When you’re looking to launch a product online, it’s hard to find a more effective strategy than building an email list.
After all, if Product Hunt started as an email newsletter and turned into an online tech community sold for $20 million within 3 years, there’s no reason you can’t build a list that drives sales for your product. Right?
The only question: how do you actually start building that list?
Never mind getting 400,000 subscribers like ProductHunt has.
How should you go about getting your first 100 subscribers?
How Paid Advertising Can Accelerate Your List Building (and Prevent You from Quitting)
Here’s what nobody tells you about building an email list.
When you’re just starting out, your morale is super important. It’s not just about the tactics. Psychologically, you need some early wins.
That’s why, for the remainder of this post, I’m going to assume that:
- You aren't interested in blogging to 17 readers for months before you finally make a sale.
- You've heard about the powerful benefits of building an email list … and how a list lets you pre-sell products before they even exist.
- You can comfortably spend $200 on building a list.
If you follow these steps, 30 days from now, you WILL have your own email list (and product sales on the horizon ... even if you don't yet have a product to sell).
Side note: If spending $200 would make a significant dent in your lifestyle, then I don’t recommend starting with paid ads. Other methods like guest blogging and podcasting can work—they’ll usually just cost you time instead of money.
On the flip side, most people could sell stuff in their closet on eBay for an extra $200. This is an investment to take you from "how do I build a list?" mode to "how do I grow from 100 to 1,000 subscribers?" mode in less than 30 days. And that's a powerful step for most entrepreneurs. But ultimately, paid advertising is just one of several ways to build a list.
With all of that out of the way, let’s jump into the strategies.
We’re going to be using Drip to get subscribers, so if you're not yet using Drip, now’s a great time to…
Step #1: Choose a Killer Topic for a Drip Email Mini Course
If you haven’t yet chosen a market to go after, I won’t be covering that here.
Luckily, Bryan Harris from Videofruit has a great course that walks you step-by-step through how to decide.
It’s (aptly) named Decide Already.
And it will help you do just that.
Once you’ve chosen a niche, the next step is to create your killer email course.
There are a few reasons why we’ll use an email course to attract subscribers, as opposed to a free ebook or report.
- You won’t need to hire a designer for a PDF.
- You’ll actually get real, personal email addresses instead of “throwaway” emails that many people use to get one-off PDFs. (If subscribers give you a throwaway address, how would they consume each lesson in the course?)
- You can drip out email lessons over five days, so subscribers get familiar with you showing up in their inbox.
The only question is…
What topic should you choose for your drip email course?
The best strategy is to look at what content is already proven in your market.
For example, let’s say I’m interested in the paleo diet. To find a topic for my email course, I want to find paleo-related posts that are already getting shared.
And that means I’m going to hit up BuzzSumo.
BuzzSumo (even on the free plan) will show me the most shared content for a given topic, including the paleo diet.
Below is the most shared content over the past 12 months related to paleo.
Basically, I'm looking for patterns here.
What content do paleo readers like to share?
At a quick glance, you’ll see that the top six most-shared pieces of content are all recipes.
That’s a good angle for a lead magnet.
Even better, it looks like most of the top posts are paleo dessert recipes.
Boom. Now I’ve got my angle for an email course.
I could create an email course sharing a different paleo dessert recipe each day. E.g. 5 Days of Healthy, Delicious Paleo Desserts.
To set that up, you can browse Drip’s sequence templates, and choose the 5-Day Mini Course blueprint.
Next, I’m going to fill in the blanks in these emails, and give credit to any recipes I’m linking to.
And that brings me to an important point. If you don’t have your own content to share, you can always curate content. Just be the journalist of your niche. Content curation keeps the pressure off you, and lets you fill your drip campaign with value as quickly as possible.
Don’t overthink this step. Keep it stupidly simple.
Once I’ve written my email course, the next step is getting it in front of ideal subscribers.
Step #2: Create a Targeted Facebook Ad Campaign to Find Your Ideal Subscribers
Technically, you can build your list on any ad platform you want.
Personally, I’m going to roll with Facebook ads (for reasons I'll explain in a minute).
But regardless of the platform you choose, many of the major platforms will throw you a free $50 (or more) in ad credits, just for trying out their platform. Take advantage of this.
Here are a few links to check out:
- Google AdWords: Free $75 when you spend $25
- LinkedIn ads: Free $50 in sponsored updates
- Bing ads: Free $50 ad credit, no strings attached
And here’s an epic guide with links to even more free ad credit promotions:
For our example, I'm going to jump into Facebook ads.
One big advantage of Facebook is that you get the best interest targeting options of any ad platform.
In the paleo market, for example, I can drill down and target people who are interested in paleo blogs like Robb Wolf and The Paleo Mom.
It’s hard to match Facebook’s targeting power.
And if I dig a bit deeper and click “Narrow audience,” I can target only people who are interested in both Robb Wolf and The Paleo Mom. Note: this is different than Facebook’s default targeting, which combines "people who match at least one” of your interests.
For our goal of 100 subscribers, we’re not worried about scale just yet. We just want a super defined audience, where every single person seeing our ad should at least stop and pay attention.
In our example, I can see that there are 33,000 people in the US between the ages of 35 of 50 who read both Paleo Magazine and Paleo Grubs. In other words, I'm pretty sure that every single person in this audience is interested in the paleo diet. An audience size between 20,000 and 30,000 is the sweet spot for this campaign.
Another huge benefit of Facebook ads is that you don’t need a website or landing page to build your list.
With Facebook Lead Ads, you can collect opt-ins right inside of Facebook, and send them straight to your email marketing tool.
When you’re getting started, this eliminates a lot of obstacles to driving traffic:
- “I haven’t chosen a domain yet.”
