge, a webinar, a training, free shipping, an extra product … it can be anything really. But the important thing is to just start with ONE thing and to let it be super simple.

Like for me, I could create a massive download for how to double your instagram engagement in one month, but that in and of itself could also be a profitable course or blueprint that I could sell and it likely would be so jam-packed with content that it would be too big and complicated to give away for free.

So break it down into something smaller and simpler, like how about: 3 easy ways to up your Instagram engagement in a week. It would have clear and simple steps, a way to measure results, and a quick win that people would ideally WANT to opt into. You don’t need to get them the biggest results EVER — just focus on getting them one really clear result or offer that is valuable. A quick win for someone is well worth their email address!

Hopefully you have an idea or two in mind for what you can build your freebie around, and now it’s time for you to create it.

You can use free design tools like Canva to create a pretty PDF if you’re concerned about appearance, or you can literally just type in Microsoft Word and then export the file as a .pdf and voila! You now have yourself a freebie. Now how to get it into the hands of your potential subscribers…

Side note: I really don’t love seeing messaging or popups online saying generic things like “join my email list!” because it’s like… why? I’m not going to sign up for something if I don’t know what to expect or what I am getting in return. So instead of having a generic “email club” make sure you’re creating something with tangible value.

With a freebie — big or small, you’re offering value and a quick win to people, and so they are building trust with you, starting an experience with your brand and creating a relationship with you based on what YOU are giving to them. It’s a win, win.

The next step is where people start to say, “Jenna I’m not tech savvy, I don’t know what to do now!” It’s honestly quite simple: you need to have a sign up form or a way for you to collect and email address and exchange that freebie that you just created.

Now if you have a website or if you’re using a platform like Flodesk to create a landing page to house your freebie — you can create a sign up form that succinctly explains the value of your freebie and explains that they’ll get it delivered to their inbox if they leave you their email address.

It could say something like: Get 10% off your first purchase by joining our list, or sign up here to get access to my guide and learn 3 ways to take better iphone photos!

The bottom line with creating a freebie is that you just need ONE to start, and it should be something you’re pumped to shout from the rooftops, because the real movement comes when you share — and reshare that thing over and over and over again.

I remember when Drew was starting his health coaching business and actually created two freebies, which is a good next step for you after you create and test your first one.

He didn’t have a website or a logo or a name or any of that stuff yet, but he had heard me preach for years about email lists and so we used his email list to help us create his brand and craft his paid offers.

Before he was a stay at home dad, Drew ran The Kutcher Method which was a health coaching business. We were going to angle the whole business towards at home work outs and so the first guide we created was 5 at home workouts that required no equipment. The second guide we created was our grocery list check list just to see if people responded more to the food side. Turned out we were totally wrong and people LOVED the food stuff 5x more than they wanted the at home workouts. Knowing this information helped us craft his brand, build his website, and create his offers.

Can you see how starting an email list before you even have a business allows you to test ideas, see what resonates, and collect feedback from the people who will likely become your paying clients?

Step 3. Create a way for people to sign up

The final step to starting and growing your list: create a way for people to sign up for your list and share that offer everywhere and anywhere. I know what you’re probably thinking — you’re worried about the tech right now, aren’t you?

Unfortunately I can’t go super into detail about HOW to create your sign up form and where to house it because it depends on your email provider and whether you have a website, but I can guarantee that whatever provider you went with likely has a detailed explanation and probably even video tutorials for how to get this all set up in less than a couple of hours. Just google “mailchimp opt-in form” or “flodesk opt-in form” to learn how to set yours up the right way.

The essential takeaway is that all you need is a page with a sign-up form where you can collect someone’s name and email address. That’s it.

Think through the steps: You have an offer someone wants. You have a spot for them to claim it and sign up. They type in their name and email. You send over the promised goodie through automation.

Once you have a sign up form, you can share that page or link with people! You can add it to your Instagram bio and point people there through stories and in feed posts, you can link to it in Facebook posts and groups.

Don’t just share your freebie once and be done with it. You worked hard to get this offer together so cycle it through your posts and aim to invite your followers or friends to join once a week. Only 3.5% of your audience even sees your posts on social media so even if it feels like you’re saying and promoting the same thing again and again, it’s landing in front of new sets of eyes each time and most people need to be exposed to an offer numerous times before they ever take action. Don’t let this hard work live and die with just one post.

What’s Next?

Those are the 3 easy steps for starting and growing your email list. It’s really as easy as 1. Pick your provider 2. Create an offer and 3. Figure out where to house your freebie and create a plan to share that again and again.

If you’re like, “cool, now what do I say to my list?” I got you covered! I actually have SOOO many resources for email list building and strategy. You can go to jennakutcherblog.com and simply type “email list” into the search bar to find ways to grow your list using pinterest, how to serve your list, how to build out a consistent emailing routine and more.

Plus I have an entirely FREE challenge to take help you take your list from 0 to 250 subscribers in 30 days.

We also have all the tech tutorials on how to do ALL of this stuff I talked about in this episode if you want to walk through all these steps together inside that challenge and don’t forget — it’s completely free!

Before you know it you’ll have a living, breathing, growing and thriving email list of eager subscribers, excited to hear from you every week. I know it seems like a big jump but I also know you are FULLY capable and I am here to walk alongside you and help you every step of the way. Get your provider picked out, build your freebie, and share it with the world — and who knows, maybe I’ll see YOU in MY inbox. Until next time goal diggers, keep on digging your biggest goals.

All the Goodies from This Episode

Get 3 months free when you run your first payroll with Gusto

Post a healthcare or essential service job for free on LinkedIn — Terms and conditions apply

Join the FREE Zero – 250 Email List Building Challenge

Get 50% off your FloDesk Subscription

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Before you get any further... Hi! I'm Jenna Kutcher!

A small town Minnesota photographer, podcaster, educator and puppy rescuer, my happiest days are spent behind my computer screen sharing my secrets with the world. I'm glad you're here.

I’m an expert at online marketing, a nerd when it comes to the numbers, and my obsession is teaching others how to make a living doing what they love (without it taking over their life). 

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