The Two Things You Need to Build an Email List

The bare basics.

Shaunta Grimes
Apr 4 · 5 min read
Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

A couple of days ago, I wrote about why writers need email lists.

I hope I convinced you.

If I have, your next question might be — fine, I’m in, but how exactly do I do this?

The most basic way to keep an email list is to literally write down people’s email addresses. Keep a notebook.

When you want to write an email, type in all those email addresses and press send.

The problem with that method is that it’s not very efficient. For one thing — you’d have to type in all those emails. For another, most email providers (like Gmail or Yahoo) have limits to how many emails you can send and receive in a day.

So — let’s assume that beyond your mom and your best friend, you’re going to want a more efficient way to manage your email list. You’ll need an email server and a way to let people sign up to your list.

I’m going to walk you through this like you’re five years old, because I wish someone had when I was first starting.

I’m also going to share with you the services I use and the system that works for me. There are others. I hope that you’ll at least take enough from this post that you’ll be able to be more confident if you decide to Google around and find other ways to get the same thing done.

I’m not a very techie person. I take the analog option whenever possible. If I can do this, so can you, I promise.

You need an email server.

An email server is a provider that manages your email list. At it’s most basic, an email server holds your email list and allows you to send emails to it. You can think of it like an electronic secretary.

When you put your email in a form so that your favorite restaurant or store can send you a coupon — you’re adding your info to their email server.

A good server lets you do things like sort your list based on which form they used to join — so that you can know, for instance, that this group of subscribers wanted more information on a specific part of your business.

I’ve used ConvertKit as my email server for three years and I love them. It costs $29 a month up to your first 1000 subscribers. They have something called a Creator Pass that lets you pay $199 for a year or up to 100 subscribers, or $299 for a year or up to 1000 subscribers and gives you access to some courses to teach you about building and using an email list.

Before ConvertKit I used Mail Chimp — which is free up to your first 2000 subscribers. Lots of people use Mail Chimp when they’re starting, because it’s free. It’s a decent option, although it’s no where near as easy or fun to use as ConvertKit.

If you can afford to start out on a good service, I highly recommend it. For me, it was the best money I’ve ever spent on my writing business.

I’ve never used any other servers, so I can’t speak to them, but there are a lot out there.

You’ll need a way for readers to subscribe.

Your server should allow you to make a form that you can add to your website or direct people to. ConvertKit does and it’s very easy. Mail Chimp does too, but it’s less simple. I always had to look up Youtube videos every time I wanted to do it. (But the videos are there — so if you need free, that’s an option.)

If you’re writing on Medium, you’ll want a way to put your form in your posts. The absolute easiest way I know to do that is with Upscribe, which is a service that lets you build a Medium-friendly form (also super easy) that connects to your email server. It costs $9 per month.

Upscribe connects with your email server — so when someone uses their form to join your list, they’re automatically added to your server. They give you a URL that you paste into your Medium post, hit return, and the form populates.

When I paste this URL into this post and hit return: I get the form below.

And if you put your email address into it, my email server will automatically add you to my list and send you the promised secret weapon.

You can also hyperlink text, so that when a reader clicks it, they are sent to your form. For instance, if you click here, you’ll be taken to the same form as above. (You can hyperlink text with your email servers forms as well.)

Bonus: You need some subscribers.

My next post in this series will have some more specific ideas for how to start to build your list.

For now, if you’re writing on Medium or somewhere else, start adding an invitation to join your email list to the bottom of posts. If you look at the bottom of this post, at my bio, you’ll see a hyperlinked invitation to take a look at my secret weapon. If you click it, you’ll get the same form as I posted above.

I get 20 to 30 email subscribers per day via that line in my Medium bio.

There are more effective ways, which we’ll talk about soon, but a simple “Let’s stay in touch” will start your list growing.

Your homework.

  1. Sign up for an email server. It doesn’t matter which one it is.
  2. Take a look around the server. Figure out how to make forms. Check the help section to see if they have any courses or videos that will help you learn how to use their services. I think a lot of people skip this step, to their detriment. You’re not in a hurry here, take the time to learn.
  3. Sign up for Upscribe, if you post on Medium, and add an invitation to your list at the bottom of your posts.

Here’s my secret weapon for sticking with whatever your thing is.

(DISCLAIMER: this post contains affiliate links.)

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She lives in Reno with her husband, three superstar kids, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.

The Write Brain

Posts about productivity, business, and systems for right-brained creatives. Ideas aren’t enough. We actually have to do the things!

Shaunta Grimes

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The Write Brain

Posts about productivity, business, and systems for right-brained creatives. Ideas aren’t enough. We actually have to do the things!