A Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Email List With ConvertKit
Touted by many as the best email marketing tool, I decided to check it out and show you how to get started
Email lists are such old news; whoever you’re following, they have most certainly advised you to start one.
Even though MailChimp was the go-to choice for many solopreneurs, ConvertKit started gaining a lot of popularity, even though it’s a paid offering — that being the reason I hadn’t used it yet.
At first glance, the platform seems user-friendly, and easy to set up. However, the more time you spend on it, the more you realize all the different things you can do with it.
If you’re planning on sending the occasional email to your followers, I still believe Substack is the best option; but if you want to market or sell a product, you may want to consider ConvertKit.
What’s ConvertKit’s Biggest Advantage?
As I mentioned, I had never really tried this platform because I thought they didn’t offer a free plan. If you’re just starting out, spending around 30 USD per month on an email service might not be in your plans.
This is one of the reasons why MailChimp has been such a popular service among solopreneurs for the past few years — myself included.
However, MailChimp is also the reason why so many people have hesitated on starting their email list; it’s so damn complicated!
While both services offer similar tools, ConvertKit is pleasant to look at and easy to use. On top of that, the templates available let you get your email list started in less than a day — even if you’re a perfectionist, like me.
Step 1: Create an Account
From the moment you access their homepage, you’ll see the platform focuses on a clean design, without overcrowding your screen with options.
To get started, click on Sign Up Free. Doing so will trigger a small questionnaire to smooth your onboarding.
If you’ve been using a different platform, ConvertKit gives you the option to import your contact list. If you’re new, don’t worry, they’ve got you covered, too.
Once you answer three questions, you’ll be asked to choose an email and a password. Enter the details, press Get Started and let your free trial begin!
Step 2: Create a Landing Page
As soon as you enter the platform, you’ll be asked to create a landing page using one of the dozens of templates available. Some are optimized to promote eBooks, while others are meant for podcasts, products, or webinars.
You don’t need to be bound by these categories and, if you want, you can choose a podcast template to advertise a newsletter, for example.
Don’t worry if the template you want has too many options, as these can be customized or removed on the next page. For this tutorial, I chose the template Abbey, but the following explanation applies to every template.
Here you can customize your page, from changing font style to size, colors, background image, and what kind of info you’re collecting from subscribers.
In the image below, I’ve marked all the text available on my landing page. To change anything, you just need to click on it and write whatever you want.
In this example, I’m only collecting email addresses. However, if you wanted to ask for additional info, just click the + sign below the Email Address box. An empty box will appear below it and then you need to specify what you want to collect.
You can reorder the boxes by clicking on the three lines next to it and then dragging it to where you want it. To make the symbol appear, just hover over it.
Since this is a template, you’ll only be able to reorder the boxes, you won’t be able to drag it to a different position on the page.
Whenever you click on any of the boxes, a few options will appear on the right menu; I’ll skip the usual ones like font size and color, and cover the special options.
Save as: Choose between Tag or Custom field. If you go with Tag, you’ll have to present a few options for your subscribers to choose from — which is especially useful if you want to segment your audience into groups.
Choosing Tag will give you additional options; you can either have a dropdown menu or checkboxes, both serve the same purpose. In Tag options, you can select from the available list, or simply type what you want and create a new tag.
If you choose Custom field, name it in the Custom field and that’s it. In both cases, you’ll have the option to make it a Required field by ticking the box, as well as Delete field if you change your mind.
Border radius: While it’s not stated or limited in that way, you can choose a number between one and 25 — although you can enter 9999999 nothing will change beyond 25.
A lower number will give you sharper edges while a higher value will give you rounder edges. This option is available for the Subscribe button, as well.
Adding a logo
Above the headline, you may have noticed a space meant for a picture. Usually, this is used to show a logo or a picture, depending on your business. To add an image, click on it.
Doing so, you’ll notice the menu on the right will change to Image Settings. Now click on Choose a file.
Like Medium, ConvertKit has integrated Unsplash in its platform, as well as Instagram. If the image you seek is in your computer, though, just click on the cloud icon or drag and drop the image on top of it.
You’ll notice I tried a few images, but in the end, I decided to go without it. The reason being the Image Settings menu doesn’t really give us any settings to play with, other than adding or removing an image.
What does this mean? If you want to add a picture, you’ll have to resize it externally before adding it to ConvertKit — which seems like a simple feature to me, but then again I’m no programmer.
At this point, you could save your landing page and be done with it. The following options will allow you to further customize your page but aren’t necessary, so feel free to skip to Incentive Email.