- “I still need to write my About page.”
- “I need to find a better theme for my blog.”
With Lead Ads, I’m going to build my ad and immediately start collecting opt-ins.
Plus, in our tests and the tests of other marketers, Lead Ads are often cheaper than other Facebook ad formats.
That’s because Lead Ads were designed for smartphones, where Facebook traffic is growing at an insane rate. In February 2017, Facebook announced that its mobile daily active users grew by 23% in 2016 alone–continuing a long trend in mobile traffic growth.
That’s a lot of mobile ad inventory that Facebook needs to sell.
That's why I’m going to build a Lead Ad targeting our audience on mobile only, as our best bet to keep traffic cheap and hit our goal of $2 per lead. With a mobile-only campaign and an irresistible course topic, this is totally doable.
Here’s how to set up your Lead Generation campaign.
Create a New Facebook Campaign with the “Lead Generation” Objective
Add Copy and Creative to Entice People to Join Your Email Course
Next, connect your Lead Ad with your email marketing tool. If you’re a Drip user, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do that.
At this point, I’ll want to sync my Facebook Lead Ad to a Drip workflow, so that I can automatically add people into my email course (and send them what I promised).
I *highly* recommend automating this whole process, so you don’t have to download a .csv of your leads or import subscribers into your email tool. You want this to run while you sleep.
Note: Facebook will nudge you to “connect your form to a CRM” after you create your Lead Ad. There are standalone tools that will integrate Facebook Lead Ads to most email tools, but Drip integrates with Lead Ads for free, so you don’t have to worry about paying just to sync your new leads.
Step #3: Become a Mad Scientist of Getting More Email Subscribers
If you’ve previously struggled to get subscribers, then getting your first 100 opt-ins will be super exciting.
Even if you pay more than $2 per lead, that’s OK. If you put together a bonus resource or video, you can ask subscribers to share your content with their friends to get referred subscribers—the best kind—for free. Coupled with some other free “viral” marketing tactics I’ll share in a second, that should give you enough wiggle room to hit 100 subscribers in no time.
As far as next steps, there are a few things you can focus on. If you’re a Drip user, be sure to check out your Subscriber Growth report to track your progress.
Note: Drip generates this report for every user automatically.
Recommended Tool: Consider installing the free Chrome extension List Goal. This tool reminds you of your list-growth goal every time you open a new tab to keep your eye on the prize.
And if you haven’t yet built a landing page for your mini course, you’ll want to do that now.
This will let you drive traffic from several channels to your course—not just Facebook Lead Ads—and see which channels give you the lowest cost per lead.
Here are some ideas to keep your momentum going:
- Add a link to join your email course in your personal (e.g. Gmail) email signature.
- Add a Click to Tweet at the bottom of every course lesson, linking to your landing page, so readers can easily share.
- Guest post on relevant blogs, linking to your mini course in your author bio.
- Email each new reader personally, and ask them to share the course with one friend if they found it helpful.
- Test newer, cheaper traffic sources like Pinterest ads, Quora ads, and Gmail ads.
Ultimately, you want to test several channels and track your ROI, so you know where to invest more money (or time).
For my paleo list, I’d set up a simple spreadsheet to track subscriber growth from different channels. Like this.
Side note: I can almost guarantee your competitors are not doing this. Tracking your ROI will give you an unfair advantage, because you’ll know the exact channels that are giving you the best cost per lead.
If you track your time, you might find—as Ahrefs CEO Tim Soulo concluded in 2016—that the ROI on guest posting isn’t great. Or maybe guest posting will be your biggest growth channel. You won’t know until you track it.
As for nurturing your list…
Depending on how far along you are, you may or may not have a product and a sales process in place.
Either way, it’s always a good idea to survey your subscribers.
We’ve written before about adding automated market research emails into your workflows. Below is a solid template you can add to the end of your email course to keep the conversation going.
Hi ** NAME **,
I wanted to write you a quick note to say how much I appreciate having you as a subscriber.
In an effort to better understand my readers (and create better content), I would love to hear about your challenges around ** TOPIC **.
I’m curious, would you be open to jumping on a 15-minute phone call sometime? As a thank-you for giving me your feedback, I’d also be happy to answer any questions you have around my area expertise, which is ** YOUR AREA OF EXPERTISE **.
Let me know if you’d be up for a call.
** YOUR NAME **
P.S. No sweat at all if you don’t have time.
(Hat tip to Jonathan Stark from Expensive Problem for the inspiring this template.)
If you’re just getting started, doing even a couple of these calls asking the right questions will give you a ton of product ideas.
And if you need help launching, check out our product launch email templates to help you pre-sell a product, even before it exists.
With $200 and about 60 days of work, you can go from zero subscribers to a list of Beta Users wiring you money via Paypal for your very first product.
Build Your "Minimum Viable Audience" and Launch Your Business with Drip
According to Moz founder Rand Fishkin, there’s a trap that many new businesses fall into. He calls it: “The Spike of Hope, then the Flatline of Nope.”
In other words, if you don’t rank at the top of Google, many of your blog posts will flatline after an initial traffic spike. And that’s assuming you have enough reach to get a spike at all.
While paid advertising isn’t the only way to get 100 subscribers, it’s the fastest way I know of to get opt-ins fast, get some early wins, and start learning what products your subscribers want you to create.
And you don’t even need a website to do it.
Drip’s Starter Plan is forever-free for your first 100 subscribers, and makes it easy to start building your list with Drip.
So if you’re ready to get started, now’s a great time to…
I’d love to hear what you think about list building with paid social ads. Are you for it? Against it? What’s been your #1 strategy for building a list quickly?