Headings and Body: You can choose from the available lists a different font for your text if you don’t like the default ones.
Background image and opacity: Just like the logo, you can upload your own image or choose one from Unsplash or your Instagram account. The opacity meter gives you control over the fading effect.
Custom domain and page URL: Unless you own a domain, these options won’t be available to you. As this is a beginner’s guide, we won’t dive into these.
When a visitor subscribes: You have the option to show a Success Message or to redirect people to another page, once they subscribe to your email list.
You can redirect subscribers to a blog post, a social media account, your website, or anywhere else.
Advanced Settings: These options affect those who already subscribed and visit your landing page again.
You can leave it as it is, you can create custom content, or even redirect subscribers to a thank you page.
The last option in Advanced Settings is the Incentive Email, although this menu controls so much more than that.
From here, you can decide if your subscribers will have to double opt-in (which is advisable, given GDPR policies in Europe), and add a freebie, also known as a lead magnet.
Clicking on Edit Email Contents will open a pop-up where you can customize the confirmation email sent to subscribers.
You can choose from which email address it’s sent (if you have several), what will be the subject and customize the message. While you can’t change the button, you can decide its text.
When you’re done, you can close this screen by clicking on the X on the top-right corner.
Going back to the menu, you can click on Download to choose a file from your computer to upload a lead magnet. This file pops up automatically for subscribers as soon as they press the blue box above in the confirmation email they receive.
If you don’t have a lead magnet, you can choose the URL and redirect them to wherever you want.
Preview, save, and share
Now that every option has been customized, all that’s left to do is click Preview so you can see what your page will look like to others. If you’re happy with the results, press Save.
All that’s left to do is click Share and get the link to your landing page. Unless you have a custom domain, your link will look like the one below.
It’s not a very sexy link, but as long as you embed it in your blog posts or promotional ads, it should be fine.
Step 3: Create a Sequence
If all you wanted was to start your email list, you could stop right here (and maybe jump to Step 5). However, if you decided to go with ConvertKit, you probably want to know how to use all of its features.
What is a sequence?
Sequences are a marketing strategy usually used by many solopreneurs to build hype with their audience and create momentum to lead them into buying a product or service.
These are a series of emails that are programmed to be sent automatically to subscribers at certain intervals of time.
If you’ve ever subscribed to an email list before, you’ve probably been targeted for a sequence or two.
Bear in mind you don’t have to sell something; maybe you just want to build a community or even your social media following.
While this guide isn’t meant to teach how to design sequences, just for starters you can try a series where you give them a taste of what they’ll get so they can see the value in what you’re offering.
- Prepare a short course;
- Share successful case studies of past clients;
- Explain a different benefit in each email;
- Give them a small homework with a discount code as a reward.
Whatever you choose, my advice would be to stick to a maximum of five emails, as more than that can be overwhelming — not everyone who signs up for your email list will be interested in making such a commitment.
Your first sequence
Wherever you are in ConvertKit, sequences are easily accessible from the menu at the top. Clicking on it will lead you to the screen below.
For you, this tab will most likely be empty, so start by clicking the New Sequence button. Then, choose a name for your sequence — this will not be visible to others, it’s meant only for internal use.
From this point onward, it’s pretty straightforward. As you can see below, it looks like a standard email editor, with the exception of the fields marked in red.
- Status: This is where you can tell if the email is just a draft or if it’s active already.
- When to send: This is the interval between the current email and the previous. If this is the first email, as in the screenshot, it starts counting from the day the sequence is activated.
- Weekdays: You can exclude certain weekdays when you don’t want these to be sent, or choose a specific day instead. If the count falls on a weekday you haven’t ticked, the email will be sent on the next allowed day and the sequence will start counting from then.
- + Add Email: Once you’re done drafting the first email, press this button to write the next one; you can add as many as you want.
- Reorder the sequence: If you want to change the order of the emails later, you just need to click the three lines in the email box and drag it.
Once you’re done, you can preview how the emails will look like on a browser or in an email client, by sending a test to yourself.
Whenever you’re satisfied with the end result, change the statuses to Active, click on Save All and you’re done.
Step 4: Create an Automation
Just like sequences, automation can be accessed from the top menu by clicking on it.
Now that you completed your first sequence, you may be wondering how to put them to work — you need automation.
As the name suggests, these are predetermined automated actions that will be triggered based on a set of criteria.
To get started, click on New Automation.
Automate your marketing strategy
Much like the landing page, ConvertKit offers a few templates you can choose from; if you’re brave enough, though, you can create your own.
The six templates available cover the most common scenarios, and you can even tweak them to match your needs.
- Evergreen newsletter: You can use this to activate the sequence you created in the previous step.
- Evergreen product pitch: If the focus of your email list is selling, you’d want to use this one.
- Host a webinar: It can also be used to host a podcast, or any other event, as it can automatically contact subscribers and sort them.
- Product launch: Optimized to help you make the best out of your launch,
- Follow up: You can use it to follow-up on anything, not just offering discounts.
- Personalize content: It works best for those who offer a variety of products or services.
If you think these don’t fit your needs, you can always create your own, choosing from a set of built-in commands.
As you can see below, you’re given four triggers to choose from, the most commonly used being Joins a form, as it’s triggered from the moment someone subscribes to an email list.
If you choose is added to a tag, the automation will kickstart whenever you give a specific tag to people — these are assigned in their internal profiles.
The Custom field can be useful, depending on how creative you are. If people are given the choice to enter a promo or referral codes when they fill in a form, you could trigger different sequences that way.
As you can imagine, Purchase is triggered whenever your audience buys your products or services — you can use this to send a Thank You email, or to follow-up with instructions and support.
However, keep in mind you need to create the triggers first, and then you can start your automation — this means the forms, tags, and custom fields.
For this example, I’ve decided to go with Joins a form so my automation is triggered whenever someone subscribes to my email list. Now I need to select the newsletter I created in the previous step.
Below you can see you can choose between Event, Action, and Condition. As this is your first automation, we’ll be focusing on Action commands.
- Email sequence: This is the option I will choose for this automation. Unlike with the triggers, if you didn’t create the sequence yet, you can do it at this stage.
- Add or remove a tag: Again, you can create on the spot a new tag.
- Delay: Since sequences start the moment the trigger is active, you can use this action to give your subscribers some breathing room. If you’re using multiple sequences in an automation, delays can be especially useful.
- Move subscriber: Let’s just say this is a bit of an intermediate action, as you can add and remove subscribers from one automation to another.
- Set custom field: As with triggers, your imagination is the limit here.
If you choose sequence but you haven’t created it yet, the editor doesn’t change so the same rules apply; remember to change the statuses to active and to click on Save All once you’re done.
This is just the beginning of automation, and once you start getting comfortable with them, you’ll see they can be as complex or as simple as you want.
You can add multiple actions, conditions, and triggers — bearing in mind the larger it is, the easier it will be for it to malfunction. Like sequences, once you’re done, you need to activate it at the top-right corner.
If you’re just getting started with ConvertKit and automations, I would advise you to settle with the instructions I gave you here, for now. Besides, if you started your email list today, complex automations won’t even work for you.
Step 5: Send a Broadcast
All we covered so far focused mostly on automating actions, however, these only work with evergreen content — you can’t automate a weekly newsletter, for example.
Once you start your list, it’s important you communicate with them every once in awhile, and that’s what broadcasts are for; a single email sent to your subscribers.
The trickiest step in broadcasts is the first screen where you decide who to send it to.
First, you select who’s sending the email — relevant mostly for those operating with a team of people, or managing different email addresses. Then, you choose who will receive it.
By default, broadcasts are sent to all your subscribers, however, you can add filters based on the purpose of the email.
You can send emails to people located in a specific region, or based on their subscription date, or even which forms they’re subscribed to.
When you move to the next screen, you’ll see the editor is pretty much the same as the one in Sequences. As before, you can preview the email in a browser or email to guarantee it’s pleasant in all formats.
The next screen will give you one last chance to double-check everything. In Preview as a subscriber, you can choose a subscriber and then see below what the broadcast will look like for that specific person.
On the right, there’s a summary showing you the status of the broadcast, how many recipients will be targeted, and when to send the email. You can either send it right away or schedule it for a later date and time.
As soon as you’re ready, click on Send Broadcast.
Congratulations, you’ve successfully emailed your email list for the first time!
As you can see above, once you send your first broadcast, you can see the open and click rates in the Broadcasts tab — easy, right?
By now, you shouldn’t be scared anymore to give ConvertKit a shot — it’s not as scary as it seemed!
While preparing this tutorial I also found out they have a sort of a free plan, too. Once the free trial runs out, you can still use the platform, but only the tabs Subscribers and Broadcasts are available. This way, you can still run a newsletter on it, if you’re not fond of Substack, for example.
Feel free to reach out with any questions, if any of the steps are unclear. I know I was scared a few years ago when I first started with MailChimp, but if you push past your fear, and play around with it, you’ll see you’ll become a pro in no time.
Now go get your first 100 subscribers